[Early every afternoon Eastern time, we'll be highlighting the most-talked-about links in the future-of-news corner of Twitter. What are news nerds buzzing about? Here are today's top 10, gathered via The Hourly Press. It's like being on Twitter all day, without actually having to be on Twitter all day. —Josh]
Maybe the newspaper is like the old LP — you know, as in “Long Play.” It may be a 33 1/3, though it seems like it came out of the age of 78s sometimes, a relic of the post-Victorian Victrola age. It is what it is, a wonderful compendium of one day in the life (of a nation, a city, a village), a one-size-fits-all product, the same singular product delivered to mass volumes of readers.
In the short history of Internet disintermediation and disruption of the traditional news business, we’ve heard endless debate of the “the content and the container,” as people have tried to peel back the difference between the physical form of the newspaper — its container — and what it had in it. It’s a been a tough mindset change, and the many disruptors of the world — the Googles, the Newsers, and the Huffington Posts, for instance — have expertly picked apart the confusions and the potentials new technologies have made possible. The news business has been atomized, not by Large Hadron Colliders, but by simple digital technology that has blown up the container and treats each article as a digestible unit. Aggregate those digestible units with some scheme that makes sense to readers (Google: news search; Newser: smart selection and précis; HuffPo: aggregation, personality and passion), and you’ve got a new business, and one with a very low cost basis.
None of this is a revelation. What is new, and why I re-think that context is the advent of Kindle Singles. The Lab covered Amazon’s announcement of less-than-a-book, more-than-as-story Kindle Singles out of the chute a couple of weeks ago. Josh Benton described how the new form could well serve as a new package, a new container, for longer, high-quality investigative pieces, those now being well produced in quantity by ProPublica, the Center for Investigative Reporting (and its California Watch), and the Center for Public Integrity. That’s a great potential usage, I think.
In fact, Kindle Singles may open the door even further to wider news business application, for news companies — old and new, publicly funded and profit-seeking, text-based and video-oriented. It takes the old 78s and 33 1/3s, and opens a world of 45s, mixes, and infinite remixes. It says: You know what a book is, right? Think again. It can also say: You know what a newspaper is, right? Think again. While the Kindle Singles notion itself seems to have its limits — it’s text and fixed in time, not updatable on the fly — it springs loose the wider idea of publishing all kinds of new news and newsy content in new containers. Amazon is trying to define this strange new middle, with the Kindle Singles nomenclature, while some have used the term “chapbook” to describe it. We’ve got to wonder what Apple is thinking in response — what’s an app in Kindle Singles world? What’s a Kindle Single in an apps world? It’s not a book, an article, a newspaper, or a magazine, but something new. We now get to define that something new, both in name, but most importantly in content possibility.
What it may be for news organizations is a variety of news-on-demand. Today, we could be reading tailored and segmented sections on the election, from red and blue perspectives, from historical perspectives, from numerical perspectives. Today, we in the Bay Area could get not just a single triumphant San Francisco Giants celebratory section, but our choice of several, one providing San Francisco Giants history, one providing New York Giants history, one looking at the players themselves; the list goes on and on. More mundane, and more evergreen commercial topics? Job-hunting, job-finding, job-prep guides, tailored to skills, ages, and wants? Neighborhood profile sections for those seeking new housing (pick one or several neighborhoods, some with data, some with resident views, others tapping into neighborhood blogs). It’s endless special sections, on demand, some ad-supported, some not; a marketer’s dream. Some are priced high; some are priced low; some are free and become great lead generators for other digital reader products.
A few recent initiatives in the news business news lend themselves to Singles thinking. Take Politico’s newly announced topical e-newsletters. Take Rupert Murdoch’s notion of a paid-content portal, Alesia, which had within the idea of mixing and matching content differently, until its plug was recently pulled. Take AP’s new rights consortium, a venture that could build on this approach. Again, endless permutations are possible.
Who is going to come up with the ideas for the content? Well, editors themselves should have their shot, though one-size-fits-all thinking has circumscribed the imagination of too many. Still, there are hundreds of editors (and reporters and designers and copy editors) still in traditional ranks and now employed outside of it capable of creating new audience-pleasing packages. Some will work; some won’t. Experiment, and fail quickly. The biggest potential, though? Letting readers take open-sourced news content and create packages themselves, giving them a small revenue share, on sales. (Both the Guardian and the New York Times, among others, have opened themselves up for such potential usage.) Tapping audiences to serve audiences, to mix and match content, makes a lot of sense.
Why might this work when various little experiments have failed to produce much revenue for news companies, thinking of Scribd and HP’s MagCloud? Well, it’s the installed bases and paid-content channels established by the Amazons (and the Apples). They’ve got the customers and the credit cards, and they’ve tapped the willingness to pay. They need stuff to sell.
For newspaper companies, it’s another chance to rewrite the economics of the business. The newsonomics of Kindle Singles may mean that publishers can worry less about cost of content production, for a minute, and more about its supply. Maybe the problem hasn’t been the cost of professional content, but its old-school one-size-fits-all distribution package. That sports story or neighborhood profile could bring in lots more money per unit, if Singles notion takes off.
One big caution here: Singles thinking leads us into a more Darwinian world than ever. In my Newsonomics book, I chose as Law #1: “In the age of Darwinian content, we’re becoming our own and each other’s editors.” Great, useful content will sell; mediocre content will die faster. Repackaging content pushes the new content meritocracy to greater heights. As we approach 2011, news publishers are hoping to hit home runs with new paid content models. Maybe the future is as much small ball, hitting a lot of one-base hits, of striking out as often — and of Singles.
[Early every afternoon Eastern time, we'll be highlighting the most-talked-about links in the future-of-news corner of Twitter. What are news nerds buzzing about? Here are today's top 10, gathered via The Hourly Press. It's like being on Twitter all day, without actually having to be on Twitter all day. —Josh]
If the 2008 election coverage was a coming-out party for social media, then last night was to some extent a party for live-streamed video. On news sites large and small, national and local, the red-and-blue infographics you’d expect to see stretched across homepages were often broken up by boxes of straight-from-the-newsroom, live presentations by reporters. Two biggies in that group came from two biggies in online news: The New York Times, building off of its TimesCasts experience, offered an occasional, from-the-newsroom live-stream — a first for the paper — while the Wall Street Journal, building off its daily NewsHub video, featured a constant, six-hour-long event.
Both “broadcasts” had a Wayne’s World-but-in-suits feel to them: fairly casual, conversation-oriented, and, most of all, markedly lo-fi in setting and aesthetics — a kind of cable-access-channel-like response to the ZOOM! POW! PLEASEPLEASEPLEASEDONTCHANGETHECHANNEL! pizzazz of cable news proper. It was a bit of a back-to-the-future move for news organizations that largely marketed last night’s coverage not in terms not of personality — “let Dan Rather guide you through election returns” — but of platform: “We have X graphic!” “Tune in for X interactive!” On cable channels, the anchors and reporters and news analysts and commentators were often framed not merely as authorities in their own right, but also as hosts for a pageant-like parade of pretty new technologies. (Check out CNN’s awesome new Hologram Wall! And, oh yeah, some reporter.)
The video feeds suggested a reverse of that: On the webcasts, technology became the conduit for the personality. The video brought bylines to life (so that’s what Jim Rutenberg looks like!); it humanized the otherwise extra-personal data and narrative that pinged around the papers’ sites last night. And while there’s something to be said for the lean-back experience of effortless immersion that is watching election results, as opposed to reading about them or hearing about them, online — for news audiences, passivity itself can be a selling point for content — it’s an open question how much room the web has for such straight-from-cable thinking when it comes to the content that lives on it. Which is to say, the content that’s created for it.
Last night’s webcasts, as informal as they felt, also had the feeling of trying to be cable news without actually, you know, being cable news: They took the mores of the visual medium — analysis, punctuated by banter, interrupted by breaking news — and adopted them. Instead of adapting them. The attempts to bring a new dimension to election coverage was certainly admirable, as most experimentation generally is. But they also begged an open question: With the web’s increasing ability to act like television…how much should it act like television? Why try to out-TV TV?
For the second year in a row we’re running through the highlights of this year’s Online News Association Conference thanks to the power of Twitter (and those handy hashtags.) Running through Saturday’s sessions, it was a day featuring discussion on building better apps, how to elicit the best content from readers, the top tech trends of the year, and some rally taking place on the Mall. And, of course, WikiLeaks and The Onion. Only at ONA.
Having sifted through more than a thousand ONA tweets, we’re happy to announce our MVTs — Most Valuable Tweeters. This esteemed honor goes to the ONA attendees whose livetweeting was sufficiently voluminous and excellent to merit special recognition. They are: @KimFox (Kim Fox), @ethanklapper (Ethan Klapper), @tgdavidson (Tom Davidson), and @emraguso (Emilie Raguso). We hope their fingers are resting comfortably.
A Wikileaks Download (#ONA10 #wikileaks)
Brooke Gladstone, On the Media
Gavin MacFadyen, Centre for Investigative Journalism
Jim Michaels, USA TODAY
Clothilde Le Coz, Reporters Without Boarders
“The boundaries of digital journalism were Topic A on July 25, when a little-known Wikileaks released a 92,000-page dump of classified documents relating to the U.S. involvement of the war in Afghanistan. WNYC’s Brooke Gladstone leads the panel in examining what this could mean for journalism and the role of the Internet in news and information.”
kcorrick: Jim Michaels, military cover USA today, is making comparisons with the Pentagon Papers bit.ly/cQvBaG 1SHRMScribe: 122,000 registered deaths of civilians; 15,000 gruesome deaths — there was a massive coverup of info by govt, docu show
yurivictor: Wikileaks did a huge service for human rights
kcorrick: ‘The first record of what happened, to enable us to memorialise what has gone on… a huge human rights service’ MacFadyen
1SHRMScribe: Knowing this info helps ppl memorialize these deaths-somehing that wud hv been unknown w/0
yurivictor: USA reaction to Wikileaks shows journalism is at risk
nytjim: MacFadyen made effective argument for release of #wikileaks docs, saying the information otherwise would never be known
yurivictor: The winners of war will no longer write history
Zhengyou: Clear divide between U.S. and overseas journalists on issue #wikileaks #ona10, to “challenge with the victors own documents.”
stacyannj: This is probably the first time the definitive history will be challenged with the victor’s own documents.
meg_e_martin: Signif now: We don’t get the smoking gun; #journos get data dumps/pkgs of docs that need databasing.
Zhengyou: #wikileaks divide breaks on the issue of dumping and editorial propriety
stacyannj: Gladstone: Data dumping is a technique the government will actually use to obscure information.
nytjim: MacFayden argues lapses in redaction of 1st #wikileaks dump were driven by time demands & need to affect course of war.
yurivictor: USA vs the world on opinion of Wikileaks
KTKING: Le Coz: “The future of journalism will be done by non journalists. That’s what’s worrying the journalists about #wikileaks.”
kcorrick: Q: Is everyone who dumps documents a journalist, is everyone now a journalist? is everyone who releases info a journo?
kcorrick: You are reporter dependent on the value of the information you have not if you have a press card, says le Coz
kcorrick: Q from floor: Should it make an ethical difference whether the information is leaked or hacked?
hmKuldell: #wikileaks panel takeaway: states can have secrets but can’t hide embarrssing info thru overclassifying
Creating Killer Apps with Public Data (#ONA10 #killerapps)
Bill Allison, Sunlight Foundation
Rufus Pollock, Open Knowledge Foundation
“As the government unloads more data — on everything from the stimulus, taxes and spending to the safety of child car seats — developers, designers and journalists have developed show-stopping ways to make the numbers more accessible. See demos, hear cases studies, and learn the secrets of scraping data.”
kimfox: Pollock: Everyone pays taxes, everyone uses public service, curious to follow the dollars
wdmmg: The website for the project @rufuspollock is talking about is Where Does My Money Go bit.ly/9ZQIKl
kimfox: Pollock: I got started with the Q: Where does my $ go when I pay taxes?
meg_e_martin: One reason to do it: b/c just about everyone pays taxes, just about everyone uses public services. bit.ly/dCYt9B
meg_e_martin: Check it out: www.wheredoesmymoneygo.org/, created by #UK’s Open Knowledge Foundation. Slick
davidherzog: Data apps take lots of background work, research. Not easy tracking govt spending w/#killerapps
dskok: Po: Spent 8 months accessing FOI data and cleaning it up for use
wdmmg: Another challenge is getting the databases and datasets. We spend lots of time working on FOI requests says @rufuspollock
kcorrick: We’ve built our own API, it enables others to build their own apps, do their own research on the data says @rufuspollock
stacyannj: One of the exciting things to me is allowing the community to start editing the data, says @rufuspollock
sacmcdonald: not just about gathering data, but enriching and improving it, says @rufuspollock.
dskok: To do; Use eye candy, improve source data, community: commenting/annotation: data about the Data, what’s hot?
emraguso: sunlight is trying to make the data much more accessible to the public — all about the visuals, folks @bill_allison
dskok: Politiwidgets: Take political influence data, process, reformat, make it avail, easy to circulate.
emraguso: politiwidgets lets you search your address and find all kind of info on politicians @bill_allison
davidherzog: visualization of #opendata makes it more accessible and interesting for the public.
dskok: Data viz requires the same tenets of storytelling: contextual and relevant information.
emraguso: politiwidgets is easy to embed, customize for blogs. very cool, easy, informative. wish #patch had embed @bill_allison
emraguso: can find fundraisers and recovery money recipients with sunshine foundation apps @bill_allison
meg_e_martin: Huge opportunity in data.gov directive: @sunfoundation working on public-facing national #data #apps
meg_e_martin: One of their projects: Took raw data from data.medicare.gov & created hospital compare #iphone #app
emraguso: ResDAC sounds like the holy grail of medical data @bill_allison
emraguso: But ResDAC is prohibitively expensive and you need a flowchart to see how to get your info request met @bill_allison
DanaChinn: Lots of data out there but the really good data is hard to get & clean up so it’s usable, accessible
stacyannj: Sunshine Foundation has talked to www.resdac.org/ about national data and received quote in millions of dollars.
kcorrick: Q: I hoped when I came to this session you’d show us how easy this was. *audience laughs*,
emraguso: sunshine foundation has a policy shop that works with govt and tries to get them to keep better records @bill_allison
DanaChinn: Getting data is getting easier but as you push the envelope you want more data-Rufus Pollock
emraguso: problem is legacy systems set up before anyone thought of making data public. getting it fixed takes time @bill_allison
wdmmg: Protovis is a really good tool if you want to start doing visualisations bit.ly/a6ZaaF , says @rufuspollock
emraguso: good first project: look at your local spending, the local budget. zoning decisions are really big @rufuspollack
emraguso: sunlight believes the govt shld make the data available. then journalists can decide what public needs @bill_allison
Turning Bits into Bucks (#ONA10 #bitsbucks)
Mark Briggs, Serra Media, Ford Fellow for Entrepreneurial Journalism at Poynter
Michele McLellan, Knight Digital Media Center, Reynolds Journalism Institute
Mike Orren, Pegasus News
Rafat Ali, Founder, PaidContent
“Learn how journalists have found success as entrepreneurs, from startup software companies to local bloggers, using innovation to power new business models for news.”
lcirivello: “If you are a journalist and want to be an entrepreneur — you need a serious attitude adjustment” @michelemclellan
stevebuttry: Paid circulation is the most ridiculous metric to determine what you’ll charge for ads, @mikeorren of @pegasusnews tells #bitsbucks
andrewjpolk: In the #BitsBucks session. For journalism start-ups, @michelemclellan rightly says content cannot be the only focus. Gotta get paid
tgdavidson: Mike Pegasus gets 80 pct from display; e-commerce/groupon play is 10 pct but growing fast
susanmernit: #bitsbucks #ona10: @mikeorren describing how he started @pegasusnews 5 years ago….in Dallas…wanted better news, basically
perfectmarket: “.@paidContent we targeted influential audience; thru ads, classifieds, conferences — 1/2 of rev = conferences.” @rafatali
tgdavidson: Rafat: started PdContent bec. got out of school just as 1st tech bubble burst. Created site as a sort of a digital resume
kimfox: How do we unlock content and marry with portable platform? How do we add the social layer? These are some interesting Qs
brianjameskirk: 3 entrep models: micro neighb cov (ads), capacity-building comm sites (grants), regn sites (multiple)
tgdavidson: Michelle: The bigger the org, the more req for multistream revenues — memberships/donations, ad nets, etc.
stevebuttry: .@pegasusnews identifies user interests for content hubs & deliver targeted ads, @mikeorren says.
tmcenroe: takeaway so far — not shocking, but ad-dependent models are not a great way to build a news property these days.
tgdavidson: Mark — partner with big media? Mike: depends. As a rule, tho, same size or smlr partners better. Big prtnr problematic
andrewjpolk: Local blog collectives team up with online subscription newspaper to streamline revenue streams? A mouthful, but it works
stevebuttry: “Training local businesses to use digital social media” is another revenue model, says @michelemclellan
kimfox: How is consumption changing/How do media companies adapt? some of most interesting areas at moment
tgdavidson: Rafat on his nxt step: bearish on ability to do another news startup Form factor is more intg to him (port. books)
andrewjpolk: Seems like as much time and innovation needs to go into revenue systems as the content itself for a startup to work
tgdavidson: What are int’d models for nonprofits? Michelle: 120 of 1500 she studied were “promising” — two legged stools
kimfox: One weakness of journos (acc to panel): Inability to talk about/ask for money
tgdavidson: Michelle: j’ists work hard, focus, hit deadlines, all gd traits. But you have to apply those skills beyond content
kimfox: Why journos mk good start-up ppl: Critical thinking skills, deadline-driven, focus, hustle and hard workers
kimfox: Startups: Doesn’t matetr how much goodwill you have, if ad companies don’t know who you are
andrewjpolk: @MikeOrren If no-one on your team has sold an add, go find someone who has. You’re going to have to sell.
kimfox: Journalists have the ability to work with passion for peanuts — makes them great startup ppl
stevebuttry: In question from floor, @janjlab says one of the toughest things for journopreneur to learn is to “make the big ask.”
tgdavidson: @jans good content alone doesn’t cut it — need engagement (and multiple skills)
craiglstone: Jan Schaffer from @JLab ruffling some feathers in #bitsbucks panel. Says most journalists are not equipped to be entrepreneurs.
tgdavidson: Rafat: if you can’t make the ask, you don’t have a biz. But you don’t have to answer EVERY question first
tgdavidson: Mike; telld @jans he thinks they agree more than disagree. Prob isn’t lack of journalism; prob is biz model
tmcenroe: @mikeorren sez: If you have an ad model, your readers are not your customers. Your advertisers are.
tgdavidson: Mike: if your goal is to only do j’ism, you’re a charity not a biz. Lack of innov in rev models
SuziSteffen: .@susanmernit says learn how to be a salesperson. “I don’t want to hire salespeople until I know how to do their job.”
stevebuttry: Big mistake: Underestimated how long & hard it was to build a brand in ad community, @mikeorren says
stevebuttry: We went out w/ complex ad model. Bells & whistles got meetings, but customer wanted simple run-of-site, @mikeorren says.
andrewjpolk: @MikeOrren — It’s a long hard road to develop a brand w/ advertising community. Ad decisions are not always rational
tgdavidson: Rafat: mistakes? Where do I start? Name; no comments (due to spam); accounting!
kimfox: Rafat: Stay organized — as a journo keep your financial house in order
tgdavidson: Mike: huge mistake in time spent pitching VCs on a nat’l biz rather than bldg his business
stevebuttry: .@pegasusnews wasted too much time planning big plan, @mikeorren says. Build something cheap and fast and get moving
kimfox: Journos: Do the thing that is your thing. Let open source community worry about your technology
farano: @rafatali the problem w/ news entrepreneurs is that they talk all the time about themselves
craiglstone: @rafatali says “Keep your head down and work. Don’t worry about 50 business models in the industry”
cnewvine: It’s easy to find people to write for free. It’s harder to find people who will sell ads for free.
tgdavidson: @markbriggs Two Ford prize winners: Localocracy (commenting) and Rocky Mtn Inv News Netwk
tgdavidson: Parting advice: Michelle I figure out what you don’t know. Mike: know whose problem ur slvg
digitalamysw: Briggs: power combo to have in creating startup: creativity, optimism, risk and lots of hard work
Rewiring the Ivory Tower (#ONA10 #academia)
David Johnson, American University
Emily Bell, Columbia University
Rich Gordon, Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University
Mindy McAdams, University of Florida
“Revamping journalism curriculum is a tricky tightrope walk, balancing digital skills, academics and computer science. How do accrediting standards and the arms race for shorter degrees set the boundaries for the new journalism degree? Panelists share what is being lost and what is being gained.”
darthcheeta: @emilybell: the digital business becomes a legacy business if you don’t keep pushing it
lsnifka: #ona10 mindy mcadams: need to figure out a way to get past the remedial. This woman is my hero.
j_nb: As multimedia skills become standard for journalists, interactive journalism needs to move forward, says @darthcheeta how?
jackiesauter: @emilybell ‘It’s time for academia to really lead the (journalism) industry’ on a large scale cressman: How competent are our digital native students? @macloo suggests asking them how many have uploaded a video
j_nb: It’s hard for newsrooms to have an alchemy between technical creative thinking and journalism, says Emily bell
cressman: Problem of multimedia capstone, says @macloo, is bdcst or print students don’t know programming & CS students lack journo
amandabee: #ona10 #academia we do students a real disservice by referring to them as digital natives. They’ve consumed, not produced
fishnette: Fundamental skills in multimedia & how the web works are often missing Mindy McAdams says
mckennaewen: Coming from #academia: Profs need to wow students & show them what’s possible, then give them the basic tools to get in the door
amandabee: Okay, so who is teaching news apps? CAR 201, no?
j_nb: Are we just training citizen journos w/ a lot of student debt if we don’t talk abt entrepreneurialism, asks @darthcheeta
sgoldenberg: #ona10 #academia: Why innovation is coming from Computer Science and not from us? Great panel! @macloo @richgor, @darthcheeta, @emilybell
mckennaewen: At #academia, @richgor suggests separating the j-school curriculum into 3 subjects: storytelling, reporting & producing / publishing
sgoldenberg: #ona10 #academia @darthcheeta we should not prepare “citizen journalists with a big loan debt”
sgoldenberg: #ona10 #academia Teaching Computational/Multimedia Skills is different from Computation/Digital Media/Theoretical/Critical thinking
cressman: It would be useful to #crowdsource a list of tech/programming skills j-school students need.
btrpkc: How do we train young journos to be publishers? Technologists? I want those people working for me at @NPR.
cressman: Are partnerships creating innovation centers, farm teams, or sweatshops, @darthcheeta asks.
momiperalta: Rich Gordon: /Emily Bell theres a risk in academic- media partnerships because students are in learning period
yurivictor: Holding a microphone in front of a camera isn’t a skill
cressman: If students need to be good at one thing in order to get a job, says @macloo, it should not be TV news or newspaper.
yurivictor: Journalism tech cheat sheet bit.ly/2CgrEg
cressman: Today’s j-students will continue to learn. @darthcheeta offered this cartoon to illustrate the point. xkcd.com/627/
drsyb: #ona10 #academia nothing in digital is ever done. Past taught as polished and perfect. Change is the way it is. Emily Bell
jo_in_la: not hearing: how to engage w/a community. It’s not only about story& tech — it’s also relationships.
amandabee: And news judgment. We still need that
Android, iPad and Beyond (#ONA10 #mobile)
Jamie Pallot, Conde Nast Digital
Jim Spencer, Newsy
Liesel Kipp, Thomson Reuters
John-Henry Barac, Barac Consulting
“The web is increasingly moving from the desktop to the palm of your hand. Learn the best practices for creating content for mobile and touch devices.”
publicinsight: Always suspected this, #mobile session confirms: users love icons…and they really love to touch icons. Put icons in your apps.
publicinsight: Show of hands from Blackberry users elicits groans and giggles. It’s the AOL e-mail address of #mobile devices.
girljournalist: When it comes to #mobile apps, “It’s about truly interacting with the device” says @newsydotcom’s Jim Spencer
kev097: Newsy app was built by 22 and 23 year olds who innately understand all the touch gestures.
digitalamysw: Barac: There are fundamental differences in design for the mobile vs. web — very important point
TylerMachado: Don’t make apps (even iPad ones) look like newspapers. AMEN.
digitalamysw: Barac: We should not be afraid — try new UI and experiment
agahran: Guardian #mobile developer advocates apps targeting content verticals, like sports or environment
publicinsight: Stop trying to provide ALL your content on your #mobile apps. Make apps that will fulfill a key need of your user where they ar
girljournalist: Build your own or go w/ vendor? You can learn more by doing it yourself & be better prepared for what comes next panel says.
ckanal: #Mobile = “personal media devices,” says @jamesjspencer. Customization important. Touch offers user feeling of control
girljournalist: Design mobile content w/ mobile audience in mind. It’s not a website. It’s diff. More intimate, singular focus.
girljournalist: Mobile apps need singular focus. Do one specific thing, do it well, make it specific to the device says Conde Nast’s Pallot
publicinsight: Seems like #mobile news app creators should be lobbying HEAVILY for public transportation so people have time to use their stuff.
publicinsight: Seems like #mobile news app creators should be lobbying HEAVILY for public transportation so people have time to use their stuff.
ckanal: Use tags creatively to re-organize your content in many ways on #mobile says @johnhenry from @guardian.
girljournalist: Reviews, ratings, social sharing from app, Apple featured app — this is how you will get the word out about your #mobile app.
publicinsight: Seems obvious, but many orgs blow this. @johnhenry: Promote your #mobile apps on your main Web site. Your target audience is there.
ckanal: “Do something Apple really likes” w/ UI, something no one else has done, says @jpallot1 of Conde Nast
girljournalist: Is ASO (App Search Optimization) coming next? Right now, it’s about marketing, branding. See previous tweet
DanaChinn: Barac: mobile metrics showed there might be place for app for ppl who spend a lot of time w/mobile at home
ElenaTheRican: 20% of iPad use is in bed. #mobile #ONA10 No wonder Americans are so tense. #putdownthemobiledeviceanddowhatnatureintended
ckanal: Level of interaction on #mobile “fantastically important” says @johnhenry. Think social when developing your apps
agahran: Well, #ONA10 #mobile session is concluding, and they succeeded in avoiding any discussion of feature phones & mobile web. #Doh!
tmcenroe: Surprise at iPhone/iPad use in bed? Why? It’s instant on, not hot, portable. Multimedia experience of reading before bed
jrstahl: @agahran Ignoring feature phones a widespread problem…is so different than smartphones and really needs its own discussion
Seven Deadly Sins of Data Visualization (#ONA10 #dataviz)
Hannah Fairfield, The Washington Post
Juan Thomassie, USA TODAY
Geoff McGhee, Stanford University
“Face it: if your data display doesn’t look good it might as well not exist. Harness data visualization by being a smart producer and consumer of infographics.”
ethanklapper: Fairfield using a case study about foreclosures from when she was at the NYT. 3D map. Pretty neat
kcorrick: Aha: sin no. 1: when trying to show everything you lose the sense of story
emilywithrow: Yes, my favorite question: Hannah Fairfield: “Just because we can, should we?” Sometimes more data = loss of narrative.
denisereagan: We need to work harder to tell stories with interactives, not just set people loose to play.
ethanklapper: Now @hfairfield is showing one of my favorite Web visualizations: the Netflix maps: nyti.ms/6cWUY
annatauzin: A showcase of #dataviz projects from @hfairfield, right now WaPo’s A Source of Crime Guns wapo.st/cD3Nef
annatauzin: Woohoo! Now @jthomassie1 from USA Today. He says #dataviz is a passion for him, especially how it relates to storytelling
ethanklapper: Three parts to data visualization, JT says: Data, Design, Development
hbillings: Data + Design + Development = data viz. (Wow, Venn diagrams are popular at this conference!)
ethanklapper: Rare to find all of these skills in one persion, JT says, so you need to collaborate.
ethanklapper: This guy visualized his own presentation. He took the venn diagram and made a tag cloud out of it!
ethanklapper: Another really neat news visualization site: newsmap.jp/
jrstahl: Layers of information accessible through interactivity. Incredible how powerful well-organized data is for storytelling
ethanklapper: As an #avgeek, I just got excited. Thomassie now showing a graphic of holiday travel cutbacks: klapp.me/auy5EK
richgor: Another fab #dataviz www.usatoday.com/sports/college/mensbasketball/2010-mens-coaches-poll-database.htm #ona10 Alas, Flash=iPadfail ·
annatauzin: Journalism in the Age of Data from Stanford’s Geoff McGhee. #dataviz #ona10 datajournalism.stanford.edu/
ethanklapper: Really unfortunate that there are many, many empty chairs at #dataviz. Folks are missing out on an awesome session.
ethanklapper: Look! An academic paper from Stanford about narrative vis! vis.stanford.edu/papers/narrative
annatauzin: Inspiration found in comic books, movies, video games says Geoff McGhee.
annatauzin: Ethos of Visualization: Transparency, Conversation, Exploration
annatauzin: Transparency: Allow the audience to download the data themselves or see where you got it
ethanklapper: This cool thing got a passing mention: “Visualizing the Rural West.” klapp.me/boiyjP McGhee says it needs more work.
annatauzin: Think about partnering with a university or other experts outside of your newsroom if you don’t have an whiz on staff.
ethanklapper: USAToday.com uses Omniture to track metrics. Saw it in use at @NPR on Thursday, too
MollyGrayOSU: You need to build a #dataviz engine to create good things often and get a cost-benefit
Ten Tech Trends in ‘10 (#ONA10 #techtrends)
Amy Webb, Webbmedia Group
“Think you finally have a handle on the latest technological developments? Think again. Amy Webb is back again to highlight the latest tech trends for the dawn of a new decade.”
stacyannj: Jon Stewart does not have the goodies I’m going to be giving you today, says Amy Webb. #techtrends #rally4sanity #ONA10
stacyannj: Trend #1: Mobile Scanning, ie: QR codes.
greglinch: .@webbmedia highlighting @SunSentinel use of QR codes in the newspaper, an effort led by @dannysanchez
Twheat: @webbmedia extolling the virtues of QR codes, Valentines Day games, and the BK Whopper Bar at #ONA10
mckennaewen: At #techtrends, @webbmedia suggests using QR codes within print stories to drive traffic to multimedia projects
KevinLoker: Contextual link for @webbmedia’s talk! Just spoke with her on the status of her #techtrends from ‘09 bit.ly/93DVcc
emraguso: New optical recognition … can put phone over magazine ad to make the ad come to life… oohs and aaaahs
stacyannj: Geofence app for iPhone: Keep track of your kids. Messages and alerts when they’re somewhere they shouldn’t be.
emraguso: Geofences can help curb your cravings, send a message: “Hey fatty, don’t go to the Pink Berry”
stacyannj: Trend 2: Geofencing! Foursquare not ideal b/c have to manually check in. Don’t have to really be somewhere to che
meghannCIR: Another fantastic idea: hyperlink in print so phones can scan.
stacyannj: TabbedOut: Check into a bar with your credit card. Easy to get drinks, tip bartender, pay tab, avoid boozey over tipping
emraguso: Trend #3: Predictive Analysis kimfox: iSwig: Check-in cocktail drinkers (HJI-LARIOUS: tcrn.ch/9gQWJ5)
ladansusan: “people don’t just want the merit badge anymore-they want something associated with it” @webmedia
drsyb: #ona10 @webbmedia #techtrends new Checkin services Plerts, iSwig, tabbedout, fanvibe. I smell API mashups everywhere.
Twheat: Hyperlocal Hype Cycle — consumer interest yet to match media’s excitement.
drsyb: #ona10 #techtrends @webbmedia data you share on FB fuels predictive analysis is making others money. What are YOU going to DO?
Twheat: #techtrends #ona10 Stealth social net readers like Kuplia www.kuplia.com/ makes smart predictions from info users willingly share
emraguso: trend #4: claim is that hyperlocal hype cycle is waning
mckennaewen: Here are some of the cool location-based apps from @webbmedia’s #techtrends presentation: GeoFences, iSwig, Burc, TabbedOut, Plerts
emraguso: for news organizations: lots of free tools where you can monitor predictive analysis
kimfox: Webb: People are freely/unwittingly giving away data. Reporters should be paying attention to this for stories/biz dev
emraguso: trend #5 — dynamic curation (e.g. paper.li, flipboard) meghannCIR: Don’t be hyper-local, be hyper-personal
stacyannj: Hyper personal content needs to be real-time. Maps + citizen journ not enough.
nytjim: More Webb: “Local is where I am right now, not where I live.”
fcoel: The 5 hyper-personal rules #ona10 #techtrends twitpic.com/329c73 twitpic.com/329c79
Twheat: @webbmedia — “Flipboard is the future of news, as far as I’m concerned.” www.flipboard.com/
emraguso: another crop of tools, wavii — will use natural language processing, will personal based on how you search
nytjim: More Webb: Big shoutouts for Flipboard, Pulse and Storify.
KevinLoker: A bit better graphic of “The Hyperlocal Hype Cycle.” #ona10 #techtrends plixi.com/p/53843283
kimfox: Webb: All the news orgs are spending millions on apps. All Flipboard is, is an algorithm. News orgs cld DO THIS
drsyb: #ona10 @webbmedia #techtrends #6 search is getting personal. Greplin search your cloud self gmail, linkedin, FB etc
emraguso: greplin looks through everything you have stored in the cloud
mckennaewen: At #techtrends, @webbmedia is showing off www.qwiki.com/ as a multimedia presentation tool. Love it.
ladansusan: for someone who forgets my hundreds of gchat conversations, this is perfect @webmedia #techtrends https://www.greplin.com/
emraguso: “big big things are happening around the personal search”
stacyannj: Spokeo: Paid service. Looks thru social networks, can find all your usernames with e-mail address used to registe
carrieCIR: Flipboard. Paper.li. Storify. Wavii. Qwiki. Dynamic, real-time, RSS-generated content aggregator displays.
emraguso: trend #7: augmented reality (so please groan)
kimfox: Webb: Re/ Personal search: golden age to be reporter. If you say it sucks to be reporter, you dnt know what you’re doing
emraguso: trend #8: tablets (2011 is the year of the tablet), more iPods at #ONA10 than at the #apple store
kimfox: Key Takeaway: Are you geotagging your stories? Aug Reality/Diminshed Reality for reporting and publishing
cressman: OMG: Image recognition and social networks fueling diminished reality.
emraguso: diminished reality allows you to smudge something out of a live event in real time, very hard to detect
nytjim: Webb looks at tablet future: So many models coming out with no definite standard.
yurivictor: Let’s all agree on a tablet to develop for and push the market in one direction (might be illegal).
petersmeg: “@mashable should be your daily vitamin” -@webbmedia
ladansusan: newsrooms: know what tools your audience uses to figure out which to invest in
cressman: All these different tablets and mobiles coming means APIs and algorithms make sense
stacyannj: Trend #9: Interactive TV, a la Google TV or WebTV from 10 yrs. ago. Webb’s bribing us w/Starbucks coffee
meghannCIR: Love info @webbmedia is giving us, but challenge is keeping news informative, factual while using tools
robbmontgomery: My question for Webb. Should publishers turn off their RSS feeds when they go behind paywall or meter paid content?
kimfox: Webb final trend: Get ready for tags in the real world (RFID: You scan over a chip, and something happens
Webb: CNN could benefit from My Generation app — which displays content in sync with TV programming
emraguso: Contra Costa County is tagging kids with RFID @eastbaypatch
KevinLoker: Fun part about #ona10 #techtrends session? Faces. Some people seem to have never heard of the coolest ones! Hope it inspires reading
emraguso: Like it or not, next iteration of mobile phones will have sensor technology
emraguso: Amy Webb is wearing a prototype sensor that lets you sync your body to your phone #BodyMedia
drsyb: #ona10 @webbmedia #techtrends Body Media measures your body’s energy and provides data syncs with phones. Consumers love metrics
You Invent It, They Fund It 2010: Lunch with Knight News Challenge Winners (#ONA10 #knclunch)
Jose Zamora, Knight Foundation
Retha Hill, New Media Innovation Lab
Amanda Hickman, DocumentCloud
Eric Gundersen, Development Seed
Aaron Presnall, Jefferson Institute
“Interested in finding out how to apply for this year’s $5 million Knight News Challenge? Join Knight Foundation’s Jose Zamora and past winners as they demonstrate the innovations designed to bring news and information to communities in new ways.”
jczamora: Welcome to #knclunch! #newschallenge winners: @rethahill @amandabee @ericg @Jeffersoninst Projects: bit.ly/K094p
ElenaTheRican: What Knight News Challenge seeks in grant applications: focus on mobile, business models, authenticity, or community
jczamora: #newschallenge application tip: Follow our blog to learn more about the contest and for more tips & advice.
drsyb: #ona10 @rethahill #knclunch Retha talking about SeedSpeak mobile, geo location app to improve community. Phoenix #5 city in US and growing
digitalamysw: When applying for Knight News Challenge, review the past projects funded — Hill
ElenaTheRican: Hearing about SeedSpeak, a mobile app to plant suggestion “seeds” in Phoenix where you get an idea or see an unmet need
drsyb: #ona10 @rethahill #knclunch To secure funding: research, diagrammed how app would work on phone, on desktop, budget, and business plan
digitalamysw: Hill: Use the open-entry process when applying — to receive key feedback and comments for your project
ElenaTheRican: Policy discourse is driven by data, says Aaron Presnall.
ElenaTheRican: In the “republic of ideas,” sharing another’s inspiration doesn’t cost anything
ElenaTheRican: What do you really want to do, that no one else could finance 1-time only? THAT’s what Knight is looking for.
digitalamysw: More about TileMill: bit.ly/djJAH0
digitalamysw: Gundersen: Have your code complete and your project launched — can help as you apply
dorsey: Would’ve been really useful to hear from KNC judges who selected the winners — and what elevates an applicant
sacmcdonald: innovation, not invention, is key for Knight News Challenge apps, says @jczamora
News Apps: Showcase and Strategy (#ONA10 #newsapps)
Katharine Jarmul, USA TODAY
Matt Waite, St. Petersburg Times
Richard Pope, ScraperWiki.com
Aine McGuire, ScraperWiki.com
“In this rapid-fire session, four speakers show the journalistic and technical highlights from some recent news apps, providing insights into the lessons they’ve learned the hard way so you don’t have to.”
ethanklapper: Getting a nice demo of scraperwiki.org
btrpkc: Coder + British + visuals = Most succinct #ona10 presentation yet
ethanklapper: We’re hearing from the awesome @mattwaite of @PolitiFact. Says “You should always strive for simple.”
ethanklapper: .@mattwaite: “Transparency is like sex.” Says it can be awkward.
ReporterAndrew: #newsapps PolitiFact gave left, right hammer with transparency of sources. PolitiFact, not coincidentally, best in biz.
sgoldenberg: #ona10 #newsapps @mattwaite: “we did not approach it as stories but as structured data”
ethanklapper: We as an industry are focusing too much on content problems and not enough on structured data problems. — @mattwaite
ethanklapper: BOOOOOO. Jarmul: “I don’t use a Macintosh.”
ethanklapper: Jarmul: As journalists, we need to start thinking outside the box. Which is why @hatchjt’s team at @USATODAY was assembled.
ethanklapper: Wow, Jarmul says this elaborate site (klapp.me/cGGP2t) is both mobile and iPad enabled.
yurivictor: Bring together different disciplines (journalists, coders, designers) for successful team
patbrannan2131: @mattwaite made a good point that we often learn more from failing than we do when we get it right.
annatauzin: There is no computer jesus. — @mattwaite
ethanklapper: .@mattwaite: “Programming is an act of journalism.” Killer quote of the day. Small applause from otherwise silent
yurivictor: The secret to programming: Don’t quit.
lheron: Quote actually from @memespring, not @ainemcguire: When u hear ppl say “my tech guy”, that’s not an equal relationship
Tips and Tricks for Shooting Video with Your DSLR (#ONA10 #dslr)
Kurt Lancaster, North Arizona University
Travis Fox, Travis Fox Films
Danfung Dennis, Independent filmmaker
“So you have a DSLR camera. Now what? Learn how to view footage from the field, get good sound, get footage into your computer to edit, and find the gear that’s most useful in the field. The panel will include examples of video journalism, as well as a discussion of how to best use your DSLR for video work.”
emraguso: danfung: space between documentary films and feature films. now we can tell stories in a cinematic way. it’s a new language
cressman: Watching the NPR/Frontline piece on the Haitian Tap Tap buses. Beautifully cinematic video shot with Canon
emraguso: unexpected moment: watching a charming video on snail racing. bejeweled snails!! fascinating stuff. great music too
emraguso: yep, now the snails are humping. along to some lovely piano music. anyone not in here is missing out
emraguso: tip: from KEH photo, can buy zeiss lens for $300. better natural feedback from subjects with small camera
emraguso: danfung: shooting observational footage, audio in camera, 80 hrs of footage. must buy some external mic (rec: ME 66 sennheiser)
emraguso: PBS will blow you off if you don’t have the right audio. he had 100 hrs of footage, had to sync every night, said travis fox
mckennaewen: Now we’re getting into the “never ending debate” of #dslr audio issues
emraguso: danfung said DSLR cameras starting to adapt bc people are starting to pic them up just to shoot video (high intimacy factor)
emraguso: a monitor can be real important during an interview so you can maintain eye contact, tho it’s a matter of preference
mckennaewen: #dslr @TravisFox uses a separate audio recorder to shoot his @frontlinepbs documentaries and syncs each night w/ Plural Eyes.
mrkmully: #ona10 @McKennaEwen #dslr Good to know Danfung Dennis’ amazing footage: vimeo.com/6995256 shot with mod’d glidecam
Don’t Call it UGC (#ONA10 #notugc)
Laura Brunow Minder, Pictory
Alexis Madrigal, Longshot Magazine
Sarah Rich, Longshot Magazine
Robin Sloan, Twitter
“Professional-level input from a sea of amateurs? Community editorial requires finesse, hard work and a lot of respect for your submitters. Get expert advice on how to encourage high-quality content from a staff of strangers.”
christopherwink: Constraining prompts for contributions is important, says @robinsloan they need to be crafted
ckanal: Love this quote from @robinsloan: “Crowdsourcing is a craft.”
digitalamysw: Excellent points by Sloan: crowdsourcing and citizen journalism are not new — they have existed for centuries. Yes!
Twheat: Rich + Madrigal discussing lessons from 48Hr magazine. Now @longshotmag
digitalamysw: Innovative: Longshot Magazine produced in 48 hours by hundreds of creatives from around the world bit.ly/9WrNux
Twheat: Sloan asks if community editorial is harder than tradtional? …and it goes largely unanswered.
kimbui: Prompt design and “universal particulars” matter in getting the content you want
lavrusik: Good prompts for community editorial content have “universal particulars” says @robinsloan. Specific but relate-able
chrisboutet: .@LBM’s example of great prompt for user contribution: “The one who got away: Stories of lost love.” Relatable and evocative.
jrstahl: Best #ona10 q so far: “what would our interaction actually be like” — thx for sharing the practical stuff. that’s what we need!
chrisboutet: Is community editorial easier, or harder than “real” content? @LBM: It’s hard, but worth it. Content is always surprisin
Twheat: Madrigal: 48mag got more than 1K fiction submissions in part because they weren’t specific enough in prompt
chrisboutet: Pictory’s @LBM has a Django custom-built CMS (bit.ly/2wzniy), uses Google Docs for all her editing.
kimfox: “Behinsd every breakthrough project these days is a shared Google spreadsheet’
kimfox: @pictory: Did you pay contributors? 1/4 $ to go back to mag prod, 1/4 to all contribs, 1/4 best 3 submitter, 1/4 crazy stunt
terabithia4: Money is not the only motivator — so is exposure, bragging rights.
fcoel: Really appreciating the CoveritLive bit.ly/dpQPZP for #ona10 #notugc when my english listening comprehension fails
kimfox: @longshot A: Ppl undervalue the Community aspect. Mkng those connection between ppl is of value (reason ppl will contribute)
terabithia4: Don’t assume your readers will be the ones who produce the content = “Joe Francis theory” of content submission.
kimbui: Readers are not always your producers. True, but that only applies to niche or national pubs. Community news is diff…?
terabithia4: One issue: How often do you go to the community?
asoglin: More submissions isn’t better. Better submissions is better.
kimfox: (Brilliant) #notugc: Go on a meme safary. Go on the web, see what ppl are already doing. Incorporate into your edito
kimfox: A: @longshot — all marketing occurred on #twitter. All our traffic from there or email list
lheron: RT @suncorpguy: “Meme safaris” sounds so much classier than stealing somebody else’s great ideas ;-)
kimfox: Incentive for submission at Atlantic: Ppl know their contributions are going to be exposed to a very specific community
kimfox: Miner: We ask ppl who don’t get into the print ed of the mag, to post their stuff and send us their links and we’ll promote
tiffinit: Submission prompts by @Pictory & @LongshotMag remind me of @thesunmagazine’s Readers Write section
Twheat: Madrigal references 50 Posts About Cyborgs — a user submitted science fiction project: 50cyborgs.tumblr.com/
kimfox: You have to have a level of comfort when crowdsourcing content, with content not made for you
chrisboutet: Pictory’s @LBM: The best community submissions is often that which wasn’t made specifically for you, but are still relevant.
Twheat: Miner: With any product — the level of design speaks to the overall quality.
zseward: Did @robinsloan just coin “meme safari”? Definition, I think: scoping the web for resonant ideas. Love it.
emilyingram: Final slide in #notugc: finesse, hard work, respect.
sacmcdonald: Don’t call it ugc, call it crowdsourcing or just plain content.
The Onion: Explaining Over 250 Years of News Dominance (#ONA10 #onion)
Marc Lieberman, The Onion
Baratunde Thurston, The Onion
“From the invention of advertorial content to the development of television news, find out how America’s Finest News Source has managed to stay ahead of the competition for the past several hundred years and continues to lead the way with over 4 million social media connections and top ranking mobile applications.”
emraguso: “by a show of applause, who here does NOT know about the onion?”
emraguso: “World’s largest metaphor hits iceberg” #loveit
emraguso: @baratunde said he’s “every black man” in onion photos
annatauzin: Sometimes all you need is a photo and a headline, says @baratunde
ladansusan: “Huffington post launches new print edition featuring articles torn out of other papers” haha, funny
emraguso: hearing about the onion news network, one of its biggest investments, reaches 500,000 US prison cells @baratunde
notblue: The #Onion uses a state-of-the-art wormhole satellite to bring news from the future.
emraguso: “We’re here in part to share our take on the news industry” #shouldbegood @baratunde
lisalisle: #onion: Majority of newspapers now purchased by kidnappers to prove date.
emraguso: Video: Let’s look at the redesign to target the Globe’s “last three readers” @baratunde
ladansusan: @washingtonpost now delivers on pancakes with a side of bacon
emraguso: Now we’re serious: Went online in 1996. And 7m uniques a month @baratunde
emraguso: And they have 2.5m comments a month — they built it themselves #gettingtechnical @baratunde
emraguso: Four servers, one database; CDN-based, only three developers #wow @baratunde
dorsey: Difficult to tell when The Onion’s Baratunde shifts from parody to “actual facts.” #satiresideeffect
jsabbah: Theonion.com = Django based homegrown CMS (online since 1996)
emraguso: “very lean, very efficient” and we reach a large number of people. no one laughing now @baratunde
jsabbah: The Onion has 2.4 million follows on Twitter and 1.3 million Facebook fans.
emraguso: Says Cornell U study, onion has 4th most influential #twitter feed (after @mashable, CNN, @big_picture) @baratunde
emraguso: Real-time coverage: A little bit new for us. When it comes to major events, #twitter is great for us @baratunde
jsabbah: Onion social media uses = content/viral distribution, breaking news, real-time coverage, participation and nation building.
emraguso: apple rejected the app for a game to shoot people in the face, but they built #facebook page #ohwell @baratunde
ladansusan: The Onion is the 4th most influential news account on Twitter
emraguso: 1m downloads on Android and iPhone @baratunde
notblue: “Apps are like children.” You have to feed them, clothe them, take care of them. Makes sense.
emraguso: Next platforms will include: Tablets, @GoogleTV, @Foursquare, @IFC & @ComedyCentral @baratunde
emraguso: Gonna be a launch spotlight partner on @GoogleTV @baratunde
emraguso: Show launching on @IFC in Jan. taking Web video and forcing it into people’s homes (w/ more commercials) @baratunde
annatauzin: Final slide of the #onion presentation. :) #ona10 twitpic.com/32bm7q
heidide: Thurston: “Execute ideas, not people.”
ladansusan: “how many lawyers do you have on staff.”
sacmcdonald: Only one #onion writer knows ap style.
taliawhyte: Marc Lieberman said that when the #onion won the Peabody Award, half the staff didn’t know what the award was
The phrase “on-demand human computation” has a sinister tinge to it, if only because the idea of sucking the brain power out of a group of people is generally frowned upon. And yet, if you call it “crowdsourcing” everything sounds so much friendlier!
But calling Soylent “crowdsourced copy-editing” isn’t quite fair, since the system performs the type of jobs that are somewhere in the gray area between man and machine. More than a spell check, not quite the nightside copy editor versed in AP style, Soylent really is on-demand computation. It’s what all word processors need, the “Can you take a look at this?” button with a small workforce of people at your disposal.
Soylent is an add-in for Microsoft Word that uses Mechanical Turk as a distributed copy-editing system to perform tasks like proofreading and text-shortening, as well as a type of specialized edits its developers call “The Human Macro.” Currently in closed beta, Soylent was created by compsci students at MIT, Berkeley, and University of Michigan.
For those unfamiliar, Mechanical Turk is an Amazon service that makes it easier for small tasks (and the money to pay for them) to be distributed among a group of humans called Turkers. While savvy writers could already use MTurk to edit their work, the team at Soylent believes their system can produce better and more efficient results than would a writer working alone.
“The idea of Soylent is, what if we could embed human knowledge in the word processor?” MIT’s Michael Bernstein, the lead researcher on Soylent, told me.
That sounds technical, but as Bernstein explains, we all call on friends for help when writing. Research paper, essay, email, story, or blog post — most people rely on a second pair of eyeballs for help at least some of the time. And one thing Mechanical Turk has to offer is a lot of eyeballs.
Soylent’s three current features are called Shortn, Crowdproof, and the Human Macro:
— Shortn: Ever write 1,700 words and blow right past your 1,200 word count? Shortn lets writers submit passages of text to MTurk for trimming. They can determine how much they want to cut with a handy slider tool.
— Crowdproof: A superpowered, sophisticated spell, grammar and style check that provides suggestions as well as explanations why your choices are wrong.
— The Human Macro: For more complicated changes — something like “change all verbs to past tense” — the Human Macro is, as Bernstein says, programming-as-craigslist-ad. The writer describes the changes she wants (capitalization of proper names, altering verb tense, annotating references with Creative Commons photos) in a request form, which humans then act on.
Bernstein argues that Soylent’s cold, detached eye is just what some writing needs. “It’s really hard to kill your own babies in your writing,” Bernstein said. “To be honest, another motivation for me is that it’s very time consuming to go and snip words and cut things from paragraphs an hour before deadline.”
But to writers already nervous about those babies being disappeared on the copy desk, handing over their copy to the faceless masses might not sound like a solution. In their research, Bernstein and his colleagues identified “lazy” and “overeager” individual Turkers, with the lazy ones doing the minimal amount of work and the overeager making wholesale changes. Bernstein said the distributed editing process behind Soylent eliminates this problem because no one Turker is working with whole passages of a document; the work is split among many.
Some in news circles are already experimenting with Mechanical Turk; ProPublica used it to identify companies getting stimulus dollars for the Recovery Tracker project. (Here at the Lab, we use it for the long transcripts we sometimes run of video or audio interviews.) MTurk could be used for any number of tasks that call for on-demand labor. But what makes Soylent different from using MTurk directly is a programming pattern Bernstein and his colleagues created called Find-Fix-Verify, which disseminates tasks across a large group of workers. The only thing required of writers is an Amazon account to pay Turkers; Soylent sets the payment rates.
Instead of one Turker reading over an entire page or paragraph, Soylent asks a group of workers to find areas that need fixing and make corrections. Those fixes are then filtered by other Turkers for inaccuracies, which produces a set of recommendations or an edited graph to a writer. Depending on the job and the document, it usually took Soylent around 40 minutes to complete a task.
To news traditionalists, Soylent may sound like the latest turn toward outsourcing in journalism that has sent copy editing jobs to places in India. It could also be akin to the automated journalism being tested by some companies or the Huffington Post’s real-time headline testing. And some day it may be. But Soylent is far from ready for the mainstream, thanks to the processing time and payment methods. Bernstein says they’re working towards having real-time edits and managing payment through Soylent, as well adapting the program to work on photo editing. Instead of outsourcing, think of Soylent as microsourcing.
And about that name: It comes from exactly what you’re thinking. Bernstein said they were looking for something familiar but also true to the idea of what they created. Soylent is made of people. It is indeed, people.
“The original name was Homunculus,” Bernstein said. “It didn’t have the same ring to it.”