Adopting‘s face-detection algorithm, a new program called Congressmiles analyzes the smiles of a group of people. His guinea pigs for the project: U.S. senators.

Dan Nguyen, a developer at ProPublica, created the program by incorporating the Sunlight Congress API, the Congress API for photos of individual House and Senate members, plus’s API that provided the face detection element of the new program. utilizes facial recognition technology in its API services and social tagging applications including the Photo Finder Facebook Application. program codes are available for developers to apply detection and recognition technology in new ways.

“I chose senators because there is only 100 of them, they’re fairly well-known and it’s always fun to poke fun at them,” Nguyen told Mashable. “The day after I made my post, a fellow Canadian journalist did the same for his members of parliament. I could easily change my code to do the House of Representatives.”

Though it was built just in the midst of political frenzy resulting from GOP presidential debates, the application shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Nguyen says he made the program to demonstrate the process of simple coding applications.

“However, I do think it would be interesting to run a bunch of past official campaign photos from both losers and winners, and test for that famous claim that square-jawed, smiling candidates also enjoy better election results,” he said, among other possible variables.

As for the results of this Congressmiles study, watch the video above.

Considering there is a Facebook Fan page for Mitt Romney’s hair and the comments about Ron Paul’s old age at Thursday’s CNN Republication Debate in Jacksonville, a politician’s smile can say a lot to potential voters.

Tell us in the comments how you could use face-detection technology.

Image courtesy of Flickr, Vince Alongi

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While not as sexy as politician elbow jabbing, the race to develop winning political platforms for the 2012 U.S. election cycle is a hot contest among strategists and programmers.

Following its win in 2008, Blue State Digital is the shop to beat. The company built the dynamic and enabled the president’s campaign to integrate CRM, fundraising, email and other communications, along with organizing tools for their field program. The historic results were so revolutionary that it has since been copied by other candidates, issue groups and consumer marketers, leading to the clogging of countless inboxes with three years worth of cookie-cutter calls to action.

Top BSD execs have returned to lead President Obama’s re-election digital strategy, but the market they face now has changed drastically. We’ve seen the country’s political atmosphere shift as Republicans ramp up, Tea Party organizers forge grassroots support, Independents search for post-partisan ground, and Democrats vacillate over campaign promises kept and broken. Consequently, the tools that fuel these political movements have adapted to serve a more complex electorate.

Across the political spectrum, creative solutions will have notable implications for the upcoming election, not to mention for issue-based organizers and lobbyists post-election. Digital strategists will incorporate social gaming tactics in order to mobilize casual activists, and will draw on the OK Cupid! matching system to circumvent partisan differences. They will build and leverage massive open source networks. The new tools currently being developed have the potential to establish a strengthened, more engaged public in the long term.

The question, once again, is how these tools will lead to a dramatic shift in the way politics is fundamentally practiced in the modern people-powered electorate.

One thing is certain: Hiring or emulating BSD this time around will not magically catapult a candidate to Barackstar status. Other groups have stepped up.

“Hats off to BSD. They have a product that’s used by massive numbers of people, and obviously won a consequential election in 2008,” says Patrick Ruffini, partner at Engage, one of Washington D.C.’s top conservative digital strategy firms, and a veteran of the past three presidential races. “Since then the web is becoming more social, as is activism online.”

1. Multiply

To serve the social web’s activists better, Ruffini and his team at Engage have developed a platform called Multiply, one of numerous competitors that will play a role in shaping the future of Republican digital organizing and certainly the upcoming election. Ruffini describes Multiply as a “platform based around social gaming.” By targeting existing networks like Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare, where communities of both dedicated and casual activists already exist, Multiply uses game mechanics to incentivize increasingly difficult actions. For example, in a test-drive this past summer, users were asked to do things ranging from the simple (sharing a news story in their feed) to the much heavier (making a donation or phone banking). Multiply awarded badges, points and exclusive rewards to these participants, who might otherwise never have provided their email addresses to a campaign website or taken an action beyond clicking Facebook’s “Like” button.

“By gamifying the pieces, one of the things we found was increased engagement in the actions they were asked to do,” he says. “When prompted to take the next easiest action, we found a lot of people went through that process – up to the point where about 35% of users had completed all the actions.”

Tools like Multiply may allow Republicans to prove that they, too, can pack a digital punch in a presidential race. However, tools don’t operate in isolation. It wasn’t MyBO alone that made the 2008 Democratic party successful, but the way it facilitated spreading then-Senator Obama’s popular, hopeful message. Now that we’re faced with a terse, highly partisan and divided Congress, many of the first-time and moderate participants from 2008 have banded together in a deliberate effort to eschew party lines. They, too, have tools.


One of the hotly anticipated launches of the political season, emerged Sept. 21 as an organizing platform designed for political independents, the apolitical, and bipartisan buddies. Co-founder and chief strategy officer Raymond Glendening says allows users to work directly on the issues they care about with like-minded individuals, whether they are liberal or conservative. Visitors to the site are prompted to respond to user-generated questions (yes, based on the OK Cupid! system) about their positions on a variety of issues. Subsequently they are placed in a “ruck” where they can communicate, organize and take action with others who share their views.

“You don’t have to be a slave to partisan labels,” Glendening says. “It’s crazy that with the growth of technology we still only have two choices for politics. It’s unnecessary to have to settle for black and white options. If we can change the culture of how people communicate and make this an extra outside-the-party thing, political discourse will get better.”

The site is just out of beta, so it’s too soon to predict if users will still align themselves along traditional party platforms, or whether this even matters. “There is a tendency among people to say, ‘Can’t we organize around non-partisan issues rather than through the party?’” says Ruffini. “It’s a delicate balancing act, because most people who are active are either one way or the other. Will social media change that? It’s a broader question.”

Veteran organizers who do believe in the essential nature of ideological party allegiances seem to be grappling with another strategically imperative question going into 2012: Are we really going to reinvent the wheel every election cycle under the auspices of a new candidate?

When Obama took office in 2008, he had a heady 13 million users in his network, which were turned over to the renamed Organizing for America as part of the Democratic National Committee. (For an exhaustive resource on this controversial move, see this TechPresident report.) Many have questioned whether these users would have been better served had they been funneled to groups that tackled specific issues, as opposed to being united around the re-election of a candidate.

3. Salsa Labs

Today, digital organizers are still grappling with the repercussions of the Obama network decision, and looking to avoid setting a precedent. Democrats divided over whether the Obama presidency has been a success will need to determine which tactics will rally voters to the ballot box next November. For example, climate or same-sex marriage activists could argue that Team Obama has dropped the ball on their issues. Therefore, they’ll need to communicate in a nuanced way to sell their bases on a second go-around.

In 2008, this was very expensive. Now it might not be.

April Pedersen is the co-founder of the progressive-leaning Salsa Labs, which just raised $5 million in funding to expand and develop its existing platform. The community now consists of more than 2,000 groups and reaches about 50 million people. Her organization’s objective is to find a way to drive down significant costs of models like BSD to be effective and scalable.

Salsa Labs seeks to accomplish that goal using Salsa Market, an open source developer’s resource that allows third parties to take advantage of apps and build new ones.

“It puts our users in the driver’s seat,” Pedersen says. “It takes the SalesForce app exchange model and applies it to our sectors. It allows for more advanced donor management, CRM and helps take organizing to next level.”

Some fantasize that progressive groups using the Salsa platform will be able to band together as necessary to take advantage of the full breadth of the network. However, Pedersen says there are some challenges to that vision since the user data belongs to the individual groups. The company is investigating how to move forward.

As with all tools, the substance of the candidates, dialogue, ideas and world events will be significant drivers behind the results. However, each of these approaches to user engagement offer a new way to empower voters and activists, making 2012 a cycle of tremendous potential.

Says’ Glendening: “In the long-range view, I hope we’re a piece of what changes the way politics is run in this country.”

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, CostinT

More About: 2012 election, contributor, features, platform, Politics, Social Media

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About 75 developers from across the United States (and at least one from Canada) accepted New York City Chief Digital Officer Rachel Sterne’s invitation to spend 36 hours of last weekend envisioning a better

The city’s first ever hackathon offered little incentive: There were no cash prizes, no iPad giveaways, and the city has not committed to using any of the designs to replace the website it launched in 1996 and last redesigned more than five years ago. Five of 14 teams whose designs were chosen by judges for various honors will be thanked personally by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in meetings this week.

“Really the goal was to bridge the worlds of government and technology and having a dialog,” Sterne says. “This really showed what people want.”

So what do people want? Most of the winning designs’ homepages focus on search, mirroring Bing and Google. Sterne saw: StackOverflow-like forums that encourage users to help each other, as well as gamification, location and social elements. In other words, these are the trends you’d expect from coders working with APIs from Google,, Foursquare and other popular web services.

New York City also introduced two new APIs at the event: one that works with 311 and another that constantly updates apps that use the city’s more than 400 open data sets with the latest changes.

Here are the five winning designs. What changes would you like to see on your city’s government website?

Best Use of Social: @NYC


Best Use of Local: Redesign

A location feature pulls in data based on the user’s zipcode.

Best Use of Location: Local Filtering

A feature pulls in data based on the user’s zipcode.

Best User Interface: Team Apple Seed

For comparison, here is a photo of NYC’s current website:

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nyc image

Rachel Sterne is Chief Digital Officer for the City of New York, where she focuses on the City’s digital media strategy. You can follow her on Twitter @RachelSterne or follow the City @nycgov.

Today is the last day to sign up for Reinvent NYC.GOV, the City’s first-ever hackathon. Civic-minded designers and developers who want to help improve NYC government are encouraged to apply at:

Why have we decided to invite the best and brightest of NYC’s tech community to help us improve Here’s the backstory.

Improving Our Digital Footprint

When we asked New Yorkers for their input on New York City’s “Road Map for the Digital City,” one of the biggest topics of feedback was, the City government’s main digital presence.

Some New Yorkers praised the scope of information offered and ability to pay bills and look up records online. Others suggested we had room for improvement. Comments included: “ is a little hard to navigate/search,” “ could use a refresh” and “ is just too unwieldy.” The refrain was clear: The site was muddy, but we had an opportunity to make more cohesive and user-centric while integrating it with different communication channels in social media.

Last week, New York City Government and General Assembly announced Reinvent NYC.GOV, our first-ever hackathon to help solve this challenge in an open, transparent, participatory environment.

Taking place July 30 to 31 at entrepreneurship-focused community learning space General Assembly, it’s an important step in our our Road Map to realize NYC’s digital potential. Here are a few reasons why we’re doing it:

Why NYC Is Hosting a Hackathon

  • 1. It will bridge sectors and connect the government and technology communities around a shared challenge.
  • 2. It will encourage collaborative problem-solving and a more open government. We’ve invited developers to share their ideas for improving a major digital “public space.” has almost as many visitors each year as Central Park and should be similarly cared for.
  • 3. It will create a mechanism for the public to share feedback and ideas for a website that exists to serve them.
  • 4. It can serve as a model for other governments, helping to affect national and international change.
  • 5. It will introduce creative and innovative concepts that could help to evolve to be more efficient and effective in serving and empowering New Yorkers.
  • 6. It will provide both individuals and teams with face-to-face access to the City’s decision makers.
  • 7. It creates a precedent and platform for evolving government through open innovation and participation.
  • 8. It will serve as the first step in a transparent design process. We want to gather as much input as possible. This is a way to move quickly to achieve our goals.
  • 9. It helps remove subjectivity from the design process by clearly showing what the public wants and needs.
  • 10. It equips developers with the internal data they need to make user experience decisions, such as analytics, as well as support from our tech partners, including DonorsChoose, ExpertLabs, Facebook, Foursquare, Google, Meetup and YouTube.

We think this model is an important part of New York City’s digital Road Map and feel that it can be an effective piece for other cities, as well. What are your ideas for the future of Tell us in the comments below or tweet using the hashtag #reinventnycgov.

Image courtesy of Flickr, houyin

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This post reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily those of Mashable as a publication.

Steve Bratt is the CEO of the World Wide Web Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web. The mission of the organization is to empower people through transformative programs that leverage the web as a medium for positive change.

In his inaugural speech, President Barack Obama pledged support for open government initiatives, including the creation of websites that provide access to valuable but not sensitive government data. This initiative promoted transparency, accountability, collaboration and citizen participation by putting government data online. was launched in May 2009 as a result, and this incredible site provides nearly 300,000 data sets and almost 1,000 applications developed by government and private enterprise. Government has embraced the web as a platform to provide data to the public and to other entities inside and outside the government sector. Open Government Data (OGD), or government data that can be accessed online and used by others, is a pioneer idea that empowers people and enhances government accountability.

We recently learned that and similar websites will receive significantly decreased funding from the U.S. government. Without continued financial support, some government websites will go dark. That’s unfortunate, considering the two years of work spent to create and launch them. The latest offering from the House Appropriations Committee included only $8 million for the Office of Management and Budget’s open government program, which funds the development and maintenance of sites such as This offering is significantly less than the requested $35 million.

If we fail to fund open government projects, not only does the United States lose, but so does the rest of the world, which looks to the United States and United Kingdom as the leaders in modern government transparency initiatives. To date, we have witnessed an impressive adoption of open government initiatives globally. Some 15 nations plan to model their open government platforms using as an example.

Recently, OGD feasibility assessments conducted by my organization in Chile and Ghana have revealed the need and desire to establish open government initiatives in those countries. Improving government transparency and accountability in these markets enhances public confidence in systems of government and attracts foreign investment in local businesses. In addition, innovative commercial opportunities are made possible based on the availability typically-hidden government data. And for all who are interested in cost-effective governance (who isn’t?), OGD initiatives have produced savings on U.S. government expenditures. According to U.S. Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra, the IT dashboard provides an estimated $3 billion in savings per year to the American taxpayer. Such projects also help government agencies identify water quality changes, bad roads and areas with high crime rates.

Let’s not lose the significant benefit of open government data work after so much effort, time and money has gone into building these resources that are already proving to more than pay for themselves. I urge you to contact your local representatives, and ask them to fully fund U.S. open government initiatives or sign the Sunlight Foundation’s “Save the Data” petition that is urging congressional representatives protect funding for open government projects.

Interested in more Dev resources? Check out Mashable Explore, a new way to discover information on your favorite Mashable topics.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, DHuss

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The Tor Project has been recognized by the Free Software Foundation for its role in the protests and revolutions around North Africa and the Middle East.

This software, which allows for safe and anonymous web browsing, was given the FSF’s Award for Projects of Social Benefit. The award is intended to highlight “a project that intentionally and significantly benefits society through collaboration to accomplish an important social task.”

Without question, enabling the Internet’s role in political revolution has been an important social task, and one that the Tor Project has explicitly supported. In its section on activist users, Tor reps state that anonymous browsing is essential for reporting abuses of power and organizing protests, especially from behind government-sponsored firewalls and ISP blocks.

“Using free software,” the FSF writes, “Tor has enabled roughly 36 million people around the world to experience freedom of access and expression on the Internet while keeping them in control of their privacy and anonymity. Its network has proved pivotal in dissident movements in both Iran and more recently Egypt.”

In Iran, political dissent before, during and after the 2009 election caused a firestorm on Twitter and Facebook; as a result, the government began censoring many apps and sites. The Tor Project allowed users to bypass the blocks and access the web apps they needed to continue to organize.

And in Egypt and other countries in North Africa and the Middle East, a couple months of steady political unrest has been punctuated by periods of site-specific blocks and even total Internet blackouts. Once again, Tor was instrumental for continuing to allow many users to access the web, where they communicated internally and externally and rallied for change.

Andrew Lewman, executive director of the Tor Project, was present to accept the award from the FSF and its founder and president Richard M. Stallman during a March 19 ceremony.

Previous winners of this award include such notable FOSS projects as the Internet Archive, Creative Commons and Wikipedia.

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As protests in Egypt continued to intensify and get more violent, leaders gathered in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum addressed the protests and communication shutdown in the country.

Speaking to reporters at the Forum, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned Egypt’s authorities for the Internet takedown, warning that “freedom of expression should be fully respected.” He said the decision to cut Internet access off prior to planned protests was against democratic principles of expression and association.

However, what is clearly absent from the forum are members of the official Egyptian delegation, who pulled out from participating just before it started. Participants of the exclusive gathering generally avoided discussing the Egypt protests in panels, but concerns around the unrest were still a topic of discussion for attendees.

Vittorio Colao, CEO of Vodafone Group PLC, a telecommunications company, said in a session on mobile devices that Egyptian authorities asked his company to “turn down the network totally,” which the company had to comply with because of Egyptian law, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Delegates also discussed, in interviews with CNN, whether the “social media-led” unrest in Egypt was a growing trend in Africa and the Middle East:

Interestingly, a panel on “Leading in a Hyper-Connected World” addressed how a connected world is enabling people who share common values to be more engaged. It also asked how governments and businesses should operate in a hyper-connected world. And that’s a question we’d love for our readers to discuss in the comments below.

More About: davos, Egypt, internet, protests, video, world economic forum

The State of the Union will be streaming online in several locations; here’s a quick rundown of URLs to tune into to hear and see U.S. President Barack Obama‘s speech Tuesday.

Here are some details you’ll need to know: The address will begin Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 9 p.m. Eastern Time, 6 p.m. Pacific Time. The speech, which is entitled “Winning the Future,” should last for about one hour. The president will be addressing a joint session of Congress from the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol.

The address will air on television as well as online, of course; but online viewing might give you a more interesting and informative experience than TV viewing alone.

For example, there’s the White House’s official portal, which delivers a unique and media-rich experience. With’s official “enhanced viewing experience,” you’ll be able to see data displayed on charts and graphs as the president speaks.

Also, the White House will offer special online events in the hours and days following the address to answer questions and address important issues raised. Interested parties can submit questions via Twitter, Facebook or a web form.

For those who favor commentary, PBS’s NewsHour is hosting an Annotated State of the Union in partnership with UStream (here’s an example from 2010). This interactive feature will bring “analysis during and after the president’s address by NewsHour correspondents and experts on a variety of topics.” NewsHour‘s UStream video will also be embeddable.

If you prefer a more cut-and-dry look at the speech, you can check out Hulu’s embeddable live stream. You can also check it out on C-SPAN, which will also offer enhanced coverage via its Twitter account.

Will you be watching President Obama’s speech tomorrow? If so, will you be tuning in online, on a TV or on the radio? Let us know in the comments.

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