Stonewall Farm, Darby Brook Farm, and the collaborative curation of data

Lately I’m obsessed with figuring out how to harness the cognitive surplus and put it to work doing better social information management.

The other night I attended a kick-off meeting for a group interested in advancing the cause of local food production in our region. Inevitably the discussion turned to questions that require data to answer. Who are the local producers? Where are they? What do they produce?

In the ensuing discussion, various sources of data emerged. There’s a USDA website, a state government website, a special-interest website, this or that blog. Two things were immediately clear to everyone. First, there would be no effective way to collate these existing sources. Second, most of the needed data wouldn’t be there anyway.

I’d like to be able to recommend the sort of loosely-coupled collaborative list-making method that works so effectively for me. But here’s why I can’t. The method presumes that all the things you’d want to collaboratively curate are already represented by URLs.

In the real world, some are and some aren’t. Consider two examples from this list:

Name: Darby Brook Farm
Day/Time:  8:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Season:  June 1 – October 1
Address:  347 Hill Road
What you’ll find: Vegetables, raspberries, apples.
More Info: 603.835.6624

Name: Stonewall Farm
Day/Time:  Hours vary
Season:  June – October
Address:  242 Chesterfield Road
What you’ll find:  Garden fresh produce through the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, call for options
More Info:  603.357.7278,   bsaunders@stonewallfarm.org,  www.stonewallfarm.org

Because Stonewall Farm has a web presence, we can do all kinds of useful things with its URL. We can tag various bits of metadata onto it (location, products), we can derives views that include that information, we can syndicate those views.

Because Darby Brook Farm doesn’t have an URL, we can’t do those things.

Of course Darby Brook Farm does have an implicit URL-addressable identity at Lighten Up NH. That identity is the record in Lighten Up NH’s database that’s currently being published into a web page by its ColdFusion server.

If that record were directly URL-addressable, the implicit identity would be explicit. Using the record’s URL as a temporary placeholder, we could bootstrap Darby Brook Farm into a collaborative list-making regime based on URLs, tags, and syndication.

Later, when Darby Brook Farm does establish a real web presence, we can unhook its cloud of annotations from the placeholder URL and attach it to the official one.

This scenario highlights a subtle but powerful benefit of data-publishing technologies like Astoria. When you aggressively expose record-level URLs, you can enable the same methods that will work for Stonewall Farm to also work for Darby Brook Farm.

10 Comments

  1. That’s probably my #1 pet peeve. All pieces of data should have a unique URL. Yet the heavy javascripters and flash designers of the web world just refuse to get it.

    As a user I hate it when I have to take a screenshot to show information to someone rather than send them a URL.

  2. Jon,

    Just a note that most of the LightenUpNH website is not database driven at this point…I had them make all the pages .cfm extensions in preparation for making much of it come from a database. Right now, just the Helpful Places and People section is being pulled from the database. I agree that we should probably make each data point linkable and will undertake that when I get a chance.

    It is a challenge though, when these items are being gleaned from many different sources, most off-line, to ensure that they are up-to-date and will remain reachable at a permanent address.

    Steve

  3. > Just a note that most of the LightenUpNH
    > website is not database driven at this point

    Ah, OK.

    > It is a challenge though, when these items
    > are being gleaned from many different
    > sources, most off-line, to ensure that
    > they are up-to-date and will remain
    > reachable at a permanent address

    In fact you can never ensure the correctness/completeness of this kind of directory. That’s why there needs to be loose coupling. You want to curate a view of a set of resources as best you can, refer users of that view to the original sources where they exist, encourage the creation of original sources where they don’t already exist, and arrange so that new sources can find their way onto your curated list.

    Just recently for example I made this curated list:

    http://elmcity.info/blogs

    It comes from here:

    http://del.icio.us/judell/monadnockblog

    So it’s curated, I control that list. But I’m inviting contributions to this broader list:

    http://del.icio.us/tag/monadnockblog

    I’m subscribed to that list. If and when items show up there, I have a couple of choices:

    1. Move selected ones to my curated list, so they’ll auto-publish

    2. Decide that a given contributor is trustworthy, and include their contributions in the auto-publish mechanism.

  4. Jon,

    Following up on this: I’m thinking about a good way to do this with places and locations that lend themselves to a geographic representation, and have started playing with My Maps in Google Maps. Here’s a map that NOFA created for Vermont Farmers Markets: http://tinyurl.com/5m2nos . Here’s one I started with the conservation lands and trails in New Boston: http://tinyurl.com/6zftgk .

    I’m not sure how to handle the curation issue right now, as there isn’t an RSS feed (yet) for these maps, but there is a kml file you could grab and use to see what others have added. I’m going to think more on this. Another issue I see, is that is more difficult to link to an individual map point with a url, though it is doable.

    Any thoughts?

  5. You raise a great point. Pushpins /should/ have URLs.

    Even so, I’m not sure I’d want to use any of the standard Google/Yahoo/Microsoft online maps as the framework for collaborative curation because, well, they’re not inherently collaborative.

    I’d be more inclined to do what I described in this posting. Maintain the official list as you already do, URLify the records (perhaps as simply as by exposing HTML fragment identifiers), populate an individual tag space with pointers to those records, and then encourage contributions to a companion public tag space.

    So, hypothetically, your official list is this tagspace:

    del.icio.us/unhcoop/monadnockfarmersmarket

    The public tagspace is:

    del.icio.us/tag/monadnockfarmersmarket

    While you are the only user of that tag, those two coincide. But if you are able to solicit other contributions to the public tagspace, it grows. You can monitor its growth and include some but not necessarily all of the new stuff into your tagspace, which is understood to be the official and clean list. The unofficial and messy list is available as well to anyone who cares.

    As you monitor the messy open list for items to include, you have two choices. You can take items individually, or you can decide that items from a particular source are all good, and approve everything from that source (subject to revocation later if need be).

  6. OK…while it’s not as easy/prevalent, I think you could accomplish something similar in Google Maps. The My Maps feature allows you to name collaborators for a map, or allow anyone to edit the map. You could have an open map where anyone can add/edit points (public space) and a curated map that only had trusted collaborators. Process the kml from the public space so you know when points are added, and if they’re “legitimate” add them to the curated map.

    It is possible to “sort of” link to an individual pin: Google Maps
    http://snipurl.com/openpin-sgj [maps_google_com] This opens the map to a pin location with the pin open.

  7. Jon –

    You might think about how a wiki manages to neatly sidestep the issue of organizations not having useful web pages, by making it dead easy for someone else to give them a name in a namespace that makes sense.

    If you look at

    http://arborwiki.org/city/Category:Farms

    you’ll see the Farms category in Arborwiki, which covers Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County and anything else close enough by to make notice of. And dig a little bit more to

    http://arborwiki.org/city/Harnois_Farm

    and you’ll get a web page for a turkey farm and a turkey farmer who doesn’t do any marketing at all – who will probably never have a web page, so it makes sense for the net to make him one so he doesn’t have to.

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