News for Digital Journalists

Posts tagged with: Development

March 09, 2010

Apps for Inclusion: New Knight contest to build the digital public square

On Tuesday the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced a new contest to develop online and mobile applications that will help people improve their lives through better access to government/community info and services.

The Apps for Inclusion Challenge “encourages technology innovators to review government and community services and develop tools that will improve lives by making it easier for citizens to receive these services through mobile and online applications.”

This announcement came during an event co-hosted by the Knight Foundation in which the FCC previewed its forthcoming National Broadband Plan. The FCC will be “in partnership” with the Knight Foundation on Apps for Inclusion.

Contest entry criteria and deadlines have not yet been announced. However, the Knight Foundation will commit a total of $100,000 in prize money. A panel of experts will review applications and pick winners. The public will have a vote through several “people’s choice awards.”

Stay tuned for further details.

August 24, 2010

Knight Launches Tech Initiative; Funds $2M-Plus in Projects

More millions go into the pot for community technology with a new effort aimed at engaging citizens on local issues.  The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation launched the Technology for Engagement Initiative August 24 in an effort to “help residents take action to strengthen their communities.” Knight quickly put some large amounts behind the effort, with $2.23 million in funding going to five projects, including one with a co-founder of Facebook and another involving Craigslist.

The biggest grants - of $750,000 apiece - go to Jumo.com and to the Craigslist Foundation. The Jumo site, started by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, matches individuals interested in fostering social change with organizations that can help them do it (Hughes explains the project in a video). The Craigslist Foundation project would create an idea-sharing website.

Additional grants of $250,000 apiece will go to two other efforts. One, called Code For America, is based on the Teach for America approach and will enlist promising web developers to foster more transparent, participatory and efficient city governments. Knight funding will bring the project to Philadelphia and Boulder, CO.

The second project to receive $250,000, dubbed Community PlanIt, will use an interactive gaming platform to help community stakeholders improve planning and problem solving, initially in four communities supported by other Knight grants.

A fifth grant of $235,000 will go to a project called CEOs for Cities. The proposed effort will test a crowd-sourcing platform in San Jose, CA and Grand Rapids, MI, in order to encourage residents to work with city hall to solve local problems.

Watch a video clip for more detail on the Knight initiative, or visit the initiative site to submit your own proposal for funding.

January 21, 2011

Got accessibility? Mobile-friendly sites also help disabled users

One in four Americans live with a disability that interferes with activities of daily living. These people can benefit significantly from easy access to news, information, communication, services, community, and resources—all of which are widely available online. But 2% US adults report having a disability or illness that makes it harder or impossible for them to use the internet. This can further impair their quality of life and even their health.

A new report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, Americans living with disability and their technology profile, describes this problem in more detail. There are some ways to make digital media more widely accessible—including some options that news organizations could (and should) implement…

Some highlights from this report:

“54% of adults living with a disability use the internet, compared with 81% of adults who report none of the disabilities listed in the survey.”

“Statistically speaking, disability is associated with being older, less educated, and living in a lower-income household. By contrast, internet use is statistically associated with being younger, college-educated, and living in a higher-income household. Thus, it is not surprising that people living with disability report lower rates of internet access than other adults. However, when all of these demographic factors are controlled, living with a disability in and of itself is negatively correlated with someone’s likelihood to have internet access.”

“People living with disability, once they are online, are also less likely than other internet users to have high-speed access or wireless access.”

Earlier Pew research also found that people with wireless (mobile) internet access are “more likely than other internet users to post their own health experiences online or to access the health information created by other people in online forums and discussion groups.”

Pew supports extending enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act to include web sites operated by “certain entities.” Through Jan. 24, the US Dept. of Justice is taking public comments on its proposed new ADA accessibility requirements for web sites.

Specifically, the new rules would “revise the regulations implementing titles II and III of the ADA to establish specific requirements for state and local governments and public accommodations to make their web sites accessible to individuals with disabilities.”

In an informational sense, a news organization could conceivably be considered a “public accommodation.”

But even if news orgs don’t specifically fall under these new rules, there’s one easy way to start to make your digital presence far more accessible: Create a mobile-friendly version of your site, and make it simple and obvious to access from the top of every page on your site.

The W3C consortium outlined how making a site mobile friendly also enhances accessibility. “Most Mobile Web specialists don’t know about design issues for people with disabilities. Likewise, most Web accessibility specialists don’t know Mobile Web design best practices. Web sites can more efficiently meet both goals when developers understand the significant overlap between making a Web site accessible for a mobile device and for people with disabilities.”

For more resources, see Web Content Accessibility and Mobile Web: Making a Web Site Accessible Both for People with Disabilities and for Mobile Devices

September 12, 2011

Code for America partners with cities: Detroit, Macon, Philadelphia

This week the Code for America program announced its first 2012 partner cities: Detroit; Macon, GA; and Philadelphia. Teams of three CFA fellows will be deployed in each city to help local government officials “brainstorm and implement innovative applications to engage citizens…”

Each team will include a software developer, a designer, and a product manager. Here’s what they’ll be doing while deployed:


This effort is supported with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Technology for Engagement initiative. Additional 2012 partner cities will be announced later.

These initiatives represent an opportunity for news organizations and info/community venues in the partner cities to assist with, and amplify, civic engagement efforts. This can not only help your community—it also can speed your own digital learning process and help build awareness of the local news and information you offer.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

October 14, 2011

Fuego: New mobile tool to follow the future of journalism, anywhere

Lots of smart people are always discussing the future of journalism and media on Twitter—but knowing which of those conversations are most important at any given time can mean spending your whole day on Twitter.

To help solve this problem, today the Nieman Journalism Lab debuted a mobile-friendly version of its Fuego tool…

According to Nieman Lab director Joshua Benton, Fuego for Mobile is a “heat-seeking Twitter bot, our tool that amalgamates the best and most interesting stories the future-of-journalism crowd is talking about on Twitter and presents them to you for quick reading.”

On a mobile phone, the result looks a little bit like Storify, the popular social media content curation tool. But there are some key differences:

  • Fuego displays a running list of the current most popular or important Twitter conversations about the future of news (rather than tracking the progress of a single story).
  • Fuego’s curation is done algorithmically, rather than manually—which requires far less work than Storify or manual retweeting.

How did Nieman Lab do it? In an interview, Benton explained that Fuego combines the Twitter application programming interface (API) with some custom algorithms to select and weight tweets, plus tools to deliver the results through a user-friendly mobile interface. It was created in-house at Nieman Lab by Benton and write/coder Andrew Phelps.

“The people who talk about the future of journalism on Twitter tend to be a pretty self-referential and insular crowd—and for creating an automated curation tool, that’s actually a very good thing,” said Benton.

“In the abstract, this concept could be applied to other topic areas. We experimented with that. But we found that if the people you’re aggregating tend to tweet about a lot of different topics, if they aren’t as focused, that it doesn’t tend to work as well for this kind of automated curation.”

That said, he acknowledged that it might work well for other niche or vertical topics—such as coverage of specific industries.

Initially Nieman Lab seeded Fuego with about 10 Twitter users who are thought leaders on the future of journalism and who tend to tweet pretty consistently about that topic. From there, Fuego started scanning tweets from everyone those users follow on Twitter—yielding an aggregate set of about 7000 Twitter users.

Since Fuego focuses on links, the system filters out tweets that don’t contain links. Among the remaining tweets, it algorithmically weights results to determine what gets listed via the Fuego interface. For instance, tweets by people who are followed by two or more people in the initial “seed set” of 10 are weighted more heavily; as are more recent tweets.

Based on these computations, Fuego displays right at the top of the page the top three current topics or stories; additional popular or relevant topics are listed below that. This list is refreshed frequently.

Nieman Lab also has a special Twitter account, @NiemanLabFuego, which automatically posts a tweet whenever a new item gets added to Fuego’s top three stories.

The technology used to deliver Fuego to mobile devices is interesting. It’s a mobile web app—which means it functions rather like a mobile app, but users don’t have to download and install anything. Just click the Fuego for mobile link from your phone or tablet and it will immediately launch.

Developing mobile web apps is generally more efficient and less costly than developing native apps for specific mobile platforms. The same code base serves multiple mobile platforms and device types. In contrast, native mobile apps require developing and maintaining a separate version for each platform (iPhone, Android, Mango, etc.).

On most smartphones and tablets, users can save a bookmark for a web app on their homescreen, to provide easy launching similar to that of native apps. On the iPhone and iPad, users can also launch homescreen web apps without all the trappings of the mobile Safari web browser, so you save screen real estate by now displaying the location bar, etc.

Simpler mobile web apps (including Fuego) that don’t require animation or much interactivity will even run on many feature phones—if they have better browser like Opera Mini. You can also save mobile Fuego (or any other web site or app) to Opera Mini’s home screen for a similar easy-launch capability.

Fuego was originally introduced on the Nieman Lab’s website in August as part of their redesign, but the mobile version was just rolled out today. The full web version offers three time-based filters: past four hours, past 24 hours, and past week. So far, those filters are not yet available on the mobile version.

Benton noted that eventually Nieman Lab will probably make its Fuego codebase available, but for now it’s so customized it probably wouldn’t be very useful for other organizations or purposes. They’ll also update the Nieman Lab iPhone app to include Fuego. He notes that for iPhone users, it helps to have your apps in Apple’s app store since iPhone users are trained to look there first rather than seek out web apps.

Still, going the web app route is useful to reach a broader audience—especially crucial since Android now far outsells iPhone in new smartphone sales, and WindowsPhone Mango may become a strong contender in coming years.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

October 24, 2011

Crowdsourcing R&D: USA Today starts licensing data for commercial use

News organizations generate lots of stories, and this body of work represents a database with value for reuse. USA Today had offered this data only for personal and noncommercial use, but now they’re open to selling it for use in some commercial projects.

The point may not be to make money directly off licenses, but rather to indirectly expand their business opportunities via crowdsourced R&D…

On Oct. 13 the USA Today developer team announced new commercial terms of use for their articles, reviews and census via its application programming interfaces (APIs).

Nieman Journalism Lab explains that this means USA Today is “offering commercial licensing of its data on a case-by-case basis. Premium licenses would remove rate limits and caps for data-hungry programs, too. That means USA Today can make money selling its data and app developers can make money using it.”

So far, commercial licenses will be granted on a case-by-case basis. No pricing has been announce yet.

In the U.K., the Guardian has been offering a similar “freemium” model for access to content via its Open Platform services since last year. They also recently hosted a two-day internal hackathon to spur development ideas by their staff.

How much revenue can this bring in? In a GigaOm post, Mathew Ingram observed that direct licensing revenues may not be significant, but “it allows for experimentation outside the traditional confines of the publication itself—and that can generate valuable ideas and feedback.”

In other words, commercial licensing of a news organization’s content via an API is a way of outsourcing R&D creativity, to take advantage of expertise and perspectives that are hard to find within most news organizations. Also, developers are more likely to do their best work when they stand to earn a profit. Of course, many news organizations lack the internal tech capabilities to develop their own APIs. But perhaps that represents a market opportunity for developers to assess content databases and develop APIs on behalf of news organizations?

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

November 11, 2011

NewsNerdsJobs for journalists who code

There are more and more jobs available for journalists who also can write or customize software, develop interactive online presentations of news, build mobile apps, and more. And now these jobs are a bit easier to find…

Matt Waite, professor of journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has been collecting a list of news coding jobs and compiling them into a Google Docs spreadsheet. Today he announced that he’s made this list a bit easier to access by repackaging it as a website: NewsNerdJobs.

According to the site: “The news business needs people who can code in the public interest and build the digital news products of tomorrow. If you can code, there’s a job for you. Some of the top media companies in the U.S. are hiring developers right now.”

This list includes journalism internships that involve coding, gathered by NYTimes.com graphics editor Kevin Quealy.

Also, news organizations can add their development jobs to the list via the site.

“It’s quick and dirty for now,” said Waite. “I’ll improve it as time allows.”

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

January 24, 2012

NPR releases free Project Argo WordPress tools for topical news sites

When a news topic gets popular, it might make sense to give it some special online treatment. NPR recently published its Project Argo toolkit for creating topic-focused websites using the popular free open source content management system WordPress.

Matt Thompson, Editorial Product Manager for Project Argo, explained how news organizations and others can use these tools…

Project Argo is a collection of sites, each produced by a full-time journalist-blogger (or, in some cases, a blended teams of full- and part-time journalists). Examples include Ecotrope (Oregon Public Broadcasting), Mind/Shift (KQED) and DCentric (WAMU). Each site focuses on reporting and aggregating news about a single topic of ongoing interest in the host station’s city.

Stations feed their work into NPR’s application programming interface (API), through which all Project Argo reporter-editors can easily access each other’s work. This allows them to “inform, enrich and add context as they produce their stories.” Project Argo is funded by grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

According to Thompson, NPR hopes this collection of open source tools and best practices will be useful to anyone seeking tools, themes, lessons learned, or inspiration for:

  • Niche websites
  • Blogs
  • WordPress sites
  • Web reporting projects

...Or any combination of those types of projects.

Thompson explained the three main types of tools offered:

1. Code and plugins. Over the past year NPR developed several WordPress plugins to make blogging easier for Argo journalist-bloggers. These include:

  • Jiffy Post, which “allows people to quickly post links with a super-simple—almost Tumblrish—workflow.”
  • Slideshow, “a low-footprint, flexible photo gallery plugin that extends the functionality of the native WordPress gallery functionality.”
  • Audio player, “Built with HTML5 so it’s compatible with your iPad and your MacBook Air.”
  • Media credit, which provides extra options for metadata and rights management for images.

NPR also is working on two more Project Argo plugins: link roundup and a plugin to make it easier to embed DocumentCloud documents in WordPress.

2. Themes. Thompson said that NPR web designer Wes Lindamood developed a series of “gorgeous, robustly-featured themes for the Argo sites—with fresh typography, sophisticated content promotion, myriad formatting options, etc. For the open-source release, he prepared a highly extensible foundation theme and three child themes to demonstrate some of the different ways that foundation could be modified. All four of those themes are freely available for folks to use and customize.”

3. Lessons and documentation. “Even for folks who aren’t using WordPress, or aren’t developing a niche site, we’ve tried to share a lot of what we learned over the course of the Argo pilot. We’ve compiled pretty much everything we wrote or presented into the open source site, and bundled up our overall lessons into four wrap-up posts on the Argo blog.”

But wait, there’s more! Thompson noted that people in public media who are interested in creating an Argo-style site but who don’t want to take on the overhead of supporting it, “NPR Digital Services will be offering to host, support and train member stations to develop these sites. That training is coming in Spring 2012.”

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

August 23, 2012

What “mobile first” means to BreakingNews.com

Reaching mobile audiences takes thoughtful strategy and execution. Community and niche outlets, or any news startup, might take a page from how one national news curation site delivers mobile news.

BreakingNews.com focuses on curating in real time the top breaking news stories from around the world. The bare-bones website and mobile apps are intended for quick glances—but they have a strong presence in all of the most popular social media (especially @breakingnews on Twitter).

This week, in a blog post, general manager Cory Bergman observed: “While social media gets lots of the attention, the explosion in smartphones and tablets is reinventing the way we consume and interact with content.  We’ve seen it firsthand here at Breaking News: traffic from devices surpassed desktop traffic back in January, doubled it in June and the gap continues to grow.”

He shared these insights and lessons:

  1. “Mobile first” is a mindset. “The key is to start envisioning a product optimized for devices, and work backwards to the desktop web.”
  2. Aim to solve problems. “Leverage the unique form and features of devices to solve problems for people. For us, the stream is the story—which is a mobile-friendly form—with push alerts as a feature.”
  3. Your users can make or break your product. “Imagine a world where users had to click past comments from others about your website before they ever saw your home page. That’s how people discover and download mobile apps.”
  4. Live in the devices world. “How do you start thinking in devices?  Like anything, it helps to immerse yourself.”
  5. Dig into the metrics. “Breaking News’ mobile traffic jumps 15-20% on the weekends. By digging into your mobile metrics, you can learn about consumption patterns and the true momentum of your products.”
  6. Recalibrate goals around mobile. “Most newsrooms measure their digital performance in desktop and social metrics, but for a truly ‘mobile first’ approach, goals should reflect performance on devices.”
  7. Take advantage of mobile tools. “There’s a new crop of mobile companies offering useful tools for user tracking, search engine optimization, A/B testing, advertising optimization and more.”
  8. Experiment and fail (quickly). “Mobile-first companies often iterate on a mobile web version first, grafting the best features into subsequent app releases.”
  9. Recognize that mobile is hard and costly. “Your users have choices.  If your mobile products are slow, clunky and more focused on being ‘scalable’ than ‘delightful,’ you have an uphill battle.”