City Desk

AU Professor Proposes Using Complex Online Scheme to Make D.C. Simple to Understand

Washington, D.C. is a complicated place. Journalists in D.C. bureaus are getting laid off in droves. Kids these days like Second Life and other avatar-driven games. Dave Johnson, a professor at American University, is clearly smarter than the rest of us, because he thinks he's figured out a way to reconcile all this by creating a game-like platform that presents a virtual D.C. that dynamically presents information to users by employing an algorithm that—oh, damned if I know. All I know is that he's asking the Knight News Challenge for about $1 million to create the thing. Here's an excerpt from his proposal, linked from Fishbowl NY today:

This project will build a working “SimCity” model of Washington, DC, visualizing the federal buildings and placing avatars of elected and appointed officials in and around them. Based in open source tools such as Blender and the Python language, the environment will be built from the ground up with hooks to work with other open source data-driven projects as well as social networking sites. (The interface and engine can be brokered to model any state's capitol, or any city in any state or nation.) Beyond the platform interface, the goal is to attach vast databases of public information: The effects of federal policies/politics on local policies/politics; the structure of financial relationships and their effects on policies/politics. Strong journalism – print, broadcast and new media – that relates these communities to Washington will be easy to find and new audiences will appreciate the relevance to their communities.

This may be an improvement over hiring a smart reporter in a D.C. bureau. I can't see how, though.

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