Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Bloomington not yet a'Twitter

Lots of interesting stuff going on in the Bloomington scene this week. James Boyd, who I've written about before, sat down to watch and interpret the 36 hours in three days of Monroe County budget hearings, and posted them on a dedicated comment thread on the newspaper's web site...I mentioned that on Twitter. Some of my coworkers wandered off to the Agile2007 conference and sent reports back on speakers they liked; I added a couple of people to my Twitter list and blogroll due to that. My kid started kindergarten, so I've been ramping up my list of educators as well (too bad there are no local ones as of yet!).

While James was posting his updates, I tried to follow along with his numbers on a Google spreadsheet, with only a fair amount of success. (Of course, my job was easy since all I did was read the comment threads. James had to try to interpret everything and post and try to keep up with details on the numbers - all in real time.) My goal was fairly self-centered: I wanted to understand exactly what they were voting on and why. But certainly if what I was doing was useful at all I wanted to share it - why keep it private? (A former boss asked me that once. Why did I blog about my trip instead of putting it in an email and sending it to the six or seven people in my group? All I could do was stare at him blankly.) All in all, I'd say that my, and probably a lot of other people's, information stream had gotten a lot wider this week.

Thinking along many of the same lines, only way more articulately than I could ever be, Kevin Makice wrote an piece on the future of local social networking. Kevin wants everyone to center around Twitter, which I doubt will happen. The Herald-Times has taken a real leadership role in this process, and they of course have a vested interest in bringing people to their site instead. Councilmember Sophia Travis pointed out that it was way too tough for her to actively participate in the discussion as well as listen to the issues, although she did manage a couple of notes.

So where do we go from here? Here are a few things I notice:

  • It took a professional, not a blogger, to (a) generate interest and (b) pull off the budget updates with the right amount of elan to keep everyone interested. Is this a requirement? I'd say no, but the fact is that I wasn't about to take several days off work to go down there and watch. It's a lot easier to do it if someone will pay you.
  • With the exceptions of Councilmembers Travis and Marty Hawk (who posts to the HT occasionally) there are few enough politicians in the general conversation, to expect that there will be many in the live conversation (by which I mean Twitter, or the running comment thread). It would be nice if this changed.
  • I had to ask early on in the process for copies of the spreadsheets the council was using. Apparently the auditor was running around with them on a thumb drive, handing out copies to whoever needed them. It would have been nice to just stick them on a web page at the beginning.
  • I want a budget expert available to answer questions from the public. I probably had a dozen questions over the three days - granted, I always have questions, it's because I don't know anything - but many of them James couldn't answer, and probably many he could have but didn't because he didn't have time. Wouldn't it have been cool if the auditor's office could have somebody sit and monitor the thread and explain stuff?
  • Let's not wait for next year's budget to do this again. Send the junior copy editor to update us on the Redevelopment Commission meeting. Let's get a volunteer blogger to liveblog the Planning Commission. Let's keep the government exposed!
  • Budget hearings are a really moronic way of doing things. A bunch of exhausted people sitting in a room voting yea or nay at random on a couple of grand so they can get it over with and get some lunch? Tell you what, next time let's get all the line items out on a nice wiki page and hash it out that way. I realize I'm text-centered and maybe others prefer the face-to-face, but then how about over NetMeeting or something?
  • Now, I'm not trying to grouse and say that things should have been done differently. Or to be more precise, of course they should be done differently, but we never know precisely how until afterwards. This has been a great learning week for me, and I hope, for everyone else as well.

Sorry, Kevin, I didn't get that Bloomingpedia article on the budget written; the hazards of citizen journalism :) But maybe now we all see a little bit more of the possibilities that are opening up before our eyes. Hey, follow me on Twitter!