Tumblelog by Soup.io
Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

June 27 2013

16:27

Sensor journalism, storytelling with Vine, fighting gender bias and more: Takeaways from the 2013 Civic Media Conference

mit-knight-civic-media-conference-2013Are there lessons journalists can learn from Airbnb? What can sensors tell us about the state of New York City’s public housing stock? How can nonprofits, governments, and for-profit companies collaborate to create places for public engagement online?

There were just a few of the questions asked at the annual Civic Media Conference hosted by MIT and the Knight Foundation in Cambridge this week. It covered a diverse mix of topics, ranging from government transparency and media innovation to disaster relief and technology’s influence on immigration issues. (For a helpful summary of the event’s broader themes check out VP of journalism and innovation Michael Maness‘s wrap-up talk.)

There was a decided bent towards pragmatism in the presentations, underscored by Knight president Alberto Ibargüen‘s measured, even questioning introduction to the News Challenge winners. “I ask myself what we have actually achieved,” he said of the previous cycles of the News Challenge. “And I ask myself how we can take this forward.”

While the big news was the announcement of this year’s winners and the fate of the program going forward, there were plenty of discussions and presentations that caught our attention.

Panelists and speakers — from Republican Congressman Darrell Issa and WNYC’s John Keefe to Columbia’s Emily Bell and recent MIT grads — offered insights on engagement (both online and off), data structure and visualization, communicating with government, the role of editors, and more. In the words of The Boston Globe’s Adrienne Debigare, “We may not be able to predict the future, but at least we can show up for the present.”

One more News Challenge

Though Ibargüen spoke about the future of the News Challenge in uncertain terms, Knight hasn’t put the competition on the shelf quite yet. Maness announced that there would indeed one more round of the challenge this fall with a focus on health. That’s about all the we know about the next challenge; Maness said Knight is still in the planning stages of the cycle and whatever will follow it. Maness said they want the challenge to address questions about tools, data, and technology around health care.

Opening up the newsroom

One of the more lively discussions at the conference focused on how news outlets can identify and harness the experience of outsiders. Jennifer Brandel, senior producer for WBEZ’s Curious City, said one way to “hack” newsrooms was to open them up to stories from freelance writers, but also to more input from the community itself. Brandel said journalists could also look beyond traditional news for inspiration for storytelling, mentioning projects like Zeega and the work of the National Film Board of Canada.

Laura Ramos, vice president of innovation and design for Gannett, said news companies can learn lessons on user design and meeting user needs from companies like Airbnb and Square. Ramos said another lesson to take from tech companies is discovering, and addressing, specific needs of users.

newsroominsidepanel

Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, said one solution for innovation at many companies has been creating research and development departments. But with R&D labs, the challenge is integrating the experiments of the labs, which are often removed from day-to-day activity, to the needs of the newsroom or other departments. Bell said many media companies need leadership that is open to experimentation and can juggle the immediate needs of the business with big-picture planning. Too often in newsrooms, or around the industry, people follow old processes or old ideas and are unable to change, something Bell compared to “watching six-year-olds playing soccer,” with everyone running to the ball rather than performing their role.

Former Knight-Mozilla fellow Dan Schultz said the issue of innovation comes down to how newsrooms allocate their attention and resources. Schultz, who was embedded at The Boston Globe during his fellowship, said newsrooms need to better allocate their developer and coding talent between day-to-day operations like dealing with the CMS and experimenting on tools that could be used in the future. Schultz said he supports the idea of R&D labs because “good technology needs planning,” but the needs of the newsroom don’t always meet with long-range needs on the tech side.

Ramos and Schultz both said one of the biggest threats to change in newsrooms can be those inflexible content management systems. Ramos said the sometimes rigid nature of a CMS can force people to make editorial decisions based on where stories should go, rather than what’s most important to the reader.

Vine, Drunk C-SPAN, and gender bias

!nstant: There was Nieman Foundation/Center for Civic Media crossover at this year’s conference: 2013 Nieman Fellows Borja Echevarría de la Gándara, Alex Garcia, Paula Molina, and Ludovic Blecher presented a proposal for a breaking news app called !nstant. The fellows created a wireframe of the app after taking Ethan Zuckerman’s News and Participatory Media class.

The app, which would combine elements of liveblogging and aggregation around breaking news events, was inspired by the coverage of the Boston marathon bombing and manhunt. The app would pull news and other information from a variety of sources, “the best from participatory media and traditional journalism,” Molina said. Rather than being a simple aggregator, !nstant would use a team of editors to curate information and add context to current stories when needed. “The legacy media we come from is not yet good at organizing the news in a social environment,” said Echevarría de la Gándara.

Drunk C-SPAN and Opened Captions: Schultz also presented a project — or really, an idea — that seems especially timely when more Americans than usual are glued to news coming out of the capitol. When Schultz was at the Globe, he realized it would be both valuable and simple to create an API that pulls closed captioning text from C-SPAN’s video files, a project he called Opened Captions, which we wrote about in December. “I wanted to create a service people could subscribe to whenever certain words were spoken on C-SPAN,” said Schultz. “But the whole point is [the browser] doesn’t know when to ask the questions. Luckily, there’s a good technology out there called WebSocket that most browsers support that allows the server and the browser to talk to each other.”

To draw attention to the possibilities of this technology, Schultz began experimenting with a project called Drunk C-SPAN, in which he aimed to track key terms used by candidates in a televised debate. The more the pols repeat themselves, the more bored the audience gets and the “drunker” the program makes the candidates sound.

But while Drunk C-SPAN was topical and funny, Schultz says the tool should be less about what people are watching and more about what they could be watching. (Especially since almost nobody in the gen pop is watching C-SPAN regularly.) Specifically, he envisions a system in which Opened Captions could send you data about what you’re missing on C-SPAN, translate transcripts live, or alert you when issues you’ve indicated an interest in are being discussed. For the nerds in the house, there could even be a badge system based on how much you’ve watched.

Schultz says Opened Captions is fully operational and available on GitHub, and he’s eager to hear any suggestions around scaling it and putting it to work.

followbiasFollow Bias is a Twitter plugin that calculates and visualizes the gender diversity of your Twitter followers. When you sign in to the app, it graphs how many of your followers are male, female, brands, or bots. Created by Nathan Mathias and Sarah Szalavitz of the MIT Media Lab, Follow Bias is built to counteract the pernicious function of social media that allows us to indulge our unconscious biases and pass them along to others, contributing to gender disparity in the media rather than counteracting it.

The app is still in private beta, but a demo, which gives a good summary of gender bias in the media, is online here. “The heroes we share are the heroes we have,” it reads. “Among lives celebrated by mainstream media and sites like Wikipedia, women are a small minority, limiting everyone’s belief in what’s possible.” The Follow Bias server updates every six hours, so the hope is that users will try to correct their biases by broadening the diversity of their Twitter feed. Eventually, Follow Bias will offer metrics, follower recommendations, and will allow users to compare themselves to their friends.

LazyTruth: Last fall, we wrote about Media Lab grad student Matt Stempeck’s LazyTruth, the Gmail extension that helps factcheck emails, particularly chain letters and phishing scams. After launching LazyTruth last fall, Stempeck told the audience at the Civic Media conference that the tool has around 7,000 users. He said the format of LazyTruth may have capped its growth: “We’ve realized the limits of Chrome extensions, and browser extensions in general, in that a lot of people who need this tool are never going to install browser extensions.”

Stempeck and his collaborators have created an email reply service to LazyTruth, that lets users send suspicious messages to ask@lazytruth.com to get an answer. Stempeck said they’ve also expanded their misinformation database with information from Snopes, Hoax-Slayer and Sophos, an antivirus and computer security company.

LazyTruth is now also open source, with the code available on GitHub. Stempeck said he hopes to find funding to expand the fact-checking into social media platforms.

Vine Toolkit: Recent MIT graduate Joanna Kao is working on a set of tools that would allow journalists or anyone else to use Vine in storytelling. The Vine Toolkit would provide several options to add context around the six-second video clips.

Kao said Vines offer several strengths and weaknesses for journalists: the short length, ease of use, and the built-in social distribution network around the videos. But the length is also problematic, she said, because it doesn’t provide context for readers. (Instagram’s moving in on this turf.) One part of the Vine Toolkit, Vineyard, would let users string together several vines that could be captioned and annotated, Kao said. Another tool, VineChatter, would allow a user to see conversations and other information being shared about specific Vine videos.

Open Space & Place: Of algorithms and sensor journalism

WNYC: We also heard from WNYC’s John Keefe during the Open Space & Place discussion. Keefe shared the work WNYC did around tracking Hurricane Sandy, and, of course, the Lab’s beloved Cicada Project. (Here’s our most recent check-in on that invasion topic.)

keefecicadas

As Keefe has told the Lab in the past, the next big step in data journalism will be figuring out what kind of stories can come out of asking questions of data. To demonstrate that idea, Keefe said WNYC is working on a new project measuring air quality in New York City by strapping sensors to bikers. This summer, they’ll be collaborating with the Mailman School of Public Health to do measurement runs across New York. Keefe said the goal would be to fill in gaps in government data supplied by particulate measurement stations in Brooklyn and the Bronx. WNYC is also interested in filling in data gaps around NYC’s housing authority, says Keefe. After Hurricane Sandy, some families living in public housing went weeks without power and longer without heat or hot water. Asked Keefe: “How can we use sensors or texting platforms to help these people inform us about what government is or isn’t doing in these buildings?”

With the next round of the Knight News Challenge focusing on health, keep on eye on these data-centric, sensor-driven, public health projects, because they’re likely to be going places.

Mapping the Globe: Another way to visualize the news, Mapping the Globe lets you see geographic patterns in coverage by mapping The Boston Globe’s stories. The project’s creator, Lab researcher Catherine D’Ignazio, used the geo-tagged locations already attached to more than 20,000 articles published since November 2011 to show how many of them relate to specific Boston neighborhoods — and by zooming out, how many stories relate to places across the state and worldwide. Since the map also displays population and income data, it’s one way to see what areas might be undercovered relative to who lives there — a geographical accountability system of sorts.

This post includes good screenshots of the prototype interactive map. The patterns raise lots of questions about why certain areas receive more attention than others: Is the disparity tied to race, poverty, unemployment, the location of Globe readers? But D’Ignazio also points out that there are few conclusive correlations or clear answers to her central question — “When does repeated newsworthiness in a particular place become a systemic bias?”

May 26 2011

11:45

Online video ads beat TV ads in viewer recall

Mediapost :: Viewers pay more attention to online video ads than to traditional TV commercials and also recall them better, according to new research that utilized Affectiva's facial tracking algorithms and second-by-second biometric modeling of cognition, excitement and stress levels. The research measured the reactions of 48 viewers watching one hour of programming in Interpublic Group's West Coast IPG Media Lab.

Continue to read Les Luchter, www.mediapost.com

January 04 2011

17:02

Winning a Golden Ticket to the MIT Media Lab

I'm a graduate student at the MIT Media Lab. I guess I'm old now. I started writing this post three months ago and in the blink of an eye an entire semester whizzed past my head. Or perhaps into my head would be more accurate; it's just that kind of place.

I want to share a little bit about how the Lab works from a student's perspective, along with some first impressions from my first semester. It should be worthwhile for anyone interested in media labs. For everyone else I'll be sure to touch on where civic and community media fit into the operation.

The Lab: A Newcomer's Guide

If you don't know much about the Lab, here is my go-to description: imagine Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Replace some of the Oompa Loompas with grad students (the rest are robots), and most of the candy wonders with technological ones. This isn't as far off as you might think; we even have a glass elevator.

Now that you have the big picture, I'll explain some of the inner workings.

Research Groups

The lab is organized into entities called research groups, which accept students. Each group has its own focus, and is led by a faculty member. Group sizes vary, but as of this writing there are about 24 groups and 139 students in the Lab, so you can do the math.

The groups' focuses fall across a wide spectrum. For example, New Media Medicine aims to improve the way healthcare is practiced around the world, while Opera of the Future is redefining music for the modern age. My group, Information Ecology, hopes to incorporate interactions with digital information more naturally into our day-to-day lives.

Sponsors

All of this research is funded by a consortium of sponsors. These companies help foot the bill and in return they get VIP treatment and licenses to any IP generated during the time of their sponsorship. Hey Washington Post, where are you? Or other major news organizations, for that matter.

Every year there are two huge celebrations called sponsor weeks in which all of the students and most of the faculty hustle bustle without sleep to prepare all of their demos and show off everything that the Lab has been working on since the last get-together. There is no cramming involved at all, I swear...

Classes

In addition to being researchers, everyone is still a student. Masters students take five classes over two years. The courses can be from anywhere in MIT, although many first year students start with ones from Media Lab. The same faculty members that lead the research groups lead Media Lab courses.

The best courses are often lottery-based. For instance, How to Make Almost Anything is in incredibly high demand because after taking it you know how to make almost anything.

The Center for Future Civic Media

About five years ago, the Knight Foundation gave a sizable grant to the Media Lab. The grant funded a "center" -- namely, the Center for Future Civic Media, a safe haven for anyone interested in pursuing projects related to information and physical community.

Centers are different from research groups because they don't accept new students; instead they sneakily lure current students into their clutches. There are a few centers besides C4FCM, such as the Center for Future Storytelling and the now defunct Center for Future Banking. They all provide direct support for research that fits into their theme.

The C4FCM leverages the Media Lab in a way that research groups can't because it has potential access to everyone. It can attack a problem from dozens of angles at once. There is also a new research group that starts fresh next year called Civic Media, so really they have it all going for them.

For obvious reasons I have a second home in the Center.

So, is it any good?

Earlier this semester I found myself in trouble. I was working on my composites project for How to Make Almost Anything -- I was making a fabricated pet rock. A silly project, maybe, but I had to make something out of composite and I wasn't prepared to make an airplane. That isn't the point. The point is that I needed googley eyes, and it was 3:00 in the morning.

I sent an email to msgs, the Lab-wide mailing list, with few expectations. Within five minutes I had half a dozen replies from people who were still awake, still working, and had access to a stash of eyes that I could use. What a place!

The plethora of available eyes at 3:00 a.m. reflects one of the most important characteristics of the Media Lab: An almost universal appreciation for fun. This spirit makes the Lab one of a kind, and without it people would have a much harder time breaking away and trying new things. They definitely wouldn't work as hard to attempt the impossible -- you need to have fun if you're going to do something as stupid as that.

Before I started my time here I was warned by several students not to fall into the all-too-common trap of putting too much energy into projects that are just silly, goofy, and don't have real impact on the world. So far I have been too busy learning to sink much time into projects at all, but I understand the temptation.

There are many merits to this place -- it has more thought diversity, skill sets, and resources than you can shake a stick at -- but what sets it apart is the need for that warning. It is the fine line that everyone here walks. To do the best work you have to think like a kid living in a crazy person's body, but you can't forget your calling.

Oh, and the other thing that separates it from other institutions is Food Cam.

Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
Could not load more posts
Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
Just a second, loading more posts...
You've reached the end.

Don't be the product, buy the product!

Schweinderl