InsideNorthside: A Brilliant Idea or a Major Flop?

logo About a year and a half ago, I had this idea. Basically, I wanted to create a community-driven, Wikipedia (online collaborative information hub) for North Minneapolis.

Like many struggling communities, there are a million different efforts for the betterment of the community going on all at the same time. Some are established non-profits with up to date websites, others are a few neighbors planting a community garden. There are lot’s of businesses, neighborhood activities, school projects, and a deep rich history. Basically, there is enough information to fill a book, or a website. And the benefits of a central information hub are far reaching. Getting the hours for the local hardware store, to foreclosure help. to the history of the neighborhood park. But, who would write it?

I figured wiki software, giving anyone the ability to contribute to the website, was the perfect solution for bringing together and building this community information hub. However, I didn’t want to launch anything on my own, being new to the neighborhood and relatively unknown. So, I put together a mock-up of the idea and sent it to a few of the community organizations and folks I knew in the neighborhood. I got a few “great idea” responses and one organization that jumped at the opportunity to make it happen, so we launched Long story short, the organization has done nothing with the project except pay the $200 hosting fee for the wiki site.

In the mean time, I’ve put in several hours designing the site, spreading the word and building the pages. It’s still something I think is a good idea, but it won’t succeed as just a one-man project. I’ve made efforts at finding others who believe in the project and want to contribute, but so far no one has really jumped on board. In all the edits to build the site there have been about 10-20 contributions besides my own, and that’s all.

So, I’m at a crossroads. Do I continue to try and build the site, growing it until it becomes a useful resource for the northside on my own? OR is it time to just put it to rest and join in other projects and efforts as I have opportunity?

7 thoughts on “InsideNorthside: A Brilliant Idea or a Major Flop?”

  1. i think it's a good idea. but the question i ask is, "a good idea for who?". I think that there are some real technology issues in our community. I think people use the word "digital inclusion" now (not divide!).

    First and foremost for many it's an access issue. Having a computer is a big deal, and then having access to the internet is even bigger. Then the question I ask is, "why do people use their computer?" is it for the things inside northside does, or are people using it to look for jobs, or other things? I think that's a tough question.

    The organization I work with started down a path a few years ago where they too started up with others a now failed website. We've re-tooled and embarked on a new path. Last week we gave 15 families in St. Paul and 15 families in S.Mpls computers, printers and free access to the internet for a year (they get to keep the hardware forever). Our goal was to first and foremost address the access issue. Then we'll be offering monthly classes for them to increase their skills. Then we'll just ask them how they use their computer, how they don't. In Year 2, we'll introduce some more social networking things w/ a small group of our original participants, and then bring on new participants. I guess the goal is really just about making sure that whatever 'digital inclusion' projects are happening are based on the defined needs of the community.

    I think insidenorthside is a fantastic idea. and i think it could also connect with citizen journalism type of work. I think asking the question who is it for though might be a good one to ask. and also an important question might be if anyone is asking for such a wonderful piece of technology? and if they're not asking for it, but we think it's a good idea, how do we MAKE them want it?

    sorry i'm typing so fast at work. sorry if it isn't well thought out..

  2. Neeraj,
    Great thoughts, thanks for sharing that. I've got a minute so let me offer a response.

    the InsideNorthside project is not intended to be a digital inclusion project. Just like say the LOVE Minneapolis blog or the InsideNorthside Community Calendar, it's simply a channel to communicate information to an audience. However, I think a central information site like this could have similarly large benefits to those who don't have internet access.
    Several examples come to mind (some I had bouncing around in my head before the post but didn't want to make it too long), so here they are:

    The community calendar effort I finally decided to set up because you specifically asked for it. The hope is, just like the wiki, we'd have multiple contributers and it would become a central reference for community events. This benefits you with your internet access, but it also benefits your neighbors down the street who don't have internet but hear about an event from you because you now know about it. The same goes for the Librarian, the non-profit worker, counselor, church, and any one else who is often a reference point for information and/or resources.
    Take 311 for example, a project already going on by the city. The idea is you call that number and can get answers to all kinds of questions. If InsideNorthside was a resource they knew about they could utilize it to offer quite specific information to Northsiders about resources that 311 might not otherwise know about.

    This could also benefit small non-profits and community efforts that want a website, but can't afford or know how to create one. Or the several slightly large ones that have a website, but (unlike Sanctuary or PEACE Foundation) don't have the ability to keep it consistently updated. With a page on InsideNorthside organization (including community gardens) can not only have a webpage, but keep it up to date, all they need is one individual who knows about the project, has internet access and has basic computer skills.

    Okay, that's long enough, but I think you get the idea. There are a lot of other implications and directions a project like this could take, telling the history of the Northside, creating a platform for even the smallest voices in our community, and more.

    That said, what do you think?

  3. Questions (for me and you!) :

    Who's the audience? Who's asking for it? Who wants it? Who needs it?

    What are the natural systems for evaluating and sharing information in geographic and affinity based communities?

    How do people already know what's going on?

    How does a wiki site add value?

    What is the connection to citizen journalism? (I think making this connection could be really interesting…especially when we talk about history and such…)

    Umm… I probably have more thoughts, but need to get to work! Fun dialogue..

  4. Ariah,

    I really like the concept of it, and would even be willing to help out/be a contributer.

    Neeraj does ask a lot of great questions though that need to be addressed, but with some targeted planning and advertising I agree with you that it could really become a useful resource. Information on the Northside seems to flow abundantly word of mouth, so it would awesome if there were a way to harness that. For example, Karin and I recently have been digging through a lot of questions around financing some repair projects, and a resource like this would have been great. Or, perhaps it could also be useful for those looking to take advantage of the first time homebuyer grants (which, incidentally, I've recently heard aren't being paid due to a program foul up), but are unsure about what to expect in moving to the Northside.

  5. Great questions Neeraj, and I like working this out in a public setting. The ideas have been bouncing around in my head, but no one's been really asking or engaging at all. I'll go ahead and answer these:

    Who's the audience?
    The audience is really anyone who is seeking information about anything related to North Minneapolis. If you've ever said "I wonder…" then your a potential audience, because someone has the answer and if that answer could be put in an easy to reach location, it'd be easier for you and others to get at it.
    That said, the primary audience would be those who have internet access, someone who might do a Google search on the topic that popped in their head, or eventually just a straight search on the InsideNorthside site.
    The secondary audience would be those in the community without internet access, but who have some connection, even just one, with someone who does have internet.

    Who's asking for it? Who wants it? Who needs it?
    I think few people are specifically, because they don't know the technology is there, but a lot of people are indirectly. There are lot's of small organizations and business that would love to have a website or simply get their information online, this would allow that. There are multiple email listserv's that frequently could utilize a central location to post documents, images and information, rather then in getting buried in people's inboxes and asked for multiple times on the listserv. In the different organizational circles I've been a part of people are constantly asking for up-to-date information about foreclosure resources, youth activities, etc. This would provide a central and current resource for that.

    What are the natural systems for evaluating and sharing information in geographic and affinity based communities?
    I don't know what qualifies as 'natural' but here are the ways information is distributed in our neighborhood that I have seen:
    -Word of mouth (definitely the most natural and effective)
    -email lists and listservs
    -local papers (North News and Insight News)
    -posters and fliers (at local shops and libraries)
    -door to door fliers or mailings
    -websites, facebook, etc.
    -radio (KMOJ)
    -At gatherings, churches, other local events

    Those are what I have seen, and as you well know, the more channels you can share your information through the more successful it will be.

    How do people already know what's going on?
    Primarily through the channels listed above.

    How does a wiki site add value?
    It's another distribution channel. And as it grows and if it became a central utilized hub, it would be an excellent reference point. Nearly all of the above channels could point to the wiki for more detailed information, or the wiki site could point to the other channels or websites. One of the greatest assets of the way a wiki is built, related to the digital world, is that wiki's are very Search Engine friendly. Eventually, it wouldn't matter if people knew the specific site, a google search related to North Minneapolis would likely have a link to an InsideNorthside page, just like Wikipedia often does now. If the pages were providing useful information and answers to people's questions, it'd be extremely valuable.

    What is the connection to citizen journalism? (I think making this connection could be really interesting…especially when we talk about history and such…)
    I guess in some ways, all of the contributers are 'citizen journalist'. When you get into history pieces and others it would become far more journalistic in nature, but the majority of it would simply be providing facts and useful information.
    I'm curious of what your thoughts are on this question and what it is about the idea that brings 'citizen journalism' to your mind…

    That's all for now.
    thanks again for dialogging.

  6. Popping back in while reviewing some old Blog post. I'd love to chat more with anyone about this sometime. Things are still plugging along on this project and others. We'll see what happens.

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