News Leadership 3.0

February 02, 2009

New open source tools for news

News organizations and entrepreneurs take note: EveryBlock and News Mixer - products of Knight’s News Challenge - make their code public.

Journalists or citizens who want to offer neighborhood-level news and information and to improve online comments have powerful resources coming their way thanks to the Knight News Challenge.

Later this year, Everyblock  will publish the open source code for the application that already powers its “micro news” engines in 11 U.S. cities. 

EveryBlock scrapes the Web for content of interest and makes it available by neighborhood down to the block level. Simply input an address and it will show you links to news, links to public data such as building permits, rezoning proposals, liquor licenses, restaurant inspections and, of course, crime reports.

The project, with $1.1 million from Knight, has been a powerhouse so far. As Wilson Miner noted at the one-year anniversary earlier this month:
“There are lots of ways to measure how far we’ve come since that first day. We launched in three cities, and today we cover eleven cities across the U.S. We started with 37 types of data, and today we have more than 130 unique data types, with 602 different sources of news and blogs alone.”

That EveryBlock has a track record in so many cities may make it particularly appealing to established news sites and start ups. Now, EveryBlock leader Adrian Holovaty notes it is time to go public with the code as part of terms of the Knight grant. “Thanks to our out-of-the-ordinary funding—a generous grant from Knight Foundation—our team has been given free rein to invent a new form of news, and, more importantly, iterate on the concept. ... But now we’ve reached an interesting point in our project’s growth: our grant ends on June 30, and, under the terms of our grant, we’re open-sourcing the EveryBlock publishing system so that anybody will be able to take the code to create similar sites.”

This puts Holovaty and his crew at an interesting crossroads: “EveryBlock’s philosophies and tools will have the opportunity to spread around the world much faster than we could have done on our own, but it puts the six of us EveryBlockers in an odd spot. How do we sustain our project if our code is free to the world?”

Holovaty and crew are looking for ideas and partners to continue their project without depending on grants. Ideas include “building a local advertising engine and/or selling hosted versions of the open-source software, but we’re sure there are other ways for EveryBlock to be a successful business. “

Interested? Here is Holovaty’s contact information. And watch this space and the EveryBlock blog for more on the code release, due by the end of June.

Also on hand is News Mixer
, developed by a cadre of Medill journalism students - some of them programmers learning journalism under a Knight grant. News Mixer is another open source project that opens new possibilities for news and social media. NewsMixer attempts to make commenting on news articles more pertinent and focused, avoiding the problem of long, diffuse threads that mix comments that relate to a story or post with comments that have little or nothing to do with the topic at hand.

Medill professor Rich Gordon reports that two organizations already are using the News Mixer code:

“There are now at least two separate organizations actively working with News Mixer’s open-source code.

“One is the (Knight News Challenge-funded) Populous Project, which announced recently that it will incorporate News Mixer’s functionality into the Populous open-source publishing platform for collegiate newspapers.

“And just this past week, e-Me Ventures (a Chicago-based technology firm affiliated with Gazette Communications, which sponsored the class that developed News Mixer) announced it had deployed a portion of the News Mixer code as an add-in to a test site, powered by WordPress.

” ‘The News Mixer idea was huge. I was really blown away by the work that [the students] did,’ said Abe Abreu, CEO of e-Me. ‘We wanted to be the first to do something with it.’ “

On the Idea Lab blog, Gordon describes options for organizations that want to deploy News Mixer.

So get going. Do either or both of these products seem useful for your Web audience? How will you use them on your site? Please share ideas in the comments.

(Disclosure: I do some consulting for Knight but not with the News Challenge.)


That “Gordon describes options for organizations that want to deploy News Mixer” link should be:

Thanks very much for that correction! I have repaired the link in the post.

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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

Get in touch with Michele at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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