Elections are Over Yeah!

I get excited over local elections. Ever since I met Ruby and moved to Chapel Hill I’ve been hooked. I love learning about this whole process. One of my favorite bits this year was Ruby’s election coverage videos. (I’m a bit jealous actually. I want to do vids like this!) She made these with her Palm Treo 680 and a audio headset.

This is great citizen journalism that gets the info out there. Yes I said journalism. Ruby has publicly said many times she doesn’t consider herself a journalist. But she is providing information people want and need. She is trusted by many and scorned by others, but such is the life of a politico with a strong opinion.

One Lesson from Startup Weekend Chapel Hill

I had a good time at Startup Weekend Chapel Hill. It was exhausting but a worthwhile experience. Here’s one lesson that I learned.

Find Data then Write an Web Application For It

When we brainstorm ideas for creating web applications we think about what you can do to data. Like how to present it, manipulate it, rearrange it, etc.. That seems to be the logical way to go about it. We take for granted that there is data out there to use. But is there really? Where is it?

For example: messaging, IM and SMS, is experiencing a serious surge in popularity. Web sites like Twitter.com are gaining mass use and expectance. The mobile web is another big frontier being explored by web developers. When we think of new applications to build we base our decisions on what we’ve used and what is popular. This can be a good strategy because it positions your app in a highly visible place. (ex. Pownce got bought by Google after cloning Twitter.) Plus if one app is popular there must be a reason for it. So why not make something like it.

The problem with this approach is not the lack of originality its the direction with which we think about it. Lets think about the data first. What data will our website application use? Where will we get the data? How much data do we need? And most importantly HOW CAN WE CREATIVELY PRESENT THE DATA TO MAKE IT UNDERSTOOD AND USEFUL?

At the end of the Startup Weekend Chapel Hill we came to a realization that their wasn’t enough data. For people looking for a place to work you need data about those places. For someone who wants to advertise a place you need data about people who want it. I believe the core team who will take on WorkPerch.com will find the data and put it out there. Lack of data is why the site was released as a invitation beta. A wise move IMHO.

The spark that got me thinking about this was Jake’s comment that we should purchase some data to fill in the database to start with. I didn’t know there where companies that sold data like this. But it makes perfect since. Sadly I don’t think we can buy quality real estate and user data we need. That is up to the community who will use WorkPerch. They must provide this so it can be useful.

My suggestion to future Startup Weekends and web app developers in general is to brainstorm your app idea but then collect a bunch of data first. With so many people working on a project you could easily distribute the effort to find data. Thirty people could gather a ton in a few hours time.

Then the team could verify who owns the data. Is it in the public domain? Do we need to license it? How much will it cost? Next the data could be shared and merged. Once its in a common file format like xls or cvs the data could be put into a relational database. Then the structure of the web app could be determined. How will the user navigate this data (flow)? How will the web app logic parse this data and represent it? (graphs, print to screen) How will the web app users add to the data or manipulate it?

This way of looking at web apps isn’t new. But just having another angle to think and to apply I found really constructive. Thank you Startup Weekend Chapel Hill participants for creating an environment where we could learn so much.

Oh and one more thing. Chapel Hill Startup Weekend was in The Town of Carrboro. That is NOT Chapel Hill. No matter how you parse it. I don’t care that its a few feet away. You can not lump RTP and Carrboro together. You can not lump Chapel Hill and Carrboro together. You can not dismiss the creative vibe of this small Town. UNC may be next door but its Carrboro where cool companies like Blog Ads flock. So much more than semantics. Dig it! 😀

Donate to Help OP Grow

Please donate to the Orange Politics fundraising drive to help pay for site improvements. Read more here.

Our last update was 3 years ago, and OP is seriously needing better identity management and improved community tools. I think drupal will be a good solution for us, and I hope to work with the good folks at Advantage Labs to make OP more useful and (and more stable) than ever.

The work will involve importing all of our posts and comments from WordPress to drupal, configuring our a new drupal system, and getting us set up on a new server. I will probably be able to create a new drupal “theme” to match what OP looks like myself, so we should not have to pay for that. I expect this work to cost at least $1,000 (not including monthly hosting fees), so I am setting that as our target.

Using drupal will allow us to have individual blogs for each registered and verified user of OP. That means no more hoping Ruby will approve your guest post and not knowing when it will be published. On the new site, you can post whatever you like, within some limits, and the community will vote on which entries go to the front page, similar to the way BlueNC.com and DailyKos.com are managed.

Please chip in, and ask your friends to support this effort so that OrangePolitics can be an even better progressive community resource!

N&O article about Anton and NC Science Blogging Conference

Dan Barkin of the News and Observer has a good article called Bloggers Talk Science. It tells a short but good story about the marvelous Mister Sugar and shares the details of the NC Science Blogging Conference. It also tells the world about all the cool stuff we’ve done with our blogger meet-up group Blogtogether. Like the triangle blogging conference and PodcasterCon.

But my favorite part of this article is the praise of Anton Zuiker. Both him and Bora Zivkovic are doing and amazing job on the NCSBC.

The Web has evolved into a tribal Internet of passionate bloggers like Zuiker, and he has become a sort-of local brand. He’s a quiet visionary. He’s a low-key doer. He’s a let’s-get-together-and-see-where-this-goes guy. It’s the Zuikers of this new, interwoven world who may play a significant role in determining how far Web 2.0 goes from being a sociable network to a social force.

Why Muni Networks get Built

Local governments don’t spend millions of dollars and go through great hassle to create telecommunications monopolies. Most often they get into the business of providing infrastructure because the private sector won’t do it or can not do it at a high enough level. (DSL sucks and Cable modems are just enough)

The blog The Fiber Optic Files has a good post reminding us why Towns and Cities are creating broadband networks.

Seems like a good time for a refresher course because industry lobbyists are doing their best to frame the argument in the media.

They say it’s about fair competition. What they clearly want is to protect their monopolies throughout NC cities.

You should know:

* Wilson asked the current cable provider to build an all fiber optic network in Wilson. They said ‘no’. Now they don’t want us to do it either.
* The service offered by the incumbent is old technology. Wilson business and industry deserve the best communication tools available; just like they’d get anywhere in the world.
* Taxpayers aren’t paying for this. Subscribers will pay for the network.
* No one will be forced to buy services from the city.

Government is not perfect. I do not have blind faith in any government. Running a network will be hard. But when local elections are decided by hundreds of votes individuals can have a say. We have a good form of democracy in many of our Towns and Cities. Thus when our local government does something we can steer it to act as a socially responsible body. In other words make sure government helps all people not just Wall Street. If I have to pick a partner for the future of my community and family I’ll pick my local government before large private companies. In the case of providing broadband, so should you.

Creativity from Distruction – Public Art

We just learned that a popular and beloved peice of public art in Carrboro, North Carolina is gone. It was painted over suddenly. Read all about this on Orange Politics, The News and Observer, and The Carrboro Citizen. Here is my idea of what to do next. (cross posted from the comments on OP)

In light of the fact that the old mural is gone this is an excellent opportunity for the Town to make lemon aid outa’ lemons. (sorry for the tired analogy) 🙂

I suggest that ya’ll create a official town graffiti contest. (YES embrace the word graffiti. Contradict the negative connotation that graffiti is only for gang bangers) Identify some talented local spray can artists who will have a “battle”. They can compete on creating two separate pieces of street art at the same time. They would have a time limit. Say 48 hours.

In conjunction with this contest you could set aside a piece of the wall just for random graffiti and stencil art (etc) by anyone. It would be painted over every two weeks or a month. That way you get lots of interesting art over time, cover over offensive gang stuff, and teach people about the beauty of change.

This is a constructive way to get creative kids involved in their community instead of “defacing” property. I think we may even be able to get the police involved in working with the kids on making some spray art. That is the kind of out reach that could work and the Town of Carrboro could pull off.

I realize this would require property owner permission. If not at the mural across from the century center then else where.

Lets embrace the art of youth!

RDCH: Twitter users in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill

Last week I created a new user on Twitter called RDCH. It stands for Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill. The idea is for this Twitter user to act like a group. I’ve been using Twittervision Map and Google to find people who’ve identified that they live somewhere in the Triangle aka RDCH. (That includes Apex, Cary, Carrboro, etc.) ex. Location: Durham

While I’m logged into the RDCH user account I goto the different Twitter users I find and add them as friends. So far in about three days RDCH has 88 friends and 33 followers. You make friends they decide to follow you.

I hope this helps people meet each other in person and make new friends. Another neat “feature” I’ve discovered is the with friends page. If you goto twitter.com/RDCH/with_friends you can read what all these people are doing. Its like a group micro-blog! This page has an RSS feed too at twitter.com/statuses/friends_timeline/6140022.rss.

I’ve been trying to use the contact medium in ways that could help all these neighbors of mine. So far I’ve shared info such as weather updates for Chapel Hill and Hurricane information. Going to build the friends list and hopefully the followers and announce a party or a flash mob.

What do you folks in RDCH want this user to do?

Town of Carrboro Charter Printed in The Citizen

In this weeks Carrboro Citizen you’ll find the Charter of the Town of Carrboro. You may wonder who besides a politician or bureaucrat would enjoy reading this document? Well me for one.

Why? Because within this ancient legalese lies answers to why things happen in Carrboro. Time and time again here on OP people ask why a Town does this or that. Most, but not all, answers to these questions can be found in this document. Barring interpretation and enforcement of-course.

Now I may not sit down and read the whole thing at once. But I will digest this document in small chunks. Plus I’ll use it as a reference. Its so much easier to read a big paper folded long ways like a city bus rider than a 8 1/2 x 11 PDF IMHO.

I am particularly impressed by The Carrboro Citizen’s willingness to use so much valuable space in their paper. In my mind its a important duty of media to educate the public. Now that The Citizen has set the stage I hope they refer to this document often as they explain and editorialize. May they find many creative ways to help people learn about local government.

So I’ll end this post with a question. What would our local democracy be like if everyone in Carrboro knew this document inside and out?

Cross posted from OrangePolitics