Google I/O 2014 – Transforming democracy and disasters with APIs

STEPHANIE HANNON: Good morning. Thank you for joining
us for this session. Your interest and participation
mean so much to us. It helps us to get
to know the audience in the room a little
bit, so I’d really appreciate if you
show by your hands when I say your continent
where you live– not where you’re from, but where you live. So who is visiting
here from Europe? All right. From Africa? One. Just one. Wow. Welcome. South America? Amazing. Wow. OK, we have two. North America? Yeah. How many from the Bay Area? OK, awesome. Asia? And Australia? Way to go, Mike. How many of you already
consider yourself civic tech or
social entrepreneurs and work in this space? Great. How many of you are crazy
excited about the World Cup? AUDIENCE: Yay! STEPHANIE HANNON: Yeah. How many people are exhausted? Oh, equal. Equal. And can somebody tell
me– did the USA win? AUDIENCE: No. AUDIENCE: Yes. AUDIENCE: Well, they sort of– STEPHANIE HANNON: They did, no? AUDIENCE: Well, they lost– STEPHANIE HANNON: OK. Trickier answer than
I thought, trickier. OK. Well, thanks. We will go ahead
and get started. We are here today to talk about
how technology is transforming democracy and disasters,
keeping people safe, and improving society. We’re going to tell you stories
from our work at Google, and we’re going to tell you
stories about entrepreneurs and companies outside of Google. We’ll talk about open data and
APIs that are available today. And most importantly,
we’re going to engage you in a
conversation, because we want to support
you, the developers, and figure out how we can
collaborate better together. This is the beginning
of a long journey, and it’s only with the
enthusiasm and passion of people like
those in this room that we’ll make a difference. My name is Stephanie Hannon. Along with my colleagues
Eric Hysen and Payal Patel, we’re crazy proud to be
here to talk with you today. We three are part of a team at
Google called Social Impact, and we apply our
engineering talent to social and
humanitarian problems like improving society,
improving democracy, keeping people safe, ending
repressive censorship, and making the nonprofit
ecosystem more impactful. I’ve been building products
at Google for almost a decade, from launching Gmail all
over the world to building maps for Europe,
Middle East, and Africa and even launching Google
Wave on this stage. Anyone Wave fans? [APPLAUSE] Thank you, thank you. But I joined this
team earlier this year because I was in awe of the
problems that need attention and also Google’s commitment
with resources and people to try to solve and
make a big impact. I’d like to share two
examples of the type of work our team does by taking
you back to 2012, when Hurricane Sandy hit the
Eastern seaboard just eight days before the US election. I probably don’t
need to remind you that Hurricane Sandy
was the deadliest and destructive of that season. Its winds spanned 1,000 miles,
and more than 268 people died in the seven
countries it touched. The damage in the US alone
was $68 billion dollars. As you can see, this is
a picture of Hoboken. More than half of
Hoboken was flooded, as was chunks of Staten
Island and Brooklyn and lots of coastal communities. The streets were
turned into rivers, and lives and
homes were ravaged. At a moment like
this, there’s a lot of critical need for
information about resources. You can see this is a
picture of a Hess gas station in New Jersey where cars
lined up for hours and hours. Nobody knew where gas
was and how to get it. The Google Crisis team was able
to publish this crisis map, and all the green dots
on there represent availability in
the tri-state area. You could change it to different
types of inventory questions. And the real challenge here is
fresh, real-time information, because in a moment
like this there’s not a single source
of data available. So we were able to build this
by working with distributors like Hess, with
government agencies, and with crowdsourcing efforts
like GasBuddy and Maplet. Some of the best
sources of information were high school students
in New Jersey who were calling constantly
gas stations, and we got fresh,
real-time information. And the challenge at
Google is to ingest data from all these
different sources and lots of different formats,
sanitize it, and publish it to consumers in a useful way. And tens of thousands of
people viewed this map, and we hope it helped
keep them safe and warm. Payal is going to talk a lot
more about our crisis efforts today. Another challenge was
dozens of polling locations were flooded just days
before the US election, and the government had
this incredible challenge of how do we get
information out about where people should go to vote. So a company called Mobile
Commons built an SMS messaging app. It was really simple. You would SMS your
home address, and it would return your
polling location. It was built in partnership
with city and state governments, and it leverages the
Google Civic Information API, which Eric will tell
you a lot more about today. The governor of New Jersey
and the mayor of New York got out on social media
and in press conferences and promoted this. And the locations were
changing hour by hour, so it was a pretty
important service. And in the days leading
up to the US election, more than 200,000 people used it
to find their polling location. So Google Crisis Map and
Google Civic Information API are two examples of
the work we are trying to do to keep people
safe and improve society. And what’s really amazing to
me is that we in this room have the ability to touch
people on a global scale with our products and services. It’s remarkable the amazing
amount of technology computing power that I can hold my hand. And today, over 60% of
the global population has a cell phone and more
than 3 billion people are online with access
to the internet. Technology has already
transformed media and commerce. It has the potential to fix
democracy, improve education, and secure opportunity and
happiness for all people. We, along with the community
of people in this room and around the world, are
working in this space, and we hope by you guys
coming to this talk today we’re going to
recruit even more. And I just want to say this is
the only use of a prop all day. So if you came for
sexy demos, wrong room. So as we’ve been
working in this space, we’ve developed three principles
that are critical to our work. I want to share them
with you, and then we’ll talk about them throughout
the conversation today. The first is designing for
openness and interoperability. If you want to work in disaster
response or civic engagement, you need to work
with governments. And there’s thousands
of government entities around the world, and
they’re lacking incentives to open up data
in common formats. So it would not be great
if we built something that worked for San
Francisco but it didn’t work for Seattle
or Rio or Tokyo. So thinking early
about common formats, how to organize
people around them, and building for openness
and interoperability and advocating for open data
has been a big part of our work. Second, in our experience,
the way open data is published is very rarely consumable
in an easy format by people or by developers. And so a lot of work has
been about transforming data so that we can build
meaningful consumer product features in Google Now
Search and other places, but also giving it back
to you guys in a platform and through APIs so you can
do meaningful things too. And finally, a third
principle for us– I noticed in the
keynote all good things come in three, right? Everyone sees that–
think like a startup. So the same aggressive way
you would pursue an idea and try to fail fast, the same
attention to user segmentation and who you’re serving. Google, for example–
we’re working really hard on search quality
around the nonprofit ecosystem, and it’s a decision
whether we’re trying to reach the people who
are donating and volunteering or trying to reach the people
who are looking for services. So be clear about
your user segments and who you’re trying to serve. Also in thinking like a
startup, funding is available. There’s VC funding. There’s foundation funding. You can build sustainable,
scalable businesses. So think like a startup
as you approach this. And finally, there’s
tons of action in this space around weekend
projects or hackathons, and that’s great. More ideation is good. But this can also be sustainable
and scalable businesses. It can be your
full-time gig, and I hope you’ll think
about that today. As we go out and advocate
and talk to groups, people often ask, is
there funding available? Can I really work in the space? So you can see in this graph
from the Knight Foundation that civic tech is
on a fast growth. 121 companies were
started in 2012 alone– and I apologize that the
text here is so small. So lots of activity, lots
of growth in civic tech. But is funding available? So in the period from January
of 2011 to May of 2013, $431 million–
sometimes I say 2, so I have to check
slides– $431 million were invested in civic tech. And the investment comes
in all different ways. The Omidyar Network did 16
investments in this space alone. Y Combinator is now
supporting civic tech startups and nonprofits in its program. Alumni of the Code
for America program are starting lots of amazing
civic tech companies. Lots of action, which is why
it’s so exciting that you chose to be here with us to
talk about it today. So I’m going to turn it
over soon to my colleagues. We’re going to talk
about these principles. We’re going to dig into some
stories about the work we do. And then we’re really excited
to have this open conversation about how we can
work better together. And now, for Eric. ERIC HYSEN: Thank you, Steph. My name’s Eric Hysen. I manage our elections and
civic engagement products. I’ve been a part of
this team since 2009 and before that worked
on political campaigns. I want to start by going
back to the 2008 US election. Just six years ago but
feels a long time ago. So imagine you’re getting
ready to vote in that election. Think about the
information you might need, what you would need to do. One of the top
things on your list is probably where you vote. If you’re anything
like me, you probably think that you should go
online for this information. Unfortunately, it
turns out that, again, just six years ago, in 39
states there was no way to find this information
online at all. But even pausing
that for a second, let’s say you were lucky. You lived in one of
the 11 states that did put this information
online– say, New Hampshire. This is the service the New
Hampshire state government provides for looking up
your voting information. Try to work through it with me. You have two options here. On the left, you can
enter in a whole lot of personal information
that actually has nothing to do with where
you’re assigned to vote at all. Or on the right, you
get to do two things. First you select your
street from a drop down of every
street in the state. [LAUGHTER] And I’ve still never
figured this part out. I’ve looked at this site a lot. You pick if your street
number is between 1 and 99 or 1 and 131. [LAUGHTER] Or if you’re at
all rational, you would probably come across a
site like this and give up. And that makes sense, but let’s
think through the consequences of that if you’re
trying to vote. It’s Election Day. You’ve probably seen a
lot of polling places. Maybe you passed one on
your drive into work, so you stop there
on your way home. You very likely could end
up in a line like this one. You could wait in
this line, possibly for hours, just
to get to the end and finally figure out this
wasn’t actually your polling place. So the poll worker
there checking you in will probably very
happily tell you where you actually go to vote. But at this point, you’ve
been waiting for hours. You probably have to get home to
your family or go back to work. How likely are you to
actually cast your vote? This isn’t just an
individual problem. This can happen to hundreds
of thousands of people. It’s particularly bad for the
least advantaged among us, who really don’t have
this time to spare. And it’s not just about
finding your polling place but about registering
to vote on time or bringing the right
forms of ID to the polls. In aggregate, what are just
frustrating experiences individually can sway the
outcome of an election just because people don’t
have the information they need in an easy format. So this is where
Google comes in. As you might imagine, the
quality of our search results is particularly important to us. So we have a lot of people
across the company who are frequently looking through
our broad, aggregate trends, trying to be sure that we’re
doing a good job of answering our users’ queries. So in the run up to
the 2008 election, we had some of these
folks that kept seeing these spikes for
searches like “Where do I vote?” as elections approached. That makes sense. But like we just saw,
we really couldn’t do a very good job of
answering these questions, because the information
either wasn’t out there or wasn’t easily accessible. So we decided that we had an
obligation and the ability to do much better. We set out to collect and
standardize this information and quickly ran into the fact
that, like many government services in the US,
voting is actually not run at the national
level– not even run at the state level. It’s run in the thousands of
individual counties in most cases. So this means that
there are thousands of different government
agencies all running voting. And, of course, they
all do it differently. So rather than go
at this alone we worked with some partners,
notably the Pew Charitable Trusts, to set up a group
called the Voting Information Project to go out, collect, and
standardize this information. We expected things
to be pretty tough but were still pretty shocked
at some of what we saw. This is one example. This is actually from 2012. It’s unfortunately not
too much of an outlier. I really wish it were. But this is what
the team got when they talked to the
election officials in Dale County, Alabama, and
asked for information on how to map voters to polling places. So they got faxed
back this document, and there are a lot of problems. My favorite is here. You can see how they tried
to update this for 2012 just crossing out 2006. Problems like this
really are not uncommon when dealing with
government data. One other example– the
state of Texas, a huge state, doesn’t finalize their polling
places until the Friday before the election. So you have 72 hours to collect
this, standardize it, process it, get it out to their users. But the team persevered. And in the end, we had
thousands of different files, all different formats. This is where our
first pillar comes in. Rather than try to deal
with them all separately, we created a
standard data format to make this easier to use, the
first-ever interoperable data format for voting information. It’s an XML-based format called
the VIP, Voting Information Project XML spec, and here’s
a little bit of how it works. Since we’re at a
developer conference, I can show some XML. So polling places in
the US are assigned based on these things
called street segments. Unlike most other uses of
anything related to geodata, you don’t have shapefiles in
this case but tabular data that are lists of ranges
of addresses on the street, even down to what
side of the street you’re on, because the lines for
which polling place you go to can actually be drawn down
the middle of the street. So you need something
that’s a little more precise that governments
are able to use. So this XML defines a
street segment in Virginia, maps it to a precinct, and
then another part of the XML says where that
precinct goes to vote and gives you that in
a structured format. Other parts of this data give us
things like ballot information, rules on voting, early vote
places, things like that. In the end, this is what
we turned this data into. This is how you can now get
voting information on Google just by entering
in your address. On the left, you get your
polling place, opening hours, a link to Google
Maps for directions. On the right, you get
information on your ballot all the way down
to the local level. This has been incredibly
successful so far. In 2012, this was used
over 24 million times to find information on how to
vote, and that’s been great. We’ve been really amazed
at how that’s been used. But as Steph said
at the beginning, our team’s goal is to try to
address these social issues at large. And helping Google users find
this is really important, but it’s far from
the entire story. So as we were
doing this, we kept running into other
groups that were looking at similar problems. One of them was the
League of Women Voters. Their voter education group, one
of the oldest in the country. If you get these thick paper
ballot guides in the mail before an election, they’re the
people responsible for those. They do really great work, and
they, as a lot of folks do, wanted to do more online. And they started looking at
how they could tell their users where their polling places were. So their first attempt
was to take these 51 XML files from every state and
DC and try to process them like we were doing, but
we all pretty quickly realized that was
not the best idea. It turns out it’s a lot
better to have a data format than to have just jumbled
data, but it’s still not all that easy to work with. And groups like the League
are not technology companies. They’re civic
engagement non-profits. So their time is best spent
actually engaging voters, not building data
processing pipelines. So this is where our
second principle comes in. Just having open data, even
if it’s in a great format and even if it’s interoperable,
isn’t always enough. You need to transform it to
make it useful for people to really distribute
it at scale. So to do that, we built the
Google Civic Information API. This is a free API that
exposes all of that information very easily. You just pass in an address
and get back response about all the voting information
associated with that place. This is a simple request. It’s just the plain text
address and an ID number that’s associated with what
election we’re talking about. The documentation is on the
developer site down there. Here’s the response. It’s in JSON. Again, not too complicated. You get your polling place, some
details about that, information on the contests on the ballot,
other things like that. So the API has been
very successful as well. This was actually what
powered Mobile Commons that Steph was talking about
in the beginning in making an SMS-based service for
use during Hurricane Sandy. Mobile Commons was able
to focus on dealing with building a fast,
responsive mobile interface. They let us handle all
the messy data work. The API actually
ended up being so successful we used it
for our own product. We didn’t expect to do this. And the voter information
tool that I showed you a couple slides ago
is fully open source. It uses the Civic Information
API, the Maps API, and a number of other
Google Developer Tools, and you can get the code at
Google Code right up there. But after every
election, we also then started hearing
from these developers that they wanted to
extend their apps. No one wants to build
something that’s just usable in a small moment. And they wanted to extend it
from contests and candidates and polling places to elected
officials and politics every day. So last year we
expanded this API to include a new
representative info query. It will give you information
on political districts, elected officials, offices
in pretty much the same way as what I just showed you. One of the top developers using
this so far is If you haven’t
seen them, they’re an online petition site,
one of the biggest. And if you’re familiar
with online petitions, you’ve probably come
across the criticism that it’s hard to
take them seriously because anyone could
be signing them. You have no idea where they
live or who they actually are. So what did is they
used the Civic Information API to create a new feature that
tells an elected official how many of the people that
signed a petition actually live in their district
and are their voters. So it addresses one
of the key problems to taking the online
activism seriously and also gives elected
officials new insight into what’s important
in their district. is also a great
example of the third principle that we’re talking about,
think like a startup. They have a social mission. They’re trying to empower
anyone to drive change through their petitions
and through their product, but they’ve also
thought and approached this with all the normal
tools of a startup. And as a result, they have 300
paying clients and $25 million in revenue. So our team’s work also
scales internationally. It was great seeing
so many of you from other parts of the world. This is an example
of a map we built for India’s election,
which ended last month. We’ve done work like this
in over 40 countries. India was one of the craziest. Their election is
the biggest election in the history of democracy. So there are over
800 million voters, and it’s so many that they can’t
actually all vote on one day. Instead, they split up
voting across nine days over five weeks. So you can imagine
everything I was just saying for the US nine
times more complicated. It was a ton of fun. But what we did was
we built this map that, now that the
election’s over, shows results of the
voting in every district. But before that, users could
enter in their zip code and find candidates that are
running in their district. We presented a lot of
information that we aggregated about those candidates,
including something that I was surprised to learn
was particularly relevant for Indian politics, the
candidates’ criminal histories. [LAUGHTER] So you can see this guy was the
incumbent member of parliament in New Delhi. You can see that he had a
criminal case against him. When he was in
parliament, he only actually showed up
37% of the time. And then he in last
month’s election ended up getting
kicked out of office. He only got 18% of the vote. Our API that I mentioned,
the Civic Information API, is currently US only. But there are
developers worldwide– hopefully many of
you in this room as well– that are
doing work like this and that are also building
tools to make it easier to get involved anywhere. One of those examples
of many is Poplus. This is a group that started
when developers in the UK and in Chile were talking
and working together and realized that
they were building very similar tools
that were just launched in different countries. So they started a
set of components that are reusable and
interoperable, customizable, fully open sourced that let
developers in any country easily build some of
these different civic apps with much less startup cost. So that’s a little
bit about some of the work our team is
doing making information on the democratic
process easier to access. There are some of the
tools that we talked about. If you’re interested
in this space, I hope you’ll take a
look at some of them. And I want to hand it over to
Payal, who will talk about one of the other big challenges
our team works to address. [APPLAUSE] PAYAL PATEL: Awesome. Hi, everyone. Again, my name is
Payal Patel, and I’m a product manager on the
Google Crisis Response team. How many of you
recognize this screen? OK, a good number of hands. You probably also remember
the long, shrieking sound that played with it. This is the Emergency
Broadcast System originating from
the 1960s that used traditional media
such as television and radio as the primary
means for alerting authorities to get critical information
such as tornado warnings out to the affected public. Now, fast forward to 2012. And some of you might
recognize this message, which also has a loud, blaring
tone that plays with it. There are now wireless
emergency alerts that allow authorities
to geographically target text-like messages to get
critical information out using cell towers. Now, while these alerts are very
effective to let people know when they’re in danger,
they have their limitations as to providing details
about this emergency situation and really
further actionable content. So people usually
turn to the internet to get this additional
information. Now, step back two years ago. Let’s say you’re in
central Tennessee and you hear a siren go off. You think it might be a tornado. You’re not sure, so you
turn to Google Search and you search, “Is
there a tornado?” Traditional search results
actually weren’t that relevant. There wasn’t any mention
of the tornado warning that was just
issued moments ago. It shouldn’t be this difficult
to find critical information when minutes count,
and this is the problem that our team set out to solve. We’ve done this by building an
emergency broadcast platform for the internet
called Public Alerts. It aggregates, ranks, and
surfaces emergency messages like this tornado warning
into everyday tools people use, such as Search,
within minutes of issuance. Now, as you can imagine,
a major component in building this
type of platform is actually getting the
authoritative content. So how did we go about doing
this in a scalable way? Every alert issuer
has their own means of creating alerts and their
own dissemination mechanism. Some have a Twitter feed. Some have a website. Some don’t have any
information online at all. It’d be much easier if
there was a standard that these alert issuers
used, and it turns out there actually is. It’s called the Common
Alerting Protocol, CAP. About 13 years ago CAP was
designed in consultation with over 100
emergency managers, and it’s been adopted as
an international standard. So why is this
standard important? Well, if data providers can
create a RSS or Atom feed with all of their content
in the CAP format, then it becomes easy to
exchange this information across various platforms. So let’s look at an example. This is an example of a
tsunami warning issued by BMKG, the official alerting
authority in Indonesia. This is the alert in
the raw text format, and those of you that can
read Bahasa Indonesian could tell that this has
really useful content. But it’s difficult to
machine parse as is. Now, here’s the same
tsunami warning in CAP. CAP is an XML-based alerting
spec that normalizes the format and provides a standard and
flexible way to target alerts by dimensions such
as language, event type, a headline,
and description. And again, like Eric and
Steph mentioned earlier, building a product around a
standard is important for us because it plays a
critical role in designing for openness and
interoperability. Our team has really
embraced the CAP standard and are doing as much as we
can to drive adoption globally. We’ve served over
half a million alerts from 17 different alert
providers across seven different countries and in
six different languages, and this is just the beginning. So now in 2014, nearly a decade
since the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami, how do people get
emergency information online? Well, if you’re in the coastal
region of northern Sumatra in Indonesia and have the
Google Search app installed on your Android or
iOS device, your phone would buzz to notify you
that there is a tsunami warning in effect, and you
could take action on it. You’d also be given
relevant information about the situation such
as estimated arrival times and wave heights in
a familiar, easy-to-consume format. Again, this is not
just about getting the authoritative content but
really transforming that data and making it useful. Similarly if you’re
in Sanmin, Taiwan, you’re notified via Now if
there’s an oncoming typhoon. Or if you’re in
Timbiqui, Colombia, during rainy season
and want to check if you’re affected by
a landslide warning, you can quickly find that
authoritative information and take action to stay safe. Since we’ve launched
Public Alerts, we’ve received
feedback from users stating that they were
notified and able to get relevant information about
the situation they were in and take actions such as
seeking shelter to stay safe. Other users have said that this
was the only way they learned about the situation they were in
because they’re mobile phone is their only means for
staying connected. So now, what can you as
developers do to help? Well, what you’re
developing or your product might be where
some of your users spend a majority of their
time, and therefore it can become a distribution
point for emergency alerts. You can help keep your
user community safety by integrating alerts
into your product. One way for you to do this
is to subscribe to our Alert Hub, which is where we
host all the official data feeds that we’ve onboarded
in their raw format. Alert Hub is open to
the developer community, and it follows the
PubSubHubbub protocol. You could also check out
the current publisher feeds that we have
available at the second URL. Or if you’re
interested in accessing Public Alerts at a
higher level, you can become a beta tester
of our Public Alerts API. You can see the API in
action at this demo URL. The demo site gives you a
map list and a list view of all the current alerts
that are accessible, and on the right you
can see JSON output. If you click on any
of the active alerts, you’re then directed to
the Alert Details page. And if at any given time you
want to see what alerts are active in our database, you can
go to Apart from Public Alerts,
I want to quickly run through a few other projects
that our team works on. These are all open
source projects. One, Person Finder. It’s a tool that helps people
reconnect with their loved ones during the aftermath
of a disaster. Crisis Map, which is a
rich, Geo Mashup tool designed to share
critical content, and it’s optimized
for mobile use. And finally, we also
had a Java CAP library that can be used for
creating, parsing, and validating CAP alert feeds. Now, I want to quickly
switch gears and highlight a couple of projects outside
of Google that were developed by programmers during
a disaster situation and really had a high impact. I’m sharing these
examples to give you all an idea of how
high-impact tools can be developed in a
crisis situation. This is an image from March
2011 in Fukushima, Japan, after the massive
magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck followed by a
catastrophic tsunami. Within the developer
community in Japan, there were nationwide
hackathons for programmers that wanted to apply their
technical skills to help those that were affected
by the disaster. One of the apps
that was developed was Wind from Fukushima. This app was basically
a mobile emergency kit for those affected by
the nuclear power plant explosion in Fukushima. It calculated radiation
levels around the area, taking into account wind
speed and direction. It also provided users with
the resource information, such as where they could
find clean water and food. In order to develop this app,
official, accurate content again was critical. The developer used
openly-available radiation data provided by local government
ministries and the power companies. The raw data was in a
difficult-to-consume format, so he took out
the relevant data, matched it up with relevant
user-generated data, and was able to
present it to users in an easy-to-consume format. Again, this is an example
of taking open data and transforming it
to become useful. This app was specifically
built for Fukushima. And while it was not
necessarily scalable, it had an impact on the
residents in Fukushima in that many relied on
it on a day-to-day basis to help guide them
and stay protected. Another tool I want
to quickly highlight was one that was used
during Hurricane Sandy. A major challenge during the
recovery phase of a disaster is managing the influx of
volunteers and the immense work that needs to be done on the
ground in an organized way. This is the problem
Crisis Cleanup solves. It’s a collaborative work
order management system for disaster recovery agencies. It uses a
craigslist-like approach in that any
organization that knows of work that needs to
be done can submit it and then any organization
with the capacity to take that work on accepts
it and gets to help right away. Crisis Cleanup is a
really good example of an open source tool that
thought like a startup. They were passionate
about an idea, were aggressive about
getting funding, and built a scalable tool. It’s helped over
10,000 households across 13 different disasters
in the US, the Philippines, Australia, and India. And now, I’m going
to hand it back over to Steph, who’s going
to summarize all that we’ve talked about. [APPLAUSE] STEPHANIE HANNON:
In the tradition of great presentations, we
told you a bunch of stuff, and now I’m going to tell
you what we told you. From addressing crime to turning
us all into citizen scientists, online tools and
apps have the power not just to make
life more convenient but empower and inspire
entire communities. These are seven of the
stories we featured today, but they’re seven
of hundreds, and we wanted to tell a lot more. In fact, there’s
three companies– SeeClickFix,
OpenCounter, and Watsi– that we wanted to
talk about, but I thought we had a whole hour. And then when they told
me we had half an hour, we had to do a little editing. But check them out,
please, Watsi, SeeClickFix, and OpenCounter are other
amazing civic innovation startups. And when we were rehearsed
this, lots of people asked, why’d we
pick these seven? Well, some of them are our
partners and use our APIs, but some of them we just admire. Some follow the principles
we laid out today, but not all of them. The Wind app wasn’t built
for scalar sustainability. It was one engineer with a
passion and a problem to solve, and he had incredible
impact in just a few days. And I hope we all as
engineers and developers feel like we have
that potential too. So now you’re probably
thinking, how do we get started? What can we do? There’s so many ways
to get involved. As Payal said, your app
could be a distribution point for public alerts. You might want to use the
Google Civic Information APIs to do something really cool
for the US midterm elections or for the 2016
presidential elections. Or, as Eric said, the
Google Civic Information API is US only. If you want to talk
to us about how to make it available
to your country or city or even how to be an
advocate for open data in your community,
we’d love to talk. If you can remember
nothing else, these are the two
URLs that will get you to all of the information about
the APIs and open source tools that we talked about today. And l love how many cameras
are taking a picture. Do it. And those are Google
resources, but Google is part of this huge
ecosystem, and there is so much information and so
many tools available. So we’ve put together a list
and a short URL at the bottom if you want to check out Code
for America, Hack for Change, Sunlight Foundation,,
and lots of other resources. I want to put up a
short plug in that today at 4:00 PM in this
very room there’s going to be a panel with three
finalists from the Bay Area Google Impact Challenge. And if you’re interested
in this space, I think you’d really enjoy it. And also the Code for America
fellowship application for the 2015 year
is available now. I heard some clapping. That was awesome. This is my last slide. It’s my call to action,
and I’m going to mix it up by showing you pictures
unrelated to anything we talked about for the last half an hour. We live in a remarkable time. Most of us have lived
through the PC revolution. We’ve witnessed the
invention of the internet and in the last decade seen
a proliferation of devices from mobile phones to tablets
to watches and yes, even the self-driving car. With all this new connectivity,
many parts of human existence have fundamentally improved. And yet, we’re barely
scratching the surface of how this online,
connected world can tackle some of our biggest challenges,
from access to education, availability of energy and
clean water, poverty, hunger, climate change,
and public safety. I don’t have the answers,
and I’m impatient. I think most of us that
work in this internet world are somewhat impatient. But social change is
hard, and it takes time. And it’s only with lots of
ideation, lots of building, and lots of
collaboration that we’ll continue to make progress. And that’s why we at
Google hope to take on some of the messiest problems
so we can give to you guys platforms and clean APIs and
data for you to innovate on. There’s no use in us all
reinventing the wheel. And if you’re new to
this space, one thing I hope you take
away from today is that there is funding
available and there are social ventures
that want to hire you. And I hope you’ll continue
to think like an entrepreneur and be scrappy,
ambitious, and flexible. We at Google are so proud to
be part of this ecosystem. And we want to talk now about
how we can better serve you as developers, because
we’re all in this together. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] So I think we have a few
minutes for questions and would look for
anyone to come to the mic and talk about these
projects or anything else– projects you’re working
on, APIs you want to see. We welcome questions. AUDIENCE: Are your
APIs available on YQL or other places where
you can access the APIs without downloading the XML? ERIC HYSEN: The APIs are all
on the Civic Information site listed on the Google
Developers site, which is the main for all APIs there. STEPHANIE HANNON: I
don’t know specifically about YQL, his question. ERIC HYSEN: I don’t
know specifically, no. STEPHANIE HANNON: OK. We don’t know about YQL. If it’s a place we
should publish– AUDIENCE: YQL is from Yahoo! It’s a way that you can
query any data on the web through a single REST API. ERIC HYSEN: Yeah. STEPHANIE HANNON: OK. We’ll check it out. Not today, but
we’ll check it out. Thank you. Question? AUDIENCE: Hi. Steph, Eric, Payal,
great talk, by the way. STEPHANIE HANNON: Thanks. AUDIENCE: I just have
a quick question. With the evolution of internet
things and new technology, I was just wondering what you
guys’ long-term vision– say, three to five years
out– looks like. STEPHANIE HANNON: Wow,
three to five years out. Do you guys want to
talk about your spaces? ERIC HYSEN: That’s
a good question. I think we want to see what
all of you can come up with, and we’re going to be informed
by where everyone else is going and what amazing
things we can do. I think there are a lot of
ways that the work we’re doing is barely scratching
the surface. I think there’s ways
we can scale globally. Particularly, we can
scale more locally. We’re looking now
at particularly how we can start to give a more
personalized and more assistive approach to a lot
of this work too. But that is a very broad answer. STEPHANIE HANNON:
I think we also each have personal passions. I’ve worked in the geo
space for a long time, and I have a personal
mission of no wasted time. Just no wasted time. Why do we sit in traffic? Why do we wait for parking? Why is there a line
at Tartine Bakery? There shouldn’t be wasted time,
and we have an amazing set of location data that can help
cities run more efficiently. So that’s a personal
passion of mine. And I think in each of
the spaces we work on, we have big visions
like that driving us. AUDIENCE: Cool. Thanks again. Good talk. STEPHANIE HANNON: Thanks. AUDIENCE: Hi, and thank you. I noticed that Google seems
to have a public policy group. And so I think one
of the questions I have is all the
focus on voting. But voting is not enough, right? We need to be involved
in our community. And wouldn’t it be good
if in the voting app there was something
that showed people how to get involved in
their community boards and actually become mayor? And we should be involved in
public policy, not just voting. STEPHANIE HANNON: Absolutely. Completely agree. Wholly agree. So you saw a slice of one of
the product areas we work on. Another whole area we’re working
on is called civic engagement. And it’s about how
you get people engaged with their local community,
because we live in a world where people don’t even
know their neighbors or people on their block. AUDIENCE: They don’t even
know their representatives. STEPHANIE HANNON:
They certainly don’t know their representative. And I live by Dolores Park,
closed for half a year. I had no idea it was coming. So things happen
every day that affect my bike lanes, my
schools, my parks. Nobody knows about it. So we have a huge suite
of engineers and product people trying to think
about civic engagement and how to get people
not just to be informed but to take action and to care. And if you’re
excited, talk to us, but also maybe we can
feature some of those if we’re lucky enough
to be here next year. AUDIENCE: Yet they know
everything about the World Cup. STEPHANIE HANNON: Yeah,
everything about the World Cup. I’m with you. We’re so happy you’re here. AUDIENCE: Thanks for throwing
up that Code for America Fellowship application. I’m a fellow this year, and
I would encourage everyone to apply and check it out. My question is actually about
the Civic Information API. I’m curious how
that gets updated. Is there a process for that? So when some of the
information is out of date, I’m just curious. ERIC HYSEN: Yeah. So we work with a number
of different groups that collect this
data as well as some groups that crowdsource
some of this data collection. So as more elections
are happening, we are constantly updating it. But also long term, I think
one of the big questions in this space is,
how can we reduce the amount of manual
work it takes? So I think it’s an
interesting challenge, but we definitely are
staying up to date now. STEPHANIE HANNON: OK. Great. AUDIENCE: So there’s nothing we
can do to update portions of it or anything like that? Is there a way we
can contribute? ERIC HYSEN: Oh, yeah. I think one of
the projects we’re working with Sunlight’s
Open States project, which is looking at crowdsourcing
all of this information. They’re the best route
to go with right now. STEPHANIE HANNON: Yeah. And come talk to us afterwards. ERIC HYSEN: Yes. STEPHANIE HANNON:
We’d love help. So we’re going to just take
the two more questions. Yeah, you guys. AUDIENCE: Thanks
again for sharing. A lot of those anecdotes
were very interesting to see. I guess the data comes
up as kind of users, and then we just kind of see it. It’s like, oh, it
magically appears. But with a lot of the voting
things, I’m really interested. As we’re pulling
information from all these different
sources and we’re trying to be selective on
what’s very effective to show to the different
users, how do you try to be neutral on
the entire process, especially with something
as sensitive as voting? ERIC HYSEN: Yeah. We’re very focused on just
what is the core information that you need procedurally
to cast your ballot right now and then giving you the
options to explore from there. So we’ll tell you
who’s on your ballot. We’ll make it easy to search
for them on Google, which will give you way
more information, or find them on social networks. But right now, we’re being very
selective on what information we’re presenting that is the
core procedural information. STEPHANIE HANNON:
I’m going to ask Eric a tough follow-along
question to that, which is, doesn’t even the placement of
which candidate comes first in search results or
showing the ballot matter? ERIC HYSEN: That’s a
good question, Steph. Yeah, and that’s something
I’ve learned way more about than I ever expected
when joining this team. We follow the order
that candidates actually appear on the ballot when
it is available to us. Otherwise, we’ll look at
randomizing the order. We take all of that
very seriously. STEPHANIE HANNON: Great. Our last question. AUDIENCE: Hi. Thank you. My name is Norman Avila. I’m coming from Guatemala. I am very interested
since almost once a year ago about implementing
CAP alerts in Central America. I know that agencies
in Central America don’t have a data
feed or alerting feed. We have earthquakes, floods,
volcanic eruptions, everything. So I don’t work for
an official agency. I’m just somebody that
likes weather and maps and this kind of information. I would like to know–
you mentioned that there was funding for this
kind of project. Do you have any leads
that we can see? I’m telling you, I think that
the effort in Central America couldn’t be
individually by country. I already know agencies that
coordinate weather services or emergency
management agencies, and I have worked on projects
not as an agency employee but as a technology consultant
for regional projects where the same system is used
by all the region instead of replicating the same
technology and the same cost in every country. But I know that the
effort is not only to say, OK, this is the standard
place implemented. We have to start by
organizing the agencies and then providing
the technology. So I would like
if you can give us any feed that we
can get in touch. PAYAL PATEL: Yeah, yeah. That’s a very good question. So as we’ve expanded globally,
we’ve learned some countries, they were already
publishing CAP. Some countries we worked
with, they didn’t have CAP, but they were motivated. They had the technical
resources at those agencies to start publishing CAP. And then, now we’re coming
across countries like Guatemala where they’re very
disaster prone but they just don’t have the
resources to put towards– AUDIENCE: Or the
protocols even to what to do in case of disaster. PAYAL PATEL: Right, right. So there already is
an open source tool to help agencies publish CAP. So it’s an easy-to-use
tool that doesn’t require any technical resources. But there’s a bit of work
required for that tool, depending on the country. Like you said, it’s
different for each agency. So that’s one way
you could help, building on top of
this open source tool. And I’m happy to talk
to you afterwards. AUDIENCE: OK, I’ll
wait for you then. Thank you. PAYAL PATEL: OK, great. STEPHANIE HANNON: Great. We’re so grateful
you came today. Thank you, and enjoy
the rest of I/O. [APPLAUSE]

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

  1. Great presentation. I will admit I was watching other I/O talks in the background and this video was next in queue. When I heard the topics presented I casted the presentation to my TV and watched the whole thing. Great stuff, keep doing what you're doing. 

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