mstem's blog | MIT Center for Civic Media

Unpacking open data: power, politics and the influence of infrastructures

Liveblog of a #Berkman lunch written with Erhardt Graeff.

Tim Davies (@timdavies) is a social researcher with interests in civic participation and civic technologies. He has spent the last five years focussing on the development of the open government data landscape around the world, from his MSc work at the Oxford Internet Institute on Data and Democracy, the first major study of, through to leading a 12-country study on the Emerging Impacts of Open Data in Developing Countries for the World Wide Web Foundation.

A broad coalition of companies, governments, and other entities have come together to open data. This work is based on the belief that opening data creates myriad benefits to society, for transparency, for economic value, and other benefits.

Does open data reconfigure power relationships in the political space? The past, promise, and reality of open data reminds wide.

Joi Ito's '9 Principles' of the Media Lab

Joi Ito's 9 Principles of the Media Lab from MIT CMS/Writing on Vimeo.

Liveblogged at #civicmedia with help from Ed Platt. Any errors are likely ours.

Joi Ito (@joi), Director of the MIT Media Lab, is here to share his nine principles.

Nearly thirty years ago when the Media Lab was founded, the internet was about connecting together supercomputers. The Media Lab was all about empowering the individual and making everything digital. The Lab’s founder, Nicholas Negroponte, wrote Being Digital.

The Civic Project Carousel

Rahul Bhargava introduces the Civic Media Bingo session, a whirlwind introduction to Civic’s many interesting projects.

Nathan Matias starts off with NewsPad, a tool he created with Andres Monroy Hernandez at Microsoft, and Eventful, which Andres and Elena Agapie created to carry on the work. Nathan sees NewsPad filling the need for events that don’t currently get reported on, like neighborhood yard sales. Nathan cites Wikipedia’s cooperative online news reporting as the exception in a field of single-user news curation tools like Storify. Newspad is designed to let curators pull together a seed post that additional contributors can join.

Thinking ethically about our relationships with social robots

Liveblog of Kate Darling's Berkman Center lunch, A discussion of near-term ethical, legal, and societal issues in robotics.

Kate begins with the observation that there aren't nearly enough experts in robotic law. Those that are interested in the emergent field need to become more expert, and many more need to join them in the pursuit.

Here are some of the emerging issues:

Clay Shirky: Planning Shan't Trump Reality

Clay Shirky's on stage with Ginny Hunt at Harvard's Institute of Politics discussing the lessons we can take away from the boondoggle (#netrevolution).

Clay's first point is that of all the criticism of and the Affordable Care Act, no one has argued that it's a bad idea to rely on the web as the central component of citizen interaction with a government program. All of the other communications options, from phone to fax, have been considered second-rate fallback options.

This change has happened almost imperceptibly, but it is nevertheless a marker of where we are.

There's a lesson to be learned from the website's poor performance, especially given Obama for America's campaign success with technology.

Internet technology and politics have hooked up every 2-4 years since 1992, when Clinton hosted an internal campaign listserv on MIT servers. Now, the internet and politics have gotten married.

Introducing the Participatory Aid Marketplace

A summary of my Media Lab Master's thesis, cross-posted from my personal site, because, well, there are a lot more people over here.

Unlike my thesis readers, who may or may not have made it through all 244 pages, you get to experience the condensed version. The full PDF is here, if you're into reading and citations.

Participatory Aid

People are using information and communication technologies (like the internet) to help each other in times of crisis (natural or man-made). This trend is the evolution of a concept known as "mutual aid", introduced by Russian polymath Peter Kropotkin in 1902 in his argument that our natural sociable inclinations towards cooperation and mutual support are underserved by capitalism's exclusive focus on the self-interested individual. My own reaction is to the bureaucracy's underserving of informal and public-led solutions.

Killing People Still Morally Wrong

These are the moments that make the other moments of attempted unity more difficult, more hollow, for many among us. Before giving into the polarized reactions that the Trayvon Martin story has elicited from its onset, we might practice a little empathy for those for whom the case represented a great deal more than George Zimmerman's fate.

My thoughts race tonight to the family of Trayvon Martin, who fought so hard through personal emotions and the initially indifferent public reaction to deliver attention (and by extension, they hoped, justice) to their loss. But tonight especially, my feelings go out to everyone for whom this judgement is just vindication of the existing fear and trepidation we force them to feel for simply existing as they were born.

Kickstopper: When crowdfunding pipes money to projects you abhor

Like Facebook and other corporate social platforms, Kickstarter has been asked to further refine its policies governing which speech it will and will not accept on its platform.


The catalyst for the conversation is a petition with over 50,068 signatures (in just over a day) against Ken Hoinsky's successfully completed Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign. Hoinsky's initial $2,000 goal was surpassed, reaching $16,639 before the campaign ended.

6 productive responses to PRISM

new PRISM logoAlong with the other free peoples of the internet, we've been discussing our reactions to PRISM, and whether and how US (and global) citizens might be able to organize against this unprecedented domestic spying. There are more questions than answers at the moment, and the enormous challenge of confronting an extra-legal entity like the NSA with people-power is strongly felt. But here are 5 things you can do that could prove more productive than petitioning the White House to respond. Thanks primarily to Sasha Costanza-Chock for the roundup:

1. Encrypt yourself
See The Guardian Project's Android apps, Security in a Box, and Tor. If you have the skills, go further: build tools / better UI / How To Guides / visibility to encourage more people to encrypt themselves, too.

Robin Chase and Nick Grossman’s hopes for the sharing economy

Photo by @brianquinn

Robin Chase (@rmchase), founder of ZipCar and BuzzCar, started the first company WAY back in 2000. It made renting a car as convenient as owning car, and "right-sized the asset", meaning you only pay for what you use. In addition to huge savings and new freedoms for consumers, this meant fewer cars sitting around unused in cities.

But less obviously, Zipcar stretched the definitions of "consumers" and "producers" in an economy. Robin prefers 'collaborators' as a more modern term. The company's success hinged on the assumption that most people are good. That trust, and bond with their customers, was key to creating the company.

Skype, Facebook, eBay, YouTube, Wikipedia, et al do the same thing: take excess capacity (sharing) and combine it with a platform for participation. Robin's slept in all kinds of beds, from hotels to a teenager's bedroom.