Big Questions from #SIC2011 – The Seattle Interactive Conference

In my first post on the Seattle Interactive Conference, I went over some locally developed tools designed to make information more relevant and insightful. Mobile apps like Trover, which allows geo-discovery through photos, and Evri, which organizes ~15,000 news feeds into a friendly iPad interface, are useful on an individual level. But my concern is:

How can they scale to community heights when it comes to breaking, spreading, and contextualizing important public information?

This is not an easy question. To help answer it, I needed to figure out how the mobile sausage is made. So at SIC, I tracked down John SanGiovanni, co-founder of and product design VP for the Zumobi mobile network. It would be wrong to call Zumobi an “ad network,” because while they do serve ads to mobile devices, they also design and build the apps on which the ads run. Right now its “co-publishing network” is being used by some of the biggest heavy hitters in the content world, with clients that range from MSNBC and The Week magazine, to Popular Science, Good Housekeeping, Parenting Magazine, and Motor Trend.

The good news is that SanGiovanni happily reported financial success on the journalism side of their business. He said their MSNBC app is “a whale” (very profitable) and both the advertisers and the publisher (MSNBC) are happy with the model they’ve set up. It’d be hard not to be, because Zumobi designs and builds the app absolutely free of charge to publishers whom they choose to work with. The company also helps with some of the ad sales, but as a co-publishing network, they expect the publisher to already have a drawer full of dedicated advertisers.

The not-so-good news is that Zumobi only works with top tier clients and doesn’t have plans to scale down their model to independent and hyperlocal publishers. SanGiovanni assured me he’s a big fan of Maple Leaf Life and cares about supporting grassroots journalism, but it’s just not in the cards for Zumobi right now. The company prefers to swim with bigger fish.

The reason why this is not-so-good news, rather than bad news completely, is that it means there are still entrepreneurial possibilities for co-publishing networks within the mobile hyperlocal space.

[Read More on the Journalism Accelerator]

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Report back from the #SIC2011 – The Seattle Interactive Conference

Journalists have always covered the tech industry as a section of the newspaper, but now, due to the personal media explosion, the very existence of the trade is dependent on conversations and decisions that happen at events like this year’s Seattle Interactive Conference.

#SIC2011 had many of the same trimmings as the now messianic #SXSWi (South By Southwest Interactive). The obligatory cute cartoon logos, fancy afterparties, overt corporate sponsorship, installation exhibits, free marketing schwag, and custom smartphone app were all part of the $300+ ticket, a tad steep for your average journalist trying to get a bite on how to stay alive.

So how does this deliver in terms of fulfilling the “information needs of a community?”

First let’s talk mobile. “Social/Local/Mobile” #SoLoMo was the expression I picked up from Jason Karas of Seattle startup Trover, who put up some interesting stats on rapid mobile adoption:

  • 350 million people are using Facebook through their phones
  • 4 billionTwitter posts come from phones each month (maybe not all through smartphones)
  • 1 billion photos are shared through phones each month (not clear if this is the entire web, or just social media)
  • 1 billion Foursquare checkins have been logged to date

What’s more interesting is the motivation behind the SoLoMo phenomenon. The Location Based Marketing Association has research that breaks down the motivations of early adopters:

  • 54% want Discounts/Coupons
  • 33% want to meet friends
  • 32% want to learn about the location
  • 30% want to promote the location
  • 38% want to participate in games/contests/receive badges, e.g. become a “Mayor”

The premise behind Trover is to tap into the human desire to discover and share discoveries, not by means of text reviews and pins on a map (Yelp and Foursquare), but through a rich photographic experience.

My question to Jason was, how can Trover enable journalists and citizens alike to break stories and receive critical information in their communities?

[Read More on the Journalism Accelerator]

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#HackingNews with KING 5 TV

Hackathons are getting trendy. Not just in journalism, but health care, education, entrepreneurism, crisis management, mobile tech, government, and other arenas. Yes, it’s another technology buzz word, but one that hopefully sticks around and evolves into a combustible formula. Bringing together software experts and social leaders who sprint together to solve big challenges is a remarkable thing, especially when there’s a $10,000 prize attached to it.

That’s the ante that KING 5 TV put up over the weekend, in the first ever hackathon run by the broadcast industry. The NBC affiliate’s digital media director, Mark Briggs, laid out his vision of unearthing quality news in the same way that one would find the right place to eat brunch in New York City. Describing his recent trip to the Big Apple, Briggs pointed out that finding a delicious spot could take hours, or it could take five minutes; the difference being whether you know someone who already lives there.

Other information challenges were presented by co-organizer Shauna Causey and local meme expert Ben Huh, who both had different ways of expressing a similar need for relevant information served up in a dynamic, user friendly environment. Mr. Huh shared a mockup of his recently announced Moby Dick Project, which generated a warm current of ideas through the room, leading 12 people to step forward and pitch their solution in under two minutes.

After punching away through the 48 hour weekend, “Dimensions” came out on top. Cooked up by Leon Wong and a team of four others (Mohammad Almalkawi, Lewis Lin, Adam Loving, Becker IV), Dimensions takes its own spin on on news filtration/curation. Based on the premise that even personalized RSS tools like Google Reader are still a dumping ground of too much information, Dimensions allows users to filter through their news feeds based on location, timeline, and friends’ interest. It has both a personalized element of delivering custom news that can be drilled down into various “dimensions,” as well as a social element, where you can view the different news feeds of your friends and other prominent users. The team managed to put up a live demo what was pretty impressive considering it manifested in 48 hours from start to finish.

You can also check out the nine other projects that were demoed over the weekend by looking at the notes I jotted here (and feel free to fill in any details I may have missed).

The other contenders also had some pretty nifty hacks to share. There were projects designed to break stories and publish audio through your phone, serve up personalized news based on similarities to others, and collaboratively curate tweets based on importance as well as chronology.

The Crowd

Grinding around the clock is not for the faint of heart. Roughly one half of the 65 people who signed up actually made it out to the Friday night kickoff, followed by a 30% evaporation of people by the start of the first working day. Part of the dissipation was due to another mobile hackathon hosted by AT&T the same weekend.

Participants could sign up as a designer (8), news geek (30), technologist (21), or developer (11).

As is typical in tech situations, the demographic was skewed heavily male. In fact, you could count the number female competitors on your nose (two). However, some have worked to change that with a ladies-only hackathon.

Based on a show of hands, half the crowd reported that they had already been to a hackathon before. Some were graduates of Startup Weekend (which began in Seattle), others had helped with Random Hacks of Kindness and Crisis Commons.

As expected, there was clear presence of Seattle’s tech industry amongst the room. The event took place on Adobe’s Fremont campus, who donated their shiny space and helped purchase some of the food. Amazon gave away a $50 of free AWS Cloud hosting to all participants who showed up and also footed the pizza bill. The winning team had a current Microsoft employee on board, as well as a former one who had recently walked away from his job a few weeks earlier to start up his own company. Most people were locals, though one pair came up from Portland, and one fellow even flew in from San Francisco to bust his chops for both the KING5 and AT&T hackathons. There were at least a few startups that were represented amongst the crowd as well, the ones I met with were from Timber Software and DocuSign..

Also interesting were two Microsoft employees hovering the room who were evangelizing the Open Data Protocol (Odata), which they happily develop during their day jobs. They were very helpful in providing general information not just about their product, but all things big data, and even let me pick their brains about various pet peeves and challenges across tech in general. Although they were very candid and unbiased in their opinions, it’s worth mentioning that employees of big companies like Microsoft sign a contract that they cannot participate in certain activities outside of the job (i.e. hackathons) that may conflict with the business interests of their employer. They chose to forfeit their odds of competing for the $10,000 in order to avoid brushing up against any sort of dispute, but were pleasantly willing to donate their time to help others succeed.

So what’s next…

Even a $10,000 prize will have a tough time answering a few million dollar questions.

If you build it, will they come?

As evidenced by the lackluster adoption and later abandonment of Google Wave, even really cool tools have to be picked up by a fair amount of people in order to stay healthy and remain useful. It’s easy to forget how wide the digital divide really is, and difficult to predict what kind of new habits people are willing to adopt. Are there enough news junkies out there who will want to add yet another tool into their consumption diet?

If you build it, will it stand?

Similar to other high energy gatherings, hackathons still have a “post-conference blues” effect. Many projects with good intentions undergo silent decay once the creators step back into the vortex of life’s routines. It was good to hear that local disaster expert Pascal Schuback is still working tirelessly to get the MadPub framework deployed on a national scale (built in Seattle during Random Hacks of Kindness 2.0), and he reported feeling optimistic about its eventual adoption by FEMA and other government agencies. However he told me that it’s rare to see hackathon projects evolve into live deployable applications.

It is undetermined if KING 5 will find a way to integrate Dimensions into their news product, but Briggs spoke of his intention to be a liaison for the project and see what happens. It would be interesting to see KING 5 reporters themselves using the app to share the “dimensions” of stories that they both report, as well as consume.

Regardless of the tangible outcomes, there is still a feeling of accomplishment that pervades the hackathon spirit. Professional networking is inevitable when working under a time crunch with a room full of strangers, and everyone walks away having learned a little bit more about what it takes to make technology work for the rest of us.

Image credit by Lucas Anderson

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Reportback – Hacks/Hackers Seattle & Knight-Mozilla News Innovation Challenge

Mozilla is best known for Firefox, the open source darling loved by millions which showed us that a browser is more than just a way to load websites, it’s a way to customize your experience of the web itself. Under new direction from Mark Surman, Mozilla is growing new legs to go beyond Firefox. They recently launched #Drumbeat as an effort to do more than just build portals, they are now seeking to change the flesh and bones of the internet itself to make it more open, accessible, and free (see project examples from drumbeat.org).

It was recently announced that Mozilla received a hefty sum of money from the Knight Foundation to bring journalism along for the ride.

The three year Knight-Mozilla News Challenge dubbed #MoJo (for Mozilla + Journalism) is now in full throttle with five news partners on board (BBC, Al-Jazeera, Boston Globe, Zeit Online, and The Guardian) who will host five fellows with full salary to innovate from inside the newsroom. 10 more fellows will come along the way in the next coming years, but until then, the heat is on and challenge submissions are underway.

Mozilla asked me to link up with the Seattle chapter of Hacks/Hackers, an organization that shares a similar MoJo hybrid theory of bringing together journalists (hacks) + technologists (hackers) with the goal of changing news for the better. One week later we threw together a sold out Brainstorm 2011 that brought in journalists and technologists throughout the city who came to mash up ideas and enter the challenge. [Read more...]

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The future of #Journalism will be run by cats?

(cross posted form the Seattle Journalism Commons)

Part two of the #NewsNext series brought to us by the Online News Association/Society of Professional Journalists collaboration featured a lively discussion with Cory Bergman (msnbc.com, breakingnews.com, Next Door Media) and Ben Huh (Cheezburger Networks).

As the owner of the largest humor network in the world, you’ve probably stumbled upon one of his many sites FAIL Blog, Babies Making Faces, There I Fixed It, Engrish Funny The Daily Wh.at, Totally Looks Like either on purpose or by accident through a social network.

Many people in the online news circuit cover Huh for his ability to turn internet memes into a profitable enterprise (his company employs 50 staff and they’re looking for more) and has been consistently topping the Seattle 2.0 startup index for the last year.

Instead of his typical appearance to discuss the secrets behind making something go viral (he says consistency is much more important), this particular room full of people wanted to hear his ideas on keeping journalism strong. Coming out of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern in 1999, he never became a reporter, but has been thinking of ways to fix what he sees as a lingering problem in online news.

“The story structure hasn’t changed for hundreds of years…how many times have you read a story and think by the third paragraph didn’t I already read this before?”

Huh believes that we have lost touch with the golden days of journalism where everything was partisan and there were multiple diverse points of views fighting for what they think is right.

But isn’t that what we have now? [Read more...]

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Bill Gates Sr. Presents award to WNC for Organization of the Year

The Washington News Council received the honor of being named 2010 Organization of the Year by the Municipal League of King County. Here is a video of John Hamer accepting the award from Seattle based philanthropist Bill Gates Sr. at the awards gala.

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Seattle’s BOLD plan for a Journalism Commons

From left to right: Karen Johnson (Seattle Magazine/Hacks & Hackers) Mike Fancher (Journalism Commons PNW) David Boardman (Seattle Times) Lisa Skube (Reynolds Journalism Institute)

Last year Journalism that Matters held its monumental Pacific Northwest Unconference where several projects have since emerged. It was then that Fancher formally launched his mission to “cultivate abundant journalism” and last night marked a significant milestone in that effort.

Twenty-one of the region’s most influential news experts and enthusiasts gathered at the swanky offices of Seattle Magazine to discuss the state of news and information in our region, with the overall goal of finding ways to increase the level of quality journalism across the Pacific Northwest. As a bonus, Banyan Project founder and Harvard Berkman fellow Tom Stites came along for the ride. The “Dream Team” roster included:

Sanjay Bhatt, Seattle AAJA, Seattle Times, and Global Health Journalism Collaboratory
Anna Bloom, Seattle Code for America Fellow
David Boardman, Executive Editor The Seattle Times
Mark Briggs, Director of Digital Media KING-TV
Jacob Caggiano, Washington News Lab (part of the Washington News Council)
Carole Carmichael, Seattle Times
Joe Copeland, Crosscut
Mike Fancher, Former Seattle Times Executive Editor & 2008-2009 RJI Fellow
Brian Glanz, Open Science Federation
Jan Gray, Puget Sound Civic Communication Commons
Monica Guzman, Intersect
John Hamer, Washington News Council
Rita Hibbard, Investigate West
Peggy Holman, Journalism That Matters
Clay Holtzman, SPJ Western Washington
Hanson Hosein, UW Master of Communication in Digital Media Program, Media Space Host
Marsha Iverson, King County Library Services, KCLS Newsroom
Karen Johnson, Seattle magazine and co-organizer of new Seattle Hacks and Hackers chapter
Julie Pham, NW Vietnamese News and Sea Beez (New America Media)
Lisa Skube, Reynolds Journalism Institute
Tom Stites, The Banyan Project and Berkman Center for Internt and Society at Harvard
Luke Timmerman, National Bio-Tech editor – Xconomy

The evening was off to a good start with a few well received announcements. The first came from Investigate West founder Rita Hibbard who was just awarded their second grant from the The Ethics & Excellence in Journalism Foundation. Another item of interest was Seattle Times writer and Global Health Initiative co-founder Sanjay Bhatt’s mention of a new collaborative report on Global Health Journalism. The crowd also warmly welcomed journalist Anna Bloom‘s arrival to our fair city to weave together a new open government system as part of her 2011 Code for America fellowship.

Now that the pump was primed, JTM founder and conversation steward Peggy Holman broke the room up into pairs, followed by small groups, and ending with a full circle report.

Several themes emerged, as we aimed to discuss not just what needed to be done but what was already working. Many were in agreement that Seattle’s strong network of hyperlocal neighborhood sites serve a very unique and valuable role, and Seattle Times Executive Editor David Boardman shared his belief that his publication’s recent “networked journalism” partnership with several hyperlocal sites not only made sense on a civic level, but from a business perspective as well. Everyone nodded their heads at the idea of collaboration, and it was refreshing to hear KING-5 Digital Media Director Mark Briggs talk about how his station and several competitors all got together with the WSDOT before the November snow storm and strategized the best way to get out breaking information over their respective networks and on social media. KING-5 and The Times are also kicking off a “be local” partnership to use their ad reps to help bring in revenue to hyperlocal blogs.  Luke Timmerman of Xconomy reminded us that it doesn’t have to be a zero sum game, and his syndication partnership with the Seattle Times has driven traffic to both sites.

Of course, talk is one thing, but doing is always the challenge. How can we get more work done and bring more voices into the mix? A good part of the discussion talked about some of the events sponsored by journalism organizations and their potential for generating revenue as well as strengthening the role of journalists themselves. The Puget Sound Business Journal and the Northwest Asian Weekly were recognized for putting on successful events that engage their niche audiences face to face and bring in a little extra dough on the side. The role of journalists can also shine through, as we pondered the difference between a hypothetical event about police conduct hosted by the mayor versus the hot sparks that flew from the recent forum on police accountability put on by The Stranger. Luke Timmerman of Xconomy also had good things to report about their events, and was quick to stress the importance of being upfront with your sponsors about the separation between business relationships and editorial decisions in the newsroom. Finding a comfort zone for all parties is important, as questionable events from the Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The Economist have all received various levels of scrutiny.

Now comes the important part, the follow-through. Business cards were exchanged and the group agreed on quarterly face to face meetings, but how to we grow from there? JTM has always been successful at bringing people in the flesh, and now the time is ripe to flesh out that energy online in a way that increases involvement and productivity. I encourage journalists, students, and knowledgeable citizens of all stripes to join us in this space, start a session, or dive into an existing one like Mike Fancher’s Journalism Commons PNW. Tell us what you need to make this happen.

Some good stuff to expect are a shared calendar that streamlines journalism events across the board, as well as a “behind the curtain” collaboration that shows how journalism gets done and reveals the networks that make good stories happen.

Brian Glanz put together some awesome tools, and the fire’s just warming up.

This post is a part of the Carnival of Journalism project initiated by David Cohn at the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri. This month David assigned the Carnival to answer the question: “Considering your unique circumstances what steps can be taken to increase the number of news sources?”

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What I Read – Martha Kongsgaard

Martha Kongsgaard was born and raised in Napa, Calif., to a family of jurists, grape growers and cattle ranchers. Kongsgaard met Peter Goldman in law school, married him in 1988 when they founded the Kongsgaard-Goldman Foundation. Her community activities currently include participation on the Washington Women’s Foundation, the national board and the executive committees of Earthjustice and IslandWood, where she is a founding board member. She recently chaired several major capital campaigns, including the Cascade Agenda, the expansion of IslandWood and the building of the LEED-certified Community Center at the New High Point. Kongsgaard has served as the president of Philanthropy Northwest and has spoken broadly about philanthropy and the environmental movement to wide and diverse audiences for the past 20 years. She is currently serving as Chair of the Leadership Council of the Puget Sound Partnership.  She has three sons and lives in West Seattle with her husband, an environmental public interest lawyer, Peter Goldman.

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1. What are your favorite local news outlets? Why?

West Seattle Blog to tell me why the ambulance just drove down my street;

West Seattle Herald to tell me about local schools – their administrators, school board members, and their students’ triumphs and challenges, for Its Police blotter, and to know who Ms. Hi-Yu will be this summer;

The Seattle Times, because it is there;

The Puget Sound Partnership’s press clippings;

Sightline’s aggregation of all things enviro;

PI on line, because i miss the old guard;

Publicola, because they are in the minute, young and opinionated (plus i can hear them on the other side of my wall at work);

The Stranger + Weekly when I can;

Eastside Business Journal if i were awake more hours;

Seattle Magazine, because it comes to me online which tells me who is wearing what (but not why).

Grist, but it’s not really local.

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2. What do you consider “must reads” every day? Must watch? Must hear?

The New York Times,

The Seattle Times,

(crossword puzzles in both)

Morning Edition and All things Considered.

CSPAN

Mike Allen’s Playlist

I’ve been known to watch FOX news;

[also read The New Yorker, The New York Times Review of Books;

The New Republic, now and again]

. [Read more...]

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Live fact check of Obama’s State of the Union

We’re joining in on the action as a special team from the Sunlight Foundation, The Center for Public Integrity, CQ Roll Call, and the Huffington Post brings us a live investigative factchecking presentation of Obama’s State of the Union Address (Tue. 5:30pm Pacific) using Sunlight Foundation’s award winning Sunlight Live platform

Read more from the Sunlight Foundation and get in on the fun!

<a href=”http://sunlightfoundation.com/live/” mce_href=”http://sunlightfoundation.com/live/”>Sunlight Live – 2011 State of the Union</a>

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