Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

RIP, Aaron Schwartz

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Cory Doctorow has an appreciation of Aaron Schwartz, who committed suicide yesterday at age 26. Schwartz seems to have been a remarkable person indeed, and I encourage you to read the entire column.

Let me quote two small parts of the column, which I found particularly interesting. First:

At one point, [Schwartz] singlehandedly liberated 20 percent of US law. PACER, the system that gives Americans access to their own (public domain) case-law, charged a fee for each such access. After activists built RECAP (which allowed its users to put any caselaw they paid for into a free/public repository), Aaron spent a small fortune fetching a titanic amount of data and putting it into the public domain. The feds hated this. They smeared him, the FBI investigated him, and for a while, it looked like he’d be on the pointy end of some bad legal stuff, but he escaped it all, and emerged triumphant.

And then this:

I wrote to Aaron for help with Homeland, the sequel to Little Brother to get his ideas on a next-generation electioneering tool that could be used by committed, passionate candidates who didn’t want to end up beholden to monied interests and power-brokers. Here’s what he wrote back:

First he decides to take over the whole California Senate, so he can do things at scale. He finds a friend in each Senate district to run and plugs them into a web app he’s made for managing their campaigns. It has a database of all the local reporters, so there’s lots of local coverage for each of their campaign announcements.

Then it’s just a vote-finding machine. First it goes through your contacts list (via Facebook, twitter, IM, email, etc.) and lets you go down the list and try to recruit everyone to be a supporter. Every supporter is then asked to do the same thing with their contacts list. Once it’s done people you know, it has you go after local activists who are likely to be supportive. Once all those people are recruited, it does donors (grabbing the local campaign donor records). And then it moves on to voters and people you could register to vote. All the while, it’s doing massive A/B testing to optimize talking points for all these things. So as more calls are made and more supporters are recruited, it just keeps getting better and better at figuring out what will persuade people to volunteer. Plus the whole thing is built into a larger game/karma/points thing that makes it utterly addictive, with you always trying to stay one step ahead of your friends.

Meanwhile GIS software that knows where every voter is is calculating the optimal places to hold events around the district. The press database is blasting them out — and the press is coming, because they’re actually fun. Instead of sober speeches about random words, they’re much more like standup or the Daily Show — full of great, witty soundbites that work perfectly in an evening newscast or a newspaper story. And because they’re so entertaining and always a little different, they bring quite a following; they become events. And a big part of all of them getting the people there to pull out their smartphones and actually do some recruiting in the app, getting more people hooked on the game.

He doesn’t talk like a politician — he knows you’re sick of politicians spouting lies and politicians complaining about politicians spouting lies and the whole damn thing. He admits up front you don’t trust a word he says — and you shouldn’t! But here’s the difference: he’s not in the pocket of the big corporations. And you know how you can tell? Because each week he brings out a new whistleblower to tell a story about how a big corporation has mistreated its workers or the environment or its customers — just the kind of thing the current corruption in Sacramento is trying to cover up and that only he is going to fix.

(Obviously shades of Sinclair here…)

also you have to read http://books.theinfo.org/go/B005HE8ED4

For his TV ads, his volunteer base all take a stab at making an ad for him and the program automatically A/B tests them by asking people in the district to review a new TV show. The ads are then inserted into the commercial breaks and at the end of the show, when you ask the user how they liked it, you also sneak in some political questions. Web ads are tested by getting people to click on ads for a free personality test and then giving them a personality test with your political ad along the side and asking them some political questions. (Ever see ads for a free personality test? That’s what they really are. Everybody turns out to have the personality of a sparkle fish, which is nice and pleasant except when it meets someone it doesn’t like, …) Since it’s random, whichever group scores closest to you on the political questions must be most affected by the ad. Then they’re bought at what research shows to be the optimal time before the election, with careful selection of television show to maximize the appropriate voter demographics based on Nielsen data.

anyway, i could go on, but i should actually take a break and do some of this… hope you’re well

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 January 2013 at 10:57 am

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