Our goal's to help government make better decisions about policy by listening to citizens in the places they already are: social networks like Twitter and Facebook.
Our first project is ThinkUp, an open-source tool for archiving and visualizing conversations on social networks. It started with Gina scratching a personal itch, a way to parse and filter @replies. But it's grown to be something more: a tool for policy makers to harness the collective intelligence of experts.
There's tons to do, but I'm particularly excited to tackle ThinkUp's ability to separate signal from noise, making it easier to derive meaning from hundreds or thousands of responses, using visualization, clustering, sentiment analysis, and robotic hamsters. I'm planning on building some fun hacks on top of ThinkUp, as well as keeping an eye open for other vectors to tackle our core mission.
Officially, I started on Monday and it's already been an incredible week. I flew to Washington DC, attended the FCC's first Open Developer Day, and a day of meetings with various groups at the White House.
What I found was inspiring: a group of extremely clever and passionate geeks, working from within to make things better. Some agencies are definitely more clueful than others, but it was clear that they want our — and your — help. I was skeptical at first, but they're sincere: they want meaningful public participation and they need smart people to make it happen.
If you've read Waxy for a while, you'll know I very rarely touch on political issues here. It's not that I'm apolitical -- like anyone, I have opinions, but I don't often feel engaged enough to write about it.
So, why would I go to a Gov 2.0 non-profit? For three main reasons:
- It's important. To tackle our most serious national issues, we need better communication between government and citizens. I want my son to grow up in a world where he doesn't feel disconnected and disillusioned by government, and I want government to meet the needs of the people, rather than favoring those with the most money or the loudest voices.
- It's exciting. Technology is quite possibly our best hope of breaking down that divide, using social tools to disrupt the way that governments are run and policy is made. I love designing and building tools that use social connections to tackle difficult problems, and it feels like government is an area ripe for disruption.
- I love the team. I've known Anil and Gina for years and have long admired their work. They're both extraordinarily talented and creative people, and I feel lucky to call them both friends. The opportunity to work with them was too hard to pass up.
How can I pass that up?
And what about Kickstarter? I recently stepped back into my original advisory role, and will continue to help out the team however I can — dispensing unsolicited advice, recruiting new projects, writing the occasional article, and evangelizing for them around the world, like I did at Free Culture Forum in Barcelona two weeks ago. Kickstarter's leading an indie-culture revolution, thanks to amazing leadership and a brilliantly creative team, and it was a pleasure working with them.
This isn't a change in direction for me, but a change in focus. Both Kickstarter and Expert Labs are bringing smart people together — people who might never connect otherwise — to create things, to change things, to make the world a better place. I can't wait.