Shutting down Richmond Brainstorm

20140322-screenshotFive years ago this month I launched the community improvement website The site allowed users to submit ideas for ways to make Richmond, Indiana a better place, allowed other users to discuss and vote on those ideas, and shared success stories of ideas that had been implemented. I created the site because I think it's important for a given community to shape its own course for the future instead of waiting for solutions from state and national governments, and because I was tired of hearing good, creative ideas from others that never seemed to get the attention or visibility they deserved.

In the time since, some 86 community improvement ideas were submitted and discussed, and a number of the ideas became real projects that were implemented. The site got over 140,000 visits from around 45,000 unique visitors. I've also received contact from people other communities around the country asking for help to create a similar resource in their city, and so the idea of an online community improvement idea inventory seems to itself have become an idea worth spreading.

But, after an initial period of significant activity, the Richmond Brainstorm site had become largely dormant, with no new ideas submitted to it in close to a year. Over the years I've regularly talked to local community development organizations who have said the concept of the site is an exciting one and could even be integrated into their own efforts at prompting further conversations and action, but as yet Richmond does not seem to be a place where most of those kinds of conversations want to happen online, for better or worse. That combined with the time that it takes to keep the site's software current, deal with spammers and perform other administrative tasks has begun to outweigh the value that I think is currently bringing to the community.

So, as of today I'm shutting the site down.

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State and local government websites as wikis?

MontreatI'm intrigued by websites powered by wikis, where the content can be added, modified and deleted by the users of the site.  When the people who are affected by the quality and structure of the content presented have some control over that content, you sometimes have an opportunity to get more useful, relevant, current material than if the site is maintained by a small number of content administrators.

At Summersault, our entire company intranet is a wiki.  Anyone who works with us can edit the content on it, add new pages, delete stuff that they think is out of date or unhelpful, and so on - from small typo fixes to multi-page documents and images.  If someone makes a change that needs to be un-done, the wiki software lets us "roll it back" or otherwise incorporate only partial changes.  All of this gives us the opportunity to have an intranet "by and for" its users and our staff, instead of something built and maintained solely from a management point of view.

Wikis aren't appropriate for every kind of website, or even most kinds, but I've been thinking lately about what it would mean to have wikis power city, county and state government websites.

If these sites are primarily meant to be informational tools for use by the people who live in a given geographical region (and who are theoretically paying for the site's creation and maintenance), could governments give those people some control over the content on those resources?

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Facebook Appreciation Day?


What if Facebook shut down once per day, every year?

Turn it all the way off. No one could get to it.  No walls, timelines, profiles, friends, games, apps or messages.

They could call it Facebook Appreciation Day.

Some people would appreciate that Facebook was off for the day and turn their attention to other things.

Some people would appreciate how much they enjoy / like / depend on Facebook the other 364 days of the year.

Facebook's servers and employees could appreciate the day off, or maybe they could do some deep cleaning.

I'm only partly joking here:

A ritual of sabbath from something that has become so engrained in modern culture, something that many people can't imagine NOT using in some form every day, could be useful.

Having everyone who uses Facebook experience it on the same day, together, would just be amazing.

What would you do on Facebook Appreciation Day?

Brainstorming Richmond community improvement ideas

Every time I go on vacation or get a little bit of time to step back and think, I end up making long "to do" lists for myself.  The lists are about projects I want to start, books to read, things to learn about, people to get in touch with.  It's common for some significant chunk of those lists to be related to how to make my home, Richmond Indiana, a better place to live, work and play.

At the same time, I recognize that other people are out there coming up with their own ideas about how to make Richmond better.  I hear those ideas mentioned at meetings, in casual conversations, in planning documents, and all over.  Sometimes I hear people talk about idea overlap - how something they thought was a new idea was something someone else had worked on in the past.  And then I start to worry that we might not be fully honoring the collective brain power we devote to improving Richmond, and I wanted to create a resource that would allow for some consolidated storage of all of those great ideas.

Thus was created the concept for a new website I launched this week, Richmond  It's a place where people can submit their ideas for how to make Richmond better, and discuss the ideas already on the site.

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