Government Technology
By Ulf Wolf: Citizen engagement and responsibility in the digital age.

Digital Pirates

December 29, 2009 By Ulf Wolf

(First in a series)

A new Swedish website was launched on January 1, 2006, heralding the first purely digital political party in the world:Piratpartiet (The Pirate Party).

Its aims were clearly stated and included:

Main Goal: To promote global legislation to facilitate the emerging information society.

Regarding Copyright: Claiming that today's copyright system is unbalanced, the party's position is that file sharing (e.g. music) should be decriminalized.

Regarding Patent Laws: Holding that privatized monopolies are one of society's worst enemies, the party's position is that patents are obsolete and should be gradually done away with. Regarding patents on pharmaceuticals, the Pirate Party proposes increasing government support for R&D to make up for loss of private R&D if there were no patent protection for innovation.

Regarding Personal Privacy: Holding that all attempts to curtail these rights (e.g. privacy) must be questioned and met with powerful opposition, the party's position is that anti-terror laws nullify due process and run the risk of being used as repressive tools.

Six Phases

At launch, the movement mapped out six phases of activity, announcing the first as the collection of at least 2,000 signatures (500 more than required to participate in the upcoming September 17 general election). In less than 24 hours the Party had collected over 2,000 signatures (2,268), evidencing a wide interest among the Swedish Internet savvy.

A day later, the Party closed the signature collection phase with a total of 4,725 signatures.

As such signatories, by Swedish election law, are required to identify themselves when giving support for a new party; this feat caught the international media's attention and was widely reported at the time.

However, signatures presented to the Swedish election authorities must be handwritten, which initiated a follow-up phase. This was accomplished by February 10, when over 1,500 handwritten signatures had been acquired and presented to the election authorities. Three days later, the authorities presented the Pirate Party final confirmation as eligible to partake in the upcoming Swedish general elections.

Phases two to five included registering with the Election Authority, getting candidates for the Riksdag, raising money for printing ballots, and preparing an organization for the election, including local organizations in all municipalities of Sweden with a population in excess of 50,000, which as of 2005 this meant 43 municipalities. During this phase fundraising was also started, with an initial goal of raising 1 million Swedish Krowns (roughly $125,000).

The sixth and final phase was the election itself. The Party, which claims that there are between 800,000 and 1.1 million active file sharers in Sweden hoped that at least 225,000 (4% of all the voters in Sweden) of those would vote for the party, granting them membership in Parliament.

While this threshold was not reached in the 2007 election, the picture may look differently after the 2010 general elections, considering that the Pirate Party received 7.13% of the total Swedish votes in the 2009 European Parliament elections, which was originally to result in one seat in the European parliament, but became two when the Lisbon Treaty was ratified.

Christian Engström became the first MEP for the party, and Amelia Andersdotter took the second seat after the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty on December 1, 2009.

Today, the Pirate Party (according to their site) has a total active membership of 48,544, making it the second larges political party in Sweden.

Considering, too, that the Pirate Party has become a model for similar political parties springing up in Europe, it is a movement well worth following since it may become the model base for the digital citizen.

 


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Chicago Bridges Digital Divide

December 22, 2009 By Ulf Wolf

According to a recent ABC television report Tuesday December 21 saw Chicago Mayor Daley joined by the Federal Communications Commissions chair Julius Genachowski in announcing further steps taken to close the digital divide and improve Internet service in Chicago South Side neighborhoods.

The announcement was made at the greater Southwest Development Corporation and dubbed the "Smart Communities" program.

The program's goal is to turn 63rd Street into a center to improve digital access and training across the city.

"Technology can enhance opportunities, improve our knowledge, especially the work skills, expand our economic development, encourage innovation, and boost Chicago's ability to compete in a global economy," said Daley.

Planned family Internet centers will offer a variety of programs and hands-on training in several locations including the southwest reach center in the Chicago lawn community and Kennedy-King College in the Englewood neighborhood.

Mayor Daley further said that the city of Chicago is committed to closing the digital divide and that he supports efforts to take wireless broadband internet access to poor communities.

To facilitate this, both Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard are donating equipment and millions of dollars to help launch these neighborhood projects.

According to a WGN television report, Mayor Daley also stated that efforts like this are crucial in the global economy, and that he believes that government at all levels needs to commit to connecting America to the world and the future.

A Chicago Sun-Times article further reports that the plan to flood Englewood, Auburn Gresham, Chicago Lawn, Pilsen and the latest addition, Humboldt Park, with technology was hailed by Federal Communications Commission Chairman as a model for the nation.

"As we develop the national broadband plan in Washington, we're paying a lot of attention to the smart actions being taken in cities like Chicago," Genachowski said.

Daley also argued that bridging a digital divide that has left nearly 40 percent of Chicagoans with little or no access to the Internet is as important to cities today as paving streets and building water and sewer systems was in the 19th and 20th centuries.

"These tough economic times demand that we roll up our sleeves and redouble our efforts to address the challenge of the digital divide head-on," Daley told a news conference.

In addition to flooding the five neighborhoods with technology, Chicago has also applied for $110 million in federal grants for laying fiber to further improve Internet access throughout the city.

By all signs and accounts, the city of Chicago seems committed to tackle the digital divide head on, a stance worthy of applause.


 


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Digital Socializing

December 15, 2009 By Ulf Wolf

Between them, MySpace and Facebook rule the roost. In fact, 65 percent of all visits to social networking sites land on one of these two; and on its own, Facebook grabs more than 6 percents of all visits in the United States, period.

So what makes up the other 35 percent? According to the Experian Hitwise database of online usage of more than 10 million U.S. Internet users, there are now more than 5,580 social networking sites beyond Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. Amazing.

While MySpace and Facebook are fairly general town squares in the digital world of ours, more and more demand is created for special interest sites (such as model airplane construction, diving, and barefoot hiking), leading to a virtual (pun intended) explosion in niche networks. There's a good chance that such a network exists to meet your particular demand.

Bill Tancer recently wrote an article that covered some of the up-and-coming sites.

Some samples:

Launched in 2004, Yelp.com allows visitors to review restaurants, bars, doctors, dentists, etc., for the benefit of the many. This site initially took off in the major cities such as San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles, but has since grown in popularity and influence throughout the United States.

Are you Interested in reviewing a new restaurant in your neighborhood? Yelp.com is your site. Some of its reviewers recommend new venues, while others go one step further and suggest what to order. After returning from dinner, do your part by returning the favor: post your own review.

Then there are sites like BuzzNet.com, which is a social network built upon music, personal taste and favorite artists. Other sites, like TMZ.com and PerezHilton.com cater to the celebrity obsessed, while Zimbio, a user-created Ezine covers a variety of topics, and has been gaining in popularity of late.

If you are looking for deeper and more meaningful exchanges (at the opposite end of the pendulum from Twitter's 140-character shorthand), there are social networks like Gather.com which caters to precisely that.

Or, you want to give (or need) advice, say about what to do as a new mom. Cafe Mom and Momversation are built to provide just that.

Then there are the fix-it type networks, such as FixYa.com, a social network whose mission it is to help you solve problems with your car, computer, light fixtures, waffle baker, or anything else that you can think of.

The French writer Romain Gary once said, "What man needs most of all is friendship," and I don't think he could have hit the nail more squarely on the head. The amazing number, and versatility, of digital social networks bear witness to the veracity of that. Man likes to communicate and to share. The digital age facilitates that, in spades.

 


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Twitter Top 12

December 8, 2009 By Ulf Wolf

A very interesting article on msnbc.com highlights corporate and business use of Twitter as a marketing and/or PR tool. This article outlines the criteria for this selection (including a minimum follower count of one million) and some other factors that have bearing on the final list.

It is amazing to see how fast business not only embraces but also adopts new technology, this is a list of great examples.

Some local governments, most noticeable the City of San Francisco, has also made brilliant use of Twitter, which was covered in this DC article
 
Here the, without further ado, is the The Big Money Twitter Top 12 list:

1. The New York Times -- Followers as of 12/1/09: 2,138,846 (and growing), with as many as 40 posts a day.

2. E! Entertainment -- Followers as of 12/1/09: 1,816,118, with 29 posts a day.

3. NBA -- Followers as of 12/1/09: 1,634,613; posts continual updates of games each night.

4. CNN -- Followers as of 12/1/09: 2,812,339; the greatest amount of followers in the Top 12.

5. Whole Foods Market -- Followers as of 12/1/09: 1,619,330; fielding queries across the Twitterverse.

6. BNO News -- Followers as of 12/1/09: 1,458,048, with the greatest common sense name @breakingnews, now pointing back to msnbc.com.

7. Etsy -- Followers as of 12/1/09: 1,116,364; an online craft-dealer fielding customer queries and promoting its wears.

8. Health Magazine -- Followers as of 12/1/09: 1,102,452; fewest followers of the Top 12 at this point, fastest growing, talking about all things health.

9. Jet Blue Airways -- Followers as of 12/1/09: 1,479,647; an airline customer service feed.

10. Silcon Alley Insider -- Followers as of 12/1/09: 1,249,653; an automated feed of all Silicon Alley Insider publishes.

11. Dell Outlet -- Followers as of 12/1/09: 1,449,866; primarily used to announce new deals, at the rate of one or two a day.

12. Amazon MP3 -- Followers as of 12/1/09: 1,340,390; special deals and promo links has seen a 42 percent growth over the last two months.

This is Twitter proving itself digitally useful quite beyond belief.


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Digital Divide vs. Welfare State

December 1, 2009 By Ulf Wolf

A Recent DailyTech article highlighting the plans of Intel, Dell and others to bridge the Digital Divide through their Every Citizen Online (ECO) project drew some very interesting comments pro and con (but mostly con).

Welfare State

Opined one commentator, "Computers, the Internet, and broadband are not rights. They're luxuries, and I don't like my tax dollars being used to provide luxuries to other people. Nowhere does the Constitution say that every citizen is entitled to be able to watch YouTube videos."

Opined another, "I hate welfare, redistribution of wealth, entitlement programs....everything the government takes money from me and spends on someone else who is too lazy or stupid to get for themselves."

And yet another, "If people in outlying areas want broadband, then they should have to pay for it themselves."

Answered a pro, "I'm sure there were people who thought that rural electrification and telephone service were luxuries in the first part of the 20th Century. Fortunately their views did not prevail, and I hope your attitude toward the internet and broadband meet the same fate."

And here's the crux: if the remote and rural areas were to pay for broadband service at the rate it will initially cost to provide this to them, the Digital Divide will never be bridged, since that single household in northern Montana cannot fork over the $2 Million it'll cost to pull fiber to their village.

Yet, that village may sprout and grow to something quite fantastic would it get online and join the rest of the world (should it want to, that is) both in terms of commerce and services.

In fact, this village, based on increased population and tax revenue alone may over time pay back the $2 Million a few times over to a government that may make (or subsidize) such an infrastructure investment.

The Constitution

True, our Constitution does not prescribe computer ownership and broadband access as a divine, every-citizen right. Neither, however, did it prescribe universal telephone access, which in the end was in fact provided by a Ma Bell that by law was guaranteed to make a modest profit, no matter what it spent, and to that degree was indeed subsidized when it had to pull dial tone across fifty miles of wasteland to reach remote customers.

I'm all for everyone working for a living and paying their way, but there is a mountain of difference between calling your local cable company and ask them to hook you up, and paying for 50 miles of fiber in order to join the 21st century.

The jury, as usual, is still out.

 


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Digital Citizen Pulse

Digital Citizen Engagement - or how Government-IT empowers Citizen Participation and Input - is an important aspect of 21st century life given all the challenges communities face. This is a subject very dear to my heart and one I like to keep a constant finger on. This blog shares my findings and impressions with those interested.