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First POST: Surging

BY Micah L. Sifry | Monday, October 21 2013


  • Yesterday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) put up an unusual Sunday blog post titled "Doing Better: Making Improvements to" After two weeks of near silence, it was the agency's first on-the-record admission that "the initial consumer experience of has not lived up to the expectations of the American people." The post promised a "tech surge" of additional help--"some of the best and brightest from both inside and outside government to scrub in with the team and improve"

  • Responses to the "tech surge" were mixed. Longtime open data activist Carl Malamud tweeted "Out here in the country, we recognize the smell of bs." Technologist Clay Johnson responded, "It'd be great if they had 10 $150K or less procurements to accompany the 'tech surge.'" He added, "what this really tells me is that they still fail to acknowledge the problem is architecture not implementation."

  • Read Frederick Brooks' The Mythical Man Month for a classic explanation for why adding more cooks to the pot won't make things go faster.

  • Contractors See Weeks of Work on Health Site, frontpages today's New York Times. You don't say.

  • President Obama is going to "directly address the technical problems with" at a White House event at 11:25am today.

  • The White House says about 476,000 health insurance applications have been started on the federal and state exchanges, the AP reports. Nineteen million people had visited the federal site as of Friday night. WonkBlog notes that starting an application isn't the same thing as getting coverage.

  • The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn, who has reported closely on every twist and turn in the health care wars, has a tborough report on the unfolding implementation of Obamacare. While he notes that the federal website for applying for health insurance,, has had significant problems, he says that in the states that set up their own exchanges, the program "seems to be working more or less like it's supposed to work."

  • On the other hand, Ross Douthat, conservative columnist for the New York Times op-ed page, says, "It was hard to imagine the Obama White House botching the design and execution of its national health exchange. Building Web sites, mastering the Internet--this is what Team Obama does!"

In other news around the web:

  • The New York Times' Jennifer Preston tells Twitter's blog how she uses Twitter to help cover breaking news events.

  • Glenn Fleishman delves into the history of the most famous cartoon in New Yorker history, "On the Internet, no one knows you are a dog." Cartoonist Peter Steiner has made between $200K and $250K in licensing fees from that one cartoon over the last 20 years, Fleishman reports.

  • Fresh from holding up all government business, Senator Ted Cruz has put a hold on Tom Wheeler, President Obama's nominee for FCC chair, saying he doesn't want the agency to require greater disclosure of who is paying for political TV ads. The Washington Post's Brian Fung explains why this is bad for the whole tech sector.

  •, the immigration reform group launched by Mark Zuckerberg and headed by his college roommate Joe Green, has announced a "DREAMer Hackathon to develop new ways to advocate for needed solutions to the problems within our immigration system." In a blog post, Green said the hackathon will connect DREAMers "with some of the most innovative product design and engineering talent in Silicon Valley." He added, "Working side-by-side, they will build tools to advance our advocacy efforts, creating projects and applications to help supporters share stories, contact members of Congress, and show family and friends why they supporting meaningful immigration reform."The event will be hosted by support Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn, and include Zuckerberg and Andrew Mason of Groupon. Apparently Facebook and LinkedIn aren't good enough platforms already for sharing stories, contacting Members of Congress or showing family and friends why to support reform. The hackathon is November 20-21; apply here.

  • A new report in Der Spiegel, co-authored by Jens Glüsing, Laura Poitras, Marcel Rosenbach and Holger Stark, and drawing on leaked documents from Edward Snowden, says the NSA hacked into the Mexican president's public email account and has been systematically eavesdropping on the government there for years.

  • A new book by NPR's David Folkenflik asserts that Fox News' public relations staffers created and used hundreds of "dummy accounts" to counter critical comments on blog posts written about the network.

  • "Quality news has become, if not sexy, suddenly attractive to smart digital money," writes David Carr, tying together not just prominent recent moves by Jeff Bezos and Pierre Omidyar, but also the investment of Laurene Powell Jobs in Ozy Media; Chris Hughes' purchase of the New Republic; Jeff Skoll's support for Participant Media; and other investments in companies like Vice, Vox Media, BuzzFeed and Business Insider. "A profound reset is underway," he adds. Omidyar tells Carr, “I think that technology could help find a way to actually do important journalism for our democracy that can impact many more people and help serve it to a general-interest audience in a way that can be commercially sustainable." More excerpts from their conversation here.

  • "The technorati like to think of themselves and their gizmos as 'disruptors.' They want to see everything disrupted--except their morning commute." That's Corey Robin commenting on his blog on the transit strike in San Francisco, and the privileged whining of some techies.

  • Twitter is copying companies like Apple, and setting up shop in Ireland to reduce its tax burden in the US, reports Valleywag.

  • Most journalists have never heard of the Open Government Partnership, which is meeting in London next week. But, says Richard Sambrook in the Guardian, they need it.