local communities

People in local geographic areas may need help communicating with each other in order to collaborate in building and sustaining healthy communities. Grassroots action at any level - neighborhoods, towns, or cities - can help improve local services, welcome newcomers, and develop cultural, economic and political capital.

Gratitude and its Dangers in Social Technologies

How do our designs change when we start emphasizing people and community and not just the things they do for us? Over the next year of my research, I'm exploring acknowledgment and gratitude, basic parts of online relationships that designers often set aside to focus on the tasks people do online.

In May of last year, Wikipedia added a "thanks" feature to its history page, enabling readers to thank contributors for helpful edits on a topic:

Thanks on Wikipedia July 28-30, 2014

HOPE X: Themes and Reflections

Image by Willow Brugh.

Over the weekend, I attended HOPE X, the 10th Hackers on Planet Earth conference, organized by 2600 Magazine. HOPE is my favorite hacker conference, and a strong contender for my favorite conference overall, because although content is tech-heavy, it's not really about technology. HOPE is a conference by and for those interested in the hacker ethos of free information, understanding the world, and empowerment to fix what is broken— including keynote speakers Edward Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg. So HOPE is a great place to think about the intersection of technology, journalism, and activism. Throughout the conference, I noticed several recurring themes.

Code Is Not Enough

HOPE X: Hackerspace Community Dynamics Meet-Up

Liveblogged at HOPE X.

Facilitator: Naomi Most

The goal of this meet up is to take a step back, look at building communities, and talk about what doesn't work, and more importantly what does.

Do you hackerspace?

Most folks here have some experience starting and growing spaces. The rest are interested.

Are hackers normal people? Or are they really different?

We're just like anyone, e.g. baseball fans, who have a particular set of interests.

Hackers are people who question assumptions.

One participant say there's sometimes a "we're better, and we're exclusive" and they're not in favor of that. Much agreement from the group.

A person who wears hacker as a badge on their arm says "I have superpowers" but a person who wears it on their heart says "I have superpowers, you can too."

Hackerspaces in libraries help bridge the gap with people who wouldn't identify as hackers.

HOPE X: The Repair Movement

Liveblogged at HOPE X.

Concerned with mass production and unidirectional flow of goods. Especially important for hackers because of electronic goods. How do we change this?

Tiffany Rad, @TiffanyRad, Pianos and Cars

When you buy something, do you own it, and how much of it?
Concerned about ownership of private information, GPS etc, in cars. You don't own the software, and could void the warranty by disabling features you don't want.

Can you legally access your car's computers? Diagnostic computers cost 15-20k. Makes it difficult to repair outside of dealership.

If you have to break cryptography to fix your car, you may void your warranty and may violate the DMCA. There has been a push for "Right to Repair Acts." These have succeeded in Massachusetts and Oregon.

Jiffy Lube and AutoZone lobbied for standardized access to diagnostic tools. Available by 2018. Only licensed mechanics are covered by these agreements.

Other Consumer Goods.

HOPE X: Diversity in Tech Meet-Up

Liveblogged at HOPE X.

In this Meet-Up we broke out into groups to talk about common problems related to diversity in tech and to brainstorm solutions. This documents the reports that each breakout group gave.

Problem: How to balance radical inclusion with creating safe spaces for minorities?
Solution: Encourage meaningful interactions that go beyond "don't do this."
Solution: Make space sometimes available to closed groups.

Problem: Tech has an image of lacking diversity, which turns people off.
Solution: Help diverse communities develop technical skills internally.

Problem: Differences in ingrained communication styles. The loudest voice often wins.
Solution: Employ different techniques, e.g. roundtables. Encourage a focus on awareness of language, such as gender neutrality.

Problem: How to move from being unaware of a lack of diversity to making improvements.

Problem: Narrow definitions of success, such as entrepreneurial stereotype.

Problem: Lack of buy-in on importance of diversity.

Problem: People taught from an early age that they can't do tech.

The Open Web and Participation

Live blogged by Rahul Bhargava and Matt Stempeck Monday, June 23, 2014 - 3:45pm

The Internet lowers coordination costs, making it easier for groups of people to cooperate and work together. Despite this, it's often been hard to apply the lessons of online cooperation to the world of civics. A set of exciting new projects and initiatives offers hope for what's possible and a clearer sense of the challenges of using the web to participate in offline social change.

[Peer economy] Recap: Transportation licensing hearing in Cambridge

This last Tuesday, the Cambridge Licensing Commission held a hearing to discuss regulations concerning unregistered cabs, including transportation network companies (think Uber, Lyft, SideCar—peer-to-peer platforms that offer private point-to-point car service) and rogue cabs (not registered with the city and not participants with a TNC). A proposal—Regulations for Smartphone Technology for Taxicabs and Limousines—served as grounding for the discussion around how to regulate private transportation and/or update the definition of private transportation. An alert went out over email to the Media Lab community, and I attended the hearing. As the only ML community member who attended the hearing in full, I sent back a report. I've been encouraged to share it here. It has been slightly altered to provide links and to make it coherent outside of the Media Lab community.

What We Learned From Build Peace 2014

Last month at the Media Lab, Helena, Jen, Michaela and I organized Build Peace, a conference to bring together practitioners from the worlds of peacebuilding and technology to talk about how the two fields could work together. It was an incredibly enlightening and generative three days, and before the first conference had even finished, we had already decided that there needed to be a Build Peace 2015. If you missed it, you can catch up by reading Helena's lookback. We’re excited by the community that is starting to form around the technology for peacebuilding conversation and the many potential spin-off projects that are emerging. We were incredibly lucky to have such a diverse and talented array of participants and collaborators.

Civic Crowdfunding – Four Things We Know, Two Things We Don't

Today I'm capping two years of studying the emergence of civic crowdfunding by submitting my master's thesis to the MIT archives. Great thanks are due to the wonderful collaborators I've had the privilege of working with. I won't name everyone here, but all of you folks will find your names in the Acknowledgments section.