Blog: Ed Vielmetti


Edward Vielmetti is a networker and a pedestrian who lives in Ann Arbor. He has been involved in the commercial development of the Internet for twenty years, helping build infrastructure for securities trading, electronic mail, payment processing, network security, community, and search. In 2006 he was recognized by BBC News as one of the pioneering users of the World Wide Web.

Ed was also a founder and former VP of Services at
Socialtext, Inc, a leader in enterprise wikis. He founded the Cisco Alumni Association for former employees of Cisco Systems, and started the first commercial Internet service provider in Michigan (MSEN, Inc.) in 1991. 

Ed hosts a weekly Thursday lunch table --A2B3-- which reaches a broad spectrum of the local technology community and promotes
coworking over bi bim bop at Eastern Accents. He also maintains a couple of different blogs: Vacuum and SuperPatron.

He is the father of two boys, 7 and 3, and a native of the Upper Peninsula.

Describing himself, Ed wrote this:  "I have talent for identifying a need, forming a group to meet it, finding leaders and giving them the tools they need to organize online and offline."


Ed Vielmetti - Most Recent Posts:

Post No. 2: Civic Wikis

 Arborwiki is a project now hosted at the Ann Arbor District Library to provide a comprehensive reference for Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Washtenaw County. It does this with wiki software, the same Mediawiki tool that Wikipedia uses, but unlike Wikipedia which expects contributions to be notable in some global galactic sense Arborwiki is content to say that anything local is notable.

The general form of this tool is what you'd call a "civic wiki". There are others like it in the world: Bloomington, Indiana's Bloomingpedia, a wiki for Davis California called
DavisWiki both fit the same mold. College towns seem to be a good fit, both for their ability to take on the sometimes tedious process of creating a page for every street, and some for their perpetual need to document themselves anew for each set of new people who come to town.

Arborwiki is perhaps best described in terms of the most popular pages in it, the ones that people find and use over and over again without knowing ahead of time that a wiki was involved. Here the
Birthday Deals page is the clear winner. With over 100 edits, this list (which started from a post on Livejournal) has a long and comprehensive description of every restaurant and bar and store in the area who will give you a meal discount, a half dozen bagels, a dessert or free drink on your birthday. No one person could possibly ever keep track of all of this, but the magic of the wiki process is that they don't have to: anyone can edit any page, and all edits are logged so that if someone does something foolish it can be reversed.

The list of businesses on the Birthday Deals page link to pages for each of the restaurants, and each of those are linked to pages for the streets that they are on, and if you link to those you'll get to a street by street map, showing what's next to who and in some cases where long-lost businesses used to be. This last is useful for people who decoding descriptions in the local media that give locations by proximity to where things used to be.

There are projects within Arborwiki to document and connect to the modern day bits of local history, to make connections between the names in the area and the people who had those names, and to assimilate the minutiae of local existence. If nothing else, the local area is good at bringing people to town who stay for five years, accumulate some memories, and then leave, and stitching together the overlapping half-decades of ever shifting architecture and design is interesting in its own right.

Arborwiki is inspired and informed by a number of existing resources. The
Ann Arbor District Library has a local geneology and history room with a number of sources for local information, and some parts of that collection including old Polk city directories are in the Google Books collection. The University of Michigan's Bentley Historical Library has a huge trove of photographs of the area. Local blogs and bloggers contribute news and reviews of what's going on now, and a disorganized but persistent effort clips bits of development news from the real estate trades.

Wikis are collective endeavors. Arborwiki was started by Matt Hampel, who began it while he was a student at
Community High School. Brian Kerr has donework on analytics and infrastructure and provided donut reviews. Richard Murphy folded an Ypsilanti area collection of information into the whole, and has done work in regional industrial history. "Homeless" Dave Askins interview series, Teeter Talk, has collected a number of interviews with local notables that have improved the biographical coverage of Arborwiki. I took on the task of recreating a city streetscape in wiki pages. Most important have been the collection of anonymous contributors who find the list of birthday deals, print it out, enjoy their day, and then come back the next day to update it for the next person or next year.

Post No. 1: Why I Blog

Almost every day, I write a few words for my main weblog, "Vacuum". It may just be notes about links to a couple of interesting pages I've seen the day before, or it might be a few paragraphs about something that someone asked at lunch, or it might be a notice of an upcoming event which I'd like to let people know about. It's a daily habit, one that by this point doesn't take any extra time in the day beyond what I normally do.

I've been writing for the Internet since 1985, when I was an undergraduate at the University of Michigan. The funny thing was that writing was always very difficult for me in college, at least the kind of collegiate writing where you were expected to produce a 20 page paper all neatly threaded together about the details of one assignment. When you're used to the three or four paragraph short essay form, it takes a certain reworking of style to reach any sort of length, and that eluded me for a long time.

My main blog, Vacuum, has been going since 1999. As such it's a record of observations over time that's broader than my own poor memory can recall without assistance, and I use it as such to remember things that I've forgotten and to help put times and dates in context. It's not a politics blog, or a super popular gizmo blog with lots of shiny advertisements, or a center of an international movement. It is, however, regularly and relentlessly a chronicle of observations about Ann Arbor, and as such it helps connect me to the place I live and work.

Ann Arbor has a long history of locally focused online commentary. One of the first online conferencing systems, Bob Parnes CONFER, was running on the University of Michigan mainframe in the 1970s. Its counterpart and close analog Picospan was developed in Ann Arbor and went on to be the tool used for The Well, a much written about virtual community of the 1980s. 

Picospan lives in in local systems like Grex, in continuous operation for 20 years. There are people here who have been communicating with their neighbors by typing at them for long enough that it's second nature, and that makes writing a local blog about where to go juneberry picking (in front of the library) sound less like something exotic and more like part of what every functioning town needs.

Blogging is not for everyone. It's time consuming to make sense of some little part of the world every day in a form that you're willing to share with the world, and it's puzzling to figure out of the picture of the cute cat is going to send the wrong message to someone who is viewing your blog to check out your professional biography. Time, lurching forward into the future, has given us social network sites like Facebook and Myspace that aren't blogs and which make me feel old.

My great-great aunt was a gossip columnist for the Belleville, MI newspaper, back in the days when the newspaper would print the comings and goings of people on vacations and other things which seem quaint and old fashioned today. Writing about the small things that happen over a course of a few square miles makes it all that much more tangible, and in the next few days I'll be sharing more about some of the systems that help do that.