Blog: Ed Vielmetti

"I speak the language of Main Street, Ann Arbor USA." Some refer to Ed Vielmetti as the Kevin Bacon of Ann Arbor. But chances are there's less than six degrees of separation between you and he. Ed has spent over 20 years building, teaching, and adapting Internet services to community and local needs. In 2006 he was recognized by BBC News as one of the pioneering users of the World Wide Web. Ed will be writing about the power of wiki's and blogs.

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.