October 4th, 2010 4:00 pm | by Ron Knox Food & Drink |

Cyborg Camp: The Civic Web Will Help You Find Cats, Among Other Things

Cyborg Camp Portland 2010

We've written a bit about Max Ogden and his Portland API project over the past couple months, so we won't go on about it too much more here. But Ogden spoke this past week at CyborgCamp Portland 2010, a combination conference/un-conference exploring the interactions between humans and computers, and gave a few real-life, up-and-running examples of his idea of the “civic web.”

It's funny: Ogden's perspective on human/computer interactions would, at first blush, seem somewhat opposed to the underlying premise of CyborgCamp—that the more interaction between humans and computers, the better our lives could potentially be.

Ogden, in a way, believes the opposite: That the “social web” —the Facebook-connected, almost wholly virtual web that we all know and use on a daily basis—is completely counter to what's important to our lives. Real friendships. Interaction with our real, physical neighborhood and community. That's what's important, Ogden says. Problem is, the social web is much more conducive to shallow interactions than building real, deep communities.

Ogden's hope for the “Civic Web,” then, is to create software that helps us interact out there, in the sun and grass and streets, rather than online.

To do that—and here's where the technology plays a major role—he's been working on a kind of crowdsourced database of lists Portlanders can add to—lists of food carts, home-based businesses, green spaces, poetry boxes, public roofs and so on. Those lists can then be turned into mobile map applications that people can use to explore their neighborhoods and cities. In, you know, the real world.

One of Ogden's first projects is now up and running. CartsPDX is an iPhone and Android application that allows folks to quickly find nearby food carts, or carts in a certain neighborhood. Ogden says it has about 250 of the 500-plus Portland food carts right now, and people are adding more names and locations of food carts to the database all the time.

Ogden pointed out a few other web-based services out there that use the power of the crowd to encourage people to get the hell out of the house. The Portland Show Guide is a relatively comprehensive wiki page and geo-mapping service for music in Portland—featuring everything from Rose Garden mega-shows to open mic nights in your ‘hood. And Urban Edibles provides a crowdsourced map of fruit-bearing trees and gardens around Portland that folks are allowed to pick from.

A quick sidenote: Max Ogden freaking loves cats. From his talk today, you get the sense that his whole motivation behind building this open, crowdsourced database is to map out the location of every cat in Portland. To demonstrate how crowdsourcing can bring people closer to cats, he showed a Davis, California-based community wiki page where people list the names, breeds, photos and owners of every cat in town. People use the wiki page to have cat meetups, where dozens of people show up in parks with cats on leashes, Ogden says. Now, Ogden wants Portlanders to be able to conceivably plan a commute in which they passed by the maximum amount of tabbies and Persians. "Once we've mapped the path with the most cats," Ogden says, "we've won."

Also of note: Max Ogden is allergic to cats. Facts!
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