After my WordCamp Nashville presentation, I transitioned from talking about how to write clean code, to talking about how the web is transforming the world of journalism, and what it means for civic engagement. This was the topic of the BarCamp NewsInnovation talk two weeks ago in Philadelphia given by Dave Zega and I (we work together at ElectNext). I also presented a longer, more in-depth version at TransparencyCamp in Washington, DC last week, with our CEO, Keya Dannenbaum.
Both conferences were “unconferences,” which means there’s an emphasis on discussion rather than long presentations, and the schedule is determined by the conference participants themselves, on the morning of the conference. However, both had some pre-scheduled talks, including ours.
The TransparencyCamp talk was titled “Civic engagement, local journalism, and open data.” Here’s the summary:
A fundamental purpose of journalism in the United States is to inform citizens, so that they can effectively engage in democratic self-governance. The ongoing disappearance of local newspapers in the digital era is well known, resulting in the decline of traditional watchdog journalism at the local and state levels. There are discussions of “news deserts” and unchecked malfeasance by elected officials. At the same time, we’re seeing the rise of citizen journalists, the growth of organizations that harvest, enhance, and distribute an ever-expanding range of data on government activities, and the creation of new opportunities to share, discuss, and analyze information vital to civic engagement.
For the goals of achieving government transparency and effective self-governance, what has been lost and what has been gained in all these transformations? Is the net effect positive or negative, and what lies ahead? In this talk we’ll lay out the different arguments in this debate, and we’ll engage the audience in the conversation.
I was really impressed by the quality of the audience questions at both conferences, and their engagement with Twitter. Our talk generated over 40 tweets at Transparency Camp. Here are samples from both talks:
@MobileTrevor Result of losing local news is fewer voters, lower civic participation, increased corruption, etc says @mtoppa #TCamp13
@zpez how can you maintain local engagement after an acute issue is resolved? build stronger networks; tap into the ppl w/ the data #TCamp13
@_anna_shaw The ‘digital political baseball cards’ from @ElectNext are pretty darn cool… Gonna be playing around with these later. #TCamp13
@ianfroude Local papers dying, so ‘ppl have gained access to the world (intl/natl papers) but lost access to their backyard’ #TCamp13
@jmikelyons: Politicians know everything about us, we know little about them. The Big Data Divide. Big civic problem #bcni13
@emmacarew #bcni13 impressive: folks at @electnext are working directly with the mayor’s office to makes data not just available but accessible
Transparency Camp was the larger of the two – over 600 people attended. Some traveled quite a distance to be there. In our talk we had questions from people involved in the media from as far away as Poland and Uganda.
Both conferences had a great sense of community. Many of the conversations I heard around me were similar to conversations we have at ElectNext, about how to bring greater transparency to government activities, and making open government data accessible and useful. I also had an unexpected but very welcome encounter: while passing through a crowd I heard a nearby voice say “hey Mike Toppa,” and turned to see a face I hadn’t seen in over 10 years. It was a former co-worker from my time at HighWire Press. He works at the Sunlight Foundation now. It was great to catch up and compare notes on our work. After the conference, I also got to catch up with my old friends Pat and Emma, from my days at Georgetown.
Here are the videos for both talks. If you only have time for one, I recommend the TransparencyCamp talk (the first one below). Below the videos are my summaries of the sessions I attended at Transparency Camp.
These are my own brief summaries of the talks I attended. Most sessions had note takers, and their notes are at the TransparencyCamp site.
I’ve barely blogged at all for months, as I’ve been crazy-busy working for ElectNext. I’ve been on contract for a couple months, and I’m about to become employee number 5 (here’s the rest of the team). I found out about ElectNext late in the summer, when Philly Geek Awards nominated them for startup of the year. The first thing I learned in the interview, however, is that they planned to base the engineering team in San Francisco. As much as I’d like to move back to California, that’s not in the cards right now. I also didn’t have any Rails experience, and the position was for a Rails engineer. So it made for an interesting interview! In my favor was that 12 years ago I came up with an idea for a candidate matcher similar in concept to ElectNext’s, and built a prototype for it when I worked at Ask Jeeves, Post to Post Links II error: No post found with slug "moving-voter-registration-and-turnout", the CTO and I share a passion for clean code, and I was confident I could ramp up on Rails fairly quickly, given my other web development experience.
So what is ElectNext? Let our CEO Keya Dannenbaum explain it to you. Her presentation put us in the top 5 out of 77 startups at DEMO earlier this month:
Personally, I feel like I’ve found my dream job. Web development has been my career, but I’ve never let go of my interest in politics – specifically my interest in fostering civic engagement. The opportunity to combine the two is a thrill for me. And the team couldn’t be better: John has been a great Rails mentor, I work with Dave once a week at Indy Hall (I work from home the rest of the time), and I’ll be with the team in New York City next week, just in time for the election. After the election, we’ll be broadening our focus to local issues and elections, so we can be an ongoing, nonpartisan resource to help people engage politically in their communities, as well as nationally for issues important to them.
With the election one week from today, we could use your help to maximize our exposure while interest nationwide is at its peak. Please take a moment to like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and go to ElectNext.com to see which candidates align with you. When you get your matches, or if there’s a issue that’s important to you, click one of the links to tweet it or post it on Facebook. This is a key time for us, and your clicks can lead to a positive, viral increase in our exposure.
We also have an embedable widget version of our candidate matcher you can try. We’ve got it on a number of sites, including MSNBC, PBS NewsHour, The Washington Post, Philly.com, and many others, including, of course, toppa.com:
[Update: now that the election is over, we’ve retired the 2012 candidate matcher]