Self-Organizing the Hub of the Universe

Greater Boston | Culture | Familiarity
To bring order to the universe— at least that part we call the Hub here in Boston, home of the repeat NFL champion New England Patriots and World Series champion Boston Red Sox, Adam Gaffin has organized the Universal Hub. (I’ve only lived here seven years, and live in neighboring Brookline while working in neighboring Cambridge, but one of the first things I learned was that Oliver Wendell Holmes originally dubbed Boston the “hub of the universe.” It’s the hub of my commute, for sure.)

The roots of the Universal Hub lie in Boston Common, where Gaffin aggregates over two hundred blogs from the Boston area (including some non-blog pretenders like Civilities is not a blog). If you don’t know what aggregation is, don’t worry, it’ll be tucked away behind the scenes. Aggregation takes the “feeds” from different websites and combines them into a continuous stream of headlines & teasers. The effect is like flipping through cable channels– at least, back in the day before they had any semblence of order– there’s only so much randomnes of information one can take.

Gaffin’s a good man for the task: he’s executive editor of NetworkWorldFusion, the online version of IDG’s popular trade magazine, where he has a blog called compendium. Around the time last month that Dan Gillmor began holding forth on community journalism, Gaffin actually got the ball rolling. He made a wise choice in tapping Drupal, the software of software champions. Instead of just mindlessly having the blog stream come in, Gaffin’s taking the time to pick stories and categorize them for the site. Today he picked my brief first-person narrative about my encounter with a panhandler, and that’s how I discovered the site– and welcome, to you visitors coming in from the Common or the Hub!

The category for The T is hardly in the lead, but it’s already taking on the established media in this genre: crummy service (where Mac Daniel of the Globe holds court with “Starts and Stops”, and the somewhat less known BadTransit website of Mark Richards), and fleeting glances (still the popular domain Improper Bostonian’s “Improper Impersonals” and more recently Craig’s List “Missed Connections”). I exchanged emails with Adam about the site and about the Drupal technology, and we’re hoping we can use shared tagging to make the organization easier.

I’m not sure this will be the end-all-and-be-all of participatory media in greater Boston, but it looks like a good start. Adam’s picked a good name, a great technology, and may have a head start on getting some of the early adopters involved, the blogging community (and the non-blogging community, I’ll add). Part of my theory of constructive media is that people write best in places where they feel that they feel they have a stake in it. Hence, letters to the editor give way to email lists, which give way to mailing lists, which give way to Internet forums, which give way to personal blogs, which are now giving way to community cites that I call civs. I may have reason to post the panhandler encounter, here as it relates to the theme of the site, and also references a number of past pieces I’ve written. On the other hand, I posted my travails with the T over to the Universal Hub, because that’s my contribution to help that community grow.

Postcript, February 17th: Over the week I thought seriously what would make something like this a success. I am absolutely a skeptic that this is truly transformative for journalism. Sites like the UniversalHub will form a bit of a story pool for larger publications. It’s also great to have categorized infomation– such as my post thsi evening about Free Movies at the Kendall Square Cinema: news somebody can use. Now, as for whether this becomes a regular go-to site, that’s going to depend on the long-term ability of the editor to assemble a consistent voice from all of the submissions. When you read the Globe, the Herald, the Metro, the Tab or Phoenix, or the Improper Bostonian, you do so because you know what you’re going to get. Though in the case of the latter, it’s a glossy with entertainment listings plus some features and columns aimed mostly at people who just moved here last month, and can’t quite figure out where to find the beautiful people pictured in the magazine. But the hope is still there, that community journalism may bring voices out that aren’t ordinarily heard.

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  • Response summary: 1 comments, 0 Viewpoints
    Consistent voice [email protected] Feb 17 ’05 7:24PM
    . Focus/Transformative Jon Garfunkel Feb 18 ’05 4:21AM