Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thanks to the New York Times ...

Our Towns

On the Web With Big Concepts for a Fragmented Long Island

Published: November 15, 2007


There’s the Long Island Plasma Converter Project, the Long Island Innovation Council and the Long Island 3.0 Open Code Library, which is not to be confused with the Long Island Internet Public Library or the Long Island Info Grid. There’s the Long Island Idea Bank, the Long Island School of Meta Interdisciplinary Studies, the One Long Island Virtual Constitution and {hellip}well, you get the idea. There’s a lot more.

Of course, to be technical, none of it actually exists outside the brain and Web site of Louis G. Savinetti, an unpretentious Long Island native with gray hair and glasses, and family roots in Sea Cliff, Locust Valley, Glen Head and Glen Cove, who is a former member of the Oyster Bay Town Council and now serves as the town’s human resources commissioner.

But sitting at Taby’s Burger House, with its antique map of the Long Island that was — “Large Estates Here,” “Good Swordfishing Here” — you quickly realize that there’s much to be learned about Mr. Savinetti, about Long Island, and about the political potential of the wired world in his somewhat quixotic Long Island Idea Factory Web site,

Mr. Savinetti, 52, came out of C. W. Post College thinking he wanted to teach and compose music, but soon ditched that and later got degrees in public administration and law. Along the way, he picked up the habit of scribbling down ideas in notebooks, which piled up in the basement of his house. About a year ago, he decided to do something with them online as an abstract intellectual exercise — “sort of the way other people do crossword puzzles” — and as something with public policy potential.

And so, in March the Long Island Idea Factory was introduced as a way to throw ideas out into the public sphere and to offer online avenues for people and institutions to share information, data and ideas about Long Island, a place sorely lacking in unifying structures. Its catchphrase is “One Long Island,” and it reads like half eccentric fantasy baseball for tech-savvy policy wonks and half serious virtual forum for tech-savvy policy wonks.

Asked to sum up on his blog what it’s about, he wrote: “Simply stated, ‘One Long Island’ is a series of interrelated projects designed to foster productive collaboration on Long Island through the utilization of common technology, interdisciplinary education, public participation and a shared Long Island philosophy. In short it is a way to change the way we solve problems on Long Island in a sustainable manner.”

He figured he needed a reality check before he went too far. “I’m out there writing this stuff, and maybe I’m insane. You don’t know,” he said. So he sent it off to some serious people, who took it seriously.

John Murcott, a successful Long Island software entrepreneur, whose current project,, is a social networking site for the nonprofit world, and Yacov Shamash, dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Stony Brook University, both said the site filled a void and reflected a logical intersection of technology and public policy.

Dr. Shamash, in fact, is meeting with Mr. Savinetti to forge a partnership with Stony Brook that would build a Long Island virtual think tank with more technological sophistication than Mr. Savinetti’s homemade one. “There are great ideas here, but the question is, what kind of controls are you going to put on, and what kind of structure and organization do you put up around it?” Dr. Shamash said.

With its label clouds and meta-charts and other buzzy features, Mr. Savinetti’s site might not be for everyone. He’s quick to say the site doesn’t reinvent the wheel and instead uses many ideas from other sources. But he likes to think that in its own way it still gets at something intrinsic to Long Island, with its hundreds of towns, villages, special districts, school districts and very little that ties them all together.

“When I was growing up, Long Island was open space, a clean environment, small communities,” he said. “Now it has an identity issue. What do you think of when you see Long Island in the news? I don’t know. Joey Buttafuoco. The Hamptons. Now maybe illegal immigrants, the license issue.

“It doesn’t seem like Long Island is something or a series of somethings that add up to one thing. I guess that’s why no one ever used One Long Island before.”

And, whether or not the site creates a useful virtual Long Island, he figures maybe it will help him at home in the real one.

“I thought it would be nice for my son to see I wasn’t a complete idiot and that I had an idea every once in a while,” he said. “You know how kids are.”



No comments: