Freo on the web

I am trying to get my head around all of the various places that Fremantle features (regularly, topically) on the Web. I want to figure out where the Fremantle Society’s website fits in, and what it might be used for (what might be missing from elsewhere).

So I started from the outside, yesterday, and moved inwards…

  1. Wikipedia, a first port of call for general info about anywhere, gives a reasonable overview to Freo from an outsider’s perspective. The Fremantle category has the subcategories show in the graph at right (which comes from the catgraph tool by User:Dapete). Obviously, this categorisation isn’t complete, and needs to be improved to reflect what’s actually important in Freo. (More on this later…)

  2. Next, there’s the Council’s website, fremantle.wa.gov.au, which has recently undergone a redesign, and is looking… umm… well, there’s lots of great information for residents and whatnot! There is a news feed, and a calendar of upcoming events (which I’d link to, but it’s a JS overlay thing that doesn’t seem to have it’s own URL). There are plans for new web-based methods of communication with constituents: firstly via a CRM for interacting with Council (for the general public? or just precinct committees?); and secondly (and I think this is going to be separate from the CRM) a network of community-group/precinct websites, called FREOSPACE. This is akin, perhaps, to the Cockburn Community Portal.

    I got my information about these plans from the presentation that Jen Valesini (Coordinator of the Fremantle Volunteer Service; is that right? perhaps not; anyway, she was part of the Precinct Review) gave to last week’s Freo Society meeting; and the Precinct Group Report.

  3. Then, there’s a host of topical and personal blogs: Adele Carles, State MP for Fremantle, Brad Pettitt, Fremantle’s Mayor, Cyclefreo, Dismantle, FERN, the Fremantle Environment Resource Centre, Freo Tribe, the blog of the Fremantle Society, Freo’s View, Tom M. Wilson, Love Freo, Melissa Parke, Federal MP for Fremantle, and The Painted Fish. There are more. I’ve started collecting a list of these as a ‘Freo Planet’ (to use that possibly-too-geeky term for an aggregation of news feeds); the planet itself has a news feed, the idea being that one could subscribe to just one source to get all Freo news.

There’s more to be looked at, but in a general sense I think there is room for a ‘reference’ website about Fremantle. An open site for the stories and detail of Freo, rather like Wikipedia but with ‘non-notable’ topics permitted (not notable in a global perspective, that is). Somewhere that will record, preserve, and make available the minutiae of what goes on here. Is the Freo Society the best organisation to provide this? I don’t know. I’m talking about something more than just the straight ‘history’ of the City (for that one might say that the Local History Centre would be the best coordinator). This would be a site that accepts photos of caravans on South Beach in the ’40s as well as contemporary cafe reviews. It would have a comprehensive calendar of events, and essays on life in Fremantle…

Perhaps I’m getting a bit carried away. Certainly it’s time to stop writing, and head down to Kulcha….

WordPress TwentyTen theme ported to MediaWiki

Last week I needed a simple, reader-focused skin for a MediaWiki install, and I figured WordPress’ TwentyTen theme would be suitable. So I ported it to MediaWiki.

The skin can be downloaded from Github, and I’ve also added it to the MediaWiki gallery of user styles.

Fremantle Society website

I have recently started helping to maintain The Fremantle Society’s website (fremantlesociety.org.au), and it’s reminding me of why I work in IT and of how much I’ve been missing being part of any greater endevour (with people, I mean, and working together for some purpose — as I once did with the Coop, for instance). There are fantastic, passionate, intelligent people involved, and more than that — there is something to believe in! I don’t mean that in any too-deep way: just that it feels like the Society is not only an incorporated-body-that-has-meetings, but rather something of a focal point for people who see and care about a certain historical/communal aspect of Fremantle.

I have many ideas about the website redevelopment. At the moment it’s technical stuff: deciding between Drupal, WordPress, MediaWiki, or something else, and the philosophical differences that software engenders (in the means of interaction and collaboration). I’ll post more, soon, about what we’ve been thinking about that. (I’m liking the idea of the division down the lines of there being The Fremantle Society, Inc. on the one hand, and the society of Fremantle on the other. The distinction between the incorporated body, and the actual built and social environment of the City that is the former’s raison d’être.)

Cantonment Hill and Wikimedia Commons

The news that Flickr Commons is full prompted me, yesterday afternoon, to cycle down to Cantonment Hill to get some photos to add to the hill’s Wikipedia article. Why? Because I added a short note to Wikinews the other day about the imminent return of the hill to the FCC; and because I was reminded that Commons is a place — the place, perhaps, now — to put photos that might be of use or interest to other people, and I like that ‘collective archive’ idea.

I have always felt that Commons only wants files that are of direct use in another project — mainly Wikipedia — and that unless one can think of a good reason to upload a file, that file should be posted elsewhere. Such as Flickr Commons, or the Internet Archive; I can’t think of anywhere else. Perhaps I’m wrong. Is Commons more like the IA than one might first think? Is it acceptable to add material that is highly unlikely to ever make it in to a ‘proper’ article on one of the projects? Unless there is a need to illustrate, for example, the various types of steel handrails used on stairs in the 1950s, then there are some photos that will never make it out of Commons. That’s okay though. Someone might want to write that article in fifty years’ time.

So I am going to keep working on Wikimedia projects, in my own way, in the hope that it is a worthwhile use of my time. I think it is.

Facebook vs. WordPress

The last few weeks have seen a great number of my friends turn to Facebook (and, of course, I know exactly how many). It’s great, it’s exciting, it’s suddenly become so easy to organise things and we can now all talk about Facebookwhen we meet for a coffee at the Front; however, all is not as funky as one might seem…

Don’t misunderstand me here, I’m all in favour of using Facebook — I just don’t think it should be used for everything. It’s great as a procrastination tool, for example, or for stumbling across long-lost friends, or being sent lovely pictures like this:

Picture: Sam got tapes for 35c.

But Facebook is, despite their oh-so-wonderful API, a closed system. We’re all piling our (desperately interesting, I’m sure) personal information into it, and giving no thought to what will happen to that information in the future. I don’t neccessarilly mean the usual conspiracy theories of governmental data-harvesting or derranged stalkers (they probably apply to wherever one is one the web), but what about ideas of cultural artifact preservation? (I know, I know, no one cares…)

Much of Facebook replicates systems that we’ve been using for years. Why, for example, did they have to build their own private messaging system? What’s wrong with email? Could they not have made it all work together — maybe someone will build an IMAP webmail application for Facebook, and prove my objections aimless.

But that’s all beside the point: I’m a geek, and prefer to build my own. An article in Wired started me off thinking about this, and since then I’ve been doing a bit of reading (eg. SNIX), and here’s my skeleton thus far of a distributed, home-grown, open-source, social networking system:

  • Start with a blog. I prefer WordPress, but the point of all this is that by using open standards it really doesn’t matter what software we use. Post whatever you want (images, movies, audio, anything) and enable comments on everything.
  • Collect feeds. Most blogging tools come with in-built support for news feeds of some kind, usually at least RSS and Atom. Create a page on your blog and aggregate all of your friends’ feeds there.
  • Post coming events. With a plugin like Event Calendar you can post future events, and produce a iCalendar feed to which your friends can subscribe. Add another page, to aggregate your friends’ events.

Unfortunately, that’s about where it ends. How does one have ‘Friends’ on a system that doesn’t mandate common software — or common anything save interchange formats?! I don’t know. Maybe Facebook does rock after all…

But I do know that I’d rather be using my own software, with all content remaining under my control at all times; the methods for sharing this with the world are maturing, and before long will be widespread and useable.

hmwilson.archives.org.au

I forgot to mention, a few weeks ago when I set it up, that the family archives now have an online home at hmwilson.archives.org.au. It’s for family only, but if that’s you then I will set up your account; just email me. I’m jolly excited about going back to Perth this summer and working on this!