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Write-up of the Friday 1:20 PM session at DrupalCamp Wisconsin: "Local Economies Mapping and Modeling with Drupal". Sam Rose, the presenter, opened with a quick look at the LansingWiki site, talking about the current state and goals. From there he quickly opened it up to direction from the audience. That led to it being a fairly nuts-and-bolts talk, much more about the mapping than the modeling.

There was talk about module choices: GMap, GMap Views, GMap Taxonomy markers, versus Sam's solution which uses GMap for entering geographical data but displays it using OpenLayers. This sounds like it involves more coding, both in PHP and JavaScript, than using the GMap modules, but the results look good, and apparently grouping things into layers which you can show or hide is much easier. Also, Sam pointed out, pushing local information back into a commons-based resource like OpenStreetMap can help you sleep a little easier than giving it to Google or Microsoft, who reserve the right to get rid of it, or make it private, or monetize it.

Another useful pointer was to MIT's SIMILE project, which is developing a whole set of tools for rendering and exchanging semantic data on the Web, including a JavaScript widget for displaying timelines.

So lots of food for thought! And the stuff about modeling was tantalizing: for instance, they're using the Feeds module to take data from the county about vacant land, and then putting that on a map, so they can track what sort of uses get made of it, or, indeed, make plans to put it to use. Tracking local food production and distribution is a work in progress.

And in general they are working on building a model of the local economy as a network, and then submitting data to a service which will apply economic modeling to look at what-if scenarios. That sounds really groundbreaking, potentially. I wonder if it's actually some sort of network-based economic model, or if they first pour the data into a big vector and do the sort of classic Leontief-style matrix crunching. I'm not very familiar with this field beyond some hand-waving in linear algebra courses - have made a note to learn a bit more.

And a final valuable take-away was the emphasis on making a really long-term plan for keeping your data, which constitutes, in a collaborative site, an awful lot of work and expertise. Not just a "drive backup" plan which would make a sysadmin happy: an archival plan which will make an archivist happy.


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August 2010

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