A Common Resource?

Ninthnotch suggested on Riccardo’s blog that it might be a good idea to have a common resource for some of the issues we’ve been discussing, and I personally think it’s a really good idea. I was thinking along the lines of setting up a new site (probably just a wordpress blog to start with because it’s easy to edit and free) that could function as a more centralised resource for technical (and perhaps comment) pieces than the blogs do currently, of course without impinging upon the independence of the current blogs.

Also, it might be good to have RSS feeds from Riccardo’s, Peter Parker’s and my blog (and perhaps others) so that visitors have an easy way of linking to new posts on our respective blogs.

I’ve got a couple of questions regarding such a potential site. Firstly, to everyone, would you be interested in visiting such a site and also potentially contributing technical and/or comment articles? Secondly, mainly to Riccardo and Peter Parker, would you be happy to lend some of the great content on your respective blogs to be published on such as site as well?

Depending on people’s thoughts on the matter, we can hopefully get onto setting it up in some form or other in the near future.

cheers,

Phin

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22 Responses

  1. Yes I’d be happy to

    I would probably keep my blog for ‘comment’ but would be pleased to put more analytical pieces on it.

  2. Phin, I for one would enjoy contributing and commenting to such a ‘multi-user’ blog site. I think blogspot handles multi-user authoring quite well from personal experience. Haven’t authored in WordPress before, but am sure it would be OK.
    I think the collective power of the intelligent commentators would be sufficiently interesting and insightful. It would also further up the ante to policy makers by putting all the constructively critical comment in one place (that is not Railpage for example).
    In short, mark me as a ‘yes’.

    LS

  3. While I can see that wordpress would be a good place to start, in terms of projecting a “thinktank” image it might be better to construct (maybe Joomla! or similar) a website with a suitable domain (melbournemasstransit.com, autralianpt.net, smartpt.com, etc).

    I can help out with some of this if reqd. I like the idea of a central, non-foamer, costed proposal type website.

  4. Was thinking about this last night in respect to three things: the big overview/costed proposal with cites and references thing has no home, and on large-scale sites, you get some brain-cripplingly stupid posts (*cough* Mildura *cough*), and also there are no specific resources commonly collected and available for research, which is where I come in from an ARHS point of view as I’ve been trying to figure a way to allow researched posts access to raw data (annual reports, technical docs, previous Government proposals – the VFT and Alan Browns changes, 1938 City Railway etc) all in one place.

    While there’s a cross-feeding of blogs etc on various sites (riccardo links to phin, who links to colinw etc) there’s no one-stop shop that ideas and serious sharing of knowledge can take place on advocacy and big-picture views of the role of public transport in Australia (and overseas as well).

    With the three or four established PT overview and advocacy bloggers (Riccardo, Phin and Peter Parker as exmaples) they should for their own traffic’s sake in my opinion include only the first paragraph and a link, as well as disabled commenting on these cross-fed blog entries, either as RSS feeds or otherwise.

    Also, I think someone needs to have the control to vet what gets published and how to prevent dribbling. That I’m not sure about. I’m also prepared to go look stuff up for people as well – somewhere where someone has an idea but wants to check it against recorded history is also one of the few missing things.

    I’m happy to put my money where my mouth is as well as it were despite me only having experience adminning a forum (no blog or website experience)
    – would a forum (such as freeforums.org, what Railbastard runs on) be suitable?

  5. I think there is some convergent thinking that is pointing to a potential Good Thing.

    I would be happy to contribute where I can to a “think tank”- I mean if the IPA can get their drivel published why should you guys not? There is some extremely intelligent opinion here, which with a little marketing skill could be out there in the political sphere generating some constructive debate.

    How about a “how I would spend my 8.5 billion dollars” as a start? The consensus here is that the tunnel is a dud, but the politicians and the media have turned it into a one horse argument. I reckon if you gave me that kind of money we could have a pretty good system without ANY tunnels, and a world leader with only two bores!

    One thing – if you are going to develop this to the stage where you are submitting reports and generating press releases, you are going to need a name; and you are going to have to post your credentials.

    I’m in – if you’ll have me; to which end I offer my resume:

    http://210.15.220.118/ewlna_submissions/EastWestResponse_100708_LachlanAVard.pdf

    It’s fairly big because it has, like, lots of words and stuff so be prepared for 20 pages of text!

    As for the mechanism, forum or blog, upon which the site should run I think the choice should be for that which offers the most control. If you want to accept comment and edit content it should be filtered by one or two people only. Blog perhaps? Phin in charge?

  6. Many thanks for your fiews Riccardo, loose shunter, Dave, Ninthnotch and Ned. It’s great to see there’s plenty of interest and of course I’d implore you all to contribute. There’s a couple of issues I’d like your opinions on:

    1. How best can we keep the high quality comments that we already enjoy on the existing blogs and avoid the sort of dribbling that ninthnotch rightly worries about? This is a tricky one – perhaps the multiple author blog is a good way of solving the issue. Judging by the very high quality comments I am fortunate to receive here (as well as what we see over at Riccardo’s and Peter’s blogs) I reckon we add authors from those who already comment without any trouble at all. What happens in the long term with any new people is something that I suppose we’d have to look at then.

    2. How big should the scope be initially? To get the ball rolling, I think we could easily just link back to the articles already published on the existing blogs and expand the on site content with new authors straight away. Another reason I’m generally in favour of the wordpress software is that you can upgrade to your own domain name later and still keep the web-based flexibility that is so helpful for multiple authors.

    I have a blog that I used solely to test the new design of this blog a few months ago, and I’ve modified it to show a speculative site design. The address is
    http://phinstestblog.wordpress.com/
    Obviously it’s just a mockup of what we could do, and I’m a bit worried about the column width for articles, but let me know what you think.

    3. What should we call it?

    thanks again,
    Phin

  7. ps nice Eddington submission Ned – much better than the brief one I hurriedly put together on the day it was due!

    cheers

  8. I am keenly following this process and I’ll be glad to see this site get up and running with some consistently high quality posts (no trouble IMO). I’m a bit of a dribbler so I’ll steer clear of the big issues re: replying avec my two cents. Mind you, I’m not an idiot!

    Let us some how hope that the tides will turn and some proper planning and leadership goes into our dismal transport system.

    Oben

  9. I could host you all if there’s any size issues with wordpress – I run Smart Passengers off the back of my business and there’s tons of spare capacity.

    Having a central repository of informed transport debates is a great idea – the thing to note is that it wants to be well indexed. Google will do that eventually of course but it takes time to crawl – any ideas?

  10. Phin’s layout’s fine: I’d remove one column and make the links of other Notable PT Bloggers on the left-hand column rather than the right and feature article centre and links right-hand side with 40% > 40%> 20% with reading left to right.

    New people can easily be added; they, like many who comment already on the various blogs, have to prove themselves by being able to maintain a valid point on the comments of the existing blogs.

  11. I’d like to see something with a good webdesign, a heirarchy of informaiton.

    Sorry to say, my blog is very poor in this regard! I’m not good with the web and tend to work on computers that are “broadband” in theory only, meaning that I tend to economise of useful web things such as hyperlinks to previous posts, creating chapter headings and so on, because of the time it has taken.

    So if we could have topic based pointers built in at the highest level, I would be very pleased.

    Midga, happy if you have spare room.

    I think unlike other well known sites strict policies on posting, including a fair interpretation of what is outright garbage, should be decided, so that this can be a useful resource. So if we did get a “Mildura” topic it would be strictly around determining the cost benefit and other merits of any actual proposals (such as the ALP 1999 election policy).

    I’m always embarrassed when I go to a site like Railcorps or ARTC or whatever and it has a link to Railpage – it would give industry insiders a very poor impression of the level of discussion on rail topics.

    If we can build that into the purpose of the new site, I would be very supportive.

    I’m happy to leave the non-rail and the mouthing off to other sites such as the TLD/Notch site which is appropriate for that.

  12. Midga – many thanks for the offer, we may well take you up on it at some point, depending on how wordpress works and whether its limitations cause difficulty in the clear organisation of issues.

    Ninthnotch and Riccardo – I think the structure of group blogging on wordpress could work out well for getting high quality discussion. For group blogging, there are 4 levels – administrator, editor, author and contributor. So in our case, we need one administrator and a couple of editors to keep an eye on things and those who we know to provide good analysis can become authors straight away. Interested parties who we don’t really know could be signed up as contributors (meaning they can write posts, but they have to be approved by someone at a higher level to go up on the site). This way, we can cast a reasonably wide net in terms of who can write articles, but we can hopefully keep quality high through the article moderation process for contributors. If you feel this is too liberal (and in some respects I think we may not know until we try it), we can still use the same process but with stricter guidelines. What do you think?

    On the webdesign front, agree that ease of access to information must be paramount. Something aesthetically pleasing would be good too! This is where we’re going to hit the limitations of prehosted wordpress. It only offers a given number of fixed themes, which limits what we can do with our specific requirements. If we wanted more freedom, we could download the non-hosted wordpress.org software (and Midga could come in here) and use the much greater variety of user made themes available. Something like this would be good:
    http://gridline.thadallender.com/

    Oben – having read your posts, I certainly wouldn’t categorise you as a dribbler !

  13. I’d be happy to contribute at contributor level if you guys are happy with that.
    Before that happens, I would like to actually get some posts up on my blog (new one coming out tomorrow).
    May I suggest that instead of linking posts by author, you relate it by topic and sub-topic eg. Trains<Dandenong Lines, Frankston and Stony Point Lines, Clifton Hill Lines
    Trams<South and South Eastern routes, Eastern routes, Northern routes, Western routes
    Buses<Ventura, National, Driver, Melbourne Bus Link

    See what you think.
    Calembeena

  14. Ok I gave this a bit of thought today.

    I think we need some consensus on what the intended function of this site might be. That will predicate the initial structure.

    What I would like to see is a site the front end of which is a number of discussion or research papers on the various topics we are interested in. This could serve several purposes. The first is simply one of publication and dissemination of points of view. Secondly it provides a resource for interested parties, be they students; casual surfers; or journalists. The third, and perhaps the most exciting potential use would be as a repository of opinion and research that could be used in refuting some of the more idiotic statements that are coming from the powers that be.

    One of the problems with producing quality papers is that there is an enormous amount of work that must go into research, referencing and reviewing. It is easy to post opinion on a blog, but it is a much more difficult ask to produce a proper, bulletproof paper. Therefore what I would like to see is a structure where someone might take on the writing of a paper, and others offer contribution or comment according to their particular skills. The author(s) would incorporate these in subsequent drafts.

    In order to maintain a consistency of content the site should be administered by only one or two people. Democracy is the enemy of excellence! Phin, this fits in with your group blogging suggestion so I suggest you pursue this approach to start off with, and I nominate YOU as administrator. You can choose your trusted Authors, and maybe appoint Contributors as and when they submit acceptable work.

    Once there are enough sufficiently developed papers we should then progress to a website, so Midja’s generous offer might be taken up in the future!

    So, Phin, to your earlier questions:

    1. The standard of comment tends to follow an exponentially downward progression. The depths to which it falls depends on the quality of the initial post, and the number of responses that are made. Look at most threads on Railpage and you see they tend to drift off topic after about twenty replies.

    I doubt we would initially suffer from much dribble. We will be commencing each topic with as high a quality as we can muster (I hope!) so it will not be attractive to trolls and foamers. If it proves a problem you could screen comments or set access levels for individuals to comment. I understand this can be done with some blogging sites.

    2. Scope. Well, how long IS a piece of string? Actually, what I am interested in is two levels of analysis- firstly the broad concepts, and secondly the potential application to local situations. If we extend to any level of lobbying there will also be a need for refuting inane arguments – Riccardo has sewn a lot of these sacred cows up already!

    I’ll have a quick look through the existing blog entries in the next couple of days and see if I can propose a hierarchy. If you like it the site will sort of design itself. I’ll get back to you on that – much to do tomorrow and it’s already late….

    3. A rose by any other name….

    Well, seriously I think that what you need is a group identity rather than a name for a website. Look at what a “think tank” is, and all you really have is a group of “experts” who have a collective banner under which individual research pieces are published. For example, the Institute for Public Affairs is a non-profit company which exists to “research” on behalf of its benefactors. Take the IPA banner away and you just have a motley collection of lobbyists, crooks, deviates and rogues.

    Call it something a bit “green” – it’s the new black y’know. How ’bout “The Centre for Transport Sustainability” or something along those lines.

    More anon.

    Lachie

  15. I’m happy not to be administrator, and not coz I’m a lazy buga, but because I’m inclined to fly off the handle about certain things.

    I’m going through my hobbyhorse posts and seeing how some of them can be rewritten as thoughtful comment and not ‘Page-baiting.

    For example, I’d like to be rewrite my “transport is too cheap” commentary around the actual transport demand and elasticity in Melbourne.

    We don’t need to agree on content, but develop good material and respect each others views.

  16. Hi I’m back.

    I had a quick scout around the blogs as it were, looking for commonality in the topics. The following is not anything other than an exercise in categorization, so if your favourite post is missing or if I’ve ignored you entirely please don’t be offended. Actually I think you guys are too smart for that anyway.

    It strikes me that the majority of discussion can be broken down into six categories. Below are the suggested categories and examples drawn from your blogs:

    ECONOMICS
    Phin – Rail Construction Costs
    Economics of Electrification
    Tram Construction Costs
    Riccardo – Tipping Point
    Peter Parker – Service Costs and Spreading the Peak

    ENVIRONMENT
    Phin – RACV and Climate Change

    PLANNING
    Phin – Doncaster 5 Year Plan
    Getting Rid of the City Loop
    Highpoint Line
    Riccardo – Cross Platform Interchange
    Peter Parker – Professional vs Political in Service Planning
    Train Bingo and Timed Transfers
    Tranferring at Chelsea – a Case Study

    OPERATION
    Phin – Service Standard
    Some Suggestions for Better Network Maps
    Riccardo – Tipping Point
    Turn Up and Go
    Pulse Timetabling
    18/7/365
    Peter Parker – Low Tech passenger Information
    Multimode network maps
    Service Standards for Buses

    SOCIAL/CULTURE
    Phin – Urban Sprawl
    Riccardo – Culture
    153 Years of Failure
    Peter Parker – What is a Wasteland Station

    POLITICS
    Phin – Alternatives to Eddington
    Subterranean Homesick Blues
    Riccardo – Ribbon Cutting Effect
    Long Slow Death of PTUA
    Peter Parker – Outer Suburban Communities and Rail Electrification

    It’s not comprehensive,and it’s not complete, and some posts may be miscategorized, but it’s a starting point.

    Opinions?

  17. Sorry about the double reply here, but I cannot see how to edit a comment. The formatting of the above leaves a lot to be desired, but it still gets the idea across.

    Also, Riccardo quoth:
    “We don’t need to agree on content, but develop good material and respect each others views.”

    I agree entirely. Well said.

    I also would like to add that I am not a blogger, and I do not think I ever shall. However, the idea of contributing to a site such as that proposed here excites me.

    I think the ball is in your court, Phin.

  18. Phin, I’m for it, especially if it takes on board ninthnotch’s ideas about the first paragraph only and comment disabled.

    There is occasionally a need to edit a blog post afterwards (normally to add extra info or make a correction) and I would like to maintain control over this without having to edit multiple versions.

    Agreed with Riccardo re simplicity. Not only for the benefit of those who are not IT geeks (eg myself) but also because I’m conscious of the need to research by ‘getting out more’.

    Two examples will suffice. If I wanted to blog about pedestrian access, there is a restored pedestrian signal in a park near here. This appears to be in working order and it would be interesting to compare the relative time given to cars and pedestrians on this signal compared to what’s there now.

    Similarly, I believe that I can add 10-20 stations worth of off-peak passengers to the rail network without building an extra station, running an extra train or making anyone’s rail journeys longer. However I’ll need to do some research with a pedometer first, and I’m not going to be doing that if I’m fiddling with some esoteric computer code.

    So in summary, I’ll keep going with my blog, but if the administrator of a collective site thinks any items are good enough, then I’m happy for them to link with the first paragraph (though sometimes the first para doesn’t get to the point due to poor writing on my part!).

  19. Yes to both questions in the blog post. I’d probably start my own blog if I could be bothered to add similar commentary about Sydney.

    I would like to contribute but my time and brainpower available will be necessarily constrained due to final semester of uni. I’ll keep lurking though.

    I’d like to drag ZH836301/BleakCity into this too so if he’s not already lurking here, you might want to send him a PM Phin.

    Keep up the great work 🙂

  20. Many thanks for the comments all, and sorry for the late reply.

    Lachie – many thanks for the suggestions, really good ideas. I especially like your ideas for relevant articles and categorisation – I’ll use that very system in the new blog, works very well and is easy to navigate.

    Riccardo – agree that we don’t need to agree on content/opinions – as long as it’s high quality I’m more than happy.

    Peter – good to have you aboard. Linking back to the original blog (be it yours, mine or Riccardo’s) is a good way to get a lot of the articles done in my view.

    Drwaddles – I can certainly empathise with the finishing uni issue, but I think I’ll probably miss it next year.

    thanks again everyone,
    Phin

  21. oh and Calembeena, you’re of course more than welcome to write some articles!

  22. […] but that hasn’t been from a lack of activity on my part. If you cast your minds back to the Common Resource post from a couple of months ago, you may see that I promised to get that group blog set up. Well, […]

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