Have your tickets out and ready

I’m so out of it. After returning from a week and a half in New York I’m still reading The Gawker but without that same sense of immediacy (not that it matters where you are when you read about New York, and not that that prevents me from reading the Times, the Nation, the New Yorker, and so on).

untorn ticketSo it figures I’d stumble on Matt Haughey’s latest project, Ticketstubs, a collaborative site designed to collect stories centered around or illustrated with scanned ticketstubs only from catching up at the Gawker.

It immediately succeeds in one of those key measurements of web site liveliness: can you get your readers to contribute the content?

Maybe if I finish my homeland-security blog entry ever I can upload the movie tickets from the Orpheum where my wallet disappeared and then submit the story there.

Matt gibes himself for taking two-and-a-half years to execute on an idea, and credits his friends for their roles helping him refine the idea in what must have been conversations many of us would have enjoyed being flies on the wall for (…which ….that …whomever …tweedle …ee).

I don’t think that’s a long time at all! Ideas are sweat-free. Doing the thing, that’s what really counts. Ability to execute is so much more important than a fecund imagination (sadly for me). I’m encouraged by the groove lazyweb is hoping to lay down to channel some of this wishfulfillment.

One lesson I take from ticketstub is to focus on something specific. I am usually all over the map, when people need a fulcrum, a singularity, to draw them in. The hook of writing about saved ticketstubs, an ideal aid-memoire (I’m afraid we didn’t all chomp madeleines in the crib), gives people a reason to participate and a way to do so.

I’m thinking now about how to apply this lesson to some of my own collaborative-media phantasms.

Corollary thought: It’s all about the database. People have to be empowered to manage their data.

That may mean we all have to learn more about tables and keys and uid and fourth normal form… or it may mean that we need a solid breakthrough in database building and management software interface design, on tailored much more effectively to how people really need to manage their own personal data in real life.

When do people need to capture information? Are there some familiar patterns that can be offered as templates? How do you capture the information? Do you build a hierarchy or a neural net? Is it easy to reorganize, sort, filter, slice, and dice your data store? Can the backend incorporate accepted practices in an automated-behind the scenes way? Can you search on parameters, keywords, full-text indices, pagerank? When and how will people get at their information? Can the system provide privacy, security, concentric (or not) communities of readers with varying access privileges?

I installed LiveTopics last month but I’m not displaying any of the information in my entry template yet, because I want to give the system time to learn how to suggest topics for me well. (There’s another great Monday morning sentence for you.) Marrying an information architecture / shelving and sorting funtion to a blog-journaling interface might provide two pillars of the system I’m envisioning right now, “entry” and “organizing” (yes, I know they are different parts of speech, entry is an event and organizing is an ongoing process). This still leaves the “tell me” part, along with all the other devilish details, from security to device-neutrality to wirelessnosity and so on.

While the idea of a personal network or personal data cloud accessible from anywhere would continue to evolve, the marketplace would still want to see a valuable but affordable product providing enough key elements of this vision to justify its use without getting bogged down in a utopian vaporspace forever. The trick, I suspect, is figuring out what the threshold combination of features that would enable a flooding into personal data self-management the way SLIP and PPP made graphical web browsing suddenly feasible over 28.8 modems and MP3 was just good enough to break the dam on digital music exchange.