Geeks hacking smarter government: Kickstarter’s Andy Baio joins Expert Labs

As Anil Dash blogged earlier today, Andy Baio has joined Expert Labs as a project director for ThinkUp App. According to Dash, Baio will be working as a “Director of Hacks,” focusing on making better use of the data collected by apps like ThinkUp.

Andy’s new role marks the beginning of a whole new phase for Expert Labs; We’re now very tightly focused on working with agencies that want to get crowdsourced feedback, and the biggest request those agencies make is to better understand the ideas that people submit. We’re answering those requests with smart tools for presenting, visualizing, sorting and filtering ideas and suggestions that come in through Facebook and Twitter.

In short, we’ve already got the ability to collect responses to policy questions through a social network, and now we’ll be able to turn those responses into real insights.

In his own blog post about on joining Expert Labs, Baio elaborated further on the mission he’s taking on:

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.

And his motivations for going to work in open government:

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.

Welcome to the Gov 2.0 community, Andy. I saw him hard at work at the first FCC Open Developer Day in Washington this week, where we talked more about what it means to have members of the technology community work on technology to make government function more effectively.

When high profile members of the Web 2.0 community pitch in, their networks will learn more about what’s going on. Call it “digital diffusion.” That attention, scrutiny and tinkering is likely to be a good outcome for everyone.

For more on that count, I interviewed Expert Labs’ Gina Trapani at the FCC about ThinkUp app, the apps that came out of the developer day and this issue: what does it mean when geeks try to help government work better. It was a great conversation and I encourage readers of this blog to embed it elsewhere.

About Alex Howard

Alexander B. Howard is a DC-based a technology writer and editor. Previously, he was the Washington Correspondent at O'Reilly Media, where he covered the voices, technologies and issues that matter in the intersection of government, technology and society. If you're feeling social, you can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook or circle him on Google Plus In addition to corresponding for the O’Reilly Radar, he has contributed to the Huffington Post, Govfresh, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, National Journal, The Atlantic, CBS News and Forbes. He graduated from Colby College with a bachelor's degree in biology and sociology. Currently, he is a resident of the District of Columbia, where he lives with his greyhound, wife, power tools, plants and growing collection of cast iron pans, many of which are frequently used to pursue his passion for good cooking.

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