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March 10 2011

15:14

Free WikiSpaces Plus Accounts for K-12 and higher Education Institutions

After successfully introducing free Wikispaces Plus accounts for K-12 education, Wikispaces has decided to give away 2 million free Plus accounts to higher education institutions!

So far Wikispaces have been helping primary and secondary (K-12) educators, but they have decided to "take it to the next level" and expand the programme towards the higher education. Wikispaces are a very useful space for teachers, students, professors, researchers and librarians who need a simple, powerful way to write and work on the Internet.

As a part of the free wiki programme Wikispaces is also planning to develop and release some of the tools and features that educators request most often.

Learn more

January 06 2011

19:06

LocalWiki: Laying the Groundwork

A few of you have been wondering what we've been up to since our Kickstarter pledge drive ended, so we want to give you a quick update on our Knight-funded project, LocalWiki. For those of you who are more technically inclined, we hope to also provide an insight into these early stages of our process.

To follow our updates in the future, please sign up with your email address at http://localwiki.org, follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/localwiki, or follow our blog directly. Or if you're a huge geek, join us on IRC in Freenode's #localwiki.

Right now, we are ramping up development of the wiki software that will provide the platform for all of our pilot projects. Starting in October, my partner Mike Ivanov and I have been working out of our awesome coworking office in San Francisco (shout out to NextSpace) and laying the groundwork for this new platform.


Making software that lasts

This may not make much sense unless you're a techie, but here are some details about what's going on:

Our initial focus at this stage is to build a set of reusable Django apps that will provide the core functionality of an extensible and easy-to-use wiki software, which include making it straightforward to edit a page, to track and work with revisions of pages and other objects, and to let people compare those revisions to see what's been changed. We will then use these components to build the first functional iteration of our wiki software. The benefits of this approach are that it helps us focus on each aspect separately, will help developers in the Django community to understand and contribute to our code, and makes it possible for other projects and organizations to use only the parts they might find useful. Software only survives if many people actively use it, and we want to ensure our software a long and happy life.

Next Few Months, Roughly Speaking

Until February: Core software. We will create the central components of the wiki software and put them together into something that will enable folks to start creating awesome content. We unfortunately have to work out some legal issues around licensing before we can easily accept outside code contributions.

As soon as our licensing issues are resolved, we'll send out an update with information about how to get involved with the development process. We hope the licensing issues will be resolved in the next couple of weeks. Nevertheless, it may be difficult for outside developers to get involved at this point because core bits and pieces will be moving and changing at a rapid rate.

February-April: Focus on features. We will push heavily to involve more outside developers to help make our software awesome and get some initial user feedback. If you are a developer interested in helping, this will be the best time for you to get involved because we will have somewhat solidified our development processes and underlying, core software. We will also need help with and feedback about the software from a higher level (e.g. feature requests).

April and beyond: Pilot communities, educational materials, community outreach. With the wiki platform largely built, we can start new pilot projects and educating potential users about building successful local projects. At this stage we will need all the help we can get from you to select pilots, write helpful guides, submit bug reports, and develop a model for communities to follow.

19:06

Laying the Groundwork For a Community Wiki

A few of you have been wondering what we've been up to since our Kickstarter pledge drive ended, so we want to give you a quick update on our Knight-funded project, LocalWiki. For those of you who are more technically inclined, we hope to also provide an insight into these early stages of our process.

To follow our updates in the future, please sign up with your email address at http://localwiki.org, follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/localwiki, or follow our blog directly. Or if you're a huge geek, join us on IRC in Freenode's #localwiki.

Right now, we are ramping up development of the wiki software that will provide the platform for all of our pilot projects. Starting in October, my partner Mike Ivanov and I have been working out of our awesome coworking office in San Francisco (shout out to NextSpace) and laying the groundwork for this new platform.


Making software that lasts

This may not make much sense unless you're a techie, but here are some details about what's going on:

Our initial focus at this stage is to build a set of reusable Django apps that will provide the core functionality of an extensible and easy-to-use wiki software, which include making it straightforward to edit a page, to track and work with revisions of pages and other objects, and to let people compare those revisions to see what's been changed. We will then use these components to build the first functional iteration of our wiki software. The benefits of this approach are that it helps us focus on each aspect separately, will help developers in the Django community to understand and contribute to our code, and makes it possible for other projects and organizations to use only the parts they might find useful. Software only survives if many people actively use it, and we want to ensure our software a long and happy life.

Next Few Months, Roughly Speaking

Until February: Core software. We will create the central components of the wiki software and put them together into something that will enable folks to start creating awesome content. We unfortunately have to work out some legal issues around licensing before we can easily accept outside code contributions.

As soon as our licensing issues are resolved, we'll send out an update with information about how to get involved with the development process. We hope the licensing issues will be resolved in the next couple of weeks. Nevertheless, it may be difficult for outside developers to get involved at this point because core bits and pieces will be moving and changing at a rapid rate.

February-April: Focus on features. We will push heavily to involve more outside developers to help make our software awesome and get some initial user feedback. If you are a developer interested in helping, this will be the best time for you to get involved because we will have somewhat solidified our development processes and underlying, core software. We will also need help with and feedback about the software from a higher level (e.g. feature requests).

April and beyond: Pilot communities, educational materials, community outreach. With the wiki platform largely built, we can start new pilot projects and educating potential users about building successful local projects. At this stage we will need all the help we can get from you to select pilots, write helpful guides, submit bug reports, and develop a model for communities to follow.

October 06 2010

14:50

Pushing the Limits of What a Wiki Can Do with Councilpedia

Barely two decades into the digital age, we take online media for granted. So much is so easy and convenient -- at our fingertips -- that we can forget technology can only do so much. Then we come up with a great idea that leaves us with the challenge of how to successfully push the limits.

This is what has confronted Gotham Gazette as we move into the final stages of creating our Councilpedia site. Councilpedia, a Knight News Challenge winner that I've blogged about here previously, will explore more fully the links between money and politics in New York City.

Councilpedia will enable visitors to the site to share what they know about politicians and their donors. It is to be powered by MediaWiki to let people flag something -- noting, for example, that one contributor to a candidate owns land she hopes to get rezoned for a Walmart. Gotham Gazette staff will then confirm -- or delete -- the comment.

Filtering Data

The core of Councilpedia is information already on Gotham Gazette, information from City Council (on earmarks, for example) and, above all, the massive records from the city Campaign Finance Board on giving and spending. The sheer magnitude of all this data has posed an array of problems.

The city data, while thorough and accessible, is inscrutable to most New Yorkers -- a list of largely meaningless names. To make it easier to search and understand, we set out to code the data (to indicate large donors, those from the city, unions, real estate industry etc.). With some candidates having thousands of contributors, this presented a massive task. Fortunately, we had some conscientious interns this summer who, between their other reporting responsibilities, dutifully researched and coded line after line of information under the supervision of our city government editor, Courtney Gross.

Readers will be able to examine this data in a number of ways. They can view by candidate. They can find out who else the contributor helped fund. They can look at intermediaries and determine whose money they bundled and then who it went to. And so on.

For the wiki, though, this mountain of information has been a bit much. When technical manager William JaVon Rice began uploading the data into spreadsheets he had created, the process took 36 hours and produced some 31,000 pages -- a sure indication no one would ever attempt this in print. The system balked, overwriting pages, for example, which required Rice to check every candidate's list of often hundreds of contributors to determine which ones had been overwritten. Then he had to undo the overwrite.

Pushing The Limits of MediaWiki

We're still planning to have this ready to show you in the next several weeks. And we think you'll be impressed. Not to boast, but the reporters, campaign finance aficionados and followers of city government who viewed our test felt that way.

But we do see a number of issues looming ahead. Councilpedia is intended as a living, breathing site, meaning data will continue to accumulate as officials collect more money, award more earmarks, pass more bills, and so on. The updating poses a challenge for a small non-profit like Gotham Gazette.

The magnitude of the new information -- added to the volumes we already have -- is likely to push the limits of MediaWiki even further.

With this in mind, we're looking for ways to automate the process more. And we hope someone -- any takers out there?-- will make MediaWiki more robust or create or an alternative.

As always, we appreciate your ideas, so feel free to share them in the comments below. And stay tuned for Councilpedia.

October 05 2010

16:04

LocalWiki to Create Collaborative, Community-Owned Local Media

So much of the unique knowledge and experiences we acquire through years of living in a community gets spread only by word of mouth, or worse it just stays "locked up" in our heads. But this is great stuff, valuable expert knowledge that can benefit everyone. After all, when it comes to the communities where we live, we are all experts!

What if everyone could share and collaborate on what they know about their local community? What would local media look like if everyone in the community was creating it?

The LocalWiki project is an ambitious effort to create community-owned, living information repositories that will provide much-needed context behind the people, places, and events that shape our communities. We were awarded a 2010 Knight News Challenge grant to create an entirely new sort of software to make our vision of massively collaborative local media a reality.

Here's the Knight foundation video about our project:

Knight News Challenge: Local Wiki from Knight Foundation on Vimeo.

Background

In 2004 we started the Davis Wiki, an experimental project to collect and share interesting information about the town of Davis, California. The site is editable by anyone and it soon became the world's largest and most vibrant community wiki.

Today the residents of Davis use it for everything from learning about local news and local history, to helping return lost pets to their owners. It's become the largest, most used media source in the city. On any given week, nearly half of residents use the Davis wiki; Nearly everyone uses it on a monthly basis. And 1 in 7 residents contribute material to the Davis Wiki.

The Davis Wiki is maintained, at almost every level, by the community at large. Here's a short video clip about the Davis Wiki:

What About Local Blogs?

In 2007, when the Knight News Challenge began, local blogs were the hot new thing. The Knight Foundation was awarding grants to a variety of great local blog projects.

In 2010, blogs are a widespread, tested model for disseminating information about local happenings. A local blog -- a time-based series of updates on a particular topic -- is in many ways an extension of the time-based model of newspapers. While a local blog may sit on an easily accessible website with lots of comments and frequent updates, it is fundamentally a stream of new facts and new bits of information, day after day.

This bit-by-bit, time-based approach to providing information clearly has its origins in the printing and circulation process of newspapers. And our communities benefit from having strong, thriving local blogs and newspapers. But with the instant, always-on access afforded by the Internet we can build a new form of local media that is constantly updated, provides the full context around local issues, and is maintained by the entire community.

Local Media, By Everyone

Another limitation of blogs is that they are written by at most a handful of people. With a local blog, a few people write and everyone else reads (and maybe leaves comments).

Here's how that looks: local_blog.png

People can interact and share through comments and Twitter, etc., but this doesn't allow the community to command the full publishing power of the resource. And as new facts (often provided by commenters or via Twitter) arrive, the editorial team has to update their post (if we're lucky!) to reflect what's new. Or perhaps publish another post, leading to more information fragmentation.

With our local wiki projects, the entire community will not only read, but also contribute to and maintain the resource:

local_wiki.png

A High-Quality Online Hub For Every Community

How do you find out more information about a particular topic in your community? With only local blogs and newspapers to depend on, you'll quickly find yourself sorting through a scattered web of posts and news tidbits going back years. Wouldn't it be great to have an information hub with the full context behind these important local topics?

This is the final recommendation of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy report:

infoneeds1.jpg

It's also a central objective of the LocalWiki project. We hope that our local wiki projects will offer a workable, sustainable model for building and maintaining amazing local information hubs.

We're just getting started on the LocalWiki project and we couldn't be more excited! If you'd like to get more information, or help out with the project, fill out the "Help out & get more info" box at localwiki.org.

We also need your help finding pilot communities for the project! If you know of a great place -- or great people! -- for us to work with, please fill out the pilot recommendation form.

August 31 2010

12:02

Improving Water and Sanitation Resources Online: An Interview with Akvo's Peter van der Linde

Akvo has developed a concept called ‘ Really Simple Reorting’ to allow field teams that work on development projects to share short text and picture based updates online via SMS. Budiya, Kutch, 16 December 2008.I recently had the opportunity to connect with Peter van der Linde, the co-founder and director of Akvo. Akvo is a platform dedicated to realizing drinking water and sanitation projects in developing countries across the globe.

read more

July 16 2010

17:44

Councilpedia In Private Pilot, Overcoming Tech Challenges

Over the last several months, Gotham Gazette has made major strides on its Councilpedia project, which will help New Yorkers keep tabs on their local officials and share their knowledge with others. Over the last year, the project has evolved and -- we think -- improved from our original plan.

Currently we have a pilot for the site with the design, the structure and information for three office holders. We are not ready to release this to the world, but if you would like a sneak preview please email me at grobinson at gothamgazette.com.

Councilpedia Brings City and Candidate Information to Life

Councilpedia intends to bring an array of information about City Council members and other city officials -- the bills they sponsor, background information, member items (a.k.a earmarks) -- to one site, along with campaign finance information. New York City, which has public financing of campaigns, requires a lot of disclosure on the part of candidates as to where they get their money and how they spend it, but the information can be hard to read and comprehend.

That is one way Councilpedia will be useful. First, it sorts the donors by various categories, such as unions, major givers and intermediaries. By having the campaign finance information along with voting information, Councilpedia can help people make possible connections between money and politics. They can then comment on the site.

The city information on donors is essentially a long list of names. Councilpedia will enable readers to identify who those people are. One example would be that John Doe, who gave to candidate X, owns a lot in the candidate's district and wants it re-zoned.

Anyone who registers can -- and is urged to -- comment. Gotham Gazette staff will review comments, verify them and use the leads from our readers to inform our reporting. Overall, we hope Councilpedia will enrich the debate about money and politics in New York.

Making Tools Work

In putting this project together we have grappled with adapting two disparate -- and balky -- technical tools to our needs.

The first was the
Campaign Finance Board
information. While the board provides a wealth of information (and has a very helpful staff to boot), the information can be hard to read and is not formatted the way we wanted it.

After trying various techniques to import the data, we eventually confronted the cold reality: The only feasible way -- given our limitations -- to create an attractive, user friendly site that did what we wanted it to do (and what we promised Knight it would do) was to re-input the data and code it ourselves.

This is incredibly painstaking. Luckily, we have several excellent interns this summer who pitched in to help.

The other issue dealt with adapting the wiki to our needs. While our technical manager, JaVon Rice, has pushed the limits of the wiki, we found there were things it would not do. For example, we had hoped to flag items that have recently received comment and have the comments appear along with the item.

Instead, we will have comment pages. We will indicate if a comment has been posted on a contribution or piece of legislation, but that also will not be automatic. Gotham Gazette staff will have to mark the item themselves.

Keeping the site current will also require staff intervention -- to add bills, to update financial reports, to remove offensive or simply incorrect comments.

Will it be worth it? We certainly hope so and are eager to move to the next step and engage New Yorkers in this conversation about money and politics.

June 16 2010

18:30

Announcing the 2010 Knight News Challenge winners: Visuals are hot, and businesses are big winners

They started out last year as a crowded field of hopefuls from around the world, each dreaming of a chance to perform under the big lights. Over months, their numbers dwindled as the level of competition rose; each successive round brought new disappointment to those eliminated and new hope to those left in the running. And now, whittled down to an elite few, they’re ready for the global stage.

Okay, I’m giving myself a yellow card: So maybe the World Cup isn’t the perfect metaphor for the Knight News Challenge. But the News Challenge is the closest thing the future-of-news space has to a World Cup, and while this year’s 12 winners — just announced at MIT — won’t be forced to battle each other for global supremacy, they do represent the top of a sizable pyramid of applicants — nearly 2,500 in all. You can judge for yourself which ones are Brazil and Germany and which are New Zealand and North Korea.

I’ve got information on all the winners below, but first a few observations:

Visuals seem to be this year’s theme: lots of projects about things like mapping, data visualization, video editing, and games inspired by editorial cartoons. Just one winner focuses on the business-model end of the equation (Windy Citizen’s real-time ads).

— This year’s new grants total $2.74 million. That’s up from last year’s total of $1.96 million, but still down substantially from the really big checks Knight was writing in the first two years of the News Challenge ($11.7 million in 2007, $5.5 million in 2008). The number of grantees is also up a bit from 2009 but well below earlier years (26 in 2007, 16 in 2008, 9 in 2009, 12 this year).

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Knight’s overall commitment has decreased over time. Many of its grants are distributed over multiple years, so some of those early commitments are still being in force.

— Despite extending this cycle’s application deadline in part to encourage more international applicants, the winners are quite domestic — 11 American winners out of 12. In 2008, there were six international winners, and last year there were two projects that, while technically based in the U.S., were internationally focused — Ushahidi and Mobile Media Toolkit. (You could argue that this year’s One-Eight should count as international, since it’s about covering Afghanistan, but through collaboration with the U.S. military. And while Tilemapping will focus on Washington, D.C., a version of its software was used after the Haiti earthquake.)

That said, the deadline extension was also about reaching out for other kinds of diversity, and that happened in at least one way: Knight reports that nearly half of this year’s winners are private companies, up from 15 percent in 2009. That’s despite Knight’s elimination of a separate category for commercial applicants last cycle.

Below are all the winners — congratulations to one and all, and my sympathies to the thousands eliminated along the way. In the coming days, we’ll have profiles of all of the winners and their projects. In the meantime, for context, you can also read all we wrote about last year’s News Challenge and what we’ve written so far about this cycle.

CityTracking

The winner: Eric Rodenbeck of Stamen Design

The amount: $400,000

The pitch: “To make municipal data easy to understand, CityTracking will allow users to create embeddable data visualizations that are appealing enough to spread virally and that are as easy to share as photos and videos. The dynamic interfaces will be appropriate to each data type, starting with crime and working through 311 calls for service, among others. The creators will use high design standards, making the visuals beautiful as well as useful.”

The Cartoonist

The winner: Ian Bogost of Georgia Tech and Michael Mateas of UC Santa Cruz

The amount: $378,000

The pitch: “To engage readers in the news, this project will create a free tool that produces cartoon-like current event games — the game equivalent of editorial cartoons. The simplified tools will be created with busy journalists and editors in mind, people who have the pulse of their community but don’t have a background in game development. By answering a series of questions about the major actors in a news event and making value judgments about their actions, The Cartoonist will automatically propose game rules and images. The games aim to help the sites draw readers and inspire them to explore the news.”

Local Wiki

The winner: Philip Neustrom and Mike Ivanov of DavisWiki.org

The amount: $350,000

The pitch: “Based on the successful DavisWiki.org in Davis, Calif., this project will create enhanced tools for local wikis, a new form of media that makes it easy for people to learn and share their own unique community knowledge. Members will be able to post articles about anything they like, edit others and upload photos and files. This grant will help create the specialized open-source software that makes the wiki possible and help communities develop, launch and sustain local wiki projects.”

WindyCitizen’s Real Time Ads

The winner: Brad Flora of WindyCitizen.com

The amount: $250,000

The pitch: “As a way to help online startups become sustainable, this project will develop an improved software interface to help sites create and sell what are known as real-time ads. These ads are designed to be engaging as they constantly change showing the latest message or post from the advertisers Twitter account, Facebook page or blog. Challenge winner Brad Flora helped pioneer the idea on his Chicago news site, WindyCitizen.com.”

GoMap Riga

The winner: Marcis Rubenis and Kristofs Blaus

The amount: $250,000

The pitch: “To inspire people to get involved in their community, this project will create a live, online map with local news and activities. GoMap Riga will pull some content from the Web and place it automatically on the map. Residents will be able to add their own news, pictures and videos while discussing what is happening around them. GoMap Riga will be integrated with the major existing social networks and allow civic participation through mobile technology. The project will be tested in Riga, Latvia, and ultimately be applicable in other cities.”

Order in the Court 2.0

The winner: John Davidow of WBUR

The amount: $250,000

The pitch: “To foster greater access to the judicial process, this project will create a laboratory in a Boston courtroom to help establish best practices for digital coverage that can be replicated and adopted throughout the nation. While the legislative and executive branches have incorporated new technologies and social media, the courts still operate under the video and audio recording standards established in the 1970s and ’80s. The courtroom will have a designated area for live blogging via a Wi-Fi network and the ability to live-stream court proceedings to the public. Working in conjunction with the Massachusetts court system, the project will publish the daily docket on the Web and build a knowledge wiki for the public with common legal terms.”

Porch Forum

The winner: Michael Wood-Lewis of Front Porch Forum

The amount: $220,000

The pitch: “To help residents connect with others and their community, this grant will help rebuild and enhance a successful community news site, expand it to more towns and release the software so other organizations, anywhere can use it. The Front Porch Forum, a virtual town hall space, helps residents share and discuss local news, build community and increase engagement. The site, currently serving 25 Vermont towns, will expand to 250.”

One-Eight

The winner: Teru Kuwayama

The amount: $202,000

The pitch: “Broadening the perspectives that surround U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, this project will chronicle a battalion by combining reporting from embedded journalists with user-generated content from the Marines themselves. The troops, recently authorized to use social media while deployed, and their families will be key audiences for the online journal steering, challenging and augmenting the coverage with their feedback. The approach will directly serve the stakeholders and inform the wider public by bringing in on-the-ground views on military issues and the execution of U.S. foreign policy.”

Stroome

The winner: USC Annenberg’s Nonny de la Peña and Tom Grasty

The amount: $200,000

The pitch: “To simplify the production of news video, Stroome will create a virtual video-editing studio. There, correspondents, editors and producers will be able to upload and share content, edit and remix with friends and colleagues — all without using expensive satellite truck technology. The site will launch as eyewitness video — often captured by mobile phones or webcams — is becoming a key component of news coverage, generating demand for supporting tools.”

CitySeed

The winner: Arizona State’s Retha Hill and Cody Shotwell

The amount: $90,000

The pitch: “To inform and engage communities, CitySeed will be a mobile application that allows users to plant the ’seed’ of an idea and share it with others. For example, a person might come across a great spot for a community garden. At that moment, the person can use the CitySeed app to geotag the idea, which links it to an exact location. Others can look at the place-based ideas, debate and hopefully act on them. The project aims to increase the number of people informed about and engaged with their communities by breaking down community issues into bite-size settings.”

StoryMarket

The winner: Jake Shapiro of PRX

The amount: $75,000

The pitch: “Building on the software created by 2008 challenge winner Spot.us, this project will allow anyone to pitch and help pay to produce a story for a local public radio station. When the amount is raised (in small contributions), the station will hire a professional journalist to do the report. The project provides a new way for public radio stations to raise money, produce more local content and engage listeners.”

Tilemapping

The winner: Eric Gundersen of Development Seed

The amount: $74,000

The pitch: “To inspire residents to learn about local issues, Tilemapping will help local media create hyper-local, data-filled maps for their websites and blogs. Journalists will be able to tell more textured stories, while residents will be able to draw connections to their physical communities in new ways. The tools will be tested in Washington, D.C. Ushahidi, a 2009 Knight News Challenge winner, used a prototype after the earthquake in Haiti to create maps used to crowdsource reports on places needing aid.”

April 24 2010

21:16

Questioning the health of Wikipedia

At the final session of the ISOJ 2010, Andrew Lih, University of Southern California presented his research into the health of Wikipedia (PDF).

His interest is prompted by talk about Wikipedia reaching its limits and a slowdown in the growth of the site.

Lih notes that Wikipedia had grown so quickly that from 2006-2009 there was no data, until a massive data dump towards the end of 2009.

Stats from 2009 started to show a leveling off of edits to Wikipedia, with new article production flattening out from 2007.

Lih showed that edits leveled across many languages, aside from Russian.

Some reasons for this decline could be the arcane wiki editing system and more rules about submissions and edits.

Stats show that between an eighth and a quarter of users create an entry but never hit save. To prove the point, Lih showed videos of users expressing confusion about how to edit entries. Basically, everyone found it very difficult to add and edit.

When Wikipedia starting, it had very simple rules such as neutral point of view. Now, there are a stack of rules which create barriers to entry to the community.

The Wikimedia Foundation argues that the community is stabilising. But Lih questioned this would enough to sustain the site and ensure a steady stream of new additions.

He suggested one possible scenario was a slow steady decline in quality, or a lack of timely content. And Lih noted that there was a slow trickling in of spam content into Wikipedia.

15:57

Slides from talk on CBC Radio 3 wiki project

Here are the slides from the paper, Wikifying the CBC: Reimagining the remit of public service media (PDF), presented at the International Symposium on Online Journalism with one of my graduate students, Amanda Ash.

The paper discusses a collaboration between the Graduate School of Journalism at UBC and CBC Radio 3 to research and develop a Canadian music wiki, funded through the MITACS Accelerate program.

April 20 2010

03:10

Start a news hack wiki?

Anyone interested in creating a wiki focused on hacks and processes specifically for online news production and CAR? The topic pages could cover things like web-scraping, "How to turn a spreadsheet of names/lat/lngs into a embeddable Google map", or scraping a PDF. I tried out wikia but all the javascript and colors scared me.

March 23 2010

21:48

Attend a Workshop to Help Develop the ISHub 2.0

The IS Hub is a collaborative concept that, if achieved, will create a cohesive network of web platforms to help improve the lives of people all over the world.  You are invited to collaborate at an upcoming workshop on April 8 in Utrecht to help shape the future of this technology. The goal of the workshop is to share the IS Hub externally to find people to help develop it further. Rooted in the 2.0 philosophy, the organizers hope that by sharing the idea they can join forces to create something extraordinary.

Here is an explanation of the IS Hub from the workshop coordinators:

read more

March 12 2010

09:36

New financial stocks site for Wikia; hopes to attract whistleblowers

In an interview with Bloomberg TV, Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia and also internet media company Wikia, reveals that he has recently bought a new stocks site, which he hopes whistleblowers will contribute to. Value Wiki is now part of Wikia, his consumer publishing company (Wikipedia is part of the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation).

[I] just bought a site called Value Wiki which is about stocks and we’re hoping people will come forward, maybe whistle blowers, whoever, will come forward with some information about companies.  The same thing can happen to politicians.

Wales also spoke about the accuracy and editorial issues for his encyclopedia, Wikipedia:

We’re trying to look at different software tools that allow the community to monitor what’s going on. There’s always a core of good people managing Wiki who really want it to be high quality. The main thing is making sure that they have what they need.

[Hiring editors] doesn’t even seem like the right approach to us. When we really dig in deep and we look at where there are problems, and what the problems are, they’re never about not having enough core people who are really passionate about it but about making sure the software tools are available to them.

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February 18 2010

22:38

January 07 2010

19:11

Keeping Martin honest: Checking on Langeveld’s predictions for 2009

[A little over one year ago, our friend Martin Langeveld made a series of predictions about what 2009 would bring for the news business — in particular the newspaper business. I even wrote about them at the time and offered up a few counter-predictions. Here's Martin's rundown of how he fared. Up next, we'll post his predictions for 2010. —Josh]

PREDICTION: No other newspaper companies will file for bankruptcy.

WRONG. By the end of 2008, only Tribune had declared. Since then, the Star-Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, Journal Register Company, and the Philadelphia newspapers made trips to the courthouse, most of them right after the first of the year.

PREDICTION: Several cities, besides Denver, that today still have multiple daily newspapers will become single-newspaper towns.

RIGHT: Hearst closed the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (in print, at least), Gannett closed the Tucson Citizen, making those cities one-paper towns. In February, Clarity Media Group closed the Baltimore Examiner, a free daily, leaving the field to the Sun. And Freedom is closing the East Valley Tribune in Mesa, which cuts out a nearby competitor in the Phoenix metro area.

PREDICTION: Whatever gets announced by the Detroit Newspaper Partnership in terms of frequency reduction will be emulated in several more cities (including both single and multiple newspaper markets) within the first half of the year.

WRONG: Nothing similar to the Detroit arrangement has been tried elsewhere.

PREDICTION: Even if both papers in Detroit somehow maintain a seven-day schedule, we’ll see several other major cities and a dozen or more smaller markets cut back from six or seven days to one to four days per week.

WRONG, mostly: We did see a few other outright closings including the Ann Arbor News (with a replacement paper published twice a week), and some eliminations of one or two publishing days. But only the Register-Pajaronian of Watsonville, Calif. announced it will go from six days to three, back in January.

PREDICTION: As part of that shift, some major dailies will switch their Sunday package fully to Saturday and drop Sunday publication entirely. They will see this step as saving production cost, increasing sales via longer shelf life in stores, improving results for advertisers, and driving more weekend website traffic. The “weekend edition” will be more feature-y, less news-y.

WRONG: This really falls in the department of wishful thinking; it’s a strategy I’ve been advocating for the last year or so to follow the audience to the web, jettison the overhead of printing and delivery, but retain the most profitable portion of the print product.

PREDICTION: There will be at least one, and probably several, mergers between some of the top newspaper chains in the country. Top candidate: Media News merges with Hearst. Dow Jones will finally shed Ottaway in a deal engineered by Boston Herald owner (and recently-appointed Ottaway chief) Pat Purcell.

WRONG AGAIN, but this one is going back into the 2010 hopper. Lack of capital by most of the players, and the perception or hope that values may improve, put a big damper on mergers and acquisitions, but there should be renewed interest ahead.

PREDICTION: Google will not buy the New York Times Co., or any other media property. Google is smart enough to stick with its business, which is organizing information, not generating content. On the other hand, Amazon may decide that they are in the content business…And then there’s the long shot possibility that Michael Bloomberg loses his re-election bid next fall, which might generate a 2010 prediction, if NYT is still independent at that point.

RIGHT about Google, and NOT APPLICABLE about Bloomberg (but Bloomberg did acquire BusinessWeek). The Google-NYT pipe dream still gets mentioned on occasion, but it won’t happen.

PREDICTION: There will be a mini-dotcom bust, featuring closings or fire sales of numerous web enterprises launched on the model of “generate traffic now, monetize later.”

WRONG, at least on the mini-bust scenario. Certainly there were closings of various digital enterprises, but it didn’t look like a tidal wave.

PREDICTION: The fifty newspaper execs who gathered at API’s November Summit for an Industry in Crisis will not bother to reconvene six months later (which would be April) as they agreed to do.

RIGHT. There was a very low-key round two with fewer participants in January, without any announced outcomes, and that was it. [Although there was also the May summit in Chicago, which featured many of the same players. —Ed.]

PREDICTION: Newspaper advertising revenue will decline year-over-year 10 percent in the first quarter and 5 percent in the second. It will stabilize, or nearly so, in the second half, but will have a loss for the year. For the year, newspapers will slip below 12 percent of total advertising revenue (from 15 percent in 2007 and around 13.5 percent in 2008). But online advertising at newspaper sites will resume strong upward growth.

WRONG, and way too optimistic. Full-year results won’t be known for months, but the first three quarters have seen losses in the 30 percent ballpark. Gannett and New York Times have suggested Q4 will come in “better” at “only” about 25 percent down. My 12 percent reference was to newspaper share of the total ad market, a metric that has become harder to track this year due to changes in methodology at McCann, but the actual for 2009 ultimately will sugar out at about 10 percent.

PREDICTION: Newspaper circulation, aggregated, will be steady (up or down no more than 1 percent) in each of the 6-month ABC reporting periods ending March 31 and September 30. Losses in print circulation will be offset by gains in ABC-countable paid digital subscriptions, including facsimile editions and e-reader editions.

WRONG, and also way too optimistic. The March period drop was 7.1 percent, the September drop was 10.6 percent, and digital subscription didn’t have much impact.

PREDICTION: At least 25 daily newspapers will close outright. This includes the Rocky Mountain News, and it will include other papers in multi-newspaper markets. But most closings will be in smaller markets.

WRONG, and too pessimistic. About half a dozen daily papers closed for good during the year.

PREDICTION: One hundred or more independent local startup sites focused on local news will be launched. A number of them will launch weekly newspapers, as well, repurposing the content they’ve already published online. Some of these enterprises are for-profit, some are nonprofit. There will be some steps toward formation of a national association of local online news publishers, perhaps initiated by one of the journalism schools.

Hard to tell, but probably RIGHT. Nobody is really keeping track of how many hyperlocals are active, or their comings and goings. An authoritative central database would be a Good Thing.

PREDICTION: The Dow Industrials will be up 15 percent for the year. The stocks of newspaper firms will beat the market.

RIGHT. The Dow finished the year up 18.8 percent. (This prediction is the one that got the most “you must be dreaming” reactions last year.

And RIGHT about newspapers beating the market (as measured by the Dow Industrials), which got even bigger laughs from the skeptics. There is no index of newspaper stocks, but on the whole, they’ve done well. It helps to have started in the sub-basement at year-end 2008, of course, which was the basis of my prediction. Among those beating the Dow, based on numbers gathered by Poynter’s Rick Edmonds, were New York Times (+69%), AH Belo (+164%), Lee Enterprises (+746%), McClatchy (+343%), Journal Communications (+59%), EW Scripps (+215%), Media General (+348%), and Gannett (+86%). Only Washington Post Co. (+13%) lagged the market. Not listed, of course, are those still in bankruptcy.

PREDICTION: At least one publicly-owned newspaper chain will go private.

NOPE.

PREDICTION: A survey will show that the median age of people reading a printed newspaper at least 5 days per week is is now over 60.

UNKNOWN: I’m not aware of a 2009 survey of this metric, but I’ll wager that the median age figure is correct.

PREDICTION: Reading news on a Kindle or other e-reader will grow by leaps and bounds. E-readers will be the hot gadget of the year. The New York Times, which currently has over 10,000 subscribers on Kindle, will push that number to 75,000. The Times will report that 75 percent of these subscribers were not previously readers of the print edition, and half of them are under 40. The Wall Street Journal and Washington Post will not be far behind in e-reader subscriptions.

UNKNOWN, as far as the subscription counts go: newspapers and Kindle have not announced e-reader subscription levels during the year. The Times now has at least 30,000, as does the Wall Street Journal (according to a post by Staci Kramer in November; see my comment there as well). There have been a number of new e-reader introductions, but none of them look much better than their predecessors as news readers. My guess would be that by year end, the Times will have closer to 40,000 Kindle readers and the Journal 35,000. During 2010, 75,000 should be attainable for the Times, especially counting all e-editions (which include the Times Reader and 53,353 weekdays and 34,435 Sundays for the six months ending Sept. 30.

PREDICTION: The advent of a color Kindle (or other brand color e-reader) will be rumored in November 2009, but won’t be introduced before the end of the year.

RIGHT: plenty of rumors, but no color e-reader, except Fujitsu’s Flepia, which is expensive, experimental, and only for sale in Japan.

PREDICTION: Some newspaper companies will buy or launch news aggregation sites. Others will find ways to collaborate with aggregators.

RIGHT: Hearst launched its topic pages site LMK.com. And various companies are working with EVRI, Daylife and others to bring aggregated feeds to their sites.

PREDICTION: As newsrooms, with or without corporate direction, begin to truly embrace an online-first culture, outbound links embedded in news copy, blog-style, as well as standalone outbound linking, will proliferate on newspaper sites. A reporter without an active blog will start to be seen as a dinosaur.

MORE WISHFUL THINKING, although there’s progress. Many reporters still don’t blog, still don’t tweet, and many papers are still on content management systems that inhibit embedded links.

PREDICTION: The Reuters-Politico deal will inspire other networking arrangements whereby one content generator shares content with others, in return for right to place ads on the participating web sites on a revenue-sharing basis.

YES, we’re seeing more sharing of content, with various financial arrangements.

PREDICTION: The Obama administration will launch a White House wiki to help citizens follow the Changes, and in time will add staff blogs, public commenting, and other public interaction.

NOT SO FAR, although a new Open Government Initiative was recently announced by the White House. This grew out of some wiki-like public input earlier in the year.

PREDICTION: The Washington Post will launch a news wiki with pages on current news topics that will be updated with new developments.

YES — kicked off in January, it’s called WhoRunsGov.com.

PREDICTION: The New York Times will launch a sophisticated new Facebook application built around news content. The basic idea will be that the content of the news (and advertising) package you get by being a Times fan on Facebook will be influenced by the interests and social connections you have established on Facebook. There will be discussion of, if not experimentation with, applying a personal CPM based on social connections, which could result in a rewards system for participating individuals.

NO. Although the Times has continued to come out with innovative online experiments, this was not one of them.

PREDICTION: Craigslist will partner with a newspaper consortium in a project to generate and deliver classified advertising. There will be no new revenue in the model, but the goal will be to get more people to go to newspaper web sites to find classified ads. There will be talk of expanding this collaboration to include eBay.

NO. This still seems like a good idea, but probably it should have happened in 2006 and the opportunity has passed.

PREDICTION: Look for some big deals among the social networks. In particular, Twitter will begin to falter as it proves to be unable to identify a clearly attainable revenue stream. By year-end, it will either be acquired or will be seeking to merge or be acquired. The most likely buyer remains Facebook, but interest will come from others as well and Twitter will work hard to generate an auction that produces a high valuation for the company.

NO DEAL, so far. But RIGHT about Twitter beginning to falter and still having no “clearly attainable” revenue stream in sight. Twitter’s unique visitors and site visits, as measured by Compete.com, peaked last summer and have been declining, slowly, ever since. Quantcast agrees. [But note that neither of those traffic stats count people interacting with Twitter via the API, through Twitter apps, or by texting. —Ed.]

PREDICTION: Some innovative new approaches to journalism will emanate from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

YES, as described in this post and this post. See also the blogs of Steve Buttry and Chuck Peters. The Cedar Rapids Gazette and its affiliated TV station and web site are in the process of reinventing and reconstructing their entire workflow for news gathering and distribution.

PREDICTION: A major motion picture or HBO series featuring a journalism theme (perhaps a blogger involved in saving the world from nefarious schemes) will generate renewed interest in journalism as a career.

RIGHT. Well, I’m not sure if it has generated renewed interest in journalism as a career, but the movie State of Play featured both print reporters and bloggers. And Julie of Julie & Julia was a blogger, as well. [Bit of a reach there, Martin. —Ed.]

[ADDENDUM: I posted about Martin's predictions when he made them and wrote this:

I’d agree with most, although (a) I think there will be at least one other newspaper company bankruptcy, (b) I think Q3/Q4 revenue numbers will be down from 2008, not flat, (c) circ will be down, not stable, (d) newspaper stocks won’t beat the market, (e) the Kindle boom won’t be as big as he thinks for newspapers, and (f) Twitter won’t be in major trouble in [2009] — Facebook is more likely to feel the pinch with its high server-farm costs.

I was right on (a), (b), and (c) and wrong on (d). Gimme half credit for (f), since Twitter is now profitable and Facebook didn’t seem too affected by server expenses. Uncertain on (e), but I’ll eat my hat if “75 percent of [NYT Kindle] subscribers were not previously readers of the print edition, and half of them are under 40.” —Josh]

Photo of fortune-teller postcard by Cheryl Hicks used under a Creative Commons license.

November 06 2009

14:54

Welcome to Davis, Calif.: Six lessons from the world’s best local wiki

Ah, Davis: home of 60,000 people, 30,000 students, 188 sunny days a year, a 16 percent bike commute mode share and the busiest local wiki in the world.

If I were Omaha World-Herald Publisher Terry Kroeger, I’d be booking my post-holiday flight immediately.

As Gina reported here last week, Omaha’s employee-owned metro daily just bought WikiCity, an Omaha-based Web startup that wamts to provide mini-Wikipedias for every city in the country. Creating a cheap platform for evergreen, user-generated local Web content has been tried, um, once or twice before. But with some notable exceptions, corporations have turned out to be really, really bad at this.

Philip Neustrom hasn’t.

Today, the quirky 500-page wiki Neustrom launched with fellow UC Davis math student Mike Ivanov in 2004 has 14,000 pages and drew 13,000 edits by 3,300 users last month, averaging 10,000 unique visitors daily. More importantly, it’s the best way in town to find a lost cat, compare apartment rental prices or get a list of every business open past 10 p.m. Operating budget, not counting its founders’ part-time volunteer labor: about $2,000 a year.

What’s the secret? Neustrom, who now wrangles code for the Citizen Engagement Lab in the Bay Area, was nice enough to tell us.

Wikis need content to breed content. Or, as evergreen-content guru Matt Thompson put it last week, a wiki written primarily by robots will appeal primarily to robots.

“Starting anything is hard,” said Neustrom, now 25. “The issue is predominantly an issue of outreach, of coordinating people and making sure people understand that they can’t just put something up there and add 50 pages and walk away, and then come back in a month and hope that it’s taken off.”

Instead, Neustrom, Ivanov convinced some of their friends to spend four summer months writing snippets about things that only exist in Davis, like drunken biking through late-night fog, oversized playground equipment and the smell from the cow farm on the edge of town.

“We were just trying to do something that we liked,” Neustrom said. “We certainly weren’t trying to do anything that was very useful.”

Business information is the holy grail. Pages about your local toad tunnel are dandy, Neustrom said, and quirky content kept the site from feeling generic to early users. But the feature that made DavisWiki take off was what the traditional media calls “consumer reporting.”

“After we’d sort of seeded it with 500 pages or something like that, we opened it up to the public,” Neustrom said. “First, it was pretty slow going. Nothing really happened.”

Then, sometime in late 2005, pages on things like lunch specials and Davis’s nicest bathrooms started filling up. Local business coverage has been “a big driving force” ever since, Neustrom said. Today, he said, retail businesses in town often keep their own information on DavisWiki up to date.

A wiki’s strengths kick in after one year. The web craves news like kids crave sugar. Blogs and tweets are gobbled fast and burn quick. But wikis are the whole grains of the web: One year after news breaks, someone will want to find and link to it again — and a wiki is likely to be the only place it’s still hanging around.

“All of the existing online resources for sort of cataloging anything about the town were sort of time-based,” Neustrom said. “After about a year and a half, these things would sort of disappear, even if they’d been around for 100 years, like the local newspaper…So we became the resource of record.”

Start with a subculture, then build out to a general audience. DavisWiki has always aspired to cover its whole town, but it’s always served students best.

That’s all right, Neustrom thinks. If he’d tried to please everybody who showed up, no one would have come back.

“When building something like this, you can’t just aim for this wide spectrum at first,” Neustrom said. Some companies try to launch wikis by writing programs that “crawl through a database, that spit out statistics and create 13 million pages and put that out there and hope that it’s going to stick. You can’t do that. It’s just not going to work.”

Neustrom, who spent 2004 sharing a house with musicians, found his base among the artsy, but he thinks any subculture would do. “You could have, like, a physics grad student start a community for their town, and it’s a bunch of physics nerds,” he said. “And that could spiral out and out.”

Keep your content open source, no matter what. Don’t do it for marketing reasons or out of the kindness of your heart. Do it because it’s the only way to guarantee to your users that if you fold, all their hard work won’t die with you.

Good wikis inspire rabid devotion — if they don’t, they never become good wikis. Neustrom and Ivanov keep their budget online and think of the project as a user co-op. Their users did, too. “There are people on there who literally spend four hours a day looking at DavisWiki,” Neustrom said. “People had free [computer lab] pages every quarter, so they would use their excess printing to print out 400 fliers and staple them to every room on campus.”

People don’t do that for sites they think are “neat,” Neustrom said. They do it for sites they own.

Don’t get hung up on mimicking Wikipedia. Sure, it may be the most useful object ever created by human beings. But as Marshall Poe showed in his terrific biography of Wikipedia’s youth, its rules — universal editorship, neutral point of view, no original research — were forged out of year-long flamewars among the early Wikipedians. Neustrom and his friends didn’t think NPOV was suited to an inherently Davis-centric site, so they ditched it.

Wikipedia’s widely used software, MediaWiki, isn’t perfect either. DavisWiki uses a modified Sycamore platform but it, too, has flaws.

“People want to be able to search for all elementary schools within a certain radius of a certain point, or all of the restaurants that serve vegan food,” Neustrom said. “MediaWiki suffers the same issue [as Sycamore] — it was written before the advent of modern web framework.”

Neustrom is yearning for a modern wiki platform. That’s why he’s been messing around with Django this year. It’s also why he’s incorporating Wikispot, the nonprofit he set up to reproduce DavisWiki for other towns and topics, as a 501(c)3.

Looking for a tax write-off, Terry?

Photo by Arlen used under a Creative Commons license.

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