One of mySociety’s most below-the-radar projects is GroupsNearYou.com , a project to build a web service that eventually will allow other websites, such as FixMyStreet, to tell their users “Look! There’s a local email list here. Why not join it and discuss what you can do to stop those phoneboxes being smashed up?”"
However, in order for GroupsNearYou to become a useful web service for mySociety and the rest of the geospatial Internet, it really needs a good pile of pre-existing groups adding from across the globe. To help with this process Richard Pope has built a little game, rather in the spirit of our video timestamping game. To play it involves trying to identify which Yahoo Groups (and soon others, like Google Groups) cover which areas on the ground.
Reasons we think you should have a play include:
- That strange instinct we all sometimes have that compels us to scrabble to the top of any league table.
- The chance to learn about the most random community groups and what they’re up to in strange places you’ll never visit.
- The warm glow of knowing you’re helping build up a little piece of the web of small pieces.
- The prospect of free food, hoodies and love from the mySociety community.
- Chance to come to our sold-out 5th birthday party in London
- Your day job is less fun than this game.
Say hello to GroupsNearYou.com
The Short Geeky Explanation
GroupsNearYou.com is an entirely user generated API-queryable database of the location and nature of local online communities, irrespective of the platform they are hosted on. A piece of the programmable web, in short, with local community building focus. Check this lovely example of how easily the syndicated community information can be layered onto a map, for example.
The Business Problem it Solves
Do you run a site that tells people stuff about their local area? Do you suspect that there might be quite a lot of internet enabled community activity going on in local areas that you’d like to tell your users about? Use our feeds.
The Social Problem It Solves:
There’s a proven real world social value to people belonging to very local email lists and other forms of local online community. However there is no eBay or Craiglist or other market dominant player in the local online community world, instead there’s a myriad of google groups, yahoo groups, Facebook & other YASN groups, extremely old school CCed email lists, online forums and so on. As a consequence of not having one big simple place to go to find and join local groups (many of which are not even on the web for Google to find) far fewer people ever find out about and join their local online groups. GroupsNearYou.com is about getting more people to join groups, groups that are not hosted by us, and (hopefully) mainly discovering them via uses of our syndicated info on sites that aren’t run by us. It’s a piece of pure internet infrastructure, with a positive social bent.
Who did it?
Astonishingly, the project was almost entirely built by a volunteer, Richard Pope assisted in design by another brilliant volunteer Denise Wilton. Their only reward is a highly sought after mySociety Hoodie, plus the love and gratitude of all our users.
Richard has been an amazingly dedicated volunteer for mySociety and on his own projects for over two years, and deserves the reputation he is rapidly gaining as one of the world’s truly great civic minded web innovators. The project was funded by the UK’s Government’s Ministry of Justice who have been trying to run experiments of different kinds in the realm of electronic democracy. Their money will go to help improve and grow the site, rather than building it, which is a very interesting funding model in its own right. The several hundred groups already in the system are mainly added by users of WriteToThem.com
Almost all the groups listed in the database are in the UK at the moment, and they’re all from users of our other sites. We’re interested in working with anyone who runs sites that might want to either take information out of it, or put information into it (Hello email list/social network providers!)
Anyway, it’s dead simple really, just a little brick in the internet wall, albeit one that I hope will help a few more people meet their neighbours and improve their communities.
This week has been quite bitty. I’ve been doing more work on the Freedom of Information site, have been getting into the swing of Ruby on Rails. Once you’ve learnt its conventions, it is quite (but not super) nice.
As far as languages are concerned, Ruby seems identical in all interesting respects to Python. It’s like learning Spanish and Italian. Both are super languages. Ruby has nice conventions like exclamation marks at the end of function names to indicate they alter the object, rather than return the value (e.g. .reverse!). But then Python has a cleaner syntax for function parameters. It is swings and roundabouts.
Rails has lots of ways of doing things which we already have our own ways of doing for other sites. The advantage of relearning them, is that other people know them too. So Louise was able to easily download and run the FOI site, and make some patches to it. Which would have been much harder if it was done like our other sites. Making development easier is vital – for a long time I’ve wanted a web-based cleverly forking web application development wiki. But while I dream about that, Rails packaging everything you need to run the app in a standard way in one directory that quite a few people know how to use, helps.
Other things… I’ve been helping Richard set up GroupsNearYou on our live servers, it should be ready for you to play with soon. It looks super nice, and is easy to use. I’ve had some work to do with recruitment. And catching up on general customer support email for TheyWorkForYou and PledgeBank. I’ve also been updating the systems administration documentation on our internal wiki, so others can work out how to run our servers.