January 2016

CUNY Tech Meetup visits Microsoft New York

Dawn Barber, cofounder of the wildly popular New York Tech Meetup, recently started another group: CUNY Tech Meetup. Its goal is to galvanize the City University of New York’s tech community, from students to professors, and create an open forum where CUNY community members can connect to gain insight about, and be inspired by, NYC’s tech and innovation culture. We admire the mission of CUNY Tech Meetup, and were happy to host one of their events in our New York headquarters at 11 Times Square last month.

Our objective was to share a small sample of the civic tech activity in New York with students who are just embarking on their careers. It’s important that the next generation of talent know that you can make a living bringing government and citizens together to tackle important social and political issues, and it’s important that we broaden access to this field.

We shared the civic engagement work we’re doing at Microsoft, but quickly opened the floor to Dawn’s all-star roster of civic tech leaders. Most notably, we were honored to be joined by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who has led so much of the city’s tech and open government work.

We also heard from Noel Hidalgo of BetaNYC, CUNY Civic Innovation Fellows Barry Ibrahima and Eli Rivera, Deanna Zandt of Lux Digital, Jeanne Brooks of DataKind, Andrew Hoppin of NuCivic, O. Liam Wright of True Interaction (make sure you check out his live diagram!), David Moore, of the Participatory Politics Foundation, Noelle Francois of Heat Seek NYC, Claire Fontaine of Data & Society, and David Goldstein of Collective Decision Engines. Enjoy some photos, below, and join CUNY Tech Meetup.

Fellow Profile: Nihal Mirpuri

Nihal-Mirpuri_MSNYWhere are you from? I was born in Singapore, but I’ve been living out of the country my whole life. I’ve lived in places like Indonesia, Malaysia and the UK.

School/grade/major: I’m currently an undergrad doing B-Sci (Major in Computer Science) in The University of Melbourne, Australia.

Last thing you searched on Bing: “Vintage fire hydrants” to add to my hydrant blog

Why did you choose Microsoft’s Fellowship program? I’ve been passionate about two things my whole life: technology and helping others. By high school I had re-purposed a spare room in our house, and brought in dozens of broken computers from all over the city. I would repair them and build new computers from the parts, and gift them back to orphanages around the city. Little did I know that this would be my first few steps towards finding my passion, and there is no better place than Microsoft to share my love for technology and to empower others around me.

What’s your biggest tech goal for 2016? Personally I’m hoping to see 2016 as the year where we start to use IoT to make our environment and urban infrastructure more responsive and efficient. We shouldn’t have to wait for a 911 call to know that shots were fired in the vicinity, we shouldn’t have to inspect every fire hydrant in the district every 6 months. These can all be automated using IoT devices.

What issues are you most passionate about? I’m most passionate about tackling climate change, breaking down communication barriers across cities, and reducing the gender gap in STEM.

Who is your civic tech mentor? John Paul Farmer

What projects are you working on for your position as tech fellow for Microsoft New York? Currently I’m working on civicgraph.io, a visualization tool for individuals and organizations in the civic tech scene. Other projects include using real-time bus data to reduce the number of accidents on our roads, and building a crisis ‘stack’ (technology speak for a set of programs) for disaster response with developers in Kenya.

What excites you about civic tech? Civic Tech is at an intersection that not many other fields get to explore: Where almost every skill set is required to solve problems that pertain to all aspects of life. What excites me the most is working with people with such diverse backgrounds, from geographers to designers to entrepreneurs.

What’s one problem you hope civic tech will solve for cities? Kind of a moonshot, but I’m hoping that one day every child in all parts of the world will have the same opportunities offered to them, regardless of geographical location or family background. I want to see a child in Ethiopia have a voice and be given the opportunity to get the same education, and offered the same jobs as somebody who’s born in Manhattan.

DataViz for good: How to ethically communicate data in a visual manner: #RDFviz


Catherine D’Ignazio brainstorms around data inclusion

Last Friday I participated in my second Responsible Data Forum. Last year’s workshop on private sector data sharing (data philanthropy, if you like) inspired some of our thinking and collaborations over the past year, and today’s event about data visualization for social impact did not disappoint. You can see what people posted at #RDFviz, on the wiki, and in a great collection of related resources here.


Mushon Zer-Aviv facilitates the Responsible Data Forum

At the top of the day, we did the classic Post-It note brainstorm to inventory all of the potential avenues for working groups. Given the incredible experience of the people in the room, there was a lot to work with. To give you a sense of the conversation and work coming out of this event, I’ve attempted to capture a sample of the questions and prompts the participants asked:

  • Non-screen data visualizations
    • Experiential data visualization, sonification, physical experiences, and installations
    • Data viz for the blind
    • Sand mandalas
    • Getting data offline
    • Translating data visualizations across various forms of media
    • Low-bandwidth visuals for inclusivity
  • Communicating uncertainty
    • How do we communicate uncertainty in data?
    • In metadata?
    • How do we represent gaps in the data?
    • What if our knowledge of the uncertainty in the data is anecdotal?
    • How can visuals show “no answer”?
    • How can data visualization promote ambiguity?
  • Literacy
    • How do we improve everyone’s data visualization literacy, as creators and as viewers?
    • How do we educate people about the data they create?
    • Which people / sectors / fields most need data literacy?
    • Can we provide interactive tools that let viewers adjust data visualizations in real time as a means of improving literacy?
    • How can we support grassroots groups to create better data visualization?
    • Is there a need for basic design principles and data viz 101 resources for human rights activists?
    • How do we navigate a fear of numbers?
  • Perspective
    • How do we visualize when there’s a dispute or a problem with the “facts”?
    • How do we show different perspectives on the same data?
    • How do we establish trust with our audience?
  • Data Visualization Theory (one of the less popular categories in this very practical group)
    • Let’s connect #RDFViz with the academic visualization community
    • How do we create a data visualization of data visualization?
    • Is data visualization abstracted thought?
  • Power and Data Visualization
    • Is persuasive data visualization
      • good?
      • bad?
      • necessary?
    • The relationship between big data and advocacy visualization
    • If we don’t amplify what we don’t know, visualization will amplify the most powerful voices
    • What does good adversarial data visualization look like?
  • BAD data viz
    • Is meaningless data visualization worth anything?
    • What about when people make decisions based on bad data viz?
    • If raw data is unrepresentative, will visualizations on it be bad?
    • We should collect examples of unethical data visualization
  • Data Visualization Tools
    • Let’s consider the limits of software and the tools we use
    • The trade-off between ease of use and privacy
    • Data visualization does not immediately create data storytelling
    • We should be more open about the true cost of doing a data visualization
    • We need tools that allow us to share our process as well as the data source and output
    • “Proprietary viz companies will die” vs. “Open source communities are Kafkaesque nightmares”
    • There’s a distinct lack of non-English data viz tools
    • What are some reasonable principles or guidelines to provide designers creating software tools for use by the general public and specialists?
    • Which types of interactivity are most useful in enhancing analytical inspiration?
  • Data Visualization Methodology
    • We should discuss methodologies when we discuss visualizing data
      • How do we choose what we visualize?
      • How do we represent data quality?
      • How do we visualize metadata?
    • What’s the lifespan of an infographic? Can we design continuously updated visuals, or include expiration dates for stale graphics?
    • How do we encourage consideration of ethics in the creation process of data visualizations?
  • Collaboration
    • Let’s connect the data producers and the visualizers with a tighter feedback loop. The producers will see how their data’s been applied in the world, and visualizers will get a better sense of the contours of the data.
    • How do we encourage more collaboration between human rights activists and data visualizers?
  • Engagement and Participation
  • Audience
    • How do we involve the audience?
      Who is the audience, and why?
    • How do we create community ownership of a data viz?
    • How do we allow a data viz to speak to multiple disparate audiences?
  • Transparency and openness
    • Expose methodologies
    • Replicability of a data viz
    • Making the data viz process transparent
    • What assumptions are there in that data visualization?
    • How do design and aesthetic decisions bias a data viz?
  • Simplicity
    • How can we be succinct without over-simplifying the content?
    • Nuanced vs. bombastic
    • Can we build a language for the critique of data visualizations’ ethics?
    • Are there ethical ways to avoid nuance?
    • Presenting individual data points vs. an overview
  • Objectivity vs. subjectivity
    • Data as expression vs. data as fact
    • Is objectivity desired?
    • How do we use empathy without creating compassion fatigue?
    • The difference between invoking sympathy vs empathy
  • Honesty
    • When is a data viz most true?
    • When is a data viz most honest?
    • What about high-stakes data visualizations, like when there are life and death risks for participating subjects?
    • How do we incorporate criticism and critique into the visualization?
    • Data visualization is rooted in an Enlightenment fallacy that “the truth”, presented just so, will change things
  • Motivation and goals
  • Responsibility
    • Anonymizing data
    • Fact-checking data
    • Transparency vs. protection of subject
    • Marginal populations
    • Whose data is it, and is there consent?
    • Responsibly visualizing video / images
    • Does reliance on data de-humanize subjects?
    • How do we responsibly reduce complexity to convey points?
    • How do we make the creators of data visualizations
  • Culture
  • Risk & danger
  • The future…
    • Is visualization always stuck in the past?
    • Time travel strategies for slowing down time
    • Holodeck data visualization

A constellation of Post-its

This is only a partial list, as I wasn’t able to type quickly enough for the fast-moving Post-It notes. You can view the original Post-It constellation over here and keep up with the conversation and the creative outputs over at responsibledata.io.

Major News Broadcasters to use Microsoft Pulse during the 2016 State of the Union


Microsoft Pulse, a tool that enables anyone, anywhere, on any device to vote and engage in a live event or broadcast, is partnering with CNN, MSNBC, NBC Universo and Telemundo to allow Americans to participate and give real-time feedback to President Obama’s final State of the Union address. To participate and make your voice heard during the State of the Union address, watch CNN or NBC Universo at 9pm EST tonight and vote at cnn.com/pulse or telemundo.com/pulse. You can also stream the speech and vote on Msnbc.com or Telemundo.com.

Want to hear more? Visit the Microsoft Pulse blog and follow @MicrosoftPulse on Twitter.

Microsoft New York welcomes District General Manager Laura Clayton McDonnell

lauraclaThe newest member of the New York Metro District team is our district general manager, Laura Clayton McDonnell. As the largest city in the U.S., New York is a key focus for Microsoft’s commitment to solutions and programs that support education, job creation, digital government and civic competiveness. As home to the nation’s leading companies and a host of technology innovators, the New York Metro District is an important part of Microsoft’s technology and sales efforts. We’re thrilled to welcome McDonnell to the leadership of this exciting business.

McDonnell brings a wealth of knowledge in sales management and legal experience, most recently in executive roles at Aspect Software, IBM, Sun and Apple. Now that she’s at Microsoft in New York, she’s already taken the lead in many of our community efforts, including ringing the opening bell at Nasdaq as part of the kickoff of Giving Tuesday.

“I’m delighted to join this amazing team as we support the transformation to a cloud-first, mobile-first world and encourage all our customers — enterprise, local governments and the citizens of New York City — to meet the opportunities of our changing world,” McDonnell says. “My immediate priority will be to lead the New York team to achieve more, with a focus on revenue growth, organizational effectiveness and operational excellence. I know the team shares my customer obsession, and I look forward to helping us reach new sales heights. At the same time, I’m eager to drive our work in leveraging technology to make a difference in the community, especially for youth and education.”

As New York City’s tech scene explodes, we are thrilled to be a part of this community and add to the growth. Tech is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the New York area’s economy. We see ourselves as part of the burgeoning sector making an impact in our district; it is an exciting time for the company! In October we opened the new flagship Microsoft Store on Fifth Avenue, in the heart of New York’s shopping district. And our regional offices in Times Square are home to our New York Microsoft Technology Center (MTC), where we blend our workspace with purpose-built environments for customer collaboration, demonstration and innovation. Customers can envision and design solutions that meet their unique needs, building on a cloud-based infrastructure and a wide range of partner technologies. We’ve been in this space for just about two years and have had the privilege of working with a range of customers to explore the vast opportunities that Microsoft technology can offer their business.

We’re excited to see what the future holds as we move into a new year with new district leadership and new technology developments ahead. Check back frequently for updates on what the New York Metro District is accomplishing.

Congratulations to Our Fall 2015 Civic Tech Fellows!

Every year, we gain an incredible cohort of civic technology fellows that inspire us through their hard work and dedication to utilize technology in local government and community applications. With each step forward our fellows make, we help make New York City more interconnected through technology. So, at the end of every fellowship, we gather local leaders in government and technology at a Civic Demo to celebrate the successes made by these students of civic tech.

See what our most recent group of fellows helped create in the video recap of our December Civic Demo below:

Kicking Off 2016 With The Top Civic Tech Events in January

NY January

Judging by the lines at our favorite lunch spots, everyone’s back in action for 2016. Let’s kick the year off right with some great events around the city this month.

Monday, January 11 — GeoNYC

Tuesday, January 12 — AgTech Innovation: The Future of Farming

Wednesday, January 13 — Conversations with Digital Natives: Teens Talk:

Join the Daily News Innovation Lab’s Conversation Series at Microsoft Times Square for Teens Talk, a panel with Gen Z makers and media consumers, about the changes and creative possibilities new technologies have brought to their lives.

Wednesday, January 13 — Governor Cuomo’s State of The State Address

Thursday, January 14 — The first-ever Lenses Community Hack Night:

“Lenses, a Knight Foundation Prototype Fund grantee that began as an NYC Media Lab seed project with News Corp, is a new toolkit featuring open-source components that allow users to grab, transform and visualize datasets in a collaborative way. On January 14th at 5:30pm JavaScript developers and data visualization storytellers will gather to hack new components for the toolkit around the theme of visualizing election data.”

Thursday, January 14 — 4.0 Schools NYC Launch Showcase

Friday, January 15 — Responsible Data Forum:

Over the past two years the Responsible Data Forum has explored various perspectives on the use of technology and data for social change, with special emphasis on questions revolving around security, privacy, consent, funding and documentation.

We urgently need to explore responsible data issues around visualization, so the engine room, Data & Society and ThoughtWorks will gather 35 activists, researchers, designers, technologists, analysts, artists, journalists, campaigners and other dataviz-ers to challenge our practices and use of visualization and develop useful resources to address these issues.

Tuesday, January 26 Knight News Challenge on Data winners’ announcement in New York at Civic Hall

Thursday, January 28 — Playcrafting NYC Winter Expo and Global Game Jam Kickoff

Friday, January 29 — Machine Eatable with Mark Latonero

DataKind and Microsoft Technology & Civic Engagement present Machine Eatable, a lunchtime conversation at Civic Hall. This monthly lunch series offers a candid discussion led by community leaders around the latest happenings on the front lines of data science and social good communities.


Friday, January 29 – Sunday, January 31 — NYC Global Game Jam 2016


Playcrafting & Microsoft teaming up for a huge showcase of NYC-made games and first-ever Global Game Jam site!


Playcrafting NYC is excited to partner with Microsoft for a very special edition of our Winter Expo to kickoff our joint Global Game Jam site! Join over seventy game developers on Thursday, January 28th as they show off their latest games one-on-one to a crowd of 700 people. For developers, this is a great opportunity to show off their games (finished or unfinished) and get direct feedback from players. For everyone else, it’s a unique opportunity to try out the biggest collection of games made in and around NYC all in one place. Each game gets its own booth as players meet the developers and try out their games. Throw pizza into the mix and you get Playcrafting’s biggest event!


Best of all, this event will also be launching our first-ever Global Game Jam site in the same space with Microsoft all weekend! We’re taking over the sixth floor of Microsoft NY for a weekend of game making that will include free workshops, refreshments, giveaways and prizes. Details and signup here.


About Playcrafting

Playcrafting empowers and grows the game development community through education, networking and collaboration. We offer workshops, classes, courses and events for game developers and those aspiring to make games in topics including game design, programming, art, business and more. Our goal is to help gamers become developers and teams of developers become successful businesses.

Founded in 2009 as a Meetup, Playcrafting has since grown to over 8,000 members in New York and Boston, with branches opening in San Francisco and Seattle in 2016. Between our flagship quarterly Expos, monthly Demo & Play Nights, quarterly 8 week courses, and 10 classes and workshops per month, Playcrafting helps game developer communities succeed. Best of all, our instructors are talented local developers actively making games. A Playcrafting education not only provides the skills needed to succeed as a game developer but also puts money directly into the local game industry.