Author Archives: futuresoup

A case study in collaborative journalism – Climate Desk

Collaboration in journalism is no longer a new concept, and it’s cropping up everywhere. There are many examples of reporters working with an audience to tell a story, and some examples where they merge their craft with other forms of storytelling altogether. In one case, an entire ad hoc army was built to tackle a large story when the Center for Public Integrity assembled 86 journalists in 46 countries to pore through the inner workings of offshore tax havens. Then there’s Climate Desk, a “journalistic collaboration dedicated to exploring the impact — human, environmental, economic, political of a changing climate.”

climatedesk_logo_partners

Climate Desk is a coalition of eight publications, The Atlantic, Center for Investigative Reporting, The Guardian, Grist, The Huffington Post, Mother Jones, Slate, and Wired; all putting aside competitive interests in order to address the increasingly drastic ecological changes throughout our planet.

Instead of the usual coverage of activists vs. denialists, they bring new angles to climate reporting; reporting which has typically lagged behind the paradigm shift as attitudes toward climate change shift.

(Read the full version of this story at Journalismthatmatters.net)

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Takeaways from #StoryCamp 0.1

It’s been a great honor to be a part of Team Popcorn over the last few months, sharing the gospel of video beyond the box and experimenting with new ways of networked learning through an online peer to peer youth program called Popcorn #StoryCamp.

In essence, Popcorn allows you to take any online video and make it “pop” with data from the rest of the web. The official Popcorn Maker app will be launching this November, and we’re already seeing possibilities that were once barely imaginable. Instead of watching the President echo from a teleprompter, you can watch his speech with a layer of fact checking and footnotes. While video has always been a great medium for tapping into our emotions, it’s never been so great at piecing together complicated issues. That’s all beginning to change, now that you can integrate maps and give those stories a place to live, or assemble them from various sources into an organized timeline. (For example this Popcorn story of inner city park restoration, the 18 Days in Egypt project, or a bunch of other cool demos. One of my personal favorites is this beautiful crowdsourced song about humanity).

With help from Mozilla and Zero Divide, we put together a six part learning lab, with each week themed around a component of interactive webmaking. Youth centers from places like Anchorage, Oakland, Seattle, Chicago, Los Angeles, all connected with web celebrities on Big Blue Button, and had a pre-made Popcorn activity each week to play around with and hack on with their peers.

Northampton Community TV - StoryCamp livecast

We connected from all over the map to discuss web storytelling.

While we did our best to demonstrate the glory of humanity’s greatest public resource (the internet!) some important ethical discussions came to light around remix, ridicule, free speech, and online identity. After comparing the power of the “many to many” internet against old turgid forms of mass media with Cory Doctorow, we asked our group of youth “does the internet allow for greater free speech?” One learner responded, “You can say more things online, but you also get more hate for it.” Case in point, in the days leading up to her presentation, one of our guest speakers, feminist video blogger Anita Sarkeesian, was recovering from a wave of serious harassment.

While this may sound like a reason to avoid engaging on the web, it actually speaks great volumes to Mozilla’s mission of empowering users of the web to instead become its makers. If you believe that “The world is made of stories, not atoms” then it’s up to us to build a molecular tapestry that demonstrates our values, and where we want to go as a society. The 2012 #StoryCamp was just a start of that process, and we now have a model to build upon. (Not to mention, because of her web literate fanbase, Anita ended up raising over $150,000 on Kickstarter).

Educators in New York City can expect a local #StoryCamp to blossom in early 2013 with partners out of Hive Learning Networks, and I just got word from Mozilla volunteers in Malaysia who are using our materials to assemble a Popcorn based story hack day at their University. Want to host your own webmaking event? It can be big or small, everything you need is at webmaker.org

So without further ado, I give you some of my favorite youth makes of the summer:

A Robot Invasion (Watch)

by Justin at Free Spirit Media in Chicago.

For week one, we introduced the concept of a Mad Lib story, where you take a pre-existing video and change the script using Popcorn. Justin took our tacky robot invasion video and made his own title and robot speech.

Robot Invasion by Justin in Chicago

“McCalories and Smarter Alternatives to Nutrition” (Watch)

By Kenneth Chan from the Bay Area Video Coalition.

A clever use of a McDonalds commercial from the Philippines to provide nutrition information and resources to healthier eating.

    "McCalories and Smarter Alternatives to Nutrition" By Kenneth Chan from the Bay Area Video Coalition

“Your Digital Footprint” (Watch)

By the Popcorn Crew at Free Spirit Media in Chicago

A team of youth at Free Spirit Media explore the effects of our online digital footprint through the narrative of Cory Doctorow’s bestseller “Little Brother.”
"Digital Footprint" by the Popcorn Crew at Free Spirit Media

Neil’s Corner (Watch)

By Neil Adams from Northampton Community TV in Northampton, MA.

    "Neils Corner" by Neil Adams from Northampton Community TV in Northampton, MA

A look into gender representation in Japanese Anime (Watch)

By Karina from the Bay Area Video Coalition.

A look into gender representation in Japanese Anime by Karina

What is Art? (Watch)

By Raven Oliver & Taylor Swan from the MARZ project at Ink People Center for the Arts in Eureka, CA.

“Flip the Script” (Watch)

By Raven Oliver & Taylor Swan from the MARZ project at Ink People Center for the Arts in Eureka, CA.

A look at sexual harassment through role reversal.

Flip the Script by Raven Oliver and Taylor Swan

What is Metro East Community Media? (Watch)

By Jonathan T.W. Reiterman from MetroEast Community Media in Gresham, OR.

Jonathan is quite the ambitious 10 year old!

    What is Metro East? by Jonathan T.W. Reiterman from MetroEast Community Media in Gresham, OR

“Not the most advanced phone in the world” (Watch)

By Kevin from the Bay Area Video Coalition.

Another critique using advertising as a means of dialog.

    "Not the most advanced phone in the world" by Kevin from the Bay Area Video Coalition

Other runners up include: The commander in chief singing “Shawty!” ♫ and dancing with Ellen DeGeneres, a game of cats playing patty cake, A look into patent wars, Microsoft v. Motorola, and a quickly assembled Happy Birthday website for Tim.

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The sights and sounds of #StoryCamp

What happens when you show dozens of teenagers how to grab anything off YouTube, morph it into their own popup video, and broadcast it back to the universe in less than three minutes flat (?)

Suddenly, in the time it takes to heat up a bag of Redenbacher’s you’ve got things like a short underwater tale, a dancing president, and a cat that can answer your questions. More importantly, you’ve got a fresh set of young learners who’re intrigued and ready to stake out their own special corner of a growing experiment we call the world wide web.

northampton patty cake cat popup video Mozilla Popcorn Story Camp

A revamped game of patty cake in the making ... (click to watch end result).

Popcorn #Storycamp was just a kernel not too long ago, born out of the idea that making is a great pathway to learning, and it’s easier than ever to express yourself online. All you need is a story to tell.

It can be about a retro style Robot invasion, or an important reminder to be safe out there. It can be about silly times with your dog, or a fun game of patty cake between two cats. It can make you laugh, make you think, or a little of both.

Suddenly a generation who’s probably never heard of VH1 has the power to author and curate their own version of the classic show to a much greater, indefinite, audience…all within minutes, and absolutely free of charge.

It’s enough to get the commander in chief singing “Shawty!” ♫ before the great halls of Congress! (My those popups are lovely sir)

Of course the fun is just getting started, we’re only halfway through the StoryCamp learning period. So far a lot of our youth creations are in the realm of silly and playful. This is often the case when first putting your hands on tools of empowerment, such as Mozilla Popcorn. Still, it’s my hope that there will be more sobering and important tales that our youth start to share as well. We’ll see what happens.

We started off the program by covering topics like creativity, fear, failure, the secret of going viral and more with Damian Kulash from OK Go. With the help of Cory Doctorow, we took a big leap into discussion on the power of new media compared to the old, as well as the ethics of that power, as experienced by remix artist Jonathan McIntosh.

We’ve also completed activities like making your own robot invasion story, pop up video, gender remix, and news headline.

Up next we’ll learn about fun ways to style a page with Michelle Levesque, important tips for media deconstruction with Anita Sarkeesian, and how to create a web native masterpiece from the perspective of comic genius Greg Pak and animation pioneer Tommy Pallotta.

It’s a good time to be a maker, and never too late to start. See you on the interwebz!

#all hail robots
#storycamp

~@futuresoup

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#StoryCamp is on full blast

The good folks at Mozilla came to me with an idea to build an online learning lab for teaching and inspiring youth to create their own “web native stories.” Not only would there be videos and tutorials, but it would be an active program where any youth center in the world could tune in, regardless of their busy schedule, to share ideas, hacks, templates, constructive feedback, and solutions toward creating more effective stories on the web.

They wanted to scale up last summer’s experience with the Bay Area Video Coalition, and flesh out a network of Youth Media centers to participate. These youth centers have built a strong foundation teaching digital video production in the traditional sense, and are eager to upgrade their offerings to include webmaking and interactive design. This is the stuff that makes the web great. The problem is, with a tight staff and scrappy budget, it hasn’t been easy for many of them to experiment, so we’re jumping in with a healthy dose of rocket fuel and cool software, i.e. Mozilla Popcorn to get things cranking.

Two BAVC students

Six months and 1,675 emails later, we’ve officially launched Popcorn #StoryCamp into the wild, with 28 different youth media centers signed up. It’s all free, and we’re offering a full video series, teachers guide, story templates, and technical/moral support, PLUS we brought in some amazing speakers who agreed to flip on their webcams and share a bit of their own wisdom. Damian Kulash from OK Go (of treadmill dancing, Rube Goldberg outdoing, Musical obstacle course fame) brought us quality advice on how to manage good ideas, creativity, fear, failure, the secret of going viral, and using the web as your canvas. This week is Cory Doctorow, followed by Jonathan McIntosh, Michelle Levesque, Anita Sarkeesian, Greg Pak, and Tommy Pallotta. [Learning never sounded so gooood!].

Each week of #StoryCamp comes with an creative activity that allows you to make something cool in just one sitting. For the kickoff, we created a Mad Libs template called “Robots Invade Everytown.” The idea is similar to The Acrade Fire’s groundbreaking Wilderness Downtown video, where you take a pre-crafted story and swap out components, that in turn, change the outcome of the story. Like a Mad Lib!

Play my Robot Invasion story

However, Adele and Marissa over in Northampton, MA had their own ideas. So did Karina in the Bay Area, CA. You can see more youth examples here and here.

The tool we’re using to make these stories is called Popcorn Maker. It allows you to take any video and build a webpage around it to enhance and interact with things that happen in the actual video. Here’s a little walkthough of how it works.

There’s still time to join us! We’ve got much more action up ahead!

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All I want for Christmas is Semantic Metadata

Linking Open Data cloud diagram, by Richard Cyganiak and Anja Jentzsch. http://lod-cloud.net/

The world is run by [people] who form [entities] that perform [actions] based on [decisions] which affect other [people] in various [places].

In essence, when I’m taking in a piece of news, I’m trying to fill in these brackets. My goal is to crystallize a picture of the relationships amongst different people and distill a sense of the motivations behind their decisions which affect the world we live in; past, present, and future.

Right now I use my brain to filter out this type of semantic metadata, but I can only remember so many names and associations. I’d much rather have a computer separate the who-what-where and other relational chunks from a news story, then organize them in a neat way so I can easily recall who I’ve been reading about and what things they’ve done.

The reason for doing this is to make it easy to publish meaningful discoveries to investigative encyclopedia hubs like Sourcewatch, Little Sis, Crocodyl, Muckety, (and of course Wikipedia), and thus bring the world closer to knowledge Nirvana.

(By the way, any good ideas out there on how to reconcile the data from all these great research hubs into one place to avoid redundancy?)

Developers have been thinking a lot about “natural language processing” and how to go beyond syntax and analyze semantic relationships. There are scads of projects underway.  However, the challenges run similar to other noble efforts on the web, where we find overlapping projects that don’t play nice with each other due to individual political interests that result in frustration for the average user.

So sticking to the #JCarn topic, my plea to developers is this:

Help me become a supercharged research wizard that can pull people / places / actions / etc from any article on the web and integrate them into my “personal encyclopedia” … and do it in a way that enables sharing and collaboration with fellow knowledge junkies.

Thankfully some researchers at The University of Queensland in Australia did a lot of legwork on analyzing the semantic application landscape, this invaluable report (pdf) they published in Feb 2011 is relatively painless, and a great place to get started.

In there you’ll find a breakdown of literally dozens of services, APIs, etc. which are evaluated on metrics like Open Source, Open Standards, Interoperability, Scalability, Usability, etc.

So, here’s my proposed workflow:

  • Patrol the web and grab the good stuff using Zotero — a nifty Firefox plugin from George Mason University. It’s free, open source, and not compromised by commercial interests. It pulls stuff right off the web and stores a local copy that is taggable and searchable.
  • Collaborate, annotate, and share libraries with other Zotero researchers who are also passionate about digging up answers on who’s really running this crazy world. (They already have thousands of groups working together on various research projects.).
  • Generate narratives and graphical representations for other journalists and the general public to pick up on.

For example, there’s a very useful article on Sourcewatch that lists people who walk through the “Government-Industry Revolving Door” i.e. folks like James L. Connaughton who worked as a lobbyist help big polluters like General Electric and ARCO avoid responsiblity for cleaning up toxic superfund sites. He then headed up pollution-policy development in the Bush administration where he fought to weaken standards for getting arsenic out of drinking water, stalled efforts to move forward on global warming, and pressured the Environmental Protection Agency to soften up their language on the asbestos in the air after 9/11 that poisoned rescue workers. He now left his post as wolf guarding the public henhouse and lobbies for Constellation Energy.

Information on folks like Mr. Connuaghton, John D. Graham, J. Steven Griles, etc. are first dug up by investigators like Jim Hightower (who publish things like this article in Utne Reader about government conflicts of interest) and then have to be manually processed by people who gradually code it into encyclopedias like Sourcewatch.

How can we pull from thousands of investigative articles and streamline the contribution process to these encyclopedias? Furthermore, once they’re organized nicely in the encyclopedias, how can we pull out awesome visualizations like Muckety that assemble the big BIG picture interactively so we can grasp it?

I’ve pounded my head figuring out how to do this in a manageable fashion, and am still coming up a bit short.

I see that I can export my zotero library as an RDF file (the preferred format for semantic apps, far as I know), so the next step is to figure out how to analyze all the documents through APIs mentioned above, and pull together a map of names, organizations, and activities they’ve been involved with (especially those of corruption and skullduggery). Assuming the RDF is compatible, I’d have to figure out how to feed the factoids into the encyclopedias and avoid errors.

Other questions and challenges:

  • Is Zotero the right tool?
    • One developer noted that Zotero is a walled garden due to the API not being accessible by applications other than Zotero. That article was written in 2010, is that still the case? Will this be resolved, and if not, does that stop this effort dead in it’s tracks? Update — Adam Smith left a comment below stating that this post is untrue and the Zotero API & code is AGPL licensed. Christopher Warner, then chimed in with this discussion thread to defend his position that the API is still insufficient. See the comments below for the full discussion, including a word from Zotero project manager Sean Takats.
    • The Criminal Intent Project used Zotero as part of their semantic analysis of the 127 million words of the Old Bailey Trials. Further exploration is required to see if their workflow is transferable the type of endeavor I’m proposing.
    • Also, there are other collaborative research tools and repositories like Diigo, Mendeley, Academia.edu, etc. would these serve better? And if not, can they integrate with Zotero group collections?
  • Politics.
    • OpenCalais has one of the leading semantic API’s out there, e.g. their engine finds relationships in the ever-awesome DocumentCloud library…however…they are owned by Thomson-Reuters which sued Zotero’s makers at George Mason University over claims that they stole intellectual property from their non-open source Endnote product. Zotero is ultimately a better product and better for the research community because it’s open source, and although the lawsuit was dropped, I’m not sure how warm Thomson-Reuters would be to having a fully integrated semantic solution with researchers who use Zotero.
    • There’s plenty of politics surrounding the notion of making the semantic web truly open. I can’t go into more detail other than point out that there are many commercial enterprises trying to be leaders in this space, which may or may not corrupt the integrity of knowledge for everyone.

FURTHER RESOURCES

This challenge is not going away, the prospect of connecting knowledge is just too delicious to ignore. Here are some resources to stay involved.

  • Open Annotation Collaboration — A collaboration between University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Los Alamos National Laboratory, University of Maryland, George Mason University and the University of Queensland that aims to develop a common annotation model to support interoperability across clients, servers, disciplines and platforms.

***BONUS hot tip*** if you’re on WordPress you can use the Simple Tag plugin, or Tagaroo,  which accesses semantic APIs to scan your post and suggest tags for you. Very convenient!

This post was written as part of the December 2011 Carnival of Journalism hosted this month by Martin Belam of the Guardian Developer Blog

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Seattle Interactive Conference

I had a great opportunity to explore the 2011 Seattle Interactive Conference, not as a marketer, but as a journalist, thanks to a freelance gig with the Journalism Accelerator. Roving the event as an independent reporter allowed me to cut through some of the fluff and dig into deeper issues that need to be sorted out as we venture into things like location based mobile technology. Privacy and data portability are the huge elephants in the room and won’t go away anytime soon.

Read my two articles in full length on the Journalism Accelerator:

Part 1 – General Overview and introduction to SoLoMo (social, local, mobile) space

 

Part 2 – Deeper questions on serving hyperlocal news in the mobile space & assuring data portability for the future

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Streaming Outside the Box – how video can finally behave like the rest of the web

Video on the web has come a long way.

It wasn’t that long ago when streaming video was a pain in the ass to watch and impossible to publish without a big budget or sizeable skills. We now enjoy free streaming video on demand that can easily be discovered, shared, and re-published…to the point where it only takes a week to galvanize political revolutions (i.e. Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain,) and transform childhood dreams of celebrity into bizarro nightmares (i.e. Rebecca Black).

Video on the web can be more than just Next-Gen content delivery.

The power of YouTube has become such a luxury, that it’s hard for us to imagine what the future holds because we’ve already shattered the boundaries that were firmly in place by movies and television. However, our conception of what video is and what it’s capable of are still hampered by conceptual boundaries that moving images have to be viewed in linear time, and within a simple box with limited controls. This is why Ben Moskowitz of Mozilla put the Open Video Alliance together and launched three consecutive Open Video Conferences. Here are some demos that came out from the weekend of the third conference on September 10-12th, 2011 that might get you thinking about the potential of open source video online.

The Gendered Advertising Remixer

Two drags, one click, and blamo! You’re My Little Pony squadron is now equipped with turbo fire power!!!

Standalone HTML5 Mixer

no need to limit your instant mashups to toy commercials (though it’s clear why they make great demos). You can also practice the art of remix right in your browser

TEAM: Boaz Sender (@BoazSender), Zohar Babin (@zohar), Martin Leduc (@ikat381), Elisa Kreisinger (@elisakreisinger), Mark Reilly (@alien_resident), Greg Dorsainville (@ScienceLifeNY) Brian Chirls (@bchirls) and Jonathan McIntosh (@radicalbytes)

Source: http://boazsender.com/Remixer/

*note: you’ll want to mix clips that are exactly the same length if possible.

Seriously JS – by Brian Chirls @bchirls

A javascript library for live video effects using WebGL. The fact that it does this live means that you can feed it from a webcam and have it automatically change the background, apply color changes, and perform other real time effects.

One of Brian’s future ideas for Seriously JS is to run a mirrored chroma swap in the style of Stephen Colbert’s “Formidable Opponent” segment where the red tie Stephen debates a mirrored copy of himself in a blue tie.

Why not think bigger? How about adding custom video effects to a live video tapestry of musicians webcam’ing from all over the world, playing a freestyle jam in the same key? Something like in♭flat but the tapestry of video feeds come in live and can have effects instantly applied to them.

at the moment the homepage has a demo which lets you play with effects on an OK Go music video …♬ ♫ ♪…and speaking of music…♪ ♫ ♬

Papio – sync audio and video across multiple machines

Solving latency issues may seem rather trivial but the results could actually be quite epic. For example, I once attempted to orchestrate a collaborative musical choir of 30 people across the web using a Big Blue Button video hangout. The problem was that all the video streams had slight latency delays from each other and there was no way to sync up a metronome so that everyone would be hearing the same beat at exactly the same time. This could have likely been solved with Papio, allowing a real time musical get-together with participants chiming in from anywhere across the globe. To try it out, connect a bunch of machines from any location to pap.io and click “Start demo.” They should all be boomboxing at exactly the same time.

9/11 Television News Archive by archive.org

The folks at OVC were very fortunate to have Brewster Kale and Tracy Jaquith of the Internet Archive debut this phenomenal work at this year’s OVC. Compiled from 3,000 hours of international TV News from 20 channels, scholars and citizens can not only witness the events of September 11 as they unfold, but also compare the coverage from a variety of perspectives in the US and around the world. During the presentation it was suggested that this tool could be used for other scholarly research to compare international television news coverage of other events and milestones in human history. Great idea! Tracy spent some time during the working groups sharing the methodology so others could build their own “TV Grid” — let’s see what happens.

Time Map

It was great to see artists like Jacob Quinn of knowyourecology playing with browser based video for the first time. Jacob showed me a little experiment with triggering different time points in a video based on clicking an image’s location

 

 

I also highly recommend you check out other these other open video experiments:

  • Popcorn JS- a javascript library built for the HTML5 video framework that allows video components to interact with other web elements. For example, you watch a video that pulls up wikipedia articles, google maps, twitter feeds, flickr photos, which are timed to show up on the site during certain time points in the video.
  • A couple cool examples (must have latest version of Firefox and Chrome)
    • Europeana Remix – an interactive experience around the story of an unlikely friendship during the First World War
    • State of the Union – an annotated version of the President’s speech synced with expert commentary
    • Right Wing Radio Duck – an annotated version of Jonathan McIntosh’s Donald Duck remix of Glenn Beck programming. Regardless of the politics, this demo provides a good model for annotating source material for any sort of documentary or video journalism.

    Learn how to make your own Popcorn movies via WebMadeMovies.com and their Google Group.

 

Further reading:

This post was submitted for the September 2011 Carnival of Journalism topic to write on the “Future of Online Video”

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What’s possible when #Librarians and #Journalists Collaborate?

Finally found time to finish up the video from The Beyond Books conference I helped organize in April at MIT with Journalism That Matters. Really pleased how it turned out, there was great enthusiasm at The American Library Association’s #ALA11 convention in New Orleans today toward the subject of collaboration between Librarians and Journalists. Probably felt similar to the first time it was discovered that chocolate & strawberries go well together.

My colleague Mike Fancher, who has been working with the Knight Commission and The Aspen Institute on community information needs, sat on a panel with Marsha Iverson of King County Libraries, conference co-conspirator Bill Densmore from UMASS, and former ALA President and Rutgers educator Nancy Kranich.

Enjoy!

THE CHALLENGE

For three centuries, in American towns large and small, two institutions have uniquely marked a commitment to participatory democracy, learning and open inquiry — our libraries and our free press. Today, as their tools change, their common missions of civic engagement and information transparency converge. Economic and technology changes suggest an opportunity for collaboration among these two historic community information centers — one largely public, one largely private. How?

Featuring community pilot projects such as:

The Public Insight Network
AllPrinceton.com
The Investigative Dashboard
MuckRock.com
CU-citizenaccess.org
Brought to you by the good folks at

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Knight-Mozilla Highlight – “Wikified News Dashboard”

Not surprisingly, there were dozens of submissions that suggested a way to “wikify” something, but I was a bit curious to find that only three of the entire three hundred proposals actually contained the word “dashboard.”

The idea of a breaking news dashboard is not entirely unique in itself, but it is still lacking on the web in a truly rich collaborative fashion. We’ve seen individual news outlets themselves provide a one stop shop type experience for breaking stories (i.e. The Guardian during the Copenhagen climate talks, The Huffington Post during the Tucson Shootings) but it only contains their selective coverage rather than a cross network experience.

Breaking news populates pretty quick on Wikipedia, but the experience is limited to the capabilities of the MediaWiki platform, and only those who are willing and capable of using the MediaWiki syntax to create it. Not to mention the lack of streaming tweets, images, video, maps, and all other forms of real time interaction.

There are many flavors of individual news dashboards (iGoogle, Netvibes, Pageflakes, Protopage, My Yahoo), but they are still missing true community features. These services do offer various levels of collaboration, but they all require a lot of moderation and are not anywhere near scalable for millions of people to contribute.

So how do we fix this?

Regnard Raquedan’s idea is to come up with a ranking system that determines a piece of media’s ability to make it to the front page of the dashboard, known as an REP (rich event page). That way editorial decisions are truly in the hands of the crowd and the dashboard is simply a window into what their seeing, or should be seeing, via REPRank. As you see by his mockup sketch, he’s thought of a useful layout to take in the information and keep tabs on what’s happening as it happens.

It’s tempting to debate the metrics and criteria for the REPRank system, but that will have to be a conversation for another day. Let’s just assume it works swimmingly, there is still one issue to overcome.

The much talked about filter bubble syndrome.

The problem with the old school media was that it acted as an authority and left out less popular, yet important voices. While intelligently crowdsourced media may offer more depth, how will it cover breadth?

Here’s an idea. What about two tabs at the top, one displaying a page with all the highest ranked materials nicely laid out, and another “waiting room” page that uses a list display, which anyone can add to. To avoid overload you could still sort it by date/time added, or with tags, and watch it work its way to the main page.

A commenter on Regnard’s submission page took the liberty to ask the platform question, just as he did for Chris Keller’s somewhat similar “living topic page” idea, and I think Regnard gave the correct answer, which is no platform. If the REP system were built, it would display natively in the web browser using HTML5, with a possible Android companion app to make it more mobile friendly. This lives a very wide open challenge to come up with a universal ranking system that can pick up media published from a diverse set of tools, but we enjoy challenges here, and I wish Regnard the best of luck in his pursuit.

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Knight-Mozilla Highlight: Ted Han

It goes without saying that the best part of being involved with the Knight-Mozilla News Innovation Challenge (voting ends June 19th, come out and play!) is the opportunity to interact with brilliant people.

Ted Han holds one of those fantastic hybrid minds that not only can chew on a batch of code and spit out something shiny, but also thinks outside of the box that the code has to live in. Ted sent in a number of proposals across the board covering all thee challenges. The two entries I’m particularly fond of demonstrate not only technical chops, but fresh ways of thinking about the news process as a whole. Here’s why they speak to me:

What can Journalism learn from Text-based Adventures?

I’m a sucker for the classics, and all of us who’ve been on computers long enough have a soft spot for text based adventure games (no graphics, just a written story that respond to commands that the player types in). Ever since a friend informed me of the underground resurgence of interactive fiction, I couldn’t help but wonder how we can harness the power and purity of text to become interactive non-fiction.

Regardless of the new storytelling methods and sensory experiences that the future brings, it will be a long time before we come up with something that is truly as accessible and adaptable as good old fashioned text.

People who are interested in making their own interactive stories have more options than ever, with new programming languages such as Inform7 that are designed to be used by people who only know plain English. With the steady ubiquity of personal reading devices on the market, there’s a great opportunity to communicate rich experiences using a simple medium that we all can understand. Ted has a lot of interesting observations on the similarities between TbA games and the journalistic process, as well the transformative potential that TbA games hold. As he notes,

“The key narrative feature that both news pieces and TbAs share is an anticipation of what users know and wish to know. However, where Journalism simply attempts to target a safe lowest common denominator which presumes only what all users know in an attempt to cover the broadest swath of readership, TbAs offer users the ability to discover and investigate narrative elements in further depth, should they so choose.”

But like I said, Ted doesn’t just lay down obscure gonzo theory, he likes to deal with the nuts and bolts as well. Through another submission he asks:

Why isn’t there a visual web scraper builder?

Good question. Let’s bring scraping to the masses! As he notes in the comments:

“Turns out there are a few visual web scrapers, none of which are free unfortunately. http://www.needlebase.com/ does some cool things, but unfortunately limits it’s utility unless you pay for an account. And i’m still exploring http://www.outwit.com/

I’m sure there’s a lot that can be done with those tools, but there will always be a lot more that can be done when we’re building them together and keeping them free.
Now that we all make data like bees make honey, Journalists need to be ready and willing to harvest it without fear of getting stung by technology.

This entry is also a great testament to the support of the Drumbeat community, as another commenter suggested

“It’d be interesting to see if you could partner up with http://scraperwiki.com/, who are already doing some pretty good work in trying to make scraping more non-programmer-friendly.”

This reminds me of two things:

  1. It’s important that we have a grasp of who’s doing what already, and I actually had a chance to introduce myself to Ted while we were jamming on this EtherPad, which has some great examples of groundbreaking projects entering the news innovation arena. Feel free to add some stuff there that we missed so we can get them over to the MoJo Wiki
  2. Leaving comments are really helpful! The review team will be looking at them while selecting the “MoJo 60″ who will be moving on to the Learning Lab (which we’ll get to a bit later…), and more importantly, the idea creators will be reading them and will warmly appreciate you stopping by.

You have only until June 19th to vote for your favorite submissions, so check ‘em out and support the brave pioneers who made their brains sweat in hopes of building something to benefit us all.

Also check out my previous knight-mozilla highlight on Dan Schultz’s C-SPAN makeover, titled “ATTN-SPAN

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