Boston Common /

What if Boston Common went away?


NOTE: Boston Common is no longer being updated. For the latest Boston-area blog posts, please see Universal Hub

To be replaced by something better, that is?

A couple weeks ago, I had lunch with Steve Garfield to talk about "community journalism;" the idea that all of us with our blogs and digital cameras and Flickr accounts and copies of Word 97 could create a new information resource, one that could tell the stories that will never appear in the Globe or Herald - or provide a different perspective than you'd see on Channel 7.

After all, who hasn't seen a zillion police cars with their lights going and wondered what's going on? Who didn't rush outside over the weekend to describe and photograph the blizzard?

Or take that church in Jamaica Plain that burned down. Steve lives near the church and writes of looking for video on local BigName news sites:

Last night when helicopters were buzzing overhead and sirens were blaring, we all went to these websites to see video. It was 6:45 PM and the local TV stations were showing the national network news.

We wanted local video on the web but were dissapointed to only get a small screen shot of video from WCVB.

Why couldn't they have the video up on the web sooner?

Guess who has a videocamera? And guess who went down the next day to file a video report on the church?

What if we had a central site where all that interesting stuff was aggregated and organized by topic and neighborhood?

Now, I do some of that already with Boston Common. But I'm just one person and what I'm interested in might not be the same as what you care about. What if we had a place where you could file interesting tidbits and have a say in what goes on the front page? And what if it were all organized by topic and neighborhood - so folks could quickly get to the news they care about?

I've been playing with Universal Hub as a platform. It allows for multiple users (and different levels of access, or responsibility, if you will) and has a great system for categorizing content.

It would also duplicate what I'm doing here with Boston Common. So I've been thinking of moving from here to Universal Hub (there are some boring technical reasons why I can't run Universal Hub's software here; details on request). I realize there are some issues to doing that (think of all those links that now point at Boston Common), but a real community news site would far outweigh them.

So who's in? Anybody want to get together to talk about community reporting and how to do it? Let me know or Vote on transmogrifying Boston Common into Universal Hub.


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garym says (on January 25, 2005 02:53 PM):

Interesting ideas there. I can think of three possibilities for how it could be managed -- maybe there are more.

(1) It could be managed by an editor, or a staff of editors. That would keep someone very busy.

(2) It could be managed automatically, by software indexing posts by keywords, links, info submitted by the blogger, etc. Could work, but would require some moderately clever software to be useful.

(3) It could be managed by vote. I suspect that the number of people voting would be too small to do a good job of it.

Just some initial thoughts. I'm inclined to favor (2) if reasonable software exists.

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saralovering says (on January 25, 2005 02:59 PM):

I think this is a fantistic idea!

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~bc says (on January 25, 2005 03:36 PM):

I like Boston Common as it is. I also really like your idea for community news. That would rock. However, I fail to see how Word 97 could help *anything.* If you toss that part, you're golden.

It'd be cool if you could set up a sandbox for people to experiement with your new Universal Hub sw. Is it existing sw, or something you built yourself? Sorry, haven't really dug into it yet.

I think it'd be great if certain contributors to the community news site could have special news-only feeds on their site (with, say audio or video includes [feels like pod/videopodcasting]) that your news site could just aggregate, aleviating all the otherwise necessary admin of setting up accounts, etc. If somebody's stuff fits the criteria, subscribe and republish via CommonNews (ooh, there's a fitting name!) Also, if you're going to build in media (audio/video) then I would definitely think of some way of weaving in bittorrent to help reduce bandwidth issues. Last thought: wouldn't it be cool if the stuff was Creative Commons licensed so someone could download the raw audio/video and edit their own news report, (and if relevent repost)? Sounds like if you tossed W97 for iMovie, you'd have the future. Power to the people, and stuff...

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christine says (on January 25, 2005 03:43 PM):

I think w97 was meant as a joke.

i'm all for it. as long as the far peripheries of boston (cough, up heah!) could be counted in.

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Rebe says (on January 25, 2005 04:06 PM):

It would give me an excuse to buy a new grovy movie camera. I love any excuse to shop for gadgets!

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Jody says (on January 25, 2005 06:09 PM):

I see them as two completely different things. I assume you ask because you don't have the personal energy to do both. The stuff I look for in Boston Common has nothing to do with being an "information resource," rather, it is the place I look to find the best, funniest stuff of the day.

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Big Bri says (on January 25, 2005 09:24 PM):

Boston Common could just be a feature of Universal Hub... even some of the Boston oNline stuff could be repurposed.... are you thinking of using Drupal?

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adamg says (on January 26, 2005 10:11 AM):

Some great ideas here, thanks! And Rebe, video, yeah, go for it. You should hook up with Steve Garfield - he's the videomaster :-).

To address what Jody said (caution: long-winded spiel approaching):

Oh, sure! Yeah, I'm not getting all delusional and thinking I'm going to destroy and become your NEW ENGLAND ACTION NEWS SOURCE :-). I'm thinking something that, at first blush, is actually similar to Boston Common - a front page with cool stuff with um, universal appeal.

The difference would be that a) hopefully more people are involved (and so more interesting stuff) and b), on the back end somewhere it's all sorted into various neighborhood and topic buckets for people who really want microcontent (uh, oh, I'm babbling, quick, throw some snow at me) - the stuff you're just not going to see in the Globe or the Telegram or wherever. Let the Big Guys continue to do what they do well - cover big stories - and we'll do what I think all you bloggers are already doing well - provide unique local insights (and anecdotes and funny stories and photos, yes, lots of photos). Although that raises the question of what a "big story" is. Four Chinese Nationals (not) heading to Boston with a dirty bomb? Yes, big news. Definitely Globeworthy. Five police cruisers, lights a-flashing on your block at 10 p.m.? Not big news to the Globe, but definitely to you and your neighbors. Write it up! Post it on Universal Hub or your own blog and wait for it to be scooped up by the site aggregator.

Longer term, sure, why not see if people want to blog local news more actively. Look at John Daley taking reporter-type risks to get some great photos of the ocean crashing over the seawall in Marshfield this past weekend. What I'd love to do, although I doubt I'll have the time, is go down to the local police house once a week and do up a Roslindale/West Roxbury police log, would be cool to put it all into a database so you could type in your street and see how many of your neighbors were arrested in drug deals last week or whatever. The best of all that should get on the front page (imagine if we had several people doing police logs - we could probably get several posts a week just out of some of those weird calls the police go on).

In terms of organization, the basic idea is kinda like a classic newsroom - you have this vast torrent of stuff coming in (RSS feeds instead of wire services, darn, I miss teletype machines, as well as original content from your own "reporters") and editors deciding what goes on the front page. Main difference: The categorization and the gigantic archive so readers can really go berserk and lap up all the local stuff ().

Apologies if I'm babbling!

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shanna says (on January 26, 2005 04:05 PM):

It's definitely the sort of thing I'de be interested in reading, though I don't know how valuable of a contributor I would be. I agree with Jody, though in that I would see this as a separte thing from the current Boston Common. NewsBlog (or whatever) would be great for finding out why there are cops on my block at 3 AM; Boston Common points me to interesting or funny bloggers when I'm looking for a diversion that is only moderately related to my locale.

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alyssa says (on January 26, 2005 08:32 PM):

In a way - what you're proposing is what happens at places like Chicagoist and Gaper's Block (back in my old hometown). And what you propose is, IMHO, what Boston Metroblog should be doing - but I don't think has the resources to do.

Maybe you can link up with them?

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