How Community Affects Decision Making

11 05 2009

A recent article in NY Times Magazine’s “Green Issue” explored the question “Why Isn’t the Brain Green?”,  searching out answers to why humans have such trouble focusing on long-term problems – in this instance climate change.

However, probably the most interesting element of the article has little to do with the environment at all.  It’s all about how we make decisions.

In the article, psychologists assert that we analyze a problem in two ways: analytically and emotionally.  Not too surprising, right?

But what’s really interesting is that they also discovered that they could affect the way people thought about an issue depending on how and when the issue was presented.  Asked to make a decision individually before joining a group, participants used phrases like “I feel…” much more frequently, showing an initial emotional response to the issue.  However, when the same question was presented in a group format first, respondents were much more likely to be analytical about these problems and used words like “we” and “us” demonstrating group identity.

So what?  Well, this obviously could have implications across all spectrums.  Not just regarding climate change, but any and all decision-making.  So when cities, towns,  corporations across the country, sit down to solve a potential problem, much of the possibility for solution is apparently determined by when the information is disseminated and how you promote teamwork (apparently giving teams identities – i.e. “you are the blue star team!” – works pretty well).

This gets me wondering not just about how this study and its results apply to our city’s own decision-making process, but also about any potential impact that a community blog might have vs. a newspaper.  While I can see how it can be argued that learning about an issue in either a blog or a newspaper is learning and deciding on an issue individually, I think there’s an argument to be made that a blog with an active and productive feedback/discussion mechanism could provide an element of community cooperation that could never be promoted by a hard copy (or unmoderated) newspaper.  (And no wonder AJC comments are all unbridled emotion.) I doubt its a strong enough incentive as sitting across the table from a bunch of fellow citizens, but hey, its better than nothing.

Interesting stuff.  Sounds a bit like Otis White, doesn’t it?

h/t:  Otis White

Virtual Decatur Makes List of “Top 5 Most Disturbing MMOs”

4 05 2009

Full disclosure: this story is about two-weeks old.  On top of that, Taylor emailed it to me two weeks ago and I lost it in the shuffle.  This morning, Lump reminds me.

Along with “Hello Kitty Online” and a couple other truly NSFW MMOs, Virtual Decatur recently earned the dubious distinction of “Most Disturbing MMO” by GameSpy.

After pointing out the proposed game’s unfortunate acronym, the article restates much of what we’ve already discussed…

Specifically, you want to start an MMO where the admins physically live in the same town as the players? Really? Do you have no self-preservation instincts? Have you not seen the Internet? It is a place notorious both for its disproportional rage, and the horrors perpetuated behind its pseudo-anonymity. And nobody is more hated than the people in charge.

Forget fruits and vegetables.  Online rage is the elixir of life.

Decatur “Hip Zip” Coverage

30 04 2009

Better Mornings Atlanta’s Corrina Allen stormed Decatur this morning at 5am for multiple segments featuring Decatur as a “Hip Zip”.

And all segments are already available online, including:

Welcome to Decatur

Decatur: A Great Place For Kids

Decatur Rules the Roost

Shopping, Eating Fun in Decatur

Despite the early call, it looks like there was a great turnout at Parkers!  Videos feature lots of familiar faces, including Bill Floyd, Cheryl Burnette, the AsianCajuns, Carl Black, the Butt Nazi and many more.

h/t: The Decatur Minute

Decatur Wants You Up at 5am on Thursday

28 04 2009

Hmm…this might be a bit beyond the call of duty for me.

NY Times Profiles “Hyperlocal” Websites

13 04 2009

Not to be confused with community blogs, hyperlocal websites like EveryBlock,, Placeblogger and Patch, aggrigate content for city neighborhoods across the country.

A profile in this morning’s NY Times shows that each of these sites takes  a unique approach to news creation/gathering.  Everyblock (not currently in ATL), and Placeblogger all are powered mainly through aggregation of local blogs and news media.  Everyblock actually goes one step further and also collects and posts things like police reports and restaurant inspections.  Patch is more “community bloggerish”, with more original content of three NJ neighborhoods.

In Atlanta, Kim’s is a good example of a “hyperlocal” aggregator/site.  WABE is also working on a model called Lens On Atlanta, which will focus heavily on promoting discussion (with many of the same “rules” that apply on DM interestingly enough!)

Time will tell whether these sites can fill the metro area news gaps.  As always, money is an issue.  A couple of the sites profiled by the Times sites are sponsored by grants and foundation money, but ultimately they will need to prove profitable.  Additionally content will prove challenging for those sites which don’t produce any of their own, if local newspapers keep folding.

This is certainly a trend worth watching.  My major concern about these sites, in addition to the more universal ones stated above, is the ability to create a loyal, passionate online community.  I think things like site origination  (who created it and why?) and coverage area work against a larger site’s possible success.  Many, spurred by dreams of torrents of ad revenue, try to be too many things to too many people.  As a result, any sense of community is lost.

Can this deficit be overcome?  Probably.  We’ve sacrificed much at the alter of conveinence and profit in the past century.  But I still think that the most valuable sites are the ones that sprout from within existing communities.

But does valuable = enduring?

Thanks to Judy for pointing out this article!

Champion Newspaper Profiles DeKalb Community Blogs

10 04 2009

Jonathan Cribbs wrote a front page story about DeKalb’s three most prominent local, community blogs in this week’s issue to the Champion Newspaper.

John Heneghan, Dave and I, all give our thoughts on the rise and importance of our county’s community blogs. Good reading if you don’t already get enough of us on a daily basis.

BTW, I’ve decided to retire the term “hyper-local” from my lexicon.  From here on out I will be employing “community” in its stead.  Why?  Because I’ve come to realize that the “hyper-local” descriptor doesn’t go far enough in describing these types of blogs.  In my estimation the unifying aspect of blogs like those profiled in the article is not just that they are more local-centric than the city dailies, but that they actively support their communities.  Our tactics may be different, but our motive is universal.

Its a small, but I think, important semantic change if you care about such things.

City of Decatur Tweets

9 04 2009

And I’m not talking about our squawky West Courthouse Square building.

For all you Twitter addicts, the city of Decatur (aka Linda Harris) now has its own account.  Click here to follow.

Incidentally, DM is also on Twitter.  And I’m even more hilarious when restricted to 140 characters.

Leery About Cities Online? No. Leery About Virtual Decatur? Yes.

4 03 2009

The 13th Floor blog over at uses Virtual Decatur as an example of the “leeriness” residents feel when their cities venture online.

But just so we’re clear, I may indeed be hesitant to embrace “Virtual Decatur“, but at the same time I fully embrace Open City Hall, the online requests/concerns site, the Decatur Minute, and any future, full-fledged redesign of the city’s hefty but scattered website.

So, let’s try not to peg those who are highly skeptical of this idea as “anti-technology”.   In fact, I would bet that the more tech-savvy the person, the less likely they would be to embrace this idea.  Second Life now sits comfortably in 2007’s wastepaper basket, and was never a place where people got together to have substantive conversations.  Instead it served as more of an alternate reality for players.  Combined with an assumed high-cost, these things indeed make me “leery” of the idea.

But that’s just my opinion.  Though I guess I could be perceived as biased, since this is currently where many of the city’s online interactions occur.

h/t: InDecatur

BTW, the RFI’s for this project were due February 13th.  The next step is to invite vendors to demonstrate the project, but that date is still TBD according to the city’s website.

New York Times Jumps Into Local Blogs

3 03 2009

The New York Times has created “The Local“, which features two blogs; one that covers a couple Brooklyn neighborhoods and the other that documents a few towns in NJ.

Descriptions on the two sites (description 1 and description 2) make them sound like they’re aiming to be very similar to sites like DM.   A little FAQ created by the Brooklyn blogger asks the perennial question “How on earth does the Times expect to make money off this?”  Here’s his response…

We’re not sure yet. This is very much an experiment. As this venture grows, we’re hoping that a business model will emerge from it. If you’re a fledgling Internet entrepreneur and you have an idea – well, you can contribute to The Local, too.

Hmm.  Doesn’t sound too like they found the magic formula just yet…but I think just jumping in is the best way to figure it out.  A big part of the problem thus far has been that news folk everywhere have been attempting to find a business model that can be applied to every community.  Just the act of attempting that shows they’ve already missed the point of local blogs.  The best ones are molded to their individual communities.  That includes how it would possibily make revenue.

Regardless of the eventual outcome, good for them!  I’m obviously in full agreement that local blogs are of great value, and I think they’re on the right track by having bloggers blog their own neighborhoods.  In terms of being self-sustaining…that’s something everyone is still working on.

“Mostly ITP” Interviews Me and Dave

3 03 2009

Even though there are rumors out there that I’m highly “elusive”, I still jumped at the chance this past week when the Georgia Podcast Network’s Amber and Rusty asked me to come over to Java Monkey and talk about DM and blogging in general with Dave of InDecatur.

The interview is now up can be found over on the Georgia Podcast Networks’ “Mostly ITP” page.

Here’s Amber’s summery of what we rambled about…

DeKalb County, particularly Decatur, has one of the more vibrant hyperlocal blogging scenes in Georgia. We discuss why this is the case and more in this interview with Dave Kell, proprietor of the inDecatur blog, and Nick, who runs Decatur Metro.

Also discussed:

  • The origins of their respective blogs
  • The Atlanta Journal vs. Atlanta Constitution vibe between their two respective blogs, and the nature of their (friendly?) competition
  • The tedious topic of what will happen when newspapers go belly up
  • Advantages and disadvantages of partial anonymity versus full public disclosure
  • How Carl Black seems to be everywhere. (Now he’s in our podcast too)

We’ve known Dave through other various functions in the past, but this was the first time we’d met the elusive Nick.

This is the first interview they’ve given together. You heard it first on the Georgia Podcast Network!

(little joke there, you’ll have to listen to get it)

Thanks again Amber and Rusty!  Had a great time!