Vancouver Hackathon and Adopt-A-Stop: The Idea

It all started at a hackathon…

Last week was the second Vancouver Open Data Hackathon hosted by the marvelous staff of the City of Vancouver Archives in Vanier Park. It was great fun! So many people I hadn’t met interested or in the midst of doing awesome stuff:

  • Vicky‘s story of programming in Processing and schmutzing Arduino boards with museum exhibitions for her Digital History class. Her work sounds terribly exciting and fascinating — the sort of left brain-right brain stuff that totally inspires me. Richard’s been dogging me for weeks, so I will more seriously consider the merits of learning Processing over the course of the next year. Her master’s in Ontario sounds terribly exciting.
  • Jason McLaren, who’s looking to do a SkyTrain station walking-radius app, and who I introduced to VanMaps (I think the layer on intersections might have been helpful, along with some queries to Google on walking time estimates).
  • Vince, who’s into that not-as-uncommon-as-you-think intersection between tech geeking (video games, for him specifically) and cycling. Seriously, the overlap in the two interests among both my Vancouver and Toronto friends is more than coincidental.
  • Honeymae and Daniel McLaren did a neat quick wordle looking at words used in stories about the Downtown Eastside. Not too shabby for 2 hours work! ;) (For those not familiar with Wordles, think a quick and dirty word usage frequency analysis, akin to content analysis but a little less methodological hand-wringing.)

And there was a whole other half of the room I didn’t get to talk to! But hackathons are as much about the work as the support, and Richard and I decided that the few hours at the Hackathon for a great chance to put down some of the details on paper for an idea we’d been talking about, which I’d coined “Adopt-a-Stop”.

Adopt-A-Stop: The Idea

“Adopt-a-Stop” is our idea for a web and mobile-enabled application for community members to find and share information about the five-block radius around each bus stop. As the name alludes, the service will encourage and empower individual community members to garden and curate and take ownership of an individual Facebook-style page for each stop.

Using each stop as an aggregation point, we can display news content both submitted directly to the site, as well as content from any third-party service (e.g. Flickr, Twitter, Brightkite, Foursquare, Gowalla, Tumblr) which provides geolocation as part of their metadata. Riders could subscribe to their ‘favourite’ or commonly-used stops anonymously or publicly, and community gardeners can help shape the conversations around the area.

Some other key points about our idea:

  • The most exciting part for us is that the bus stop identifiers are already there, widely-deployed reference points, with a consistent identification scheme — we simply add the community interaction layer.
  • The most valuable part for me — and the seed of the idea in my mind — is the importance of asynchronous and persistent interaction with the people who take the same bus I do, so that I can discuss the stop or their routes even when I’m not in their presence. I don’t envision it being the be all and end all of personal and community expression and information — just one more tool in enriching it.
  • Finally, the geeky but super-important part — the bus stop IDs essentially are a geolocation interface for people without location-awareness in their mobile devices — like me and my Nokia 6020, using Twitter through SMS.

Luke pointed out the importance of a common metaphor — although I had described it initially as a Facebook page for a bus stop, prior to his comments (both in person and reflecting on the event on his blog) I don’t think we’d actually thought of incorporating Facebook’s actual interface into our design. That said, I think it might also be fun to let people, or the Bus Stop Adopter, to configure for themselves how they want to see Stop pages. Maybe all they really want to do is explore the Google Street Views through the lens of the bus stops. Or maybe they do want a “River of News” approach with videos, pictures, tweets and check-in’s mixed together.

I can also anticipate some other challenges — the pages around bus stops in more suburban areas, for instance, will probably have a lot less excitement around it, but I can still see people, for instance, arranging to have garbage cans put near suburban stops, or maybe someone putting and maintaining the schedule for the bus on the pole for those who don’t have cellphones (or who just can’t be bothered to waste the cost of a text message). Similarly, the residents of a place like Bowen Island might not take to it at all since they’re perhaps a bit less anonymous…in which case, it might be interesting for visitors to Bowen. I’m also interested in how the “community gardener” aspect will pan out, as I’m sure some system of incentives and disincentives will need to be in place to deal with things like vandalism, as certain to happen online as it does offline.

Anyway, like many web apps I think our goal is to build it and to be responsive with however people choose to use it in the end, and to give people the space to experiment and make it their own, while doing as much of the heavy lifting to make it useful as we can. To this end, we’ve submitted the idea to the Knight Foundation News Challenge competition, which might help us get a bit of funding to get it off the ground a bit. If you like the idea, please help us out by:

  1. Voting or leaving a comment on our proposal’s page at the Knight News Challenge website. We’d love to hear your suggestions how what would make it helpful to you or more fun to use.
  2. Passing it on to any friends or colleagues of yours who might also be interested in it, through things like Twitter or Facebook. (Hint: short URL: http://j.mp/knc-aas)

Looking forward to hatching this more (…perhaps at the next Hackathon :D)!

Update (13 Mar 2010): Richard and I have received word that the Knight News Foundation has decided not fund this project…which really just means we’ll build it when the urge strikes us if this still continues to appear to fill a need. Thanks to everyone who supported our application!

One Trackback

  1. By Reflecting on This Is Our Stop on May 3, 2012 at 5:22 am

    […] It is a refinement of my original concept of “a Facebook wall for every bus stop” I proposed back in 2009 (then called Adopt a Stop) for a Knight News Foundation […]

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