Miljenko Williams started chester.website at the beginning of 2015. It’s a city wiki, designed so people who live and work in Chester and the surrounding area can build a website together: read, edit, add to, use and re-use. I first came across Miljenko and the site on Twitter, and I was really struck by his enthusiasm and approach. As he’s just starting out, I thought it’d be interesting to talk about his motivations and direction.
What is your motivation? Why chester.website?
I went for a proofreading role at a niche newspaper in Manchester in January; didn’t get the role but did feel: “Hey, that’s something I’d love to get a handle on, especially in an online context.” I had experience a long while ago on an open-source website as a volunteer, remembered the pitfalls and potential, and thought I’d like to brainstorm some options. I also have a Publishing Master from a Spanish university, and have never quite forgotten its lessons. I chose chester.website as a domain, though I’ve also registered chester.wiki since, because as someone much cleverer than me recently said to me: “Wikipedia does a disservice to wiki technology, as everyone thinks it’s only useful for online encyclopaedias.”
How much time do you spend on the project in an average week? How much of this involves online/digital communications and how important is this to your project?
I spend probably about four to six hours a day at the moment, whilst I’m attempting to get a broader engagement. Online communications such as Twitter (two accounts: @chestertweet – the local account – and @zebrared) and blogging are important from both communication, documentation and learning points of view. I need Twitter to expand my knowledge of the matter, which at the moment is pretty primitive. Online/digital communication is key here: I still, however, am not completely comfortable with translating this into offline activity. I need a partner!!!
What are the long-term plans for chester.website and how do you intend to sustain the project?
chester.website is posited on a very light infrastructure, so that what we might term hyper hyperlocal would be viable. Hosting currently costs £7/month, and has plenty of capacity. Daily hits are at least 400 individual IP addresses, and upwards of 1000 page views (though much of this will obviously be spiders crawling the web). The reason maintenance and delivery is so cheap is because DokWiki, the software I’m using, is based around .txt pages, and all media except photos is hosted offsite with YouTube or Vimeo. It’s not very visually attractive at the moment, but that’s not my current goal – and bespoke templates are obviously an option. Sustaining the project depends more on local engagement than the cost to me of infrastructure as currently hosted.
The future of chester.website is:
1. as a brainstorming environment
2. as a training environment
3. as a useful site for Chester, if it achieves local traction and support
Transparent and public version control and tracking is built-in from the start (great for journalistic enterprises); unmediated contribution is easy to facilitate and moderate; and DokuWiki (the wiki I’ve chosen) a) has a grand number of plugins to add functionality (you can turn any page or combination of pages into a PDF to download, great for making your own mini-guide book; it also allows Facebook logins and so forth), b) doesn’t need a separate database to function, c) can be set up in minutes – and thus is easily repeated, especially at that hyper hyperlocal level I mention.
What are the personal rewards of being involved in this initiative?
My personal rewards are primarily intellectual: I’m looking to prove a point, in part – that hyperlocal, and journalism more widely, needs to own not only its means of production (relatively simple in an open-source age) but also, more importantly, its means of distribution. This speech from Emily Bell is a case in point:
Can you describe a Creative Citizen?
A Creative Citizen is interested in process just as much as results, just as good democracy also is: