Civic Startups (Web 2.0 Expo Slides)

Last week at the Web 2.0 Expo, I gave a talk on The Opportunity for Civic Startups.  I was filling in for Code for America‘s Jen Pahlka, and the presentation itself is an hybrid of a version I did at the t=0 Entrepreneurship Festival at MIT a few weeks ago, a version Jen did at Future of Web Apps earlier this year and a version that Andrew McLaughlin has been giving.  Here are my slides.

I broke it down into two main sections: (1) trends that are setting the stage for civic startups, and (2) models/approaches that civic startups are following.  Unfortunately, the timing of the speaker notes on slideshare doesn’t match the slides, so the notes are in off by a few slides, but you can get the idea.

One of my favorite threads in this story is “the rise of the civic hacker” — folks who use their coding & product development superpowers to make cities work better, almost always from outside of official channels.  The “civic hacker ethic”, if you will, is about making shit, and it represents a pretty new way of getting civically engaged — less about arguing policy or politics and more about building something helpful.  What’s even cooler is that there are now a solid handful of civic hackers who have parlayed a passion project on the side into a real business or career: Dan O’Neill & Adrian Holovaty with EveryblockHarper Reed (transit hacker and now Obama campaign CTO), Jon Wegener of Exit Strategy NYC, Joshua Tauber (GovTrack & Pop Vox), Ben Berkowitz of SeeClickFix and many more.

And there’s more where that came from.  I believe that we’re just at the beginning of a big wave of civic startups (here’s looking at you, Code for America 2011 graduates), and I am looking forward to continuing to follow them, help them, and learn from them.



  • hi Nick, I love what Open Plans is doing and your slides gave me many inspirations, even for China, where I am living in. I am wondering if there’s video for your talk online?

    • Thanks Tony! I don’t believe the videos have been posted yet, but will go up sometime soon on the Web 2.0 Expo site. I’ll leave a comment here when they do, so you should get an email.

      Glad to hear you took something away from this!


  • Nick,

    This is a great presentation. My friend who built (somewhat similar to everyblock) who’s look for ways to leverage that with other cities.  

    • Thanks!  That is cool.  Would love to connect w/ your friend behind  

      (also I owe you an email!)

  • Anonymous

    How do “Build on the Platform” model startups become sustainable, find a business model? Currently I only perceive two sources of revenue: screen time for advertising and marketing data.  Am I blind?  

    • In my mind, “build on the platform” basically means “be an app that consumes gov’t data, and/or talks directly to a gov’t API”.  So, that leaves the question of business model pretty open.  TurboTax is a good example of an app that integrates w/ gov APIs — charging for value-added services.

      • Great example, Nick. TurboTax has an advantage in that the service was already a business model. Also a serendipitous example, since I was dealing with issues with our sales tax collection site this past week. I like the idea of developing APIs to increase compliance as you have illustrated here by making it easier for citizens to access affordable services provided by third parties.