Jason Shah: Why I'm Excited about The Gov Lab -
Jason has written a really interesting post about what happened two weeks ago at the 1st GovLab Experiment. I have some personal blogging to do myself, but I’m a co-founder of GovLab and co-creator of The Experiment.
Earlier this month, I attended The Gov Lab Experiment. Led by Beth Noveck, Manik Suri, Aaron Cohen and an army of changemakers in New York, The Governance Lab at NYU “designs more open, effective and networked institutions to improve the quality of people’s lives”.
In the early days of the Obama administration, you predicted that internet values would change government. But a lot of technology people got disenchanted by how hard it was to change things.
I wouldn’t say they’re disenchanted but that they’re burned out. Everybody who goes into government gets somewhat chewed up in the process. Being a senior appointee is like being at a startup, only more so: you run into opposition from the entrenched oligopoly of contractors whose business model is to extract as much money from government as possible for doing as little as possible. At O’Reilly, when we first found out about the world wide web and recognised its potential, we went around to all the phone companies to get them to provide internet access with the Global Network Navigator as a front end. They didn’t listen. And when we went to publishers to talk about pushing books online, they had zero interest. It’s very similar when you’re trying to bring new ideas to government. People are comfortable with what they’re doing, and they don’t see the future coming at them. There’s that great story in the book of Jeremiah where he’s been preaching and nobody’s paying attention, and he feels that he might as well be preaching to the ground. Well, I was out there being Jeremiah. — Tim O’Reilly in Wired UK
For the past two weeks, I’ve been sitting at Fair Folks and A Goat a member based coffee house on Houston. The furniture is modestly comfortable, the coffee is unlimited and excellent, and the bandwidth works reasonably well.
The space is very beautiful and everything in it is for sale. It can be quiet, loud, warm, and chilly, but all of it is better than NYU offices.
Right now, I’m part of a new emerging program at NYU and we’re trying to get office space. They are offering us a group of cubicles that could work except that our group is noisy and sure to bother everybody else. Nobody is suggesting we do construction. Rather we’re saying, maybe give us one of the underutilized conference rooms and we’ll furnish it. That sounds like a non-starter.
My colleagues are saying that we should just look for a cafe that wants us to spend our time there like Fair Folks or perhaps have a few retainers around NYU where we can utilize public space and bandwidth. We’re prepared to just not have an office until we can get space that makes sense for the conversational, no desk, collaborative space that makes sense for this particular project.
What’s interesting is how difficult it is for the University to accept that people want to change how they work. I’ve heard from other faculty (especially at POLY) that there is constant tension between faculty and architects over how to construct labs and classrooms. Practical faculty are saying, “we need more lab space,” and administrative architects appear unable to listen to these insights and adjust plans.
Naturally, I’m writing this post because the space problem is emblematic of the institutional rigidity at NYU. Keep in mind, NYU is significantly more entrepreneurial than most universities which makes this story all the more concerning. Institutions are struggling to adapt to changes wrought by the digital revolution. Typically our industry and its pundits obsess over business models of startups trying to disrupt big industries. But we rarely think about how to change institutions. The conventional wisdom, of course, is that these large bureaucracies are incapable of change and therefore anybody who is not working at a startup is spinning their wheels.
But institutions need our nurturing and support. The internal disruptors at NYU can play a very constructive role at improving the university. But leadership at NYU has to acknowledge that and support our efforts.
You can start by ripping out some cubicles and allowing us to put in a couch.
Emptyage: Generation X Doesn't Want to Hear It -
Earlier generations have weathered recessions, of course; this stall we’re in has the look of something nastier. Social Security and Medicare are going to be diminished, at best. Hours worked are up even as hiring staggers along: Blood from a stone looks to be the normal order of things “going…
(Source: New York Magazine)
Tuesday in Washington DC I discovered a federal government in transformation.
After an Orwellian walk through the 12 foot wide hallway with the obligatory dimly lit fluorescent hallways, we turned the corner to find a digital agency’s workspace. Rolling tables could be configured for meetings of 2 to 50. Matching white boards of different shapes encircled us. Nearby, an overflowing toy box of dry erase markers sat at defcon 3.
The U.S Office of Personnel and Management has a new Innovation Lab. Times are even changing for for OPM.gov. Here’s the old site. and the beta.
A group of NYU professors lead by Wagner’s Beth Noveck (former US Deputy CTO and founder of Open Government Initiative), Code for America’s Jen Pahlka and Tech Kanobi Tim O’Reilly had been invited to watch the first 6 month review in the history of The Presidential Innovation Fellows Program. This new initiative, spearheaded by the 2nd CTO in American history Todd Park, has brought the lean startup movement to the federal government.
Teams demoed “hacks” for procurement solutions, personalized energy information, portable Veterans health care records, a genius electronic cash initiative for USAID, and an ambitious design-oriented idea to promote a common user experience across the federal governments enormous number of sites, apps, and digital experiences. Opening Government has a detailed rundown of the programs here.
The sexiest, geekiest demo was the simply aggregated elegantly designed data.gov portal for developers. Still in alpha, it’’s worth a look, especially for big data lovers.
The Fellows (they call themselves PIFS) ranged in age from 22 to maybe 35. Most of them wore the inside-the-beltway suit and tie uniform, but once they started pitching we knew we were among a new group of federal employees. They were coders, designers, and project managers. Collectively they built products in teams of 3 or 4. More than one group, told stories of solving an agency issue with a one day build. Their secret sauce;
The Presidential fellows practice what Tim O’Reilly has called in the first chapter of a book on Open GovernmentL Government as platform. PIFs build apps and experiences on top of existing sets of data and technologies. They experiment as Twitter and Facebook app developers did at the beginning of their transformation to platforms.
The differences in this analogy are vast, but the theories and processes about a platform ecosystem are reminiscent of the period in Internet history that began in 2004. Collectively these trends would come to be called web 2.0. Todd Park, his innovators, and the most forward thinking federal employees are building an emerging platform to improve government.
Cynics will tell you that serious improvements to the federal government are about as probable as Redskins owner Dan Snyder’s chance to hoist the Lombardi trophy.
Earlier in the week, I heard a story about from a very high ranking official that was attempting to purchase a technology solution for an agency that could then provide better customer service. A losing vendor sued (as is their right). The procurement decision is in the courts and until its resolved the agency will continue to provide 20th century service. Frequently, progressive strategies get derailed by the byzantine regulatory environment.
American will not seamlessly access their personal healthcare records safely and securely from the cloud (though thanks to the PIFS, 1.5 million Veterans already can) We can’t create a government procurement marketplace that operates as efficiently as eBay in 6 months or turn household energy management into a source of social competition overnight.
But progress could arrive faster than you think. Consider this: In 1995, only 30mm people in the world had access to digital communications. Today that number is nearing 2.5 billion. Not even 20 years have passed since Netscape launched and a corporate revolution began. Last year, The company’s founder Mark Andreessen famously predicted that “software will eat the world.” Is government software’s kryptonite?
This historical moment may be the greatest chance to fix American governance since Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence or Lincoln pushed through the 13th Amendment. We’ve had 20 years of upheaval in the private sector that have seen Google, Amazon ,Apple and others restructure many industries.
The next Mark Zuckerberg might hack government instead of industry. While the financial return may not be the same, the chance to restore faith in democracy and government by the people could be a really cool project.
BraceLand: Silicon Valley's Problem -
I posted something on Twitter the other day that got a bunch of attention, and I realized I wanted to clarify what I meant. Here’s what I wrote:
“Silicon Valley’s problem in a nutshell: crazed about Instagram’s ToS, not a peep about FISA reauthorization.”
I meant to capture something…
USA Short 102412 -
nothing more in an election year than @marymeeker and her usainc slides
On October 10th, I interviewed Lerer Ventures Partner Eric Hippeau for our series at NYU Inside the Internet Garage. We’ll post the edited video this coming week. Eric was asked a question by a student about how to manage one’s career and life and I wanted to share his answer with you.
I can only paraphrase what he said. ”If you are unhappy somewhere you should leave that place. There are always new jobs and new industries. It’s ok to move to a job you’re not sure about if it gets you out of place you know you don’t like.” Time and again, you will hear from successful people that you should:
I really hope everybody (young and old) hears this message. If you work hard, dreams can come true.
Just in the Lerer portfolio alone, are dozens of jobs to get started with your career. And that’s tip of the iceberg for the network industries.
Paul Berry, CEO of RebelMouse and SohoLabs, joined us for a lively discussion about education. Paul, an NYU Gallatin and ITP Grad, added some profound advice for today’s students. The three of us were having healthy, perhaps even vigorous debate about the merits of higher education when Paul said and again I’m paraphrasing from memory, “I stayed at NYU because I was having an amazing time. I loved the people I was meeting (Jonah Peretti among others) and what I was learning. If you don’t love it maybe you shouldn’t stay.”
These comments are useful filters for people to check whether they are on the path to enlightenment or wasting time. Love what you do. Not just as a student, but also as a professional. Many people will grind you down and tell you this is no longer possible. Don’t cave to that.
Listen to Eric, Paul and all the other members of the “the glass is 90% full” community.
Remains a great intellectual hero of mine. Here he is rounding into form.
Larry Lessig: I’m a little hesitant to speak because there’s a lot of teachers of mine in this room, on the Internet and of other subjects, like economics. But the teacher of this for me is Jim Cooper, who has been in Congress, he is one of the youngest members elected in the history of Congress and as old as he is right now that means that he’s been around as long as all but 20 other members of Congress.
And I think the first thing to recognize which he taught me is how the place has changed. It’s easy for us to think that we have problems that we want to talk about or problems that have been there forever, and on some level they have, but we’ve seen the kind of, you know, hockey stick here too. And the hockey stick here too is the radical increase in the kind of influence, the economy of influence that produces the type of problems that we’re talking about.
Now I uses words like ‘economy of influence.’ Jim summarizes the problem in Congress is that Capital Hill has become a farm league for K street.
It’ a much more compelling way to understand the problem. And not just a farm league for K street not necessarily just about members but increasingly staffers who think of their life as a business model focused on a life after public service, their [future] life as a lobbyist.
The part that I want add to the story though, you know…and I think in this group it could grok well…is the instability of the system that we’ve produced. And one way to see it is this: the Constitution hands out a resource in a democracy that we all have, called the vote. And that resource, the Constitution says, must be absolutely equal. So if your district is architected so that your vote is .1% bigger than mine the constitution says we gotta redraw your district so that our votes are exactly equal. And those votes happen in discrete moments. We have a primary, we have a general election. In those discrete moments, we all are equal and the product of that equality is a very conservative (with a small C) system. Radical change has done happen overnight because you got to convince a bunch of people to support the change and having to convince a bunch of people from all across society is a really valuable thing.
Alright now contrast that with the second election that we conduct every two years, that’s the money election. The money election is the election which we conduct, where people give their money to candidates, so that candidates can then run their elections.
And the thing that, you know, has happened slowly, and now much more quickly since Citizens United is the concentration of influence in the money election. So .26% of Americans, one quarter of one percent of Americans give two hundred dollars in a congressional election. .05 give the maximum amount to any congressional candidate.
.01, the one percent that the 1 percent get more than $10,000 dollars in an election cycle. And .0000063%, [that is] 196 Americans have given 80% of the super PAC money in the presidential elections so far. 196 Americans.
So what that means is, if you look at the graph for votes, everybody’s basically equal. If you look at the graph for money influence and it’s basically nothing till you get to the very top, and the tiniest slice of the 1% is having this kind of influence.
Now, why is that a problem? Well, it’s a problem because the instability that it produces for the democracy. Because what that means is: whenever you have an issue, that you’d like to block reform on, block change on, where there’s an incumbent and that incumbent would like to stop anything that gets in the way, it’s a relatively small number of people that you’ve got to recruit to your cause. A relatively small number of funders are going to be sufficient to get the money you need to steer policy away from this kind of change.
PIPA/SOPA was an amazing victory at the end of a series of 20 years of defeats. A series of twenty years of defeats, because in the system, they could concentrate influence so much with this money, that they could block, they could protect against the emerging Internet, because that’s just the economy of influence that system has.
AT&T, you know, the outrageous things going in the context of Internet service right now…Jim spoke about people who do not have access to broadband. Some states like, you know, North Carolina began to have the communities that provided broadband service by community organizations. They would set up these broadband community organizations.
This broadband service was symmetrical fiber service. So North Carolina was the worst state in the nation, the symmetrical broadband service was cheap and fast when it could be provided. Last year, exactly a year ago, North Carolina passed, the 19th state to pass a law, basically banning communities from doing this.
Why did they pass this law banning communities from doing this? Because AT&T and Verizon have spent unbelievable amounts of money to get these state legislatures to stop this new competitor. And the point is, they can do this because we’ve created a political system where the tiniest slice of Americans actually get to call the shots.
And the only way to avoid, to go back to a system, where it’s a broad swathe of Americans who get to call the shots, so you don’t get this kind of steering by a tiny group of Americans is to begin to disaggregate the money-power game the way we disaggregated the voting-power game. Democracy solved the voting-power, somehow we’ve got to solve the money-power.
But until we do, every single thing we care about, and not just we in the Internet space, but everything we care about in global warming, health care, a tax system that makes sense, it’s going to continue to be susceptible to this highly unstable influence market that we have allowed to evolve over the period of just the last twenty years.
Summary: do networks, Tumblr, Twitter, Craigslist have to maintain minimum economics to create long term sustainability:
Fred Wilson: Brett, I want to talking about the economics of networks and one of the things I have observed over the years and I don’t know if it’s correct or not but I want to throw out just to discuss a little bit regarding economics is that the sustainable networks on the Internet are networks that don’t try to maximize their economics. And that they actually try to minimize their economics. And that sustainable potentially are at odds with the entire notion of capitalism which is about maximizing economics.
I’m curious if people have observed that and whether that’s a crock of whatever or actually something to think about. of Craig’s [xx]. Excuse me? Craig is the…yes. Craig is an example of a network that didn’t try to maximize itself. Right. But has some economics in it, right? that’s the interesting thing about it.
Because we were talking about Wikipedia before and I think Clay said that Wikipedia has struggled to sustain itself. and that it’s economics are so thin that may not be sustainable whereas that in Craigslist, I mean I am not familiar with the economics, but it appears to be sustainable economically but not maximized economically.