GovCamp’s Coming to Toronto: Thursday, June 17th

govcamp toronto

GovCamp in Toronto!

First came GovCamp in Ottawa (May 31st – June 1st), and now GovCamp is coming to Toronto! GovCamp is an “Open Government” or “Goverment 2.0” unconference with these two goals:

  1. For governments to become more open, transparent, participatory, innovative, efficient and effective
  2. For citizens to become more connected to each other around their civic passions in the place they call home

GovCamp Toronto will take place on the evening of Thursday, June 17th and will be an evening where all sorts of people, from private citizens to government officials to representatives of publicly-funded organizations will get together to talk about the intersection of:

  • Government transformation
  • Social networking software
  • Participatory approaches to public engagement
  • Open data
  • Public service renewal

Is GovCamp the sort of thing you should attend? It is if you’re one of the following:

  • A municipal, provincial or federal public servant or a public sector agency employee with an interest in these topics
  • A thought leader looking to share and connect with this community
  • A member of the community of developers, advocates and practitioners in public engagement, government communications, technology, open data, open government or "Gov 2.0"

Who’ll Be There?

Few people know more about setting up “Government 2.0” unconferences than Toronto’s favourite high-tech policy wonk Mark Kuznicki, and we’re very fortunate to have him as GovCamp Toronto’s MC and facilitator. Mark has been behind a number of similar unconferences, including ChangeCamp, TransitCamp and Metronauts.

There will be a number of special guests including:

GovCamp Toronto will be hosted by:

  • Omar Rashid, Public Sector, Microsoft Canada
  • Julia Stowell, Interoperability Lead, Microsoft Canada

Where, When and What’s Happening

appel salon

GovCamp Toronto’s venue is nice and also quite central: the Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library (789 Yonge Street, just north of Bloor).

Here’s the agenda:

5:00 Catered reception
6:00 Welcome
6:10 Opening remarks (David Eaves)
6:25 Discussion hosts introduce topics
7:00 Small group discussions and demonstrations
8:30 Closing wrap discussion
9:00 Catered reception

There are a number of ways to participate:

  • You can host a conversation. The conversations at GovCamp Toronto are created by you. We are looking for up to 20 hosts to help convene small group conversations on a variety of topics related to our theme. If you’ve got an idea for a conversation topic, propose one using the online form.
  • You can demo your web or mobile application. We’re looking for up to 6 web or mobile app demos that show the value of open public data, demonstrate what is possible in open government, or demonstrate real world application of social tools inside government. If you’ve built such an app, propose a demo using the online form.
  • You can join the conversation. You can either:

Find Out More About GovCamp

There’s lot of information, ideas and reportage from the recent GovCamp in Ottawa at the GovCamp site – be sure to check it out!

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.


The Facebook/.NET SDK

facebook sdk

Facebook has announced official support for the just-released 3.0 version of Microsoft’s Facebook SDK (also known as the Facebook Developer Toolkit). The kit was written with one goal in mind: to make it easier for .NET developers to write applications that integrate with Facebook.

I’ll leave it to the Facebook SDK Overview to do the talking:

The main entry point is the API (Facebook.Rest.Api) class in the Facebook.dll assembly. This class wraps the Facebook REST API and provides an easy to use interface for calling the different methods currently available in the Facebook API. We’ve also provided samples and tools for helping develop Facebook applications in the various .NET platforms including: ASP.NET, Silverlight, WPF and WinForms. Additionally, we’ve provided all the source code for the API, components, controls, and samples for you to explore.

The toolkit is comprised of the following core assemblies:

  • Facebook.dll: This is the main assembly that will be used by all applications. This has all the logic to handle communication with the Facebook application. This assembly also has specific support of XAML applications (Silverlight and WPF) to enhance the Facebook platform to make databinding and data caching easier.
  • Facebook.Silverlight.dll: This is the Silverlight version of the main assembly that will be used by all Silverlight applications. This has all the logic to handle communication with the Facebook application. This assembly also has specific support of XAML applications to enhance the Facebook platform to make databinding and data caching easier. The REST API in this assembly is Asynchronous only.
  • Facebook.Web.dll: This assembly should be used by Canvas applications. The main functionality supported in this assembly is to encapsulate the handshake between the Facebook application and a canvas application (both FBML and IFrame)
  • Facebook.Web.Mvc.dll: Provide a support building canvas applications using ASP.NET MVC. Separated from Facebook.Web.dll to avoid all developers from needing to install the MVC bits.
  • Facebook.Winforms.dll: This assembly provides support for writing Facebook applications using Winform technology. This provides a Component that wraps the API to make it easier to use from Winforms. This also contains some user controls to help display Facebook data easily.

To get started, download the SDK, then consult these docs:

If you create any Facebook apps using the SDK, let me know by dropping me a line. I’d love to feature it here!

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.


Social Software Venn Diagram

Yeah, that’s about right:


And better yet, it’s available as a T-shirt!


[Found via Kevin Kelly.]


Lessons from an Air Pump

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

The Incident

I live in Toronto’s High Park neighbourhood, which puts me at that magical distance where biking downtown takes a half-hour, about as long as public transit. If weather isn’t downright terrible and I don’t have too much to carry – say, laptop, change of clothes and even an accordion — I tend to take my bike.

Cycling is much easier with a pair of properly-inflated tires, so I often make use of the air pump at the gas station near my house:


Gas stations used to give you air for free, but these days, you have to pay to use an air pump – presumably to cover the cost of their upkeep. At the gas station near my house, a dollar gets you enough time to inflate all the tires on a car, which is plenty of time for a bike’s tires. You can use either a loonie (that’s “dollar coin” to you readers outside Canada) or four quarters.

Take a look at  the coin slots for the air pump at the gas station near my house:


Although the left and right coin slots are identical in size and appearance, they are for different types of coins:

  • The left slot is marked “dollar coin” and is for loonies (that’s “dollar coins” to you non-Canadian readers) only.
  • The right slot is marked “4 quarters” and is for quarters only.

It’s the worst combination of usability factors: identical slots that serve different purposes.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out some quarters. Without thinking, I put quarter in the dollar coin slot, realizing my mistake a little too late. The machine accepted the coin and didn’t route it to the “coin return” compartment. In fact, the machine didn’t even have a coin return compartment.

I wondered what would happen if I put three more quarters in the dollar coin slot. After all, the sticker might be wrong.. It wasn’t – I put in the remaining quarters and the air pump remained off. Luckily, I had four more quarters. I put those in the quarter slot and the machine came to life, providing compressed air for my tires.

Out of principle, I went to the gas station attendant and asked for the dollar I’d lost to the air pump back. He was resistant at first, but as soon as I said “Geez, you guys are a rip-off. I should post that on Twitter,” he quickly capitulated and reimbursed me.

The Lessons

Because I am in the business of talking about software development and design, I was inspired to turn the experience into a blog article (eight years of blogging will do that). I took photos of the air pump and derived two lessons.

Lesson One: Interface Matters!

If two things expect different input, they should appear different. The coin slots on the air pump are the same size. Although the sticker on the machine has markings that say that the left slot is for loonies and the right slot is for quarters, those markings are almost identical. Possible solutions include:

  • Differently-sized coin slots: a larger slot for loonies, a smaller slot for quarters. Older coin-operated machines made use of these:


  • A new sticker, perhaps with some colour coding to make it very clear that each coin slot expects very different kinds of coins. 


Be forgiving of user mistakes:

  • Both slots should accept either loonies or quarters. This solution is even better than differently-size coin slots or a new sticker. The constraint that one slot is for loonies and the other for quarters is a convenience for the manufacturer, not the user. Go the extra mile – after all, coin recognition technology isn’t anything new or hard to get.

    Most coin-operated machines that provide more than one coin slot, such as videogames and pinball machines at arcades, don’t “care” which one you use. Either coin slot will do, as long as you provide enough coins:


  • There should be a coin return slot. The current design simply takes your money and doesn’t let you cancel the transaction.

Simplify! Once you put in a coin slot that accepts loonies and quarters, there’s no need for a second coin slot – a single one will do.

The lesson of “interface matters” doesn’t just apply to user interface; they’re just as applicable to application interfaces, from method signatures to whole APIs. It pays to be clear and comprehensible.

Lesson Two: Social Software Matters (at least to some people)

The second lesson? Never underestimate the power of social networking software. The gas station attendant wouldn’t budge, but I saw him constantly checking his smartphone and guessed that he might be into Twitter.


Future Man Tried to Warn Us

Early 1960s businessmen talking to man in astronaut suit: "So you're saying people will 'tweet' what they're eating for breakfast?" "And 'upload' pictures of their breakfasts to a 'Facebook'?" "And other people will look at the breakfasts and make comments?" "No offense, future man, but is everyone in your time retarded?" "Sorry to burst your bubble, dudes, but you asked. Yes, that's the future."
Click the photo to see its source.


danah boyd’s Dissertation and My “Cheat Sheet” for it

Danah Boyd giving her "My Friends, Myspace" presentation at the Berkman Center in the summer of 2007 If you were born in the 1990s, you fall into the “youth” demographic and are considered to be part of the “Generation Y” or “Millennial” generation (a classification applied to people born in the 80s and 90s). Chances are that you don’t remember a world without commonplace desktop computers, the world wide web and mobile phones – lucky you!

You’re also the generation that Microsoft Research’s danah boyd has been observing for the past couple of years. She’s been studying how youth use social networks, or “networked publics”, as she likes to refer to them. She completed her Ph.D. last year and in fulfillment of her promise, she posted her dissertation on her blog this past weekend. It’s titled Taken Out of Context: American Teen Sociality in Networked Publics.

Teens use social media and social networking software to do these things:

  • To present themselves to the world
  • To interact with their peers
  • To understand and navigate through adult society

If you want to understand how and why teens’ use of technology to do these things, danah’s dissertation is your must-read document.

Be warned that a dissertation isn’t a blog entry or magazine article; Taken Out of Context spans a whopping 406 pages. Although it’s quite comprehensible to someone not versed in sociology or ethnography, it’s still a lot to read. You might find my notes from her My Friends, MySpace presentation that I took back in the summer of 2007 a reasonable overview – perhaps even a “cheat sheet” — for her dissertation.


Boomers Like Online Recommendations, Not Into Blogs or Social Networking

A ThirdAge/JWT Boom study has data that suggests that “people over age 40 participate heavily in word-of-mouth and value personal recommendations and expert opinions, but they have not embraced social networking or blogs despite being heavy users of other online services.”