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December 01 2011

20:00

Wikileaks - The Spy files: big business with your personal data

WikiLeaks :: Mass interception of entire populations is not only a reality, it is a secret new industry spanning 25 countries. It sounds like something out of Hollywood, but as of today, mass interception systems, built by Western intelligence contractors, including for ’political opponents’ are a reality.

WikiLeaks began releasing a database of hundreds of documents from as many as 160 intelligence contractors in the mass surveillance industry. Working with Bugged Planet and Privacy International, as well as media organizations form six countries – ARD in Germany, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in the UK, The Hindu in India, L’Espresso in Italy, OWNI in France and the Washington Post in the U.S.

Continue to read wikileaks.org

via Stan Schroeder, Mashable

June 03 2011

09:51

Speaker presentations: Session 2A – Developing the data story

Here are the presentations from Session 1A – ‘The data journalism toolkit’, at last week’s news:rewired conference.

The session featured:

With: Professor Paul Bradshaw, visiting professor, City University and founder, helpmeinvestigate.com; Alastair Dant, lead interactive technologist, the Guardian; Federica Cocco, editor, OWNI.eu; Conrad Quilty-Harper, data reporter, the Telegraph. Moderated by Simon Rogers; editor, Guardian datablog and datastore.

Paul Bradshaw, visiting professor, City University, London


Federica Cocco, editor, OWNI.eu

http://owni.eu/2011/05/25/a-map-to-freedom-the-internet-in-europe/
http://influencenetworks.org/
http://owni.fr/2011/04/18/carte-biens-mal-acquis-kadhafi-ben-ali/
http://wikileaks.owni.fr/
http://app.owni.fr/warlogs/
http://warlogs.owni.fr/
http://statelogs.owni.fr/
http://owni.eu/2011/03/04/app-fortress-europe-a-deadly-exodus/

Conrad Quilty-Harper, data mapping reporter, the Telegraph


Alastair Dant, lead interactive technologist, the Guardian



See the full session on video

May 05 2011

18:27

Is Non-Profit Journalism A Safeguard for Press Freedom?

wpfd2011logo200.jpg

WASHINGTON, DC -- Since May 3, 1991, World Press Freedom Day has been celebrated worldwide annually to raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press and remind governments of their duty to respect it. Marking the 10th anniversary last Tuesday, an international conference was organized in Washington, DC, by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the U.S. State Department to debate the "new frontiers" of the media. You can see the entire agenda here.

Online freedom and the changing media landscape had pride of place and I was given the opportunity to debate online censorship on May 2 as well as discuss the actual situation between "traditional" and "new media," as a representative of Reporters Without Borders. (Note that Reporters Without Borders also has a special World Day Against Cyber-Censorship focused entirely on online expression.)

In countries where online platforms are tightly controlled -- but also are some of the rare places to get uncensored information -- the lines between traditional and new media is very vague. It's possible that non-profit journalism websites (or sites where the news isn't a profit center) might help safeguard press freedom.

Reports from Malaysia, France

In Malaysia, Premesh Chandran had to adapt to the fact that advertisers were staying away because the info published on Malaysiakini.com was not fitting in with the control imposed on media by the government. Malaysia is ranked 141st out of 178 countries in the 2010 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. Without ads, Malaysiakini began to install a pay wall for its English version. The website thought it might take a non-profit business model but according to Chandran, "It became obvious that [they] had to become more professional." The subscription allows the core of an audience to support the news activities of the website. But Chandran acknowledges that "readers don't pay."

In France, OWNI.fr depends on the expertise of reporters and licensed content for their free website, but make money by sell journalism services to online publishers. (You can read more about OWNI in this story by Mark Glaser on MediaShift.)

"In terms of client acquisition, this is very helpful," according to OWNI's director of data journalism Nicholas Kayser-Bril. OWNI worked with WikiLeaks on a non-profit basis and organized the crowdsourcing for documents that were released. It is now an expertise that they can sell to other organizations. For this website, the content and features are a non-profit activity, because the income is generated by services instead. "This a way of adapting journalism to the technologies," said Kayser-Bril.

Open Source Software at AllAfrica.com

Convinced that mobile phones were making a huge impact on the way media are operating in Africa, Amadou Mahtar Ba, co-founder of AllAfrica.com, insisted that "traditional media need to adapt to technology. Many media organization are losing relevance and there is a fundamental growth of mobile phones."

"Media owners and operators need guidelines and principles, as journalists have theirs," Ba said.

AllAfrica.com is a news content publisher and relies on the development of systems based on free and open source software, such as XML::Comma, released under the GNU General Public License. It has become the entry point to a global, Africa-interested audience, as well as a pioneering set of technologies. Here again, journalism is a non-profit activity.

newseum feeds.jpg

According to Richard Tofel, general manager of ProPublica, there is a role for non-profit journalism to take over the economic failures of the "traditional" media by taking the risks the latter could not afford anymore.

"We are going to a new territory based on a technological revolution," he said. "We need experimentation and a willingness to take risks almost every day to discover these new ways," said Tofel, when asked about the training journalists should receive to handle these different ways of making the news.

Press freedom is not only about journalists being killed and harassed and newspapers being forced to close by oppressive governments. It is also about guaranteeing independence -- independence from advertisers is no less complicated than independence from donors. At the panel discussion, one of the solutions was making money from readers and services. These publications do bring in money and are trying to get their readers to adapt to new technologies. Non-profit journalism, in the sense of news not being the profitable activity, is a way of helping to guarantee more editorial independence. This is one more possible safeguard for press freedom.

Photo of the Newseum by Clothilde le Coz

Clothilde Le Coz has been working for Reporters Without Borders in Paris since 2007. She is now the Washington director for this organization, helping to promote press freedom and free speech around the world. In Paris, she was in charge of the Internet Freedom desk and worked especially on China, Iran, Egypt and Thailand. During the time she spent in Paris, she was also updating the "Handbook for Bloggers and Cyberdissidents," published in 2005. Her role is now to get the message out for readers and politicians to be aware of the constant threat journalists are submitted to in many countries.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

March 11 2011

17:30

How French Site OWNI Profits by Giving Away Its Content

AUlogo.jpg

Business content on MediaShift is sponsored by the weekend MA in Public Communication at American University. Designed for working professionals, the program is suited to career changers and public relations or social marketing professionals seeking career advancement. Learn more here.

Most content sites in the U.S. have two ways of making money: charging for subscriptions or running advertising (or both). But a French site, OWNI.fr, has found an unusual business model for a site with no ads and no subscriptions -- that's also profitable. How do they do it? Their main business is doing web development and apps for media companies and institutions.

One big advantage for OWNI is its origins as a pure online business, with an entrepreneurial CEO Nicolas Voisin and a staff of web developers. The site was initially an aggregation of bloggers, with the parent company called 22Mars (March 22nd), set up to fight a controversial French copyright law known as HADOPI. While 22Mars was made up of web developers at launch in April 2009, they eventually revamped the site with more editorial direction and hired journalists in 2010 to work alongside the developers.

The result is a striking website, with an eye-catching design and various examples of data journalism and data visualization. In fact, when they set up an English-language site, OWNI.eu, its motto was "Digital Journalism." The site won an Online Journalism Award at the ONA conference last year, and is a finalist in next week's SXSW Accelerator competition for "news-related technologies." Here's a screen shot from one data visualization showing how many people have died immigrating to Europe from Africa:



fortress europe.jpg

All the American interest in the French site will grow exponentially when the site opens a U.S. subsidiary next month, somewhere in the San Francisco Bay Area. I spoke to the future CEO of that U.S. subsidiary, Adriano Farano, an Italian who had helped run Cafe Babel, a pan-European website. Here, he explains what the name OWNI means in French (largely a play on "UFO"):

adriano1.mp3

Farano told me that the parent company, 22Mars, is about a third of the way to closing a Series C round of funding for about 1.5 million Euros, and that they will seek a first round of funding for OWNI.us. In France, the company grew from just 8 people a year ago to 37 today, with 15 full-time journalists. At the same time, Farano says the site traffic also boomed, going from 200,000 monthly unique visitors to 1.5 million uniques today.

I also spoke by phone to OWNI's director of data journalism, Nicolas Kayser-Bril. The following is an edited transcript of our international phone conversation.

Q&A

Why did you start OWNI and what were your aims?

Nicolas Kayser-Bril: It wasn't planned to be a media company at all. It was started in April 2009, where there was a law called HADOPI being passed in the French parliament, that was dangerous for online freedom [and later was the basis for Loppsi 2]. Several bloggers got together to set up a platform [to fight the law]. And the company that was set up to run OWNI is called 22Mars, and we decided to host the platform so we had a blog network hosted on a WordPress platform. Step by step, the platform grew, and Nicolas Voisin, the CEO of 22Mars decided to take the experiment further and put one person full-time on maintaining and engaging the community.

We saw that this worked well so we put more resources and people into OWNI. So we decided to become a real media [outlet], a real website, still with this strong community of bloggers behind it. In the summer of 2010, we realized that OWNI had become a real media [outlet], ran stories, and really had a big impact in the traditional media sphere. We hadn't really planned to become one. This changed the way the company was organized. At first we had been more of a showroom for what we're doing, and today it's more of a lab where journalists are free to innovate and do what they want.

With that experience, we continue to run our service company, selling website development and applications. We specialize in providing apps and social media platforms. Half of our sales today have to do with social media, and the other half has to do with data visualization, crowdsourcing apps, and running innovative journalistic products. We serve all kinds of institutions and NGOs that have a story to tell but don't know how to to do it online. We build the tools for them to do so.

When you say half of your sales is social media does that mean helping them with social media strategy?

Kayser-Bril: We do some social media consulting, but most of the work is building social media websites tailor made [for clients]. For instance, with universities, they have unique problems as to how to communicate between teachers and students and the wider public. So we built the interface using WordPress to solve this problem. So we always build custom solutions with added value.

What was your background and that of the OWNI CEO Nicolas Voisin?

Kayser-Bril: Nicolas, our CEO, was an entrepreneur and got into the media in 2006 before the presidential election in France. He started doing a political show; he realized there was a big gap on how the public was informed about candidates' platforms. So what he decided to do was interview them without time limits and spent hours with them, and then posted them on YouTube. It worked really well, so he thought there was a need to reinvent storytelling online. That's what drove him.

The other core people at the company are mostly developers. I myself have a background in economics. I never studied journalism. Before OWNI, I was living in Berlin and working at a startup. Before that I was doing freelance work. I was doing online work for a presidential campaign in 2009, mostly web-related things. We didn't hire a traditional journalist until February 2010. Now we have many seasoned journalists working for us.

So you are set up as a non-profit or for-profit company?

Kayser-Bril: 22Mars is for-profit, and we did not spin off OWNI as a non-profit organization from an accounting perspective. The website does not have to make a profit in the sense that we don't make money from the website. No subscriptions and no hidden advertisements. The value the website provides is in gaining expertise online that we can then share and sell to clients.

So your model is basically making money by developing websites and custom social media solutions? The site is more of a testing lab?

Kayser-Bril: Exactly. You could compare it to businesses in other industries. We might start selling online objects or other products in the coming months to have more high-margin products.

We will start selling e-books, which is a big driving force of 22Mars -- we don't sell content but we sell products, because everyone knows content is abundant. What's missing is a way to properly browse through it and consume it. So we'll be selling apps. Not apps for the iPhone or in the App Store. We always remain on the HTML side and JavaScript and stay compatible with all platforms. So they would run on the open web as well as on the iPhone and iPad.

augmented cartoon.jpg

We're convinced that the apps you see on the iPhone and iPad and Android in the future will be merged into web apps because it makes more sense economically to develop something once instead of three or four times. We develop for all devices. We recently published what we call an augmented cartoon where you have more depth in text, and can follow links. We made it for the iPad; it was more of an iPad app than it worked on a computer. With HTML 5 you can really design an app and optimize it for the device you want.

Kayser-Bril explains how developers will work for OWNI for less money than at other companies because they have a chance to work on projects about society and politics:

nicolas1.mp3

Does OWNI have a specific political viewpoint?

Kayser-Bril: Not really, we're not really involved in politics. What we do fight for is freedom online and offline, supporting the declaration of human rights. We could lead fights in defense of Internet freedoms (for example, against censorship, for Net neutrality, etc.). We'll fight against all laws that restrict freedom of speech online. We don't have any more political views beyond that. When you see the political views of people at OWNI, it ranges from leftist to libertarian so it would be impossible to have a single political line.

Tell me about the work you've done for WikiLeaks.

Kayser-Bril: WikiLeaks called us to do similar work that we are doing on a daily basis, which is building interfaces and web apps. Their problem is that they had masses of web documents but they were not comprehensible for a normal human being. So we came up with this app to browse through the Afghan War Logs. It illustrates how OWNI works, because when the Afghan War Logs came out, we realized we could build that just like for the Iraq War Logs.

afghan war logs.jpg

It was a non-commercial relationship with WikiLeaks, and it made perfect sense because we learned a lot so we could sell crowdsourcing applications. From a business perspective it made a lot of sense.

Kayser-Bril explains how OWNI helps clients with unique open solutions, and that everyone's become a media outlet now:

nicolas2.mp3

Have you done work for media companies?

Kayser-Bril: Yes, many French ones. Our client list include France24, Radio France Internationale, Groupe Moniteur (professional magazines), Le Monde Diplomatique, Slate.fr, Le Soir (Brussels) and Zeit Online (Berlin). We're in talks with many more, and we've worked as well for NGOs and public institutions (the municipality of Paris and the French presidency).

I noticed that you re-post or license content from other sites on OWNI. How much of your content is original vs. reposted?

Kayser-Bril: About half and half. We are trying to reach the 60% mark of original content. If someone is more of an expert than we are, we just republish his or her article. Not just re-posting it, but fact-checking it, adding images -- we really want to add value to cross-posted articles.

You have a Creative Commons license on your stories. So does that mean anyone can run your stories on their site?

Kayser-Bril: Of course. Our whole business model is built on the Creative Commons license. On the content side, the more our articles are republished, the happier we are. We don't have advertising, but we want our articles to be read. Please repost them. On the business side as well, we only use open technologies -- HTML and JavaScript and no Flash. And that makes sense because our added value isn't in the code or software that we build, but how we can answer our clients' needs and provide them open solutions.

Kayser-Bril explains how OWNI's new U.S. site won't consider other media sites as competition but as partners:

nicolas3.mp3

Can you point to any successes you've had in some of your journalism experiments?

Kayser-Bril: The WikiLeaks project didn't turn out as well as it could have. One thing we did was rethink the way surveys are made. We worked with a pollster and realized that when a media [outlet] orders a survey, what you get in the paper is a page with two infographics and a pie chart. That's not enough. We built an app that lets you browse through all the data the pollster gathered to really see in your area what men over 45 thought. What was really successful was we added the possibilitiy for you to take the survey while you were browsing the app.

That's extremely interesting in terms of journalism, because you can see what your audience is like compared to the people who took the survey. It's also interesting in terms of business because one big asset today is having a big database with qualified voters and such an app would be very valuable for many clients.

*****

What do you think about OWNI's site and business model? Do you think they can replicate their success in the U.S.? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

AUlogo.jpg

Business content on MediaShift is sponsored by the weekend MA in Public Communication at American University. Designed for working professionals, the program is suited to career changers and public relations or social marketing professionals seeking career advancement. Learn more here.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

July 28 2010

06:46

A War Logs interactive – with a crowdsourcing bonus

Owni war logs interface

French data journalism outfit Owni have put together an impressive app (also in English) that attempts to put a user-friendly interface on the intimidating volume of War Logs documents.

The app allows you to filter the information by country and category, and also allows you to choose whether to limit results to incidents involving the deaths of wounding of civilians, allies or enemies.

Clicking on an individual incident bring up the raw text but also a mapping of the location and the details split into a more easy-to-read table.

War Logs results detail

But key to the whole project is the ability to comment on documents, making this genuinely interactive. Once commented, you can choose to receive updates on “this investigation”

This could be fleshed out more, however (UPDATE: it’s early days – see below). “So that we can investigate a war that does not tell its name” is about as much explanation as we get – indeed, Afghanistan is not mentioned on the site at all (which presents SEO problems). In this sense the project suffers from a data-centric perspective which overlooks that not everyone has the same love of data for data’s sake.

A second weakness is an assumption that users are familiar with the story. While the project is linked with Slate.fr and Monde Diplomatique there are no links to any specifically related journalism on those sites, leaving the data without any particular context. Users visiting the site as a result of social media sharing (which is built into the site) might therefore not know what they’re dealing with.

Technically, however, this is an excellent solution to the scale problem that War Logs presents. It just needs an editorial solution to support it.

UPDATE: Nicolas Kayser-Bril, the man behind the project (disclosure: a former OJB contributor) explains the background:

“We contacted several outlets on Monday to coproduce the app. (we’re still in talks with several others in Italy, Belgium, Germany). What we offered them was an all-inclusive solution that gives them visibility and image gains and a way for them to engage with their audience.

“You’re right to say that the app lacks an editorial perspective as such. We’re implementing a feature called ‘contextualization’ that will offer users links to backgrounder stories published on partner websites according to several criteria (year, civil/military report, region, nationality of the engaged forces).

“Moreover, we’ve crowdsourced a huge work that considerably expanded the glossary published by Wikileaks and the Guardian. We launched a call for help on Monday morning. In 36 hours, we had 30% more entries related to unexplained abbreviations or details about equipment, as well as a French translation. Something we want to provide is a way for everyone with a low level of English to decipher the documents.”

March 19 2010

09:25

Interview: Nicolas Kayser-Bril, head of datajournalism at Owni.fr

Past OJB contributor Nicolas Kayser-Bril is now in charge of datajournalism at Owni.fr, a recently launched news site that defines itself as an “open think-tank”.

“Acting as curators, selecting and presenting content taken deep in the immense and self-expanding vaults of the internet,” explains Nicolas, “the Owni team links to the best and does the rest.”

I asked Nicolas 2 simple questions on his work at Owni. Here are his responses:

What are you trying to do?

What we do is datajournalism. We want to use the whole power of online and computer technologies to bring journalism to a new height, to a whole new playing field. The definition remains vague because so little has been made until now, but we don’t want to limit ourselves to slideshows, online TV or even database journalism.

Take the video game industry, for instance. In the late 1970’s, a personal computer could be used to play Pong clones or text-based games. Since then, a number of genres have flourished, taking action games to 3D, building an ever-more intelligent AI for strategy games, etc. In the age of the social web, games were quick to use Facebook and even Twitter.

Take the news industry. In the late 1970’s, you could read news articles on your terminal. In the early 2010’s you can, well… read articles online! How innovative is that? (I’m not overlooking the innovations you’ll be quick to think of, but the fact remains that most online news content are articles.)

We want to enhance information with the power of computers and the web. Through software, databases, visualizations, social apps, games, whatever, we want to experiment with news in ways traditional and online media haven’t done yet.

What have you achieved?

We started to get serious about this in February, when I joined the mother company (22mars) full-time. In just a month, we have completed 2 projects

The first one, dubbed Photoshop Busters (see it here), gives users digital forensics tools to assess the authenticity of an image. It was made as a widget for one of our partners, LesInrocks.com.

More importantly, we made a Facebook app, Where do I vote? There, users can find their polling station and their friends’ for the upcoming regional election in France.

It might sound underwhelming, but it required finding and locating the addresses of more than 35,000 polling stations.

On top of convincing a reluctant administration to hand over their files, we set up a large crowdsourcing effort to convert the documents from badly scanned PDFs to computer-readable data. More than 7,000 addresses have been treated that way.

Dozens of other ideas are in the works. Within Owni.fr, we want to keep the ratio of developers/non-developers to 1, so as to be able to go from idea to product very quickly. I code most of my ideas myself, relying on the team for help, ideas and design.

In the coming months, we’ll expand our datajournalism activities to include another designer, a journalist and a statistician. Expect more cool stuff from Owni.fr.

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