Planting Flowers for a Walled Garden

Peter Fleck is asking about content guidelines for Minneapolis’ wireless portal. My initial thoughts…..

Some of you may know I worked on a similar project (same idea, but in the private sector) back around 2000. All the problems we struggled with then are non-existant now (syndication formats, wireless equipment, etc). Since the U of M’s Wireless Communities conferences, I’ve been thinking about what should be available “for free” within a Muni-WiFi network.

I’d rather the city not play favorites or give the impression of playing favorites, so I recommend – only web-accessible city services (pay parking tickets, check on library books, pay water bills, city council meeting dates, opening hours of public buildings, that kinda stuff. For three reasons:

  1. The wireless network is from the city. There’s a real need to increase the accessibility, usability, and visibility of city services online. This will drive that demand.
  2. There’s no good metric to determine why one private publication should be included and not another (i.e. StarTribune.com vs. NorthEastBeat.com vs. MNstories.com vs. etc). Some worthy publication will always be excluded. Better to excluded everyone than continually argue who gets in. Even if the neighborhood groups get to pick what is presented on their nodes – relevance isn’t geographic. Neighborly gatekeepers are still gatekeepers.
  3. Directing energy at improving electronically delivered city services helps all internet using citizens, not just those using the free portion of wifi network and is therefore a more effective use of tax dollars than managing which private publications are within the portal.

In the comments, Peter clarifies some more of the current vision.

I’m holding my original position. No current online publication provides enough community value to actually belong there. If TCDailyPlanet is in the free zone, than PFHyper.com/blog should be in the free zone. As should newpatriot.org and every other Minneapolis-based blog…..and that’s absurd.

Instead, we should give neighborhood groups the skills and tools to publish new and services directly. Otherwise we’re just giving them the choice of vendors that won’t actually serve them.

2 Replies to “Planting Flowers for a Walled Garden”

  1. Thanks for the thoughts… Comments:

    Points 1 and 3 speak to creating a real portal to city services. This idea could help in freeing City dollars for funding, an issue that is not clear at the moment. I also like a limited focus, at least to start with.

    Point 2. You neglect nonprofit feeds like TC Daily Planet. That could be a criterion. Of course we also have Twin Cities IndyMedia. Should they be there too then?

    I like opening the news/blog/podcast door to everyone with someone screening to make sure the splogs don’t appear. But it would require someone’s dollars to support the effort. Maybe TC Daily Planet?

    Actually TC Daily Planet links to IndyMedia and I assume they republish some of their stories — different from actually aggregating the material.

    http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/
    http://www.twincities.indymedia.org/

  2. One more thing… the plan is to have a portal page for each community. So you will get a different page in Phillips than in Longfellow and there will be local content. That would allow neighborhood groups to provide news and community info.

    Why can’t I edit my comment?

    BTW, great title to this post! When I first read it at Twitter, I wondered why you were gardening in the middle of the night.

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