Categorizing events

Curation is always a two-step tango. First you collect, then you categorize. Until now, the elmcity project has been all about collecting. But as the nodes of this network of community hubs start to light up, and as curators gather growing numbers of calendar feeds, it’s time to start enabling them to categorize as well.

This is a classic hard problem. How do you get people to tag hundreds or thousands of items? What makes the problem even harder, in the domain of events, is that once those items fade into the past, any effort invested in tagging them is lost.

My answer is, at least for now: Don’t worry too much about tagging individual events. Instead, gain leverage by finding ways to tag sources of events. Here are two good strategies:

1. Categorizing iCalendar feeds

The obvious place to start is with the iCalendar feeds that curators are collecting. There’s already a mechanism in place to capture metadata about those feeds. Here, for example, is the iCalendar feed for the 2009 Board of Supervisors meetings in Prescott, AZ:

That’s an iCalendar feed that was made from this web page:

If you check the Delicious metadata for Prescott’s iCalendar feeds, you’ll see this structure:

title: Board of Supervisors
  tag: trusted
  tag: ics
  tag: feed
  tag: url=
  tag: category=government

The url= tag was already there. It provides the all-important link back to a human-readable authoritative source for events coming from this feed. It’s best if individual events provide their own links, but often in iCalendar feeds they don’t, so this is the default link.

What’s new is the category= tag. Now all events coming from this feed will carry that category. For example:

Mon Jun 15 2009

Regular Meeting – Cottonwood N/A
(Board of Supervisors)

The same info travels downstream, to the aggregated Prescott iCalendar feed:

DESCRIPTION:Regular Meeting - Cottonwood N/A \n\n****************
nfrom\n ******************************\n\n
SUMMARY:Regular Meeting - Cottonwood N/A

And to the aggregated XML feed:

<title>Regular Meeting - Cottonwood N/A</title>
<source>Board of Supervisors</source>

This strategy only works, for course, for feeds that can be categorized. And that won’t always be true. Events coming from the ReadItNews feed don’t fit into any single category (or short list of categories). So they’ll remain untagged for now. That’s OK. Better to make some progress than to make none. This partial approach yields a nice return on investment. And thanks to the bulk editing feature of Delicious, it’s really quick and easy to select a set of feeds and then tag them with a category= tag.

2. Categorizing Eventful and Upcoming venues

We can use a variation of this strategy to categorize sources of events coming from Eventful and Upcoming. In this case, the lever is the venue. Not all venues host events that can be categorized. But some do, and in those cases, why not exploit that?

The strategy here is to bookmark and tag the event’s venue URL from Upcoming or Eventful. Here are two examples:


title: Venue: Prescott YMCA - Upcoming
  tag: venue=upcoming
  tag: category=recreation


title: Venue: Raven Cafe
  tag: venue=eventful
  tag: category=music

If you check the default HTML view of Prescott’s aggregated events, you’ll see that these categories indeed show up. They’re also in the downstream XML, ICS, and JSON feeds.

But can’t the source iCalendar feeds provide per-event categories?

Yes, some do. In the case of Prescott, the public library‘s iCalendar feed uses the CATEGORIES property, so those categories show up too. For example:

Thu 02:00 PM
Sign up for Computer Mentor
(Prescott Library)
(Adult Computer Class,library)

Here we see a list of two categories. The first item, Adult Computer Class, was in the original iCalendar feed. The second item, library, was inherited from the feed metadata specified by the curator.

There’s a long way to go with this stuff. But this is a nice start!

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