What is going on in my community?

I don’t know, but I’d like to.

I’ve got a team gathered, and we’re going to spend the next three months trying to answer that question. We’re making a website for people who care about Victoria. We want to know what decisions are being talked about right now, and who’s involved in making those decisions. This information is freely available online from a wide variety of sources, many of which are out of date, and of questionable reliability. City council meetings are open to the public, and take place on Monday evenings a few times a month.

Last Monday night I thumped into a City Council meeting, 10 minutes late because I couldn’t find the front door. The esteemed Councillors and the Mayor stared at me, aghast, as I burst through the emergency exit, carrying a motorcycle helmet.

After I got comfy in the front row, they continued to discuss the agenda, furtively glancing my way now and then.

They talked about garbage collection, street people, and special trees. I think. I couldn’t really hear much, as they were talking quietly and didn’t seem to be bothering with the microphones that each seat was equipped with.

I’ve got a copy of the agenda from that meeting, but it’s pretty dense, to be honest. I would have liked to hang around and chat about stuff with the councilors afterwards, but they threw me out at halftime.

So we’re making a website

It’s about Victoria and the surrounding neighborhoods, with a little bit of Wikipedia and a little bit of Reddit, with our own twist thrown in.

The Wiki

The wiki is mainly about politicians and ongoing local issues. On typical politician’s profile, you’ll see his official junior-intern-curated bio on the left half of the page.

And on the right, there’s the other side of the story. A community-edited wiki where citizens can add what they know about the pol – what they’ve voted for, what their special interests are, what core values they’ve demonstrated through words and actions over the years. If there’s a big discrepancy between the official bio and the community version, you’ll know to be suspicious.

A hypothetical politician's profile.
A hypothetical politician’s profile.

Likewise, if the pol is well-respected, hard-working, upright and honest, full credit will be given, and you’ll know that this is someone you can vote for.

The Reddit

Reddit is a great place to waste time, and also a great place to learn. Users submit links to articles, or text posts. New, controversial, and popular items float to the top and the front of the site. The content is always changing and always current.

An example of how the reddit page might work.
An example of how the reddit page might work.

On our page the first thing you’ll see is a bunch of questions. They’re going to ask things like, “Should we let Mr Clyde off the hook for his garbage collection bill this month, since he’s managed to get his annual trash down to basically nothing?”** , and other questions submitted by users.

The current administration seems a bit condescending towards Victoria youth. Let's show them how hard we're trying, despite how difficult it is to live in this city.
The current administration seems a bit condescending towards Victoria youth. Let’s show them how hard we’re trying, despite how difficult it is to live in this city.

And you can vote yes or no, or check the comments and see what everyone else thinks. The fun part is, your votes are tracked on a political compass. So if you vote like Mayor Leonard does, you move closer to him on the compass. If you always vote differently from Elizabeth May, you move away from her.

So you can see how many other people around Vic kind of agree with you on stuff, and go meet up with them, or try to convince them to see things differently, or maybe find out why a lot of people think different from you (maybe you’re wrong??). And you can also see whether a politician is going to vote for the same things you’d vote for, so that will help you when it’s time to cast ballots.

People claim they don’t vote because they don’t know enough about what’s going on. Let’s take that excuse away. Also, let’s make election day a paid stat hol, that should help as well. Do you agree? Well, you’ll be able to let me know on the site soon enough.

An example of something that young Victorians feel strongly about. The author made their feelings known on St Pat's during the 20 minutes I was inside a McDonald's. Let's give people like them a better place to be heard.
An example of something that young Victorians feel strongly about. The author made their feelings known on St Pat’s during the 20 minutes I was inside a McDonald’s. Let’s give people like them a better place to be heard.

 

** Actual agenda meeting discussed in council chambers. Is this question too trivial for you to care about? Tell them.

Who am I supposed to vote for?

I have no idea, but I’d like to. Let’s make a website that asks you bunch of questions about issues that are currently under debate in your area. Answer yea or nay, and the program begins grouping you with other people who answer similarly. The more questions you answer, the more you can see how many people feel the same as you do, where they differ, and so on.

abTestingDemo
If you want, you can choose to reveal your identity (name, age, race, occupation, neighbourhood, race, religious affiliation, political affiliation… as much or as little as you want to share). Then the program can match you up in even more detail. Politicians will find it in their interest to reveal their identities so that people can see the name of the person they align with, and maybe decide to vote for them.

whoAgrees

This is a win for voters and for politicians

The advantage to voters – they can see what politicians are on their side, rather than just hoping that the guy for their usual party is going to do the right things this time around.

The advantage to politicians – they can see whether people actually agree with them, or if they need to change their minds.

Issues should be user submitted but strongly curated and moderated, to stay on topic and avoid flaming.

Use Cases

It would be super interesting to pass around a tablet with the website on it at PTA meetings, town halls, out front of voting places for last minute sanity checks, at public debates, in grade 10 social studies classes, and so on.

Show me money

Here some ways to monetize it, some better than others.

  •  The usual ad banner at the bottom of the page
  •  Make people pay to add their identities
  •  Make politicians pay to add their identities
  •  Sell it to municipalities, tailored for their location, charge for the license, then for moderation/curation.
  •  Just a tip jar
  •  Make it an app and p2p (I have no idea if this is possible but cool if it is).

 

For my capstone project at college, we’re working with a local municipality on a website to help voters get informed about local issues. The idea I’ve just sketched out was what I originally wanted the project to be, but our sponsors and my team had a slightly different vision, so I’ve had to compromise a bit. What we’re going to end up with is more of a reddit/wiki about local politics. It should be interesting and super useful, but I’m still sad that my original vision won’t come to fruition, at least not this year.

So the idea is available for anyone who wants to take it and run with it. I hope they do, because I actually do want to know what’s going on in my community, and I don’t really know how to find out without actually volunteering for a local party to get into the action. There is certainly value in doing that, but I’m not ready to make that time commitment – I’d rather just be able to read about the candidates, get a name, vote for them, and know when to lean on them for action.