Lightweight event syndication with trusted feeds

If you check the elmcity.info events page for March 7, 2008 you’ll see that Beau Bristow is performing at Keene State College at 8PM. The Eventful item that has syndicated to the events page doesn’t say anything else. There’s no link to beaubristow.com, though it’s easy enough to find. And there’s no more precise venue than Keene State College, though that’ll be easy enough to find as well, when the time comes.

But the item carries enough information to participate in a (still mostly nascent) network of calendar events. Beau Bristow doesn’t know that his concert shows up at elmcity.info, or that on March 7 it’ll show up at citizenkeene.ning.org and cheshiretv.org. And he shouldn’t need to know. But he ought to be able to take it for granted that events he posts to some kind of syndication source — could be Eventful, could be another public service, could be a personal iCalendar feed — will propagate.

I am particularly fascinated by the lightweight, ad-hoc interaction between Eventful, Beau Bristow, and elmcity.info. This lightness is a powerful enabler. If you’re Beau, and you need to promote 18 events in 18 towns, some of which you may only visit once in your career, you don’t have time — and can’t pay for the help — to build relationships in all those places. But you can assert that you’ll be in those places, on specified dates, doing a specified thing. And under the right circumstances, that’s enough.

The question I’ve been exploring is how to create those circumstances. One aspect of the answer, and the one I want to focus on here, is trusted feeds.

Originally, at elmcity.info, any Flickr photo mentioning “Keene NH” showed up in the photo stream, and any Eventful event located within 15 miles of the center of Keene showed up in the event stream. That arrangement was clearly open to abuse. Even though Flickr and Eventful try to take responsibility for their stuff, my aggregator had to take more responsibility for the subsets of their stuff it manages. So I created two lists of trusted contributors. One is a list of Flickr account names, and the other is a list of Eventful account names.

When the aggregator runs, a couple of times a day, it puts previously-unseen account names into a holding tank and writes those names to RSS feeds which I monitor here and here.

Yesterday I found Dan York in the Flickr holding tank, and Beau Bristow in the Eventful holding tank. I happen to know Dan, but even if I didn’t, it only takes a minute to judge that his Flickr portfolio is legitimate. I don’t know Beau, but again it’s easy to determine that his Eventful presence is legitimate. So I marked both accounts as trusted, and today their contributions appear on the site.

If a trusted account ever abuses that trust, it’s easily revoked.

When I tell folks about this model of event syndication, they sooner or later realize that it’s an invitation to spam and ask about that. My answer is trusted feeds. It would be impossible to moderate every event flowing through your network. But it’s easy to moderate a much smaller number of event sources.

6 Comments

  1. I’ve been agonizing over the choice to accept all-items-with-a-tag vs. my-items-with-a-tag for a community site, and your explanation of trusted feeds frees me from that false dichotomy.

    How do you maintain the lists of trusted contributors? It sure would be interesting to syndicate those lists from a trusted del.icio.us feed, leveraging tags as a public data store, and allowing others to trust your trusted lists.

  2. hmmm. yeah, way too much time spent trying to get my stuff in the right places online. syndication is a beast. I’m using ADS (Artist Data Systems) artistdata.com right now.

  3. Thanks for the insightful comments. I’ve struggled with how individuals and small organizations get their events before the public in a highly fractured marketplace.

    Publicdrum.org is a collaborative, non-profit org offering a service helping people unite to create a ‘trusted source’ of event feeds aimed at syndicators. We take user submitted content, perform basic validation, add metadata and offer extensive API access in all common data formats.

    Our goal is to prepare for the transition from a submission to aggregation based news environment.

    Comments welcome!

    Lead developer, publicdrum.org

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