online communities

Technology, Social Innovation, and Civic Participation: What's the Next Step?

December 1, 2010
The New America Foundation 1899 L St. NW, Suite 400 Washington, D.C. 20036

Disaster, fraud and crime reporting sites provide information to civic authorities. AmberAlert has more than 7 million users who help with information on child abductions, and SERVE.GOV enables citizens to volunteer for national parks, museums and other institutions. These are just a few examples of digital tools – from social networking applications, to microblogging (e.g. Twitter), to recommendation sites like Ushahidi – that represent the new frontier of technology-mediated social participation.

'DigitalBicycle' Online Communities Developer

VISTA Name: 
Peter Bull
Program Start: 
Program End: 
Project Description: 

Peter Bull began his term of service at LTC in September 2004, and served for one year as LTC’s Online Communities Developer. In this role he led the development of the DigitalBicycle, a collaborative project sponsored by LTC and other partners including the CTC VISTA project.

Project Outcome: 

Peter oversaw and directly implemented numerous aspects of the “DigitalBicycle” project, primarily focusing on developing a Drupal-based centralized web community that leverages the power of the distributed network but provides for efficient and usable group collaboration. This included planning the framework and workflow of the site, the setup and administration of the server, development and implementation of the code that powers the system, and preparation for the future expansion of the project as it moves from a beta project to having a working user base. In addition to developing the core web system, Peter worked with outside volunteers to develop the specification for a desktop publishing application called “Sprocket” and managed its development by outside programmers. Furthermore, Peter has spec’d out and begun development on a Linux-based client-side system, “KickStand”, which handles the automatic seeding and downloading of specified material and is designed to be used by participating organizations.

Impact Quote: 

The fact of the matter is that the CTC VISTA program is directly responsible for where we are today with this project, ready to build capacity for organizations around the country. To get to this point we needed the full-time attention of a highly skilled programmer interested in working in a community-service setting. Not only would we have not been able to recruit someone at this level for this position without the CTC VISTA program, but in our current, pre-income generating phase we never would have been able to hire them. I have long felt that one of the primary strengths of the CTC VISTA program is how it empowers both the organization and the individual volunteer. The individual gains the opportunity to engage full-time on a project that is primed for growth but for which they might never be hired in a normal full-time capacity. The organization gains the opportunity to devote energies that might not otherwise be budgetable and if successful, build its own capacity to a point that it is able to hire an individual to continue the work started under the VISTA project. We are happy to report that this is exactly what happened at LTC.
Though we had high expectations when we were developing our work plan last year and recruiting a VISTA to accomplish it, Peter exceeded our expectations in every regard. While some of this was due to his accomplished background and well-developed skill set, it is mainly due to the fact that Peter worked extraordinarily hard and was as committed to this project as anyone could possibly be. Peter took the idea of 24-hour service quite seriously, working long hours at LTC and often late nights at home. Though frequently traveling on behalf of LTC he has established systems allowing him to continue development anywhere with a network connection. Beyond that, he’s been known to write code by hand on a legal pad when other options are not available. Peter has proven himself as an excellent VISTA and we anticipate that he will do the same as a VISTA supervisor this next year. We are extremely appreciative of Peter’s hard work and of the CTC VISTA project for providing us with the opportunity to grow our capacity so greatly in the past year. The CTC VISTA project is truly our most valuable partner in the DigitalBicycle collaboration and we will work to recognize it as such online and in person.

Transmission Project