Friday, July 31, 2015

Growth Hacking For Civic Hacks: Part 2

Part 1 of this post series presented the basics of what growth hacking is. Today’s post will consider relevant points from an article about growth hacking for civic hacks and from an article with a viewpoint about what ‘true’ growth hacking really is.

I’ll start with quote from “7 Tactics for Your Civic App That You Can Learn From Twitter and Airbnb” and a suggestion to read whole article. This is the only online resource I’ve found so far that talks about growth hacking for civic hacking. That’s one sign there’s not enough of it being done.
There is an art to developing a user base. One set of best practices and tactics for getting users is called “growth hacking.”...So what’s worked for growth hackers that might also work for civic applications?...civic application creators...almost never have one person (let alone a team) of people who are dedicated to marketing. 
The idea is pretty simple: don’t create a product and then start thinking about marketing it. Think like a marketer from the beginning: create a product that at least one group of people actually wants to use… 
The best way to figure out what people want is to find them where they are and ask. This allows you not just to create a useful app but also to save money on things like PR, social media outreach, ads, and media partnerships...Some of the projects that I’ve spoken to recently about their citizen engagement efforts...saw the most engagement when they went directly to people in their homes and asked them to use their platforms...A Mexican civic application called Tehuan learned through experience that traditional PR...didn’t work nearly as well as word of mouth. So they started putting more energy into encouraging users to share their reports with friends online...Share it on Facebook and Twitter... 
One benefit of having a smaller community of target users (this is the case for civic apps, since not that many people are actively engaged with issues of public concern) is that you can directly contact early users and encourage them to share their experience with friends, colleagues and family. It’s even better if you can build this reliance on networks into your application... 
The backbone of growth hacking is its emphasis on data collection and iteration. It’s pretty rare for a civic application to have a marketing guru on staff, but there are a host of applications that make it easier for tiny teams to process empirical information about how users are experiencing their application and how they can change it to make a better...All of this adds up to a lot of work and it may not be realistic for civic technologists and non-governmental organizations to put time and money into such activities. However, a lot of the tactics mentioned here represent a way of looking at the process of creating a civic application as much as they represent hours of additional work. For example, building features and providing information that you know your market wants and needs doesn’t require extra human resources. It merely requires you to be conscious of your market throughout the entire process of creating a civic application...”
The above article highlights the basics of the right way to create a new product (make that product be something for which there’s an actual market need, something that people will want to use), then proceeds to cover Marketing 101 steps for civic hacks. It seems to me that the US / global civic hacking community would benefit from a collaborative effort to determine and share market needs, to shine a spotlight on best-of-breed civic hacks, and to do everything possible to create ten to twenty civic hack ‘killer apps’ that every city will want to use. For open source projects designed to make our communities better, there is no reason to compete or to hoard information that might help the other person, or the other hack, or the other city, do better than we will in our city. That’s not the situation in for-profit capitalist businesses, where competition generally means much less collaboration. Civic hacking has much less need for competition and many more reasons to work together.

Rob Moffat’s definition of growth hacking in “Defining growth hacking” has a lot to do with finding effective ways to be different from the crowd. By definition, that means you need to think differently because successful growth hacks will be copied by many people and, therefore, have a short shelf life. His definition for the term is “finding innovative mechanisms that acquire new users at a cost that is low enough to be irrelevant.” His view of civic hacking seems to be that a large part of what is called growth hacking is merely mainstream marketing which is using the buzzword to attract clients by promoting themselves and their companies as growth hackers.

Moffat gives these examples of what he considers true growth hacking:

  • Dropbox’s offer of free storage for inviting friends (cost for Dropbox near-zero, high value to users, very successful).
  • Using public web data (Craigslist, Gumtree) to identify your perfect target clients and approach them automatically in an intelligent way (e.g. we have automatically created a listing for you, click here to accept).
  • Sending a tweet out when you have fresh baked goods.
  • Automatically alerting users when an item they have looked at is nearly out of stock. ( are masters of this).
  • Mailbox’s waiting list.
  • CSR Racing ‘tweet a photo of your ride.’

My main takeaways from these articles are (1) there should be more collaboration nationwide and worldwide on creating a set of effective and widely used top-tier civic hacks, and (2) growth hacking will be most successful for a civic hack when there is high value and strong market demand for that hack, and the growth hacks will be unique to that product, or at least a new twist which connects a huge number of users at a very low cost.

Today’s first article pointed out that civic hacking doesn’t generally have much of a marketing budget. The second article says ‘that’s ok, because true growth hacking acquires many users for almost no cost.'


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Recycle App Ecosystem: Trash Queens & Kings!

So NE Wisconsin is in the early stages of building a civic hacking community. We had our first civic hackathon in June 2015. We had our first civic hack Android app put in the Google Play app store in July of this year. And next month, in August, we plan to continue building out the Recycle App ecosystem of NE Wisconsin.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts the importance of ‘seed projects’ or existing civic hacks that people can contribute to, fork into new projects, build related hacks which are complementary to the seed project. Mike Putnam’s “Is It Recycling Week?” Android app and his AppletonAPI are the current champions of seed projects in our region. The two projects from Mike prompted people to help him improve those civic hacks, spawned a Pebble smartwatch app, encouraged the creation of a web browser version of the Android app, persuaded the building of a civic hack API locator, convinced people to work on APIs for Greenville and Oshkosh, and just generally made it fun to see what would come next related to recycling and garbage. Recently in the NE Wisconsin Slack group, there was discussion about our region quickly developing into the Trash Queens & Kings!

To possibly inspire more coders and non-coding civic hackers to rally around Mike’s NE Wisconsin trash empire, I decided to write about a couple ideas people can consider working on before or at the next civic hacking event. (That next event will likely be in Appleton in the second half of August, so keep watch on this blog to find out when it will be. If you want to get an email from me when the date, time and location are set, let me know.) Anyway, here’s below are a few of my trashy ideas. None of the ideas have been patented yet, so feel free to claim any of these open source code ideas for your own and build a civic hack around them.

Recycle Apps & CityAPIs For 50 NE Wisconsin Cities

A campaign can be launched to develop “Is It Recycling Week?” apps and CityAPIs for at least 50 cities in NE Wisconsin. This will do several things. It will give our area bragging rights at any meetups of civic hackers. It will spread the word about civic hacking throughout our region like wildfire. Although a civic hack about wildfires might spread more quickly. At least it would in the tinder-dry counties of southern California. Creating 50 forks of Mike’s civic hacks might also highlight the value of standard formats for data used and made available by cities. If all cities provided recycling info in the same format

TrashTalk Casual Game in “Is It Recycling Week?”

We can integrate a simple trash video game or game mechanics into the recycling smartphone app. This can be something simple enough that it would only take them a couple hours to do the coding, maybe a library or module? This casual game would not be complex or have high value, but is just intended as something amusing. Sort of like Zany Golf (old Apple IIgs game).  <>   IIRW / TrashTalk goes on iPhone App Store and has 400,000 downloads in first month. Mike Putnam and the gamer coders make $10K in first two months. A regional challenge match with cash prizes is launched and gets global media coverage.

Recyclepedia / Recycle Info

A new recycle app (is that a contradiction?) can be built to answer all your recycle questions. If you want to know where to dispose of non-trash items, type in what type of item you have and it will tell you where to get rid of that. If you want to recycle your old personal computer, it will tell you to take it to Best Buy for no charge, and give you other options. If you type in “light bulbs,” it will ask you what kind of bulbs and then tell you the proper disposal method for the dead bulbs you have. Any questions it can answer, or can’t answer to your satisfaction, will be forwarded to a team of civic hackers who we create new answers to unsatisfied answers, and those new answers will be incorporated into the app database. The possibilities for this app are endless!

“Is It Recycling Week?” Extension / Fork Coder Competition
To encourage enhancements to the NE Wisconsin recycling civic hacks, we’ll recruit sponsors for a coder challenge for which they’ll write app extensions or fork civic hacks for new communities in our region. From the 200 to 300 entries which are submitted during the Trash Empire Challenge, we will no doubt end up with features we never would have imagined possible. In the same way that the Apple App Store created a new platform for thousands of developers and generated billions of dollars, so our coder competition will make wonderful things happen in our small corner of Wisconsin.

Front Cover Of Waste Advantage Magazine or The Mother Earth News

A campaign can be launched to get “Is It Recycling Week?” on the cover of Waste Advantage Magazine or The Mother Earth News. We may not get all that many additional city resident users of the app due to being on the cover of those magazines (I’m thinking not all that many people in NE Wisconsin read Waste Advantage Magazine), but it will give Mike P and his recycling rebel compadres more street cred, as well as another notch to file on their Developer Derringers. (Interesting [to me] history lesson I gained from writing this post is that derringer with two Rs is the genericized misspelling for the pocket pistols modeled after the original handgun designed and built by Henry Deringer [one R]. Now you know.)

List Of All US Trash Apps & Garbage / Recycle Civic Hacks
We can build a directory of all the US trash apps and civic hacks for recycling and garbage. What the heck, we can even have apps from outside the US, although nobody can generate garbage like Americans can. When you browse through this list of trash hacks, because you’re tired of posting stuff on your Facebook page at work, you might be inspired to start working on your very own recycle app, or a suggestion for improvements on one of the existing apps.

“Is It Recycling Week?” Endorsements

An enterprising and civic-minded person can get endorsement quotes from trash management engineers and executives, from ordinary residents and mayor, from the Wisconsin DNR and US EPA. They can even contact trade organizations from the recycling and waste management industry to get glowing endorsements for our awesome bevy of NE Wisconsin recycling civic hacks. I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if we get an invitation to the White House from President Obama so he can endorse these apps in person. Or at least a tweet from some random person in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

“Is It Recycling Week?” Humor Video

A humorous video will be created to promote the NE Wisconsin recycle and trash empire apps. It will feature at-the-curbside, also known as on-the-street, interviews with trash taker-outers who don’t have the app but wish they did. The video will include deadpan explanations of silly reasons why they want app, how they are considering switching from iPhone to Android because there’s no iPhone app yet, people asking their neighbors 'hey, do you know if this is recycle week?,' stories about how “Is It Recycling Week?” saved their marriage, etc. When the app goes viral on the Internet, NE Wisconsin and the video production team will become globally famous!

Recycle App Sponsorship

To incentivize developers to write, maintain, and improve recycle apps, we’ll get organizations like Waste Management, Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region, WI-DNR, US EPA, Kimberly-Clark, Schneider, Bellin Health, Associated Bank and everyone else we can think of to sponsor the NE Wisconsin recycling civic hack ecosystem. Part of that sponsorship will also be leveraged to make more people aware of the apps and get more people using them.

App User Engagement Challenge

This would be a challenge to get residents of the city to engage with the recycle apps, somewhat like the residents of Panama City did with the Pothole Tweeters. We will request user idea and picture submissions, like the alligator pothole picture, and allow them to submit their ideas or pictures via a submission link in the smartphone recycling app. The Tweeting Potholes project is just the starting point for user engagement. Lots of other sticky engagement tools will be added by the team developing and running this contest. In Panama City, a TV station and ad agency created the Twitter campaign. Maybe local civic hackers can team up with a NE Wisconsin TV station and advertising agency for this project.

Earth Day Trash Queen / King Contest

We can launch the world’s first Earth Day Trash Queen / King contest. No specific ideas popped into my head for this one, just the overall concept. It would likely involve incorporating some aspect of Earth Day into the recycling smartphone apps. I’ll let you use your imagination and emails to tell me what this contest might or should look like. One of the many prizes for this once per year winner

App User Feedback From Non-Taker-Outer Spouse

We can run a contest for the best feedback from an app user who is the spouse of the Trash-Taker-Outer. One woman I know was really excited to install the app on her Android smartphone. She doesn’t take the trash out to the curb, but when she tells her husband to take it out, he always asks her if it’s a recycle week. Now she knows. So if the app user isn’t the trash-taker-outer, we need feedback from their spouse or partner to find out how we can improve the app.

Recycle App On $10 Smart Display Screen For Refrigerator Or Trash Bin

Small LCD screens and microcontrollers are getting ridiculously inexpensive. A clever person can design and build Internet of Things (IoT) devices for less than $10 that could be stuck on recycle bins or your refrigerator to tell you if recycle week and when the trash should go out.

Pop-Up Humor On “Is It Recycling Week?” App

Each time you use the recycling app, it pops up something humorous for you to read. Just something to make it more fun to set the garbage out to be picked up the next morning. The app can have 500 trash jokes and 500 humorous but valuable recycling or garbage related tips and facts. The app will just randomly select which one pops up, alternating jokes with humorous facts or tips. The concept is to give the app user just one more reason to check it frequently. Users will start tweeting about the funny pop-up they read tonight on their recycle smartphone app. You might find this very difficult to believe, but I think people will actually start looking forward to trash night!

Recycle App Reward System

You could create a reward system for recycle app users, maybe something with digital badges. An app user can get credit for number of times they check the app, rewards for reminding their neighbor it’s recycling week (because the neighbor has an iPhone, and there’s only an Android app so far), reporting app operating problems or suggesting other changes to the app, etc. The top prize might be breakfast with the city mayor, the CEO of Waste Management, or some other recycling luminary.

Recycle Bin Art Contest

I’ve seen some pretty artistic and awesome recycle bin art in cities I’ve visited. The concept of this idea is that city residents with paint a mural or some type of artwork on their recycle bin to give it personality and to liven up their street. Instead of driving down your street on trash pickup day and seeing a monotonous lineup of trash bins, you’ll see interesting, strange, weird and amazing art. People could paint with removable watercolors if the trash company or city objects to permanently-beautiful garbage bins.

Free Recycle Stuff Nearby

This is a smartphone app with a social feature that mashes up craigslist free stuff with “Is It Recycling Week?” and maybe Pinterest. You can take a picture of anything you no longer want but others might find useful and load the picture to the app. It will also incorporate the free stuff from craigslist that people in your city are getting rid of. The app shows you pics of stuff others are giving away; if you see something you like, you can anonymously text them to let them know you’ll come over to look at it. You can restrict to your zip code if your city has more than one zip.

Those who read the above descriptions of recycle app ideas no doubt had more, and better, ideas for expanding Mike’s recycling civic hack empire. Please send those ideas to Bob Waldron, at bwaldron (at) gmail [dott] com, and I’ll update this list with your ideas. Let me know if you want those to be anonymous or attributed.

And please come join the trash talk at the next NE Wisconsin civic hacking event!


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Growth Hacking For Civic Hacks: Part 1

Not sure if this is recursive, but it seems like civic hacking needs growth hacking. And that probably applies to the whole US, not just NE Wisconsin.

Today’s post presents a basic overview of growth hacking. Future posts in this series will examine application of growth hacking to civic hacks.

Growth hacking is defined by Wikipedia thusly:
Growth hacking is a marketing technique developed by technology startups which uses creativity, analytical thinking, and social metrics to sell products and gain exposure. It can be seen as part of the online marketing ecosystem, as in many cases growth hackers are using techniques such as search engine optimization, website analytics, content marketing and A/B testing. Growth hackers focus on low-cost and innovative alternatives to traditional marketing, e.g. utilizing social media and viral marketing instead of buying advertising through more traditional media such as radio, newspaper, and television. Growth hacking is particularly important for startups, as it allows for a "lean" launch that focuses on "growth first, budgets second.” Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Airbnb and Dropbox are all companies that use growth hacking techniques.”
OK, you’ve got the short Wikipedia definition of growth hacking. Now let’s look a bit deeper into what growth hacking is, as laid out in the post “10 Important Things about Growth Hacking You Won’t Find in Wikipedia.” Read the article to get the full understanding, but the five points that I liked best were:

  1. Growth Hacking Is a Mindset.
  2. Growth Hackers Know the Difference between Traction and Growth.
  3. They Think out of the Box but Understand That Most Growth Hacks Have a Short Lifecycle.
  4. They Use Their Users’ Emotions and Psychology to Reach Their Goals.
  5. They Spend Countless Hours to Capture Events and Watch Their Data.

Three initial takeaways from the author’s ten points are (1) we should consider building analytics and regular reporting into our civic hacks so we know how often they’re being used and how we can improve them, (2) the NE Wisconsin civic hacking community needs a growth hacking team, and (3) we need to identify future civic hacks that have the potential for large user bases (i.e. identify an opportunity where growth hacking can be successful).

Civic hacking particularly needs growth hacking because:

  • Most people in the target audience for civic hacks have never heard of civic hacks.
  • Marketing budgets for civic hacks are pretty much nonexistent.
  • Civic hackers aren’t (usually) being paid to develop, maintain or improve civic hacks.
  • People sometimes work on a specific civic hack because it’s of high interest to them, not because the hack will have a large user base or solve what others think is a significant problem.
  • Civic hack UI/UX (user interface/user experience) is generally less-than-great because not many designers are civic hackers and not many coders are UI/UX ninjas.
  • Many government officials, administrators and workers don’t know what civic hacking is or don’t like it because it requires change.

We have a couple functional civic hacks in NE Wisconsin now; “Is It Recycling Week?” Android app, “Is It Recycling Week?” Pebble smartwatch app, and the “Is It Recycling Week?” web / browser version. Next we need to build a community of early users or testers, refine the apps so they're robust and have a proven effective UX, then have a growth hacking team develop a growing user base for these hacks.

As mentioned earlier in this post, we need to differentiate between traction and growth. Our first step is to develop traction and refine the products. That necessarily comes before growth hacking.

If you want to be an early user or tester for these civic hacks, please click on the link(s) above and test them for your address. Encourage people you know to try out these civic hacks. Then give us feedback on your experience, including problems you experienced and suggestions for improvements.

If you want to work on civic hacking by being a growth hacker, please contact Bob Waldron at bwaldron (at) gmail [dott] com. We should start planning a growth hacking strategy as soon as possible, both for these hacks and for future NE Wisconsin civic hacks.


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Cybersecurity & Civic Hacking # 8: Hype or Reality?

This is the eighth ‘Cybersecurity & Civic Hacking’ post I’ve written to support the need for launching a collaborative NE Wisconsin cybersecurity initiative that includes civic hacking.

Recently, people have told me that media stories about cybersecurity risks are mostly hype. They say the government and tech companies will do what’s needed to keep people and businesses in NE Wisconsin safe from digital attackers. NE Wisconsin residents tell me they’re not concerned about security risks for their computers, smartphones, debit or credit cards, bank accounts, electronic health records, vehicles, and other digital or Internet-connected devices and personal information.

In today’s post, I won’t use my own words in an attempt to persuade the educational, business and political leaders of our region, along with the general public in NE Wisconsin, that the cybersecurity risks I've been talking about are real. I won't try to make it clear why we should not rely on the government or some tech company in Silicon Valley to protect us. Instead, I’ll present an article from last Saturday and one from yesterday. Maybe the words of someone from outside the state can convince you that a regional cybersecurity initiative is vitally important to the people and organizations of NE Wisconsin.

The first article is “Forget the Ashley Madison or Sony hacks – a crippling cyberattack is imminent in the US.”
Computer experts have long warned about a catastrophic cyber-attack in the US, a sort of Web 3.0 version of 9/11 that would wreak enormous damage throughout the country. Like most Americans, I shrugged. With all of the enormous resources the country enjoys, those warnings seemed like the rantings of a digital Chicken Little...there’s Silicon Valley, which I frequently write about. Surely the uber-geeks who run the world’s greatest innovation cluster could code something to smite the evildoers? Well, on behalf on the US, I admit I was terribly wrong. We are so screwed. 
I came to this conclusion recently, over a span of seven days. Earlier this month I attended a preview of retail giant Target’s new “Internet of Things” showroom in downtown San Francisco...It was all very impressive, but I couldn’t help notice an irony: the retailer that in 2013 was subject to a hack that [compromised] the credit-card data of 100 million consumers now wanted people to entrust their entire homes to the internet... 
One week later I found myself at a dinner in a fancy hotel to discuss cybersecurity with the executives of top Silicon Valley firms. Unlike the festive Target event, the mood was decidedly grim...Even the successful breach of Chrysler’s in-car systems, which allowed hackers to take control of a Jeep on the highway and prompted the recall of 1.4 million vehicles, is a mere appetiser compared with what’s coming down the road. 
By 2020 the US will be hit with an earthquake of a cyber-attack that will cripple banks, stock exchanges, power plants and communications, an executive from Hewlett-Packard predicted. Companies are nowhere near prepared for it. Neither are the Feds... 
What struck me about the dinner...was the naked pessimism in the room. Nobody even tried to put a happy face on the situation. “A slow-moving train wreck,” one executive said. Forget about coordinating with each other or the Feds: companies don’t even know how to deal with their own hacks, never mind worry about someone else’s…”
The second article is “[Governor] Otter creates Idaho cybersecurity task force.” The governor of Idaho apparently does not trust tech companies and the US government to adequately protect the people and businesses of Idaho from cybersecurity risks.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has signed an executive order creating the Idaho Cyber Security Task Force. “We have seen dozens of cyber attacks that seem to be increasing in frequency and boldness, costing our businesses and taxpayers untold billions of dollars each year,” said Otter...I want Idahoan’s to know that our state continues to prepare to meet any cybersecurity threat, whether from viruses, malware, and security breaches to outright theft of personal and private information.” 
“Idaho’s long term economic competitiveness is intimately linked to cybersecurity,” said Little. “But our companies and government networks are not the only ones vulnerable to cyber attacks. All Idahoans are under threat if our state is not vigilant about protecting our citizens’ privacy…”
NE Wisconsin Cybersecurity Initiative
I’m not suggesting NE Wisconsin launch an effort similar to the Idaho task force. That appears to be largely a political initiative. My proposal for a NE Wisconsin cybersecurity initiative focuses just on our 18 counties, it doesn't need politicians on a task force unless they're cybersecurity gurus, and it includes a significant amount of collaboration with civic hackers who are focused on cybersecurity.

However, the Idaho initiative does make it clear some areas of the US see value in developing local cybersecurity expertise.

If you live in NE Wisconsin and aren’t concerned about cybersecurity, or you think the best thing to do is wait for tech companies and the US government to make digital life secure for you or your company, you don’t need to convince me I’m wrong. You need to convince the tech company executives and the governor of Idaho they are wrong.


DHMN Civic Hacks posts about 'Cybersecurity & Civic Hacking':
C&CH # 01: "Cybersecurity: A New Horizon For Civic Hacking?"
C&CH # 02: “Cybersecurity & Civic Hacking # 2: Public Wi-Fi
C&CH # 03: "Cybersecurity & CH # 3: The Right Person / Topics Of Interest"
C&CH # 04: "Cybersecurity & CH # 4: Malware"
C&CH # 05: “Cybersecurity & CH # 5: Even Cybersecurity Companies Get Hacked!
C&CH # 06: "Cybersecurity & CH # 6: How Cybersecure Is Your Car?"
C&CH # 07: "Cybersecurity & CH # 7: Data Breaches"
C&CH # 08: This post, published July 28, 2015


Monday, July 27, 2015

Open Data And Participative Government In NE Wisconsin

This is a relatively short post tonight with a few comments about an item I read today titled “Digital Government Is the New Social Network.”
“...For a century, city hall reformers used tight hierarchical systems where a government official with access to information not available to others crafted rules and procedures that public servants followed. Even the much-celebrated 311 systems were based on the idea that an aggrieved citizen would place a request for service to an all-knowing and powerful city hall. These frustrating bilateral exchanges reinforce the view that residents are passive recipients of services from a government that monopolizes responses with authority, information, and skill, as opposed to meaningful participants in their community. 
A more modern system...assumes that the public value of an open network of residents, officials, and their information is proportional to the number of connected individuals and the quality and usability of the data available to them. I have borrowed this concept from Metcalfe’s Law, which hypothesizes that the value of a technology network is proportional to the square of the number of users of the system. data openly socialized...allows for the co-production of solutions where an ever-dynamic and often messy group of people/organizations/agencies involve each other in a problem-solving process,,,This open data, including observations or requests for service to a call center, allows for discoveries...One community leader in New York told me a few years ago that well-visualized open 311 data helped her identify the cause of a large number of pedestrian incidents at an intersection where a retirement home was on one side of the street and a pharmacy on the other — a fact that had eluded transportation engineers who were just looking at traffic flows...”
Four thoughts were prompted by reading about digital governments creating new social networks..

  1. Most of NE Wisconsin feels like like it’s still a relatively tight hierarchical system where government information is not widely and openly shared. I think this is the case for two reasons. (1) That’s how it’s always been done. Cities and counties don’t see a need to change and are comfortable with the way things are. (2) Residents of the cities and counties aren’t asking for information and data to be made open and easily accessible.
  2. Changing the status quo regarding open data and transparent government requires both a pull from the residents of NE Wisconsin and a push from the city and county governments. Not much will change if only one of the sides is working to change things.
  3. NE Wisconsin civic hackers need to work with city and county officials to find out what problems they’d like citizen help with and what 21st century tools are missing and most needed to help their government perform the way it should.
  4. NE Wisconsin civic hackers need to educate residents of the region about civic hacking, open data and transparent government. We need to help foster citizen engagement with their governments and create an environment where area residents feel responsible for making their communities better, rather than sitting back and waiting for the government to do everything for them.

If you feel your community will benefit from open data and transparent government, get involved with civic hacking and become part of this group that's taking action to make things better. Join us on Slack in the #dhmncivichacks channel. Read through posts on this blog and figure out what aspect of civic hacking you’re going to jump in and start working on! Then jump in and start working!

(Contact Bob Waldron at bwaldron (at) gmail [dott] com if you have questions.)

Hope to see you at the next civic hacking event in this region!


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Connecting Emerging Communities In 2015, Part 4

Connecting Emerging Communities In 2015, Part 1: Learning More About An Emerging Topic.
Connecting Emerging Communities In 2015, Part 2: Google Searches & Google Docs.
Connecting Emerging Communities In 2015, Part 3: People In Emerging Communities.
Connecting Emerging Communities In 2015, Part 4: Organizations In Emerging Communities.

When a new technology or field of study is first emerging, most people in the emerging topic will be very loosely connected or not connected at all. This means there won't be a lot of long-established organizations focused on that field of study. But with diligent online sleuthing, you’ll be able to find at least a few organizations that are tied to relevant people and projects.

Because it is, for the most part, a non-profit, non-business type activity, civic hacking will have fewer organizations involved with it or focused on it than an emerging manufacturing technology or other topics which are primarily focused on for-profit ventures in the short or long term. Although the discussion below about organizations and emerging communities relates to any field, some of the organization types described will have minimal relevance to civic hacking. For other emerging topics, such as advanced personal manufacturing or 3D printing, all of these organization types can play an important role in creating or being part of a connected community.

To get a better picture of what organizations you should research to become knowledgeable about and connected to a new field, consider the following types of organizations.
  1. Universities
  2. Labs and Government Agencies
  3. Startups Or Established Companies
  4. Startup Accelerators
  5. Member Organizations
  6. Industry Organizations
  7. Media And News Aggregator Websites

Start off with Google searches for your topic of interest plus keywords related to universities. For civic hacking, you could try:
  • “civic hacking” university
  • “civic hacking” college
  • “civic hacking” research
  • “civic hacking” “research paper”
The results of your searches will give you clues for other search terms. After you do a second round of searches with the refined search terms, you should have a list of universities where research is being done on civic hacking and closely related topics. You will also have a good list of people who are researching civic hacking or have high visibility in the field (see Part 3 of this series). Next, do a third round of searches using the names of the universities which appear to be most highly involved with civic hacking. After finishing the three rounds of searches related to universities, you’ll have a fairly good picture of academia’s place in your emerging topic. In addition to Google searches using the Web engine, repeat some of the more general searches using the Google News search engine.

Labs And Government Agencies

Using the same logic as you did for universities, do another round of Google searching with the keyword ‘lab,’ then the term “government agency.” You might need to try more specific relevant search terms such as “national science foundation” or “NOAA” if you know or can determine labs or government agencies involved in your field of interest. Often the searching you’ve done related to people will have helped you identify labs and government agencies they are working for or have gotten grants from.

Startups Or Established Companies

During the Google searches described in the first 3 parts of this post series, you probably identified companies involved in the field. Some of the companies may be startups while others may be established companies in a related field. If you haven’t already searched for “startup companies” in your emerging topic, do that now. Also do searches with related terms such as ‘investors,’ “venture capital,” or “angel investor.”

Startup Accelerators

When startups in an emerging topic begin to get media buzz and significant amounts of money invested in them, startup accelerators focused on your field of interest may begin to spring up. Those accelerators can do a fantastic job of helping build community in the emerging field because they bring together people active in that field. A large company or large investment firm may want to create or help develop an accelerator in areas of innovation where they see huge potential.

Member Organizations

Search for meetups, user groups, events and associations in the emerging topic. In the early days of community growth, most of the member organizations will be participant driven because there’s not much revenue potential in small communities and communities which don’t have a big revenue stream. For civic hacking in 2015, you will probably find the most local or regional member organizations by including the search ‘’ or ‘eventbrite.’ When learning about civic hacking, you’ll quickly become aware of Code for America (CfA), which is a national 510(c)(3) organization, closer to a company than a member organization. But there are also CfA Brigades, which are local participant-driven member organizations. Also search on social media sites. In 2015, Facebook connects over a billion people. 700 million use WhatsApp. 350 million use LinkedIn. 300 million are on Twitter. Google+, Google Groups, online forums, and other social sites are also very helpful for certain communities or if you want to reach countries outside the US.

Industry Organizations

When emerging technologies begin to generate large revenue streams or appear to have high potential revenue but require significant capital investment, industry organizations will be formed to connect the community forming around that technology. Early stage emerging technologies may be covered by existing organization until the new field becomes large enough to justify the cost of a separate industry organization. Searching for “trade organization,” “industry organization,” and similar terms along with the keyword for your topic of interest should lead you to at least one organization that is involved with your topic.

Media And News Aggregator Websites

By this time you’ve no doubt developed a fairly extensive list of media and news aggregator websites for your emerging topic. Or if you haven’t written it down, you can quickly create such a list by looking through your past searches, especially the ones done using Google News. Periodically visit those news sites to keep up-to-date with interesting or pivotal developments, to find out which people are making an impact, to help determine where you want to be involved, and to get a clearer picture of how the community of your emerging field is being connected.

The above searching and note-taking will give you a good understanding of the role organizations are playing in building the community you’re interested in. This knowledge will let you plug yourself into the system, decide who to reach out to, and have a better idea of where the opportunities are that you might want to take advantage of.

Future parts for this series about community building will be published on the myDigitechnician blog because I’m addressing a much wider audience than just civic hackers and because most civic hackers are likely more interested in building hacks than communities. I'll update the 'Connecting Communities' posts on DHMN Civic Hacks with links to the future posts done on myDigitechnician.


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Civic Hacking In The News: July 25, 2015

For your edification and entertainment on July 25, 2015, a few recent online items relevant to civic hacking are presented herein. Click on the item headlines to read any whose excerpt is of particular interest to you…

How we changed the way the U.S. government commercializes science
“The [National Science Foundation] I-Corps had a serendipitous start...There was a unique opportunity in 2011 when the new director of National Science Foundation said, ‘We want to do something new and different [in helping scientists commercialize their technology]...We had to do something were publishing your notes to the Lean LaunchPad course...There was a blog post that you wrote … describing the first class at Stanford. I read it and I ran thing down the hall and said to my colleagues, ‘You’ve got to go read this.’ There was one element of the blog post where you described how you were teaching entrepreneurship like we were teaching art. You were going to give them deep lessons of theory and then you were going to dump them in the deep end, so to speak [and give them experiential practice.] That paragraph really resonated with a bunch of us at NSF...The Lean LaunchPad class.. was an experiment that no one had ever run before...And the blog you were reading, [was created because] I thought that the class was so crazy and different I … wanted to share what I was doing [with other educators]...everybody who knew me said, ‘Steve these are the most boring blogs you’ll ever write. No one cares about a new class, and no one’s going to ever read them.’ 
NE Wisconsin Cybersecurity Proposal
The good news is that for any of you who ever wanted to publish something Errol is a great example of what happens if there is only one person who reads what you write. Something magical could happen...”
In my blog post “Cybersecurity & CH # 3: The Right Person / Topics Of Interest” I said that we need to connect with the ‘Right Influential Person’ in order for the NE Wisconsin collaborative cybersecurity proposal to happen. The above item about the National Science Foundation I-Corps illustrates how powerful the ‘Right Influential Person’ can be. Steve Blank was writing blog posts that his friends told him no one would read. The right person in the National Science Foundation read one of Steve’s blog posts and thought the post had a really cool idea. That right person set things in motion, launching a brand new program that had $5 million for grants in 2012, then $12.5 million for grants in 2013. All it takes to get things rolling is that ‘Right Influential Person.’

Improved open data nets Transit App service for three cities
Three more cities now have real-time public transportation information available to their commuters, without having to develop or maintain the mobile apps themselves. All it took was improved open data, and some serious collaboration with some civic-minded coders. 
All three cities -- Chattanooga, Tenn., Baltimore, and Cleveland  --  are now served by Transit App, which uses open public transportation data to display all local transport options and departure times instantly in 99 cities worldwide. Users can view bus schedules and arrivals, metro rail maps and departures, request service from Uber, plan a bicycle trip with viewable bike paths and more... 
Through a partnership with the Code for America team and the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority, digital transit schedules were made available to third-party developers on GitHub...Shortly after, Chattanooga had a Transit App with schedules, trip planning, information on the bike-sharing program and real-time transit data...this citywide citizen service was all done at no cost to Chattanooga government, and without any proposal requests...”
One of the civic hack categories that’s been talked about for NE Wisconsin is transportation. The above article shows us what’s been done recently in other areas. The interesting part about Transit App is that “three more cities now have real-time public transportation information available to their commuters, without having to develop or maintain the mobile apps themselves...this citywide citizen service was all done at no cost to Chattanooga government…”

Silicon Valley's 'Hack My Ride' Challenge Seeks Next-Gen Transit Tools
Touting apps, cash and iBeacons, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) is holding its second annual Hack My Ride hackathon to re-envision the transit experience for cities across the Silicon Valley. The three-month challenge — sponsored by the Knight Foundation, Microsoft and Code for San Jose — began at San Jose, Calif.’s  Tech Museum of Innovation during a National Day of Civic Hacking hackathon on June 6 and will continue until Sept. 17, when app submissions will be judged for $30,000 in prizes...“Think beacons, wearables, mashing up VTA data with other non-transit data, games, virtual reality, brilliant data visualizations and astounding first-ever user experiences...”
This article is included in today’s post because it fits with the transportation theme of the preceding item, plus it highlights an extended civic hack challenge, similar to the AT&T civic apps event featured in my post “Civic Hacking In The News: June 20, 2015.” It will be fantastic to run a two or three month civic hack challenge in NE Wisconsin -- so anyone who wants to help organize that should contact me at bwaldron (at) gmail [dott] com.

OpenAddresses: 130 Million Addresses, Building Momentum
There’s been incredible momentum recently on the OpenAddresses project. As of now, we have opened more than 130 million addresses in nearly a dozen countries, 10 million more since our last update. Those addresses have come from 650 datasets, with a total of 70 people contributing to the project...“Almost everything that consumers do with maps these days has to do with places of interest: Foursquare check ins, Instagramming, turn-by-turn directions. [But] without connecting the places as we know them to actual map coordinates a computer can understand, we don’t have many useful mapping applications…[and] there’s still no good worldwide, open resource for address geocoding that app developers and mappers can use with no strings attached.” 
Instead of a small number of large companies developing their own datasets in silos, OpenAddresses intends to create a resource that companies and governments of all shapes and sizes can use...”
This OpenAddresses post is included today because (1) this project has huge potential for enabling geo-related civic hacks or businesses, and (2) because it seems to indicate there’s an active civic hacker (or at least a GIS person who likes open source) in NE Wisconsin / Calumet County with whom I have not yet connected. If you look at the OpenAddresses map, Calumet County has quite a few addresses geocoded.

Open source and open data's role in modern meteorology
For years, meteorology students learned their craft at the tip of a colored pencil, laboriously contouring observed data by hand. While many forecasters still practice this art, computers have changed operations, research, and education. Open source software and open data are poised to bring more changes to the field. 
...Meteorology has a culture of sharing by its very nature—after all, what good is a forecast if you don't share it? The National Weather Service data is publicly available...And while much of the software in use by educational institutions is open source, until recently there was little interoperability... 
OpenSkiron Sailing Weather Map
But a shift is underway in the community. By using a variety of open source projects, meteorologists can use "one tool to read the data, then do any calculating they want," Professor Mike Baldwin explains. Baldwin is an associate professor in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences at Purdue University...Instead of monolithic and domain-specific tools, students are learning to use and develop software written with broadly-used scientific libraries. Python has become the dominant language, thanks in no small part to libraries like SciPy, NumPy, and matplotlib. Students can use these tools to do exactly the sort of data analysis they want while having assignments that are more relevant to their studies and interests than general computer science coursework. In addition, using multi-domain tools and data formats allows for easier collaboration with other disciplines...”
This meteorology post is included because it reminded me of a discussion with a sailor at the July 22 civic hacking meetup in Appleton. He explained that to find out what kind of weather he will likely have when he goes sailing, he needs to check five or six services. It would be fun to organize a weather civic hackathon focused on meteorology open data tools mentioned in the article and invite Ben Cotton (author of the above post), Mike Baldwin (Purdue University faculty mentioned in the post) and other meteorology people they know. At the hackathon, we could start the development of a civic hack that would improve the lives of sailors around the country, maybe leveraging or localizing OpenSkiron.

Podcast: Explaining the Art of Data
Data is everywhere—nearly anything can be represented by a number. In its simple form, data tells a story backed by numerical truth. But data is rarely simple or pure—and we have access to more data than any time in history. So how can we make sense of this never-ending wave? And how can we better understand data and use it solve real-world problems? In this Slice of MIT podcast...five MIT alumni discuss how their work and research are tackling these questions in innovative ways. You’ll hear how five-star ratings online are driven by social identity; how designers are mapping data to improve major U.S. cities; how data can affect privacy and though stagnation; and how a Jeopardy!-winning computer is discover new recipes like Italian-Pumpkin Cheesecake.”
This is a worthwhile podcast if you’re a big-data person or are a civic hacker who wants to hear what MIT alum Matt Stempeck, Director of Civic Technology at Microsoft, has to say about ‘the art of data’ and reliability of online big data. I reached out to a member of the MIT Club of Wisconsin to invite MIT alums to participate in NE Wisconsin civic hacking because they’re pretty much the smartest and most fun geeks I’ve ever met (and true ‘hacking’ originated at MIT...). Click on the graphic below to listen to this MIT podcast.

MIT Podcast:  The Art of Data


Friday, July 24, 2015

Civic Hacking For Everyone, Part 1: Women

One of my goals for this blog is to encourage as many people as possible in NE Wisconsin to learn about civic hacking and participate in it to some extent.

I don’t know if it’s useful or appropriate to do a post about civic hacking & women. Or about any civic hacking and ‘Demographic Group X’ that isn’t white, male, Western European, English-speaking, 20 - 30 year olds. Some people are strongly focused on creating special opportunities for different demographic groups for various reasons. Other people emphatically prefer a meritocratic approach that doesn’t involve a special focus on any demographic group.

My reason for reaching out specifically to women and the other demographic groups I’ll be writing posts about is that I think civic hacking will benefit from the widest possible range of viewpoints, experiences and skills. It’s fun to do things with a group of like-minded people who share likes, dislikes, experiences, vocabulary, and backgrounds. But it can also be fun and worthwhile to learn new stuff, be exposed to new ideas and learn to understand or approach a topic through the eyes and mind of someone with a much different outlook and background than yours. If participants in a community or event all have extremely similar experiences, points of view and needs, that community or event will often not take advantage of opportunities or even be aware of those opportunities. They may fail to work on or even imagine a particularly worthwhile civic hack because the idea never occurred to them.

A recent tech-world example of viewpoint limitations is that Apple HealthKit didn’t address women’s health issues such as menstruation. Maybe it's because I was a FemCare researcher developing and helping manufacture pads, liners, and tampons at a personal care company, but it seems to me that Apple ignored a huge audience by not launching HealthKit with the ability to monitor menstruation, pregnancy, menopause, and other health and fitness issues specific to women.

So, for better or worse, I’ll go ahead and write a series of posts about civic hacking as relates to various demographic groups. The reason this first ‘Civic Hacking For Everyone’ post focuses on women is because they’re the largest demographic group whose participation is noticeably lacking at many civic hacking events. I didn’t look up current statistics, but my guess is that NE Wisconsin is close to 51% women. If only 5% or 10% of the civic hackers at an event are women, that means we’re not promoting the event effectively or we’re not structuring the event in a way that makes women want to participate.

(Because I’m probably a stereotypical male engineer introvert with the resultant lack of empathy and soft skills, it would be good if a woman would help me out by writing a follow-up post giving her viewpoint about civic hacking...)

The low percentage of women civic hackers is partly due to civic hacker organizers often being coders, a group that is predominantly male. Those organizers may set a goal to have a high percentage of women participants in the community and at events, but a mostly-male organizing team will be less successful at achieving that goal than a balanced team of women and men.

A second reason for few women at civic hacking events is the strong emphasis on coding in most current civic hacks. Since most coders are men, it’s not surprising that a large percentage of people who show up for civic hacking will be men.

In addition to the statistically-driven higher number of men civic hackers, there’s also a certain amount of male prejudice or attitude, perceived or actual, that deters some women from participating in an event or community they think will be largely composed of men.

Another reason it can be challenging for women to participate in civic hacking events is childcare issues. Some families share childcare responsibilities equally, but in other families or in single-parent situations, the woman civic hacker may be less able to participate in a multi-hour or multi-day civic hacking event. When discussing how to encourage more women to participate in the DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015 last month, we talked about the need to get a sponsor for the cost of child care, just like we had a sponsor to cover the cost of lunch and the cost of t-shirts. In addition to having a sponsor cover the cost of childcare, we’d need an appropriate childcare provider.

As discussed above, there are obvious reasons for having fewer women civic hackers than men. To encourage more women to get involved, I’ve listed a few women-focused tech groups and civic hacking ideas:

  1. Women In Technology Wisconsin: "The mission of Women in Technology of Northeastern Wisconsin is to attract, grow and retain women and girls in technology-related careers. With programming designed for women in executive, senior, mid-manager, and junior technology positions, WIT provides an opportunity for personal and professional growth."
  2. Tech Lady Civic Hackathon: “Tech Lady Hackathon + Training Day is a day for women from experienced coders to total newbies to gather for training and civic hacking in a supportive environment. About 150 women gather for a Saturday about once a year. The training usually covers introductions to popular open source languages (e.g. HTML, CSS, Python, Rails) and topics that I think would be helpful, such as product management and impostor syndrome. I also co-run the civic hacking group Code for DC, so there is a civic hackathon running all day alongside the training. The only thing that everyone has in common is that they are a woman who is interested in learning or teaching tech.”
  3. Girl Develop It Burlington: “National Day of Civic Hacking is an amazing opportunity for women to lend their unique perspective to solve problems that are present here in our community. Often times women are an extreme minority at hackathons, so our goal is to lower the barrier to entry through participating in this low key introduction, and provide an opportunity to learn more about National Day of Civic Hacking. My goal is to help increase the number of women writing code at this event, so I’m hoping members of our community consider forming a team or joining an existing one that sparks their interest!
  4. Check out the list of inspiring women entrepreneurs who have built civic-minded products and startups in “Female Founders to Watch Changing the World with Civic-Minded Startups.”
  5. Reach out to Jennifer Pahlka, Catherine Bracy, Laurenellen McCann and other prominent woman civic hackers about participating in a NE Wisconsin civic hacking event and sharing information about civic hacking events or projects that have benefited from a woman’s point of view.
  6. Launch a civic hacking project for helping women veterans find jobs and build tech skills, especially homeless vets.
  7. Create a project around WIC, a federally-funded health and nutrition program for women, infants, and children, such as forking and localizing WICit or entering the relevant data for NE Wisconsin on the existing WICit website.
  8. Work with Lisa Abeyta to organize a Civic Entrepreneur Bootcamp as described in her posts “Why We Must Help Bridge the Gap For Women In Tech” and “Addressing the Downside of Civic Hacking: Creating A Financially Sustainable Model.”
  9. Other groups to consider collaborating with for civic hacking events and projects: League of Women Voters, Women Who Code, Girls Who Code, Million Women Mentors, National Girls Collaborative Project, Omaha Coding Women, and PyStar, as well as many women's non-tech groups.

If you’re a woman who’s willing to write a guest post for this blog about civic hacking and women, that would be fantastic! Email me at bwaldron (at) gmail [dott] com. It would be helpful to have a woman’s viewpoint to correct my inadvertent errors and totally incorrect perceptions of why women might want to be civic hackers. I’m not a particularly good judge of what most men think about anything, so there’s no reason to think I’d be able to provide a thorough or highly accurate portrayal of what women think about civic hacking or why they should participate in it.

I’m not a coder, but I’m writing blog posts to persuade a few NE Wisconsin coders to join us in civic hacking. I’m not an educator or a student, but I wrote a blog post encouraging civic hacking related to students and schools. Although I’m not a librarian, I think librarians would be great civic hackers, and libraries can be excellent venues for civic hacking events, so I wrote a post about civic hacking and libraries.

I’m not a woman, but I wrote this post hoping to get a few more NE Wisconsin women involved in civic hacking. We’ll see what happens…


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Day After Report: Civic Hacking At The Avenue HQ

This is a brief roundup of the civic hacking activity at The Avenue HQ (AHQ) coworking space in Appleton last night, the evening of July 22.

The AHQ event was an informal meetup for civic hackers to reconvene after the June 6 civic hackathon and continue work on projects from that day or start work on something new.

The first few civic hackers showed up before 5 PM, although the nominal start time was 6 PM. There was no agenda for the evening and a few more popped in after 6 as schedules allowed. We ended up with 12 people total for the evening, with a couple of them dropping in primarily to see what civic hacking is all about. We hope a good sales pitch was provided so that next time they’ll show up to work on some civic hacks and will bring a few friends with them. The evening’s participants were:
Some of The Avenue HQ civic hackers

  • Sharon Borde
  • John Brandenberger
  • Charlie Brown
  • Kim Hottenstine
  • David Kieffer
  • Ross Larson
  • Jacob Putnam
  • Mike Putnam
  • Mike Rosack
  • Michelle Schuler
  • Eric Schultz
  • Bob Waldron

We started out with everyone introducing themselves and talking about what they planned to work on for the evening, then people got busy coding, researching, doing graphics and UI work (user interface), discussing their hacks with others at AHQ, and just generally enjoying the evening.

Deep dish disappeared first!
Once work was underway, Omni Resources, through its super-agent Mike Rosack, graciously sponsored the event by fueling the civic hackers with pizza and beverages -- smiles and thanks were in great abundance for that support of the civic hacking community. Thanks, Omni!

Topics worked on last night were the “Is It Recycling Week?” Android app, “Is It Recycling Week?” Pebble smartwatch appAppletonAPI, GreenvilleAPI, a civic hack API locator, and a civic hacks wiki. Three of these projects are linked to previous blog posts, while others are linked to GitHub pages.

A couple future guest blog posts are anticipated from last night’s participants -- they’ll be able to do a much better job than I could of explaining the civic hack they worked on and what future plans are for their hack.

We had a couple members of Women In Technology Wisconsin join the event to learn more about civic hacking, and they said some of their members may want to participate in future civic hacking events. It sounds like that group is doing a lot with students, so the NE Wisconsin civic hacking community may see a respectable increase in the number of students and women -- and we have no doubt that will result in some awesome new civic hacks for our region! If you're a 'woman in tech,' check out their website!

We’ll probably schedule another informal civic hacking meetup on a weeknight in the second half of August. Watch this blog for details. Feedback was that a weekend event should probably wait until after kids are back in school this fall.

Earlier this week I had a meeting at Luna Cafe in De Pere to discuss the possibility of a Green Bay area civic hackathon. The topic was also going to be discussed at the Digital Fertilizer board meeting on Wednesday this week. If Digital Fertilizer sees value in helping support this type of hackathon in the Green Bay metro area, the DHMN will try to connect with a couple people from that area to identify a good date and start organizing a hackathon.

I’m also planning to meet in August with at least two Oshkosh people regarding a civic hackathon in their area.

If you want to work with the DHMN to organize some type of civic hacking activity in your area, email Bob Waldron at bwaldron (at) gmail [dott] com. I’ll be happy to help you with everything from a short session discussing what civic hacking is all the way up to helping you organize a civic hackathon in your city.


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Civic Hacking Today (7/22) At The Avenue HQ!

Come on down to The Avenue HQ today, July 22, at 6 PM for some civic hacking fun and to meet and work with other civic hackers!

Omni Resources is buying pizza, so no need to rush home for supper first. Instead, rush down to The Avenue HQ for supper and civic hacking! If you have a favorite beverage that goes well with pizza, bring it on down. Or bring a few hacking snacks to share with the group. If we run out of munchables and drinkables, we'll pass the hat around, and I'll go on a munchies run to keep the civic hackers fueled up.

120 N. Morrison St, Appleton, WI, USA -- The Avenue HQ is on the first floor
The Avenue HQ (AHQ) is Appleton’s coworking space, located at 120 N Morrison St, Suite 101,
Appleton WI 54911. Click here for a location map.

Parking options are typical downtown Appleton parking. There are lots of metered spots near AHQ if you want to plug meters, although, per the update below, it looks like some nearby metered spots will be free after 6 PM. There are also nearby parking ramps, which I think cost $2. If you look at the AHQ map linked above, you can click on the colored parking indicators for info.

(If you want a more informative parking resource, maybe you could start working on a parking project at tonight’s civic hacking session… :)

Ross' update on parking: "Filling the parking meter in downtown Appleton will cost less and be more convenient starting [June 27]...hours of enforcement at meters downtown will be...9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. Meters will still be enforced Monday – Saturday with free parking on-street and in ramps on Sundays.  Also as part of the parking restructuring, all on-street meters north of Washington Street will see the rate change from $0.75/hr down to $0.20/hr. The time limit for parking will go from two hours to 12 hours at those meters..."

Mike's update on Appleton traffic tonight:  Apparently civic hackers will need to be aware of a downtown parade starting at 6 PM; traffic and parking issues, maybe. Per the Post-Crescent -- "Join us today as we bring you the seventh annual Downtown Appleton Children’s Parade, starting at 6 p.m.! The old-fashioned parade along College Avenue in downtown Appleton is full of cute, costumed kids and their parents."

If you’re wondering what will happen at tonight’s event, check out last week’s post “Civic Hacking Event: July 22, Appleton, The Avenue HQ.” If you're not sure what civic hacking is, check out a few of the other posts on this blog.

We didn’t feel a need for reservations for tonight’s session, so I don’t know how many people will be there. Somewhere between 5 and 35 is my guess. Website stats for this blog say that a lot of people looked at the blog post about tonight’s civic hacking, and we’ve promoted it on the NE Wisconsin Slack channel and the DHMN mailing list. Probably a few people have mentioned it on Twitter or Facebook. If you see this post, please consider letting other people know about the event via Twitter, FB, emails or whatever social media and communications channels you use. And bring a few people with you to AHQ!

I’m planning to be at AHQ around 5 PM, so if you can’t stay too late and want to come down a little early, feel free to show up before 6 PM.

See you at AHQ!


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Cybersecurity & Civic Hacking # 7: Data Breaches

Quick update to last week’s Cybersecurity # 6 post: on July 21, 2015, Wired Magazine published “Hackers Remotely Kill a Jeep on the Highway—With Me in It;” if you’re concerned about your car being vulnerable to digital attack, you should read the article.

July 22 Civic Hacking Event UPDATE:  Omni Resources will be sponsoring pizza for the evening of civic hacking at The Avenue HQ in Appleton. Check out the post “Civic Hacking Event: July 22, Appleton, The Avenue HQ” from last week for more details about the event.


Mega data breaches exposing personal information of millions of people are becoming routine events. Major memorable breaches include Target, Anthem, US Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and now, Ashley Madison.

Data breaches aresecurity incidents in which sensitive, protected or confidential data is copied, transmitted, viewed, stolen or used by an individual unauthorized to do so. Data breaches may involve financial information such as credit card or bank details, personal health information (PHI), Personally identifiable information (PII), trade secrets of corporations or intellectual property.” Data breaches which have gotten a lot of attention in mainstream media over the past couple years often involved theft of personal information about customers or employees of companies or organizations (which could lead to identity theft).

Below are excerpts from articles about the four data breaches listed above. As you can see from the numbers mentioned in the articles, it appears that in the past couple years, data breaches have exposed personal information of several hundred million people. That either means data breaches aren't important enough to worry about or it means we have a HUGE problem.


The OMP data breach is disturbing for several reasons. First, the attack involved information 20 to 26 million people. Second, the data taken included social security number and fingerprints. Third, many people in the database had applied for US government security clearance, and the information included detailed summaries of psychological and emotional health counseling, as well as other sensitive information related to security clearance. Fourth, “the Inspector General warned OPM last year about serious security and privacy problems after it was hacked in a smaller-scale incident, yet the agency did not implement the recommended changes to its systems or practices.” Here’s an excerpt from “Hacking of Government Computers Exposed 21.5 Million People.”
“...21.5 million people were swept up in a colossal breach of government computer systems that was far more damaging than initially thought, resulting in the theft of a vast trove of personal information, including Social Security numbers and some fingerprints. Every person given a government background check for the last 15 years was probably affected...hackers stole “sensitive information,” including addresses, health and financial history, and other private details, from 19.7 million people who had been subjected to a government background check, as well as 1.8 million others, including their spouses and friends. The theft was separate from, but related to, a breach revealed last month that compromised the personnel data of 4.2 million federal employees...The breaches constitute what is apparently the largest cyberattack into the systems of the United States government, providing a frightening glimpse of the technological vulnerabilities of federal agencies that handle sensitive information. They also seemed certain to intensify debate in Washington over what the government must do to address its substantial weaknesses in cybersecurity, long the subject of dire warnings but seldom acted upon by agencies, Congress or the White House...”
Ashley Madison

In July 2015, a seedier side of the Internet was exposed as information about millions of apparent adulterers was exposed by someone who didn’t agree with Ashley Madison’s business practices.
Infidelity site Ashley Madison hacked as attackers demand total shutdown” explains that the digital attack was done to shut the site down.
Hackers have stolen and leaked personal information from...Ashley Madison, an international dating site...The site, which encourages married users to cheat on their spouses and advertises 37 million members, had its data hacked by a group calling itself the Impact Team...The Impact Team claims to have complete access to the company’s database, including not only user records for every single member, but also the financial records of ALM and other proprietary information. For now, the group has released just 40MB of data, including credit card details and several ALM documents...“Avid Life Media has been instructed to take Ashley Madison and Established Men offline permanently in all forms, or we will release all customer records, including profiles with all the customers’ secret sexual fantasies and matching credit card transactions, real names and addresses, and employee documents and emails...the group’s statement reads...”

When a company is entrusted with the care of your health, you would hope that they can keep your records safe and secure. Well, Anthem Blue Cross figured out in January 2015 that they had lost to cybercriminals the data for up to 80 million people. The LA Times article “Anthem is warning consumers about its huge data breach. Here's a translation.” certainly doesn’t make the reader feel like Anthem did everything possible to keep this data safe.
Anthem, the health insurance company...allowed hackers to gain access to information it held on as many as 80 million Americans. The victims are current and former members of Anthem health plans, and even some nonmembers, since Anthem manages paperwork for some independent insurance companies...Anthem's communication is a pretty standard version of the genre. It's a "don't-blame-us" message masquerading as a mea culpa, along with an offer of free identity theft services that aren't as useful as recipients are led to believe...Anthem: "On January 29, 2015, Anthem, Inc. (Anthem) discovered that cyber attackers executed a sophisticated attack to gain unauthorized access to Anthem's IT system and obtained personal information..."...The message is that the hackers were so skilled that Anthem couldn't possibly defend against them--no one could. This is a conventional defense by cyber-attack victims...Often it turns out that the breach isn't so sophisticated, but that hackers exploited known vulnerabilities in the target's system. That appears to be the case with Anthem. The huge healthcare firm didn't encrypt the huge volume of personal information it held…”

There were other retailer data breaches before it, but the 2013 Target fiasco became a landmark case. The personal information of up to 110 million people was compromised, and as of August 2014, it was estimated the breach had cost Target $148 million dollars. An analyst from Forrester Research expects the final cost of the breach to be close to one billion dollars. Here’s an excerpt from the New York Times article “For Target, the Breach Numbers Grow.”
Target on Friday revised the number of customers whose personal information was stolen in a widespread data breach during the holiday season, now reporting a range of 70 million to 110 million people. The stunning figure represents about a third of all American adults at the low end, and is nearly three times as great as the company’s original estimate at the upper end. The theft is one of the largest ever of retail data. Not only did Target’s announcement disclose a vastly expanded universe of victims, but it revealed that the hackers had stolen a broader trove of data than originally reported. The company now says that other kinds of information were taken, including mailing and email addresses, phone numbers or names, the kind of data routinely collected from customers during interactions like shopping online or volunteering a phone number when using a call center...Target said up to 110 million customers had data stolen, and that some of it was taken before the holiday shopping season...Fraud experts said the information stolen from Target’s systems quickly flooded the black market. On Dec. 11, shortly after hackers first breached Target, Easy Solutions, a company that tracks fraud, noticed a 10 to twentyfold increase in the number of high-value stolen cards on black market websites, from nearly every bank and credit union…”
In this blog post, you’ve read about hundreds of millions of people having their personal data stolen in four data breaches. There were other major data breaches in the past few years in addition to these four. And there will be other data breaches in the future.

The real question is, in light of certain knowledge that data breaches will happen in the future, what should you do about your data that’s held by companies and organizations not under your control. This question actually consists of three parts:

  1. Steps to take before your info is exposed in a data breach.
  2. How to monitor or know if your data is exposed.
  3. Steps to take after your data is exposed in a data breach.

The need for a good answer to this three-part question is one of the reasons I proposed the following collaborative NE Wisconsin cybersecurity initiative in my post "Cybersecurity: A New Horizon For Civic Hacking?"

I propose one or several NE Wisconsin colleges launch a collaborative regional cybersecurity pilot initiative. Civic hackers known as the Northeast Wisconsin Cyber Defense Force (NEW CDF), in collaboration with the new college cybersecurity program, help area residents and businesses maintain the best possible computer security and personal privacy. NEW CDF is a cadre of ethical and knowledgeable technologists working together to improve and practice their cybersecurity knowledge and skills. CDF provides practical training for business and personal computer security at the CDF Cybersecurity Training Center or onsite at northeast Wisconsin businesses and organizations. This community of cybersecurity civic hackers also helps catalyze and spin off cybersecurity startups and other high tech businesses.

After the NE Wisconsin cybersecurity initiative is launched, you’ll be able to work with the Cyber Defense Force to get your personalized answer to the above three-part question about data breaches.


DHMN Civic Hacks posts about 'Cybersecurity & Civic Hacking':
C&CH # 01: "Cybersecurity: A New Horizon For Civic Hacking?"
C&CH # 02: “Cybersecurity & Civic Hacking # 2: Public Wi-Fi
C&CH # 03: "Cybersecurity & CH # 3: The Right Person / Topics Of Interest"
C&CH # 04: "Cybersecurity & CH # 4: Malware"
C&CH # 05: “Cybersecurity & CH # 5: Even Cybersecurity Companies Get Hacked!
C&CH # 06: "Cybersecurity & CH # 6: How Cybersecure Is Your Car?"
C&CH # 07: This post, published July 21, 2015
C&CH # 08: "Cybersecurity & CH # 8: Hype or Reality?"