Agora! gora! gora!

I had hoped that posting last week, if only briefly, about my summertime sadness would shock/shame me into getting off my duff and writing again. Can’t say that worked.

But like Gibreel Farishta, I’m trying to heed the call! (Am I using that reference correctly? Probably not. I just read The Satanic Verses, and while not all of the subtext was lost on me – all those issues of faith, family, and identity – it was frankly the overt, on-the-page story that sort of threw me. What do I know about the history of India, or Islamic folklore? Bubkis, that’s what. My man Salman Rushdie could have helped this young brother out with a bit more explanation, but the entire history of a religion would have been a stretch for any novelist to integrate…or it would have been Infinite Jest, which is easily the most brilliant novel ever written that features one hundred pages of footnotes [technically, endnotes. And how fucking annoying was that, having to flip to the back of the book constantly? Seriously, Wallace’s genius is truly undeniable, but if you can’t integrate that shit into the believable world of your novel, isn’t that a fatal flaw? Or was I supposed to skip that shit, DAVE? But then, I’ve always been drawn to the minimalism of Hemingway, or the lean black prose of Cormac McCarthy {who has himself been accused of being overwrought. Why? Because you have to consult a dictionary multiple times during the course of one of his chapters?}]).

Wow, it’s a book report, y’all!

So. Agora. Here’s the deal: I want to help spread the word, but I really haven’t formed an opinion yet. Ya dig? I don’t want to go off half-cocked, but if I don’t, I might never get fully-cocked. Heh.

Lemme just fill you in real quick, and let’s agree to circle back to this topic at some point in the near future.

Agora is a civic-engagement, democracy-hacking startup. They are trying to become THE online townhall. What is an online townhall? I believe the idea is that it will be like a city council meeting that you can attend remotely, from your home, while you are making dinner or sitting on the toilet. Because you need more options for toilet reading material, naturally.

*Stop right there: this is a necessary thing to have — thhe online townhall, that is, not the toilet reading material. But like the fire department, you probably hope you’ll never need to use it. Can you build a business on such an idea?*

If you’ve ever read the comments on a news site, or YouTube, you know people want to connect. Mostly, they seem to want to connect like assholes. There is, in other words, clearly a market for “engagement.” However, I wonder how much of that engagement is driven purely by the opportunity to unleash that inner asshole, which is why I truly question the central organizing principal of Agora: it is NOT, repeat NOT, anonymous. They have designed the site around a 10-point identity verification algorithm.

Totally makes sense, if you think of Agora as an actual, legitimate, useful tool for governing. But if you are trying to get buy-in to grow your user base, I just don’t know that there is enough of a market among the currently marginalized members of our society who would seek to do anything other than call city council members a bunch of twat waffles.

Why am I talking about this? Well, Agora was born out of Harvard’s Innovation Lab, but they are launching in Roanoke. Yeah. Harvard kids are launching their startup here. Far out, right? We can’t convince the Virginia Tech startup crowd to stay here in the Valley, and yet Harvard has targeted us as superterrific and dopetastic. So SUCK IT, you stuck up Blacksburg meanies.

And Agora has apparently put in real time connecting with local government here in order to make this dream a reality, because as much as you need community participation, it would all be for naught if local government didn’t agree to join the conversation.

And…I guess I’m done. That is the basic info. As I said, I don’t know how I feel about all of this yet, other than to say it is awesome to have these peeps trying something new, and trying it here.

Let’s put a pin in it and come back later to discuss.

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Filed under Grandin culture, Roanoke Start-ups

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