On commenting systems

Having been left to set up the discussion sections, I spent some time looking around and comparing what’s out there.  There are basic forums out there, akin to the BBS style of communication, and there’s even a nice site to compare them all ( forummatrix.org ).  Want it to be in a given language?  Free/opensource/proprietary/paid?  MySQL/Postgres/Oracle/SQLite/Flat file?  Do you want to support threaded comments?  You can search and filter by all these options (and more!).  So I looked for an existing forum that fit our needs – the biggest two being MySQL-based and a threaded commenting system.

However, it looks like the traditional forums don’t really do threading, not in the sense that the posts have a tree-like structure where a child post has a relation to the parent post; all of the threaded forums seemed to only implement threading as a visual feature and not a backend feature.  Not a big deal if you’re presenting comments in chronological order, but if you were to add weights to each node in the tree and wanted to present the tree sorted with respect to weight, then this model is useless.

An example of a typical forum with "threaded" discussion support. Posts are primarily displayed in chronological order.

I remembered other commenting systems that might work – Disqus came to mind, along with a few of their competitors.  I’ll just say that Disqus is the market leader for a reason, and leave it at that.  However, as of the last time I checked, their commenting system still displays posts in chronological order.  Yes it has threading, but it’s essentially like the screenshot above.

So then I asked myself “Self, what commenting systems out there do I like?”  I really like the Slashdot and Reddit comment trees.  They both allow for the most flexibility in terms of being able to have separate forked conversations as well as being able to sort by whatever metadata you define.  And as it happens, both have open-sourced their engines!

A threaded conversation on Reddit, with some visual candy provided by Reddit Enhancement Suite and Greasemonkey.

So I took a look…and it would be a significant amount of work to rip out the commenting engine and then integrate it into our own.  The alternative would be to set up a clone of Reddit or Slashdot and do low-level database queries to tie together the commenting engine with our own site – again, lots of work, and really messy to do.

So after talking with one of our advisors, I decided to just code it myself.  The initial backend work took about a day and a half (with minimal testing).  I’m happy to report that SQLAlchemy supports self-referencing relationships.  What this allows me to do is create a list of children for each parent post while still maintaining the object model when querying the database.  So for example, I can write something like this:

for rootPost in getPostsForDiscussion(discussion):
    for childPost in rootPost:
        childPost.data = "Ha, now all secondary level posts are mine!"
        childPost.parent.changes += 1
        commit(childpost)

Which is pretty nifty.  Traversing the comment tree is now just a recursive function that acts on objects – no SQL needed.

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Survey Update: San Francisco

So this weekend Manu and I made a lovely morning trip up to San Francisco to help conduct our first series of surveys for the SFPUC. Our first event was at the farmers market by the ferry building, which proved to be a perfect place for our work. Together, with two of our new Community Engagement Representatives Axel and Nicole, we conducted roughly 60 interviews in a matter of hours. Everything went according to plan, with the exception of a couple of mobile app bugs, but other than that we were extremely satisfied with our opening performance.

Community feedback was generally pretty positive. Most people were happy to take the survey and offer suggestions. Almost every participant thanked us for our work and admitted to having learned something. Even the SFPUC representative who was present seemed impressed by our pace and effort. If this job continues at this rate we will be done a couple of weeks ahead of schedule, further solidifying our market and community approach.

Our next event will be at the San Francisco Rotary Club, followed by afternoon tabling near the Mission district public library.

I would also like to thank Axel, Nicole and Alisha for their work and patience as we begin to narrow in on our project goals. They are all great so far and I hope to continue working with all of them as the project moves forward.

-Robert

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Can’t Do It Alone

I want to depart from our typical choice of blog topics today because I feel the need to honor those who have offered their support in helping to make this project possible.

When we think of entrepreneurship oftentimes we just think about the lone founder, or founders, slaving away against all odds to make their product a reality. And while I don’t want to take anything away from that image, I feel it needs a bit of expanding because no matter how dedicated, how passionate or how skillful an individual, or small group of individuals may be, they only represent half of the picture.

In truth, communities and social circles are what help to refine and propel ideas forward. Support networks that can transcend perspective and leverage the weak ties necessary to launch a product count for a great deal in creating a business. Had it not been for the ever-present encouragement of my family and peers then I doubt I would have ever felt validated enough to keep pursuing my ideas. It was in those dark moments when our team would hit a roadblock that the community helped to spur the innovation necessary to find a way around.

But beyond just people, it takes a culture of empathy to create a safe space for new ways of thinking evolve and be tested. Given this understanding, I just want to say thank you.

To everyone who helped us, supported us, challenged us, encouraged us, contributed to us and our product, introduced us to new people, gave us a space to work and allowed us to be a part of their community and lives… Please know that we appreciate everything you have done and will continue to do.

We are grateful, and we will give back in any way that we can.

Thanks again,

The Green Team

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On Darwinian Economics

Nothing is more American than the economy. It’s our protestant work ethic that sets us apart from those loligagging Europeans. It’s our free market that has transformed the world into the rich and prosperous place we live in today.

When describing the Free Market, Darwin is often invoked- even if indirectly. “The strong will survive,” “Competition between firms increases quality and is good for the consumer.” These are essentially evolutionary ideas applied to the market. No surprise since we all want a world view that describes all the various confusing and complex systems we live in. If evolutionary biology is good enough for nature, it’s good enough for the market and mankind which after-all are facets of nature.

So we’re done here right? The free-market Republicans are correct and we should cut government and let the market self-regulate. Right? Right?

Um, well, not exactly. It’s great to apply our understanding of natural science to social science, but doing so doesn’t close the case on a free, unregulated market. Infact, a close enough study of evolutionary history on this planet would suggest quite the opposite.

Any decent biology student is familiar (if not by name) with the Proterazoic Eon. This is the time in earth’s evolutionary history when simple heterotrophs ran into a wall. Heterotrophs are organisms that need to eat to survive (like mammals, reptiles, insects, etc), in contrast to Autotrophs which can produce their own food (plants). In the Proterazoic Eon, the heterotrophs, which had been dividing without any inhibition, ran out of food and changed the atmosphere significantly enough to cause mas die-offs. They grew hungry and sick on their own poisoned atmosphere.

Enter plants – or at least the first autotrophs. They evolved to use the CO2 in the atmosphere (that the heterotrophs had created so much of) and to combine it with sunlight in a process that allowed them to generate their own food. The heterotrophs were able too feed off the autotrophs, who fixed the atmosphere, and life went on to experience the Cambrian explosion, giant fish, dinosaurs, jurrasic park, etc.

If you’ve followed along this long, you probably already see the relevance to our predicament today. Man is a heterotroph, and just like his single-celled ancestors before him, he is dividing out of control and consuming all the resources on his planet while changing the atmosphere in ways that are poisonous to himself. This is simple biology- all heterotrophic life forms do it. Put flys in a closed jar with a piece of meat. They’ll eat the meat, lay eggs, multiply into 10x the flies you had originally, and then all die because the food is gone.

Our free, unregulated market does mimic the natural world. It allows us to compete in our intrinsic heterotrophic fashion, until all the food is gone and we all fall down. The only way to solve the problem is to become autotrophs. Que, green revolution and mankind’s very own version of the Cambrian explosion.

What does this mean for the free market? Quite simply, it needs to evolve. Organisms evolve through DNA. Large cultural and social institutions like the economy evolve through laws. As human beings, we are blessed with foresight, science, the ability to communicate and spread ideas as fast as the speed of light. Modern man evolves through his behavior, not his biology, because behavior can change in a matter of months or years, biology takes generations. Even better, behavioral evolution can be predictive – we can respond to climate change before it actually happens. Biological adaptation would require a couple of generations of water-world before we developed gills.

That’s right, the free market DOES need to be regulated. In effect, we need to adapt through cultural evolution before mass die-offs and forced biological evolution. That doesn’t mean we take the competitive evolutionary nature out of the market – no no – here Schumpeter is quite correct, creative destruction is the heart of capitalism – our company’s should live and die based on their ability to serve the consumer. BUT the free market needs to evolve through laws. Consider this the new DNA in our market that turns us from Heterotrophs into Autotrophs, or in other words, from a self-destructive species into one that can take care of itself and thrive for years to come.

To the extent that the market is part of the Human Organism, it must support that organism’s health. Yes, the market economy is subservient to mankind, duh.

So, when you hear our politicians talking about the free market and implying that this means lower wages for the poor and more earth rape for years to come –  don’t think to yourself “jeeze I guess I can’t argue with the free market.” Think to yourself, “these chumps need to go back to high-school biology.” A little market regulation is precisely what Darwin himself would prescribe.

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how i love the news

oh how i love reading the news this morning. The SF Chronicle did a bang up job. There are stories from California, Oakland, South Carolina, and DC/menlo park:

Brown Debt Paydown Plan:    NO / YES

CA Highspeed Rail:   NO/YES

Gingrich:    NO / YES

Schools right to hire vs. Teachers Choice:    NO  / YES

Why has it taken so long for the news to become interactive?

I think it is likely that well find partnerships for the greenocracy voting widget with any and all news organizations. We could even work with Flipboard to get it added as a function, the way tweet is available now.

On the flipside, greenocracy could partner for content with news organizations. The greenocracy newsletter would include top stories of the day (as linked and voted on by users), along with voting opportunities. That sounds like a pretty compelling value proposition from a users point of view.

 

 

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Development update, 14 Jan 2012

Good news

So the site is very nearly there, we have all basic functionality done minus a full-fledged discussion section and polished content management.  Todd’s iPad app is progressing more quickly than I would have expected, and we are designing with maintainability and ease-of-use in mind, so that should save us significant amounts of time down the line in re-deploying new instances.

Bad news

This is really more like annoying news – I have been trying to integrate this handy little plugin for the past two days (for editing issue slideshows), and although I’ve learned a lot about javascript, it’s currently serving as a constant reminder of two things:

  • Javascript has syntactical similarities with other languages, but has enough structural differences that can make code reading difficult.  Additionally, it has just enough similarities and differences to make me think something will work, when in fact it does something different.
  • I am out of my element when it comes to javascript.  I think at this point I would even prefer something like LISP to javascript.

Integration shouldn’t take more than another day, but when you’re out of your element, you never know.

-Edolfo

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The revolution will be blitzkrieg

California is a primary beneficiary of global diaspora, Silicon Valley doubly so. People from all cultures, indian, korean, latino, european and eurasian, all come here through schools or for work, and (for good reason) as many stick as the government visa system allows. Who would want to leave? Silicon Valley has the best job prospects in the nation, it’s a place that’s moving forward when much of the world is standing still, feeling befuddled.

Santa Cruz, or Silicon Beach, as it will surely come to be known, benefits from this cultural diversity. University of California Santa Cruz, the city on the hill above Santa Cruz proper, brings hundreds of foreign students into the mid-size town. It becomes a launch pad for many who graduate and get jobs over the hill, and as the town evolves into a tech center in its own right, more of that rich diversity will splash and slip over the brim of the Santa Cruz mountains and rush down to the beach.

Now to get to the point- this cultural diversity will allow digital political solutions to spread to other countries and populations with astounding speed. Yes we’ve seen the power of Twitter and Facebook within countries, but what we are going to witness in 2012 is the citizenry of the entire planet converging on tools that bring them together across borders.

Last night I had the pleasure of visiting the Asti (referred to by locals as the “Nasty Asti”) on Pacific St in Downtown Santa Cruz. I spent the evening talking with Maggie from Australia, Maria from Spain, and Julia from Russia. Every one of these countries faces huge socio-economic challenges (perhaps Russia and Spain more than Australia). In the evolution of online politics this global network will allow the anti-dote to spread and develop in each one of these localities. Each locality will give more strength to the platform as it adapts to the needs of the region. And those “elites” (for lack of a better term) who are currently spraying Roundup on budding social movements, will be overwhelmed by the synchronous development of online political technology in countries around the world.

Our movement is about people realizing that the truths they hold in their own hearts and minds are shared by the majority of others. It is the replacement of collective madness (purveyed by a few) with collective wisdom, which is known and understood by many, no matter what country they come from.

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