28 May

Boston enters Second Life

Last week, I hosted a meeting at Emerson College to talk about the City of Boston’s entry into Second Life. The good news is this: the city is committed to trying out the platform and to exploring the ways in which it can extend community involvement. At the meeting, we had representatives from the mayor’s office, the Boston Redevelopment Association, the Main Streets Program, the public schools, and the city’s higher education liason. Everyone around the table was intrigued by the possibilities of extending community services to the virtual platform. Some of the ideas that circulated included:

  • building the new city hall on the waterfront
  • building the hatshell on the esplenade as an SL live-music venue
  • building the old south meeting house (or Fanuiel Hall) for town meetings
  • inviting the community to offer suggestions in how the city is represented
  • sponsoring competitions for building out the different neighborhoods
  • establishing the main Boston island as a connector to all Boston-identified builds (i.e. all the colleges and universities, businesses, and neighborhoods that have SL presence will be included in a teleport directory on the main Boston island. We discussed using the subway as the teleportation motif. Avatars would walk down into a station and select from a list of places in or around the city of Boston

One of the most important aspects of our conversation was the idea that the SL initiative would be connected to a broader platform of community networking. We discussed the possibility of creating an open-source community portal software that would be made available to neighborhood organizations to get them started in their online presence. These organizations would be connected to SL in a very fluid way. The idea would be to establish a steady flow in and out of world.

There is a lot of planning left, including issues of how it gets built, maintained and governed. But I think this was a positive start to what can be an amazing connection between city government, civic culture, and networked community.

07 May

The Place of Social Media

This blog explores the myriad ways in which online social networks interact with physical space.  It investigates how location matters – even in wide open cyberspace.  It will look at everything from neigbhorhood organizations to city governments to mobloggers, and how each is adopting digital networks to enable physical connections.

01 May

Dear MBTA

What’s wrong with you?  Just because you’re the only game in town doesn’t mean that you can treat us without respect. We know you’re experiencing hard times.  We know you’re strapped for cash.  But don’t take it out on us.  You’re like an abusive spouse.  You think we’re stuck in this relationship, so you brazenly test the limits.  You raise fairs without improving service.  You yell at us for not understanding your new Byzantine payment method.  And then you make a futile effort to communicate by installing an inaudible announcement system that informs us that the “train is now arriving.”  When in reality, even if we can hear the announcement, the train is never “now arriving.”  It’s minutes away, which just makes us stand up in anticipation instead of sitting down. 

So I have some advise for you.  Just let us know you’re trying.  Tidy up a bit.  Even if you won’t put on a new shirt, wipe the dandruff off your collar.  Even if you won’t take a shower, wear some cologne to mask the scent.  We want this relationship to work as much as you do.  Allow me to give you a few love tips. 

  1. Clean your room.  Give us a place to recycle our newspapers.  By the end of the day, the floor of the orange line looks like the bottom of a hamster cage.   I know.  How about a basket in each of the cars and maybe a bin in each of the stations?  Would it really be that hard for you?  And think about how much cleaner the trains would be and how much more responsible passengers would be.  Mayor Menino, you want a green city.  Can’t you put a little gentle pressure on the MBTA to green up a bit?
  2. Comb your hair.  Just pretend to patch leaks.  I board the train at Forest Hills every morning.  When it rains, there is more water leaking through the roof onto the platform than falling outside.  Yeah, people litter in the trains and stations.  And they shouldn’t.  But don’t be passive aggressive.  Clean up after them and then maybe they’ll get used to a clean environment and want to keep it that way. 
  3. Sweet talk will get you everywhere.  Occasionally, the drivers on the Orange Line, when announcing the next stop, will give us information about bus connections and major attractions.  And then they say things like, “have a nice day,” or “enjoy the day.”  When this happens, people actually lift their heads from their phones, newspapers or books, look around and occasionally smile at one another.  It’s a remarkable phenomenon.
  4. Just call to say ‘hi.’  We know you’re busy, but sometimes instead of talking at us, it would be nice to be included in the conversation.  You replaced the token booths with information booths.  Perhaps you can hire friendly people to walk around and ask how people are doing.  “Are you able to work that ‘funhouse ATM?”  “Do you need help finding something?”  “Do you need help finding your bus connection?”   We don’t want to be coddled; we just want to be acknowledged.

In short, don’t take this relationship for granted.  Sure, you’re the only game in town, but sometimes nothing is better than a substandard something.  So don’t let it get that bad.  If you just start communicating and taking a little pride in your appearance, I think we can work something out.