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"