Permalinks and hashtags for city council agenda items

Among the agenda items that came before the Keene City Council last night was a request by Tom LePage, who runs Armadillo’s Burritos, to extend his sidewalk cafe around the corner onto Railroad Square. I’m in favor of it! As we head into the summer season, I’ll be going to Armadillo’s a lot. I always want to sit outside, but there are only a few tables out front, and they’re usually occupied. Around the corner, where the restaurant abuts Railroad Square, there’s more space available, and it’d be fun to have a ringside seat for the various musical, artistic, and political activities that happen in the square.

Tom’s proposal came up at this point in the meeting. The relevant piece of video, served up by Granicus, lasts only about five seconds. That’s how long it took for city clerk Patty Little to mention the item, and for mayor Dale Pregent to refer it to the Planning, Licences, and Development Committee. But thanks to a new feature added to the Granicus service, that bit of city business now has a permalink and also a hashtag (#granicus732_7716).

This is a simple idea, it’s easy to implement, yet it’s a powerful enabler of modes of communication that we all envision. When the folks on the Planning, Licenses, and Development Committee gets around to considering Tom’s request, they could — and I hope they will — search the web for pages (like this one) that use the permalink, and tweets (like the one I’m about to write) that cite the hashtag. Citizens who want to express views on the matter can do so in their own online spaces, wherever those may be. No single authority is responsible for monitoring, or gathering, or moderating, or displaying the set of items joined together by these unique tokens. But the web’s ability to find that set of things, easily and reliably, assures that they can be brought together in a variety of contexts, to serve a variety of purposes.

The title of a recent post, Every package has its own home page on the web, echoes an epiphany that Andrew Schulman had in 1997 when he realized the implications of every Fedex package having its own unique URL. Every piece of public business should have one too. It’s easy to mint new unique names for things. It’ll be a bit harder to show people how and why to use those names as rendezvous points for loosely-coupled, decentralized interaction. But I hope examples like this one will help get the idea across.

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13 thoughts on “Permalinks and hashtags for city council agenda items

  1. This sounds a lot like project Xanadu an outgrowth of the hypertext envisioned by Ted Nelson in Computer Lib / Dream Machines…

    The difference is the informality – in Xanadu as I understand it (and I don’t claim complete understanding) each segment of a “document” had a unique ID which could be linked to, but I believe it required a standardized naming scheme. This idea is much more ‘bottom up’ – which could be good, but also may have some problems: what if each person uses their own hashtag for the same permalink, for example?

    1. what if each person uses their own hashtag for the same permalink, for example?

      You could, but you wouldn’t want to. The reason for using the tag is to make your contribution show up in other contexts where you’d like it to appear.

      That said, Javier Muniz at Granicus has suggested a great idea: use a URL shortener to unify the permalink and hashtag namespaces.

  2. Yes, permalinks to arbitary times in videos is a good thing. I’ve become accustomed to linking to segments in youtube and was recently frustrated by my inability to do likewise on another site.

    That said, it would be even better if you could link to a range (i.e. start AND end time; maybe the video you linked to does that; I can’t say it as it requires some plugin I evidently don’t have). A range would be more semantically appropriate in many cases, and it should be possible to play/embed only that range.

  3. it would be even better if you could link to a range

    True. I used to harp on that a lot, and even came up with a hack to make MP3 files citable in that way:

    I would still love to see range citation become easy and common. But, I’ve come to see that it’s a second-order problem. The first-order problem is the one addressed here: Associating every piece of public business with a unique tag, advertising that tag as a rendezvous for decentralized collaboration, and actually getting the collaboration to happen.

  4. I wonder if they could make each mention of a hashtag into a clickable link taking the user to a Twitter search for that tag (or to some other sort of view that collated information related to the tag).

    Also, perhaps when the user hovers over a hashtag it could provide a brief floating message saying something like ‘A hashtag for identifying this item in Twitter or Facebook’

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