Calling calendar curators

The elmcity+azure project is live today at elmcity.cloudapp.net. The service is currently gathering and organizing online calendars for two towns: Keene, NH and Ann Arbor, MI. I’m keeping the list of iCalendar feeds for Keene, and Ed Vielmetti is keeping the list for Ann Arbor.

If you’d like to play along in your town, just pick a Delicious account, bookmark all the useful iCalendar feeds you can find, plug in some metadata, and point me to the account. I’ll register it with the service, which will:

  • Regularly parse the iCalendar feeds in your list.
  • Report numbers of events found in the feeds, or details of errors encountered.
  • Scan Eventful.com for events in your specified location.
  • Merge all the events.
  • Publish an HTML view of the merged calendar, based on the HTML template and CSS file that you specify.
  • Produce JSON and XML views of the merged data.
  • Serve up an embeddable JavaScript widget for just the current day.

If you decide to try curating one of these lists, you’ll quickly find, as I have, that there are no major technical hurdles. True, there are some issues with invalid iCalendar feeds. But that’s not what prevents us from having a comprehensive view of all the public events happening where we live. The real challenge is explaining how to publish useful calendars using free, ubiquitous tools, why posting a PDf to the website isn’t good enough, and what network effects can happen when more of us publish and syndicate calendar feeds.

It’s a big challenge. But progress in this domain can generalize to others. When I discussed this project at Transparency Camp, Greg Elin said: “OK, so you’re not trying to get people to adopt a technology, you’re trying to get them to adopt a pattern.”

That’s it exactly. This pattern of collaborative curation isn’t yet well understood or widely practiced. But it’s a key strategy that Internet citizens can use to enhance collective awareness and enable collective action. So if you try this experiment, I’m most interested to know what words, images, behaviors, or demonstrations help you get that idea across.

9 thoughts on “Calling calendar curators

  1. James C

    Greg Elin said: “OK, so you’re not trying to get people to adopt a technology, you’re trying to get them to adopt a pattern.”

    Though the best way to do that may be through a technology.

    Something that packages it up just right, so not only is the task a breeze to do, but where the technology’s affordances positively suggest using it in that way. It’d also help if it provided incentives for using it in that way.

    Integrating it with social networking systems like Facebook comes to mind as a possibility.

    Reply
  2. Jon Udell Post author

    > Something that packages it up just right

    You are spot on, and Facebook is a perfect example. I often say that Facebook is doing more to teach the world about the pub/sub pattern than RSS ever did or will, precisely because it doesn’t try to /explain/ the pattern, but rather involves you in an experience that embodies the pattern.

    Specifically: FB teaches people to expect to be aware of the ambient activities of others near them in a network, and to understand how their own activities in the network produce ambient awareness in others.

    We violently agree on that point.

    I realize that this passive adoption of pattern is maybe as far as many people will get. And that’s OK. Better than OK, it’s great, it creates profoundly useful network effects.

    But I still have to wonder: What can happen when people actively adopt the pattern, and use it in creative and intentional ways?

    This active/creative/intentional mode is a core ingredient of 21st-century literacy. The phrase “computational thinking” imperfectly suggests what I mean by such literacy. I’m still searching for a better way to describe it.

    Reply
  3. Mike Caulfield

    > What can happen when people actively adopt
    > the pattern, and use it in creative and
    > intentional ways?

    Don’t the repurposings on Facebook represent intentionality? For instance, the way this “25 things about me” thing spread was someone figured out you could use the system intended to tag notes that mentioned people — and use it not to tag information in the note, but as a simple way to invite 25 people to write their own note (b/c it sends out an email to all those people and notifies them of the ongoing conversation).

    I think that that recognition that tagging “people mentioned in this note” could be used as a broadcast mechanism was creative and intentional.

    Similarly there are a couple groups on fake rock album covers which are essentially being used as a form of community curation, in a way that I don’t think groups were (initially)intended to do. And political groups are well aware of the value of ambient feed placement — the point of joining a political group on facebook is often to just get the issue on the radar of the people at the edges — and once again, I think that represents a certain intentionality — naming a group a name which is actually a piece of microcontent you wish to distribute.

    Reply
  4. Jon Udell Post author

    Nice examples, Mike. You’re right. Thoughtful naming, and awareness of the contexts in which the names you assign will resonate, are very much part of the intentional stance.

    Reply
  5. Mykel

    Jon,

    Check out http://delicious.com/localist. I’ve marked all the trusted iCal files for Baltimore and Washington, DC and added the applicable metadata, though I seem to be misunderstanding the point of img= and css=.

    Let me know if you need anything else! I’ll be continually adding ics files as I find them.

    Mykel

    Reply
  6. Jon Udell Post author

    Excellent, thanks. You’ll be the test case for the next phase. I need to do a bit more work to make this fully data-driven, by which I mean that to add your instance I only need to bookmark and tag delicious.com/localist.

    > img= and css=

    img= is the header image at the top of the default HTML calendar that’s generated. And the css= is the CSS file to control the display of the page. You can put your own image and/or CSS files anywhere you like, and point to them from these tags.

    Meanwhile, BTW, there are three tags needed to include a calendar:

    trusted ics feed

    I’m doing it this way because I imagine it may be useful to manage various kinds of feeds — rss or atom as well as ics — and because it will certainly be useful to control which are trusted or not without losing track of them.

    Reply
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