Author Archives: futuresoup

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. does some cool things, but unfortunately limits it’s utility unless you pay for an account. And i’m still exploring

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, 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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UW Masters of Communication in Digital Media Screen Summit

[Cross posted from Seattle Journalism Commons]

I’m assuming people around here know the #MCDM acronym by now. The Masters of Communication in Digital Media program, which spawned 10 years ago at the University of Washington, has just announced its largest graduating class (55 people), surpassing that of all other Comm department graduate students proudly deploying their cap and gown this weekend.

Director Hanson Hosein spoke of the program as more than just a model to address the challenges of the digital disruption, but a model for academia itself. The MCDM was the first non-state funded program at UW and is one of the few currently standing. After hosting the succesful TedxSeattle and TedxRainer events, they ramped up their public interface and introduced the Four Peaks salon speaker series (featured in more detail from Seattle Magazine). Their Flip the Media blog is well received across the web, and their Media Space television program is the most popular on UWTV, reaching 300,000 viewers per month. Hosein is testing a self-publishing model for his write-as-you-go book “Storyteller Uprising” which is available for free online, though I decided to buy myself a $10 hard copy which he slings around with him from place to place. MCDM founder Anthony Giffard has a lifelong track record of being a positive agitator, first as a white South African born journalist covering the dismantlement of apartheid, then as a faculty member of a “whites only” university who ignored resistance from his colleagues when he used an administrative loophole to hand a degree to the first student of color at Rhodes University.

Mr. Giffard shared his heartfelt story at the podium and delivered two “make the chanage” awards for innovation in digital media.

The first was received by Adam Brotman of Starbucks, who won the award for its in-store Starbucks Digital Network, a content delivery service launched last year in partnership with Yahoo. Brotman is also a member of the MCDM Advisory Board with other local industry leaders.

The second award went to Dan Savage, for his “It get’s better” project which became a textbook example of an “around the world in 80 clicks” type viral campaign done right. The famed Stranger editor and columnist was moved to take action after learning about the teen suicides of Justin Aaberg and Billy Lucas, and inspired 20,000+ others to make personal testimony videos like his to remind bullied homosexual youth to stick it out because it gets better later on. He even managed to get a bunch of well known folks like Jewel, Hillary Clinton, President Obama, Sarah Silverman, Perez Hilton, and Tim Gunn to share their own stories. (Read Geekwire’s post to learn about how his campaign turned into an ad for Google Chrome).

Besides the usual speech and applause routine, we also got to see a full showcase of student projects presented in a walkaround convention style setting. The space was actually a bit too jammed for me to interact face to face with everyone, but I caught some cool portfolios (i.e. Filiz Efe), an online news game for public radio, a “cinema in a backpack” entrepreneurship program launched by Disney in Nicaragua, and a mobile video chat system to help Korean students learn English (also won $25k for placing first at the UW business plan competition).

Keep your eyes out as MCDM continues to grow and put Seattle based digital media on notice for the rest of the world.


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Facebook Facelift – What they don’t tell you might creep you out

There was a noticeable spike in my news feed this week on Facebook’s quiet implementation of facial recognition technology to keep track of where you show up in photos across the social network. I read three separate articles with instructions on how to opt-out, but both Lifehacker and Inside Facebook fell short of explaining the fact that changing your privacy settings ONLY turns off the tagging suggestions to your friends. It WON’T get rid of your biometric database that Facebook keeps inside its secret vault. To do that, you have to actually write to Facebook and request that they purge it (hat tip to PC World for explaining). From what I heard, they seem to respond quite quickly to these requests, but there is no proof of confirmation other than their kindly word. Luckily paranoia can lead to creativity, and someone out there suggested another way to avoid a robotic facial scan, explained by our friend Mr. T below.

Also interesting, many people don’t care. That’s fine, but usually the ones who don’t aren’t the people who risk their lives for social change, so here’s a short primer on why it matters.

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Knight-Mozilla Highlight: ATTN-SPAN

Now that the 2011 submissions for the Knight-Mozilla News Innovation challenge are officially closed until next season, the team is going to be highlighting some of the more intriguing ideas that made our eyebrows dance.

Note that this is just an exercise to generate discussion, and all opinions are my own and have no effect on the results of the challenge. It’ll be up to our stellar review panel to decide who advances to the Learning Lab and gets a shot at the full salary fellowship.

Please allow me to raise my first glass to Dan Schultz, who’s proposing to give C-SPAN a civic facelift and harvest the juice out of what appears to be boring (yet influential) humans talking too close into a microphone. C-SPAN is a non-profit organization funded by affiliate fees that the cable and satellite networks have to pony up, and it’s a shame that the content isn’t being delivered in a more relevant and engaging way. Not yet at least.

Dan would like to see personalized syndication channels that only show you the stuff that matters to you, as well as the ability to highlight, flag, and discuss certain clips that are important, and see how they compare with the selections of others.

This idea has a lot of great elements folded into it that all work together to make his entry shine. Dan wants to take an existing public service and make it better, so rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, he’s grabbing a few and building a hot rod on top of them. He’s looking to incorporate other baseline technologies into the works, particularly MetaVid, which uses open video technology to match government transcriptions to C-SPAN footage of the people speaking them. Lastly, his submission lays a foundation for amazing possibilities down the road, such as adding in government data (like stuff from the Sunlight APIs) and citizen shot footage (The Uptake anyone!?) that could potentially make this project breathe sweet knowledge for generations to come.

Also, quick random note, I remember seeing some interesting C-SPAN clips getting passed around the net a while back from the eccentric fellow at, so I decided to pay him a visit and discovered that the 6,400 C-SPAN clips he had uploaded to YouTube were taken down by Google, presumably due to copyright complaints (?). So as we currently stand, if you want to share public footage of our own government’s deliberations, your best option is to buy a cable subscription and babysit a DVR all day, transcode, tag, and upload the footage to a youtube account that ends up being terminated into thin air for history to forget.

This is why Mozilla’s commitment to a free and open web will remain critical for a long time to come.

What do you think? Leave your comments here, or go to Dan’s submission page to vote and give him some feedback!

Depressed that you missed the deadline for this year’s innovation challenge? Do not fret, you have a chance to redeem yourself, we’re doing it all again in 2012!

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Hacks/Hackers Seattle & Knight-Mozilla News Innovation Jam

Mozilla is best known for Firefox, the open source darling loved by millions which showed us that a browser is more than just a way to load websites, it’s a way to customize your experience of the web itself. Under new direction from Mark Surman, Mozilla is growing new legs to go beyond Firefox. They recently launched #Drumbeat as an effort to do more than just build portals, they are now seeking to change the flesh and bones of the internet itself to make it more open, accessible, and free (see project examples from

It was recently announced that Mozilla received a hefty sum of money from the Knight Foundation to bring journalism along for the ride.

The three year Knight-Mozilla News Challenge dubbed #MoJo (for Mozilla + Journalism) is now in full throttle with five news partners on board (BBC, Al-Jazeera, Boston Globe, Zeit Online, and The Guardian) who will host five fellows with full salary to innovate from inside the newsroom. 10 more fellows will come along the way in the next coming years, but until then, the heat is on and challenge submissions are underway.

Mozilla asked me to link up with the Seattle chapter of Hacks/Hackers, an organization that shares a similar MoJo hybrid theory of bringing together journalists (hacks) + technologists (hackers) with the goal of changing news for the better. One week later we threw together a sold out Brainstorm 2011 that brought in journalists and technologists throughout the city who came to mash up ideas and enter the challenge. Read More »

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The future of #Journalism will be run by cats?

(cross posted form the Seattle Journalism Commons)

Part two of the #NewsNext series brought to us by the Online News Association/Society of Professional Journalists collaboration featured a lively discussion with Cory Bergman (,, Next Door Media) and Ben Huh (Cheezburger Networks).

As the owner of the largest humor network in the world, you’ve probably stumbled upon one of his many sites FAIL Blog, Babies Making Faces, There I Fixed It, Engrish Funny The Daily, Totally Looks Like either on purpose or by accident through a social network.

Many people in the online news circuit cover Huh for his ability to turn internet memes into a profitable enterprise (his company employs 50 staff and they’re looking for more) and has been consistently topping the Seattle 2.0 startup index for the last year.

Instead of his typical appearance to discuss the secrets behind making something go viral (he says consistency is much more important), this particular room full of people wanted to hear his ideas on keeping journalism strong. Coming out of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern in 1999, he never became a reporter, but has been thinking of ways to fix what he sees as a lingering problem in online news.

“The story structure hasn’t changed for hundreds of years…how many times have you read a story and think by the third paragraph didn’t I already read this before?”

Huh believes that we have lost touch with the golden days of journalism where everything was partisan and there were multiple diverse points of views fighting for what they think is right.

But isn’t that what we have now? Read More »

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Beyond Google: Exploring the Visible and Invisible Web

Where do investigative journalists go to dig up their dirt?

How do you rake through all the muck?

Alex Johnson, investigative reporter for, and Cheryl Phillips, Data Enterprise Editor at the Seattle Times gave us a guided tour through the vast jungle of data, telling us which plants are edible and which snakes may be poisonous (i.e. the FBI Uniform Crime Database only gives you the law enforcement side of the story).

This was the last installment of the Spring Continuing Ed series presented by the Society of Professional of Journalists – Western Washington, and it was definitely a diamond in the rough.

Alex and Cheryl are true professionals, and were very open about sharing the secrets they worked so hard to develop over the years.

In fact, Alex very kindly published his entire slideshow, it’s chock full of links that’ll get any gumshoe journalist through puberty overnight.
He also compiled a free reference dashboard that can serve as a great sidekick while you do research. (Seriously though, download the slideshow because there are wayyyy to many links to post here).

Besides the deluge of links to awesome databases, Cheryl and Alex showed off their Google-Fu and gave some tips on crawling like a ninja. Read More »

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ONA + SPJ – What can news organizations learn from startups?

One of the goals at the Seattle Journalism Commons is collaboration. We like to talk about it, and LOVE to see it. Members of the Online News Association and the Society of Professional Journalists have linked up to put on a series of conversation mixers titled #NewsNext

The theme of the kick off discussion between former reporter Monica Guzman and KING 5’s Director of Digital Marketing Mark Briggs revolved around the question:

“What can news organizations learn from startups.”

Guzman was well positioned to elaborate on this topic, having jumped ships from a traditional print newsroom, over to an online only publication with the Seattle BigBlog, and most recently into the adventurous startup Intersect.

One of the points she made about jumping into a startup was riding with a pirate ship mentality, because “things are too new to become law…it really is lawless.” Whereas the traditional newsroom has defined roles and comfort zones, Guzman explained that the rules of entrepreneurship are made up as you go along, and the team either works together or sinks together.

Another memorable piece of advice had to do with the art of the #fail. Guzman suggest to “fail fast” instead of trying to hang onto something that drags and doesn’t improve results.

Other valuable examples and insight came from Mark Briggs, who officially works for KING 5, but also has earned his stripes as a leading authority on entrepreneurial journalism. His Journalism 2.0 blog and book are a great resource, and as a current Ford Fellow in Entrepreneurial Journalism at the Poynter Institite, he’s done his homework.

Three startup news sites he mentioned as positive examples and role models are:

  • Pegasus News (also in Texas) – Their crew was willing keep working without pay because they had such a strong labor of love
  • Techdirt – A good example of building a loyal following based on their successful CwF+RtB model (Connect with Fans and give them a Reason to Buy).

Briggs parted a little advice to the crowd from hot thinker Lisa Williams, which was to go deep rather than broad. “Instead of ‘something about everything’ you need to be “everything about something.”

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Bill Gates Sr. Presents award to WNC for Organization of the Year

The Washington News Council received the honor of being named 2010 Organization of the Year by the Municipal League of King County. Here is a video of John Hamer accepting the award from Seattle based philanthropist Bill Gates Sr. at the awards gala.


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