Found Gem: I Quant NY

Quantitative data analysis like that done in I Quant NY is a 21st century way of looking at government oversight. The analysis is excellent here. The only problem is that the presentation is locked into the blog format. What’s being built is a tumblr blog of episodic, narrative storytelling. You just can’t scale that format to create enough oversight to generate a working business model and go full time doing oversight this way. The sharp mind behind this vehicle is worth keeping an eye on and hopefully he finds a better way to present his findings.

Seth Sunday: Doing Calculus with Roman Numerals

Seth Godin highlights a great way to enhance your tool chest. Whenever you run across an unfamiliar concept or unfamiliar term, take a time out and find out what it means.

Every time you hear an expert use a word or concept you don’t understand, stop her and ask to be taught.  Every time. After just a few interactions, you’ll have a huge advantage over those who didn’t ask.

This ties in to Citizen Intelligence because I envision a similar workflow with Citizen Intelligence. When you read a story about a government foul up that moves you and you want to keep on top of this issue, or you see a particular statistic that you’d like to keep track of but don’t know how to, Citizen Intelligence will offer a platform to make that happen. If somebody’s already set up that metric, you get it for free. If you are the first to do so, you get a way to gather the people and other resources to actually make what you want happen in the real world.

Chicken and Egg

One of the biggest difficulties facing Citizen Intelligence is a major chicken and egg problem. This is not uncommon in Internet startups and I’m sure that it’s no more frustrating here than anywhere else. Ultimately there’s one cure, generating enough content to start attracting early adopters. Content that puts money in your pocket seems to be a popular sort of approach.

More on this tomorrow.


A quick review: Citizen Intelligence is a project in radically increasing the ways that we cross check and account our own lived experiences.

So much of what is wrong in the first world can be chalked up to accounting problems. Life has gotten complicated, so complicated that a large and growing larger portion of it is not being accounted for properly. We assume things that are not true and nobody bothers to actually check, to actually see if the work is done. Most of the time it is. First world societies are high trust societies and the penalties are pretty high when you actually get caught so most people do try to do the right thing. But that depends on a critical percent of tasks getting cross checked and verified. We’ve likely fallen below the minimum healthy proportion of such checks and have been below that level for quite some time.

This can play out in the headlines with national debates over what our intelligence agencies have been doing or it can play out in prosaic ways with the monthly water bill being twice what it should be because the pipe leak repair budget hasn’t been fully funded since the 1960s (see: Detroit). Eventually the message carries that it’s advantageous to cheat and the culture of cheating spreads. Society stops being high trust and that sets things on a pretty steep downhill trajectory because once you stop trusting, a lot of extra energy has to go into doing for yourself inefficiently what you used to trust someone else doing for you efficiently.

We used to do cross-checks by media investigative reports. But more and more of the country is without a local paper and investigatory journalism budgets across all media types are being slashed to the bone as part of a losing effort not to lose more papers to bankruptcy and shutdown.

Old style investigations are traditionally narrative heavy storytelling. This is not what we need now because these reports simply take too long to consume. I may have a dozen different types of infrastructure being supplied to me by local governments of various jurisdictions. What I need is a traffic light on a dashboard that lets me know at a glance whether there is a problem and the ability to drill down quickly to identify which system is in trouble and who is responsible.

Drill down dashboards could get data feeds from both government and non-government sources. Our computers talk to their computers and it’s all done quickly and inexpensively and anyone can set up a cross check based on independent sensors at whim, or simply as a class project.

The tools are largely available, or about to come online. We desperately need someone to make the whole widget, to create a de facto standard that ordinary people can use to make sense of the civilization around them and to empower themselves to take action and improve their lives. That’s the central task of Citizen Intelligence, to account in 21st century fashion so we can build a future that is wonderful and true to our values without getting lost in the weeds with minutiae.

Mmmmmm Ramen

In this latest edition of Seth Sundays, Seth takes aim at “good enough” with a recent post but mostly he made me hungry with his ramen soup analogy for marketing. Citizen Intelligence will eventually franchise out into a national operation that provides infrastructure and local operations that will intimately cover their markets. For the local operations, good enough is going to be a distinct improvement on the status quo. It’s something like being in a rural area with very limited retailing and Walmart drops a regional store into the mix. You can (and many have) made the argument that Walmart is not remarkable, not exciting, is sort of a lowest common denominator of stores. But when every other choice is worse, they end up looking pretty good.

Ace hardware is remarkable in its back office operations allowing local hardware stores to survive. If a particular one is locally operated in a remarkable way, that’s something special. But even for the unimaginative local operator, Ace changes something even if the local is the equivalent of an expired pack of Maruchen.

Planning Ahead

Eventually citizen intelligence will go international and thus multi-lingual. If you know that your project is on that sort of a pathway, it’s quite easy to add one line into your base line specification and create your artifacts so that they are easy internationalize. There is no real extra work involved, just a small mental adjustment to always take internationalization into account and to separate out strings so that you don’t end up having to hunt them down in your code.

Technical Progress on GPS III

Governments work in the real world which means that once Citizen Intelligence picks all the low hanging fruit of already published government data streams, it’s going to have to go out into the real world to both generate new data and confirm the truth of data already published. The new GPS III system should be just about deployed by then. The first two satellites were deployed in 2013. For Citizen Intelligence purposes,  1 yard accuracy is perfectly fine for the purposes needed and the increased power the GPS III will increase the utility of the signal in urban areas.