A Calendar Year

About a month ago I discovered a ton of UMW-related Google calendars, and thanks to Tony Hirst’s post here, I realized that Google Calendar actually allows you to aggregate public calendars into one overarching calendar. So, I finally sat down today and brought 26 public calendars related to UMW events into an aggregated, embeddable calendar, the fruits of which you can see below or here (I stopped at 26 because when I tried to add a 27th the embed code threw an error, which is curious).

I think the folks I work with at UMW might find this as remarkable as I do, for one of the biggest issues we have is actually knowing what the hell is going on (which I imagine is the case at most institutions that have thousands of people). By looking briefly at this calendar I know more about what’s going on around campus in one quick scan than I have for the last three years. Moreover, it simply adds several more events and deadlines to a pre-existing calendar that I found on the UMW site here in early December.

Now, this is all fine and good, and I’m excited by the idea that departments, offices, and clubs around UMW can create and manage their own public calendars in Google, which, in turn, anyone can aggregate and embed where ever they want. But the question will soon arise, how would we allow anyone to add their own events from a range of different applications such as Apple’s iCalendar, MS Outlook, a WordPress Calendar plugin, a Drupal Calendar module, or an online events service such as Eventful? Well, I wouldn’t really have a clue if I didn’t subscribe to Jon Udell’s blog. He’s been talking about his most recent social project elmcity.info somewhat regularly for the past six months, and he’s been working through this very issue. Elmcity.info is several things, but I think the backbone of it—or at least what Jon has spent most of his conceptual time on—is centered around an open, distributed events calendar for the goings-on in and around his hometown of Keene, New Hampshire. You can get a nice conceptual introduction to aggregating calendar feeds (a.k.a. ICS) on his blog here, as well as a series of posts about his development of this calendar aggregator here. And just a couple of days ago he introduced his plan for vetting trusted feeds for a public calendar by using delicious as a transparent, online database through which you can tag new or trusted links accordingly, which will provide a feed for monitoring new additions. But, the real take away might be this:

Del.icio.us (and any del.icio.us-like service) is a database! You can use it, without doing any programming, to maintain lists of arbitrary sets of resources that can be queried and edited, with equal ease, by humans and by programs.

Using a pre-existing, easy-to-use tool like delicious to vet, manage, and monitor new events and users for a public calendar is wild, yet another conceptual nuance that Jon is king at, and a further realization that the small pieces loosely joined makes so much sense. Albeit, Jon is prototyping the actual ingestion of those delicious feeds into the calendar aggregator he’s developing in the cloud (using Microsoft’s Azure).

So all this has me excited, and a while back when I was talking to Jon about a recommendation for a grant, he started talking to me about what he’s doing in Keene, NH with elmcity.info, and now I know why he’s the real reverend, because in less than fifteen minutes he sold me on doing something similar for Fredericksburg. I was immediately drawn to it because it’s not about monetizing the software or selling a product, but rather hitting the pavement and engaging the “city” I live in around issues of how organizations, small businesses, sports clubs, libraries, schools, etc, can easily manage, share and aggregate their public information for the larger community without depending upon a proprietary solution or corporate go-between. So, rather than having everyone’s calendar of events siloed on their own website, or managed by the local newspaper, like the one here in Fredericksburg (none of which can be shared on other people’s sites, or is managed by the individual contributor), each organization or individual manages and updates their own calendar, but shares it freely once they have established a level of trust. It truly becomes a community calendar, all of which makes me think that I am finally going to finally take a small step in the recent direction of Barbara Ganley, who has chosen to leave academia and roll up her sleeves up for a good, old fashioned neighborhood digital street fight, or what she calls Centers for Community Digital Exploration 🙂 I like her style, and for me 2009 will be about getting out there in my physical community and talking to people about how some rather simple ideas like syndication and aggregation can help people easily share what’s going around town.

At the same time, I hope to discuss certain ways of thinking about these new technologies that might help shape the way any given community shares information with its members and provides open access to what’s going on. While at the same time gives individuals control over their respective information and allowing anyone to participate by becoming a contributor. Obviously, this shouldn’t stop at the calendar, for the same logic applies to local blogs, images, videos, etc. Yet, perhaps the calendar might frame an important, yet elusive, piece to bringing together a group of geographically bound neighbors in search of what the hell is going on. For, more often than not, the prevailing logic of the web is often still, at least on local levels, a proprietary strategy of making people come to your site for information. A reality which is quickly becoming less and less a viable option for getting the word out. We need to focus on how we get the information out there and encourage it’s reproduction in as many places as possible as often as possible.

So, I guess I’m gonna try and explore my own backyard when it comes to imagining these technologies as a way to shape community and build relationships. Something I enjoy tremendously in my work at UMW, I’m just thinking about it as a hobby on a bit broader scale. At the same time, it will hopefully give me the opportunity to think more specifically about what the term “community” really means in this day and age, for it is thrown around alot, but I’m still not entirely comfortable with it. So, anyway, I imagine there will be a few blog posts over the course of this year about my explorations in the local, that is if i don’t get sent packing directly as a carpet bagging, pushy New Yorker. I guess only time will tell.

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9 Responses to A Calendar Year

  1. Exciting, Jim. Are you familiar with the Fred-burg feed? Not sure who does it, but I’ve been following it:
    http://fburgnews.com/
    I love your thoughts about defining community…look forward to watching this play out.

  2. Tony Hirst says:

    G’morning, Reverend, and HNY…

    Jon Udell has been talking about using services like delicious as a database for quite some time, I think?

    Certainly, I know his thinking informed my use of delicious in the Strngle demonstrator a couple of years ago, where I used delicious to power the Stringle toolbar ( http://stringle.pbwiki.com/StringLE+URL+API ), as well as being a repository for Stringle configurations ( http://ouseful.open.ac.uk/stringle/stringleProfileSelect.php )

    PS Hmmm, methinks I should maybe revisit Stringle and recode it as a small jQuery powered app?

  3. pavel says:

    Sounds wonderful, and resonates with the mission of our institution, Sterling College in Craftsbury, VT. I’m often challenged by being a humanities professor in an experiential curriculum, and it’s principally through initiatives like what you describe here – getting into our region’s communities, collecting narratives, and helping the region to build a community memory. I’d love to hear more about how your work develops. (for some of what we’ve been up to, see http://www.digitalcommunitiesproject.org).

  4. Reverend says:

    @Susan,
    I hadn’t seen this site before, but I am familiar with a number of blogs in Fredericksburg that it is aggregating. This is a nice example that folks are already keyed into this reality here. And one of the things it could benefit from, as could many a blog in Freddy, is some kind of way to display what’s going on around town–visitfred.com does this elegantly, but they also decide and control what is up there. Plus, there is no way to get it out of that site, you must go there to see it. I love the idea of reproducing a sense of what’s happening at the schools, libraries, businesses, etc. in a distributed manner, and I think knowing what’s happening, along with commentary, images, etc. may make a small difference, or maybe not. But why not see, and I could always use a hand 🙂

    @Tony,
    You’re right, he has been thinking through Delicious as a database for a while, but it took me this long to figure out and see it as a simple solution to driving a distributed application. Which doesn;t mean you both haven’t been doping it, but just that it took me this long to figure out what you two were up to. See, I’m very slow with this tech thing, but I’m a really good movie watcher I’ll have you know.

    Happy New Year, Tony! Thanks for all the gems in 2008, and looking for more in 09.

    @Pavel,

    That Digital Communities project looks very much inline with this idea, and very much what both Jon and Barbara have me thinking towards over the long haul. I imagine you’re aware of both Barbara and Jon’s work (you’re New England neighbors after all :)), both have been inspiring for me, and I hope to actually blog what happens when I try and interact with people around Fredericksburg about this idea. It’s the social dynamic of this reality that excites me, for the technology is interesting only to the point I understand it, much like the people I will be talking to. And rather than trying to talk about this at a conference, which has its limited uses, I’ll actually be talking about it with people who might see it as a way to immediately reach out with their community regardless of the institutions or organizations that we are all trying to push uphill like a Sisyphus-cursed boulder

  5. Ed Webb says:

    I’m in your blog, stealin’ your ideas.

  6. Reverend says:

    @Ed Webb,

    Just remember me when you get rich and famous, or I’ll send you a take down notice, damn it!

  7. Ed Webb says:

    Help me! I’m mellllting!

  8. Scott Leslie says:

    fyi, http://umwblogs.org/calendar/ is giving me an error – looks like an error from Google, and maybe it is specific to me? But I thought you’d want to know

  9. Reverend says:

    Hey Scott,

    I think it’s working now, not sure where that error was coming from, hmmmm.

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