Getting Into Space Points

I LOVE THE SPACE ENTHUSIAST COMMUNITY. NASA has done an amazing job of adopting social media as a method of outreach, and it certainly shows in the community that they have helped build online. I always liked the idea of space exploration, but until I got involved with a NASA Tweetup at Goddard Space Flight Center, I never knew what the community was really about. It is just overflowing with interesting and smart people from all walks of life, and some of them came up with an idea that I find intriguing.

Space Points came out of a discussion at SpaceUp Houston in February. The idea is that it’s a kind of game where you get points for sharing your excitement of space exploration in many ways. It’s going to be a big topic of discussion at the upcoming SpaceUp this month, and I’m hoping to get there so I can take part. Of course, I’m already starting some work in the arena through another project I was brought in on.

When I was at the tweetup for Sun Earth Day 2011 at Goddard Space Flight Center, I met a ton of really great folks, both NASA tweeps and enthusiasts like me. Some were just getting into the community, others ran podcasts, vodcasts, blogs, and anything else you can think of. Earlier this week, I hooked up with @jonverve to talk about how to create a crowdsource website for space mission data. In the space of just a few days, with the help of several other tweeps, we have outlined a system that will let anyone enter in details about missions and mission events, while using a reputation and moderation system to assure that good data makes it through and bad data is weeded out.

Now this plays into the Space Points idea, because if you’re helping out by entering in good mission data, you should get points for that! But for the mission data system itself, you need to keep track of who is entering good data and who is not, as well as giving out rewards. When you combine both, I think about reputation economies, like Whuffie in Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow. Of course, he had the benefit of a science-fictional brain implant that facilitates reputation tracking. That makes it a difficult problem, but not an impossible one, and one that I have thought on and off about for years since I read the book. I’d like to think that Space Points could be the start of a social economy like that, but I’m definitely not the only one who has thoughts on what it should be, and my idea may be a little too big, or too uninteresting. I don’t have a problem with that at all, though.

In order to make the mission data project a little more modular, and a little easier to connect with a Space Points system later, I decided that I should make the reputation system (which I am, predictably, calling Whuffie) a separate application from the mission data application. I was thinking that Whuffie could actually be the backend database for Space Points, if desired. All it really needs to be is a database and API for posting transactions for users and accessing balances. To start with, the only trusted application is the mission data application, but it could talk to any number of applications down the road. Going in the other direction, Whuffie could be trashed later, and the mission data project could be connected to a different backend for tracking reputation. Modular systems are just easier to work with.

The problem here is that I feel a little bit like I am stepping on toes, mostly through misunderstanding. Space Points is someone else’s idea, and while it’s supposed to be a group effort, the initial work that we’re doing on crowdsourcing mission data doesn’t fit squarely into that group and we’re racing ahead a bit to get an implementation in place, which is going to happen before the real discussions (at June’s SpaceUp) on Space Points start to take place. So I’m working on systems that might interface with Space Points before that concept really exists. Or the systems I’m creating might become the backbone of Space Points if others want, but that still means that the choices I make now could influence Space Points later.

In part, it’s my fault for using the #spacepoints hashtag, but I do that because I want to make sure that we stay engaged with the larger group. But as much as we’re pushing for a site for crowdsourced data, I don’t have any illusions that what I am doing is going to be some kind of canonical implementation of Space Points. Yeah, I’ve registered a couple domains and a Twitter handle, but I’ve done it because nobody else had yet and there was a squatter moving in. And, regardless of how Space Points happens, I want to keep the crowdsource project close to it so I was going to stick it in a subdomain, at least for now. But the domains and the Twitter handle go with the Space Points project, wherever that goes and whoever is leading it. It’s like when I registered domains hours after a company merger was announced many years ago because the company hadn’t thought to do it before announcing!

I don’t do it to take control, or materially benefit. I don’t necessarily want to run the project, and I hope anyone who feels like I’m pushing my way in understands that. I want to contribute in any way I can, and I like developing software platforms to do interesting things. I tend to move along quickly when I’m working on a fun project, but I’m also willing to throw out any of the work that I’m doing if it doesn’t fit later. I enjoy doing the work for its own sake. Yeah, I certainly like running cool stuff if I can, but I’m more interested in seeing it done than being the one who does it.

Todd Palino


I'm a dad, a small business owner, a systems engineer, a developer, and any number of other things.

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