Gorgeous George, Jim Traficant, and some thoughts on populism | Main | against "spoonfeeding" the public

May 10, 2005

using blog software to strengthen a geographical community

The Prince George's Information Commons is our local attempt to use the new electronic media to support community and civil society. (It's my own small effort at the kind of civic development that I called for in yesterday's post.) I recently installed MovableType on the Commons webpage. That's software that was designed for blogging; I also use it on the page you're reading. The Prince George's Commons doesn't look much like a blog. I've downplayed the date of each contribution, because entries won't be posted all that frequently. Some entries will be very long and labor-intensive. For example, the "oral history of desegregation" that's posted near the top of the homepage took me, two colleagues, and 10 kids most of an academic year to create.

I turned to blog software because I wanted to build a database into which many people's projects about the County could be entered. On the homepage, you can now see short intros to the latest projects. You can also browse all the current and past work via an intertactive map, a set of timelines, a set of category headings, and a search function.

All these features are operational in a preliminary way. Thus one can use the map to look for archaeological digs in the County, or use the timeline to find all the projects concerning the 1800s, or look at a category like "work by Northwestern High School students," or search for a phrase like "Mt Rainier." You can also easily post comments on all pages, thus creating a "commons" feel.

There isn't actually much work on the site as yet. However, I am guiding 17 undergraduate students who are conducting research projects right now; and a group of high school students is completing a large project on nutrition in their community, funded by National Geographic. So the database will grow rapidly. Meanwhile, I'm excited by the idea that I can now approach another professor or a school teacher--or church or neighborhood group--and easily explain to them how they might conduct some kind of research project and contribute the results to the community by putting it on the Commons website.

Posted by peterlevine at May 10, 2005 07:56 AM

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This blog is under attack from comment spammers, who are causing a problem for the server. I believe I can block them by upgrading to a recent version of MoveableType. However, I do not have time to do that until late December. Therefore, I have temporarily disabled comments. Please feel free to email me feedback at plevine@umd.edu.

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