Open Chattanooga wants contributors to a crowdsourced hub
If you’ve ever used Wikipedia, the web-based, user-created encyclopedia, you know something about Chattanooga’s LocalWiki, but there are some important differences.
Both are created and edited by whoever wants to contribute, not a centralized manager. And both use the same open source software that allows user participation and tracks all changes.
Wikipedia aspires to be a compendium of (literally) all human knowledge, and maintains a bit of distance from its topics. Entries are intended to be objective, every fact should be supported by a published reference, and personal testimony (even by experts) and information sourced to a personal interview (like a reporter would do) are strictly forbidden.
Chattanooga’s LocalWiki, by contrast, is less restrictive and more responsive to whatever users see as useful. Material that runs the gamut from more formal information—like sections on Chattanooga neighborhood, startup community resources and entertainment—to informal items like a rundown of the best happy hours in Chattanooga.
The nature and depth of the content is up to its users. Open Chattanooga manages LocalWiki, mostly facilitating creative sessions and enforcing basic community standards—no abusive language, no derogatory remarks about individuals or organizations—but LocalWiki is entirely user created.
“Really, anything can be on it,” says Jenny Park, one of Open Chattanooga’s leaders. “The way I think of it is, what is something I know from my time in Chattanooga that I want other people to know, whether they live here or they’re looking at living here or they’re new to town—information that’s useful and interesting and records some sort of special pieces of Chattanooga.”
Open Chattanooga grew out of a data-driven effort to help respond to the tornadoes of 2010. (For more on Open Chattanooga, see “Let the Sun Shine on City Data,” in The Pulse, March 27, 2014). Its current configuration is funded by a grant from the national Knight Foundation, with matching funds from the Benwood Foundation, to further the collaboration between city government, the Public Library and Open Chattanooga, working on what Park calls “this multi-pronged effort to start thinking better about how we access and utilize public data.”
If working with data sounds like something only a geek could love, consider how Marcus Ellsworth, Open Chattanooga’s new community organizer, describes the organization:
“Rather than doing gatekeeping, it’s about gate opening. Open Chattanooga is about opening data and technology and resources to everyone. Rather than being about saying things like ‘you can’t do that’ or ‘you shouldn’t do that,’ it’s more of ‘OK, if that’s the way you want to solve a problem, how can we make that happen? If we can’t do it now, how do we build solutions so we can reach the point that we can address the things you’re concerned about?’”
No technical background is needed to create or edit wiki pages. Anyone can open an account, and anyone with an account can contribute to the site from any Internet-connected computer.
“I think it’s really cool that we have a place for anybody regardless of their technical ability and regardless of their income to record and document their understanding of the city they live in,” says Park. “You can do it at home. You can do it on your lunch break. You can spend as much or as little time as you want. When I first started with LocalWiki, I got kind of addicted to it. I would look up and it had been three hours since I started editing and I’d added 10 pages. It’s just like when you’re using Wikipedia and you start clicking and clicking and before you know it you’re 20 pages separated from the page that you went onto Wikipedia for.”
Open Chattanooga holds monthly work sessions to introduce people to the LocalWiki and other projects. Park recalls a conversation at the most recent monthly Open Chattanooga meeting: “A guy said, ‘I’m not a tech person, but I know a lot about Chattanooga history, and I would love to tell stories.’ Not just listing the facts, actual stories of people that he interacted with who told him things they remembered from being in Chattanooga. So we talked about creating a story section like NPR does with Story Corps.”
The next Open Chattanooga meetings are:
• Dec. 10—Local Wiki Happy Hour, 5-7 p.m. at The Flying Squirrel where people can socialize and work on pages, with an adult beverage if they choose.
• Dec. 17—Open Chattanooga monthly work session at 5:30-8 p.m. on the Public Library’s Fourth Floor—sorry, no booze. Work on the Wiki or a project to adapt an open source software platform to work with Chattanooga’s open government data.
More information is on Open Chattanooga’s Facebook page at facebook.com/OpenChattanooga