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, email@example.com, 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.