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December 08 2010


3 Reasons Every Local Blogger on Drupal Should Get Drupad

Last June, my company, NowSpots, won Knight News Challenge funding to build better local online advertising products for newspapers, alt-weeklies, and community newspapers. We've been building our product and working in closed beta with pilot publishers these last months.   We're seeing great results and are about to open up to new publishers. If your publication is interested in getting in early on a new flavor of online ad, one that local businesses, colleges, and political campaigns actually want to buy, drop us a line. In the meantime, we want to use these pieces on Idea Lab to focus some attention on topics of interest and use to community news publishers. You can follow NowSpots on Twitter here or follow me here.

A new Drupal module and iPhone app makes it easier for community news publishers to juggle the demands of managing and building an audience online and getting outside to cover the community. 

1actions.pngDrupad (currenty $4.99 in the iPhone app store), is an iPhone app that lets anyone running a Drupal 6 site read and moderate the latest comments, content, and user sign-ups from their iPhone.  The app, from French developer breek.fr, requires that you install a companion Drupal module on your site. I found it while browsing new contributed modules on Drupal.org, installed it a few days before Thanksgiving, and now use it multiple times a day to check up on the latest happenings on WindyCitizen.com, a Chicago-centric social news site I publish.

While Drupad is in not aimed specifically at community news publishers, I believe any publisher running a Drupal 6 site who installs it will immediately find it indispensable. If you're using Drupal and own an iPhone, get Drupad. It does three things incredibly well for community news publishers.

Two Places At Once

  1. Drupad solves the "two places at once" problem

As a community news publisher or local blogger, one of your biggest problems is what I call the "two places at once" problem. Someone needs to be "out there" attending events, snapping photos, interviewing people, and generally reporting on stuff. Meanwhile, someone needs to moderate comments on your site, post stuff on Twitter and Facebook, block spammers, and update stories on the front page. If you've read any of the interviews with AOL's Patch editors where they talk about their daily job, you get the picture. You've got be outside and inside at once.  It's tricky. The first iteration of Windy Citizen was a more traditional news magazine site that required me to be out reporting and inside running the site. It was a nightmare.

With Drupad, local bloggers running Drupal sites can check up on how things are going while on the bus, waiting at a meeting, or in between interviews from their phone. It puts a simple administration interface in your hand so you can stay on top of what's new on your site and moderate comments on the fly. Since I set up Drupad last week, I no longer need to worry about staying near a computer at all times to check up on Windy Citizen. With Drupad, local bloggers will be able to spend more time out in the field and less time strapped to their desk keeping watch over their sites. This is a big win.

Block Spammers


2. Drupad makes it easier to block spammers

If your community news site or local blog has decent traffic or any semblance of a commenting community, you probably have issues with spammers posting nasty comments and content on your site. With Drupal's default admin UI, you usually wind up:

  1. Spotting the comment
  2. Clicking the "delete" link on the comment.
  3. Clicking "yes" on the next page to confirm you want to delete it.
  4. Going to your user list page in the admin interface.
  5. Clicking the checkbox next to the user who posted the offensive comment.
  6. Indicating that you want to block that user.
  7. Clicking the button to put the change in motion.

That's seven clicks to delete a spam comment and block a user. That sucks. If the user has posted comments all over your site or you have multiple spammers to deal with, it can be a real pain in the butt.

One of the things I've come to enjoy about having Drupad on my iPhone is that the iOS-ified UI it uses makes blocking users a much smoother experience. With Drupad, I can go to my user list, click on their profile, and just click a button. There's no waiting around for pages to load. It's a more pleasant experience all around. Anything that makes it easier or even more fun to fight spammers on your site is a win in my book.

It Works!

3. Drupad won't crash your site and actually works

The final reason every local blogger and community news publisher should install Drupad is because the thing actually works. Those of you who run Drupal sites are nodding your head at this point. Those of you who never have are scratching yours. Those of you who develop and release Drupal modules (thank you!) are clenching your fists and gritting your teeth. The truth about Drupal is that it's an incredibly powerful CMS that can be modified through community-created modules (similar to WordPress' plug-ins) to function as a PHP framework. So you can do a lot of things with a Drupal site. That's one of Drupal's biggest strengths.  

On the other hand, the community modules themselves can be a real grab bag. Some are great and mainstays that every Drupal site needs to survive (see Steve Yelvington's recent piece to read about some of them); but many of them are very much works in progress that promise a lot but will break your site and cost you a great deal of time unless you're a trained developer or have one on your team to supervise. Drupal's great, but it's for developers, not lay people.

I'm happy to say that Drupad is not one of these modules. I downloaded it and installed it on Windy Citizen. It did not crash our site or give us Drupal's dreaded "white screen of death." Then I bought the iPhone app and filled in the admin credentials for Windy Citizen. The app was able to connect immediately to our site and start showing me comments, content, and the latest users.  Drupad just works, and that's a huge selling point for any Drupal module.

You can download the Drupad module for Drupal 6 here and buy it from the iTunes app store here.

Let me know what you think in the comments below. I'd love to hear what other people make of it. It's clear from the roadmap posted on the developer's site that he wants to roll out more features. Even in its current simple state, I think it's worth the $5 for any and every local blogger who's ventured out into Drupal land.

June 16 2010


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.


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”

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