Hacks and hackers meld minds

August 9, 2011 § 1 Comment

When I’m thinking poetically, I imagine MoJo as a massive hacks and hackers mind meld. Developers and journalists working together in a gritty, real-world, open-to-the-public lab. Answering each other’s silly questions. Playing together. And making news differently.

Six months in, this melding is upon us. Or, at least, folks in the nascent MoJo community are actively trying to make the meld happen.

Example: NewsLab participant Corbin Smith wrote a great post reflecting on how to make the hacks and hackers relationship work in practice. One piece of advice from Corbin’s post:

 In the beginning of your hack/hacker relationship, explain and elaborate as much as possible. Hackers: don’t assume a hack knows what an API is or does. Hacks: say something like “media captured in the field, as opposed to in studio” when referring to EFP. You don’t have to avoid jargon – but you absolutely should carefully describe industry terms and jargon so that in the future both parties can confidently converse using the language of both industries.

In my heart of hearts, this is what I most hope for from MoJo: dozens, hundreds, thousands of developers and journalists sorting through the very practical challenges of working together.

While MoJo has had many trials and tribulations in its first six months, this hope is becoming a reality. I first saw it in the dozen+ local events during MoJo round one, although the conversation was a little more hack than hacker. With the arrival of so many big brains to the NewsLab course, it’s going further — and the hacker part is getting richer.

Example: a thing you hear a bunch from the more journalisty folks in the NewsLab: wow, my ideas about the web and open source are really shifting a bunch, so much more is possible. Great stuff!

The big challenge ahead is making sure this meld will continue — and grow — now that the NewsLab course is over. We’re in a sweet spot at the moment: a community of 60 people who have been collaborating on projects while interacting with some of the smartest hacks and hackers in the world. This connection won’t last forever.

Of course, our most immediate challenge is finding five awesome news-hacker-steins. The first round of MoJo fellows will need to exemplify this hacks and hackers mind meld within one person. As Andrew Leimdorfer of the BBC put it to me recently:

Our team focuses on client-side delivery of projects that go from brainstorm to live in a short time frame (1 day to 2 months max). If the fellows are going to be a success, they will need to be hack/hacker types, people who love finding a story and mashing up the technology at their disposal to tell it in the most engaging way possible.

As Corbin’s post says, being both hack and hacker is hard. They are different mindsets, lexicons, ways of working. But hard makes for a fun challenge, and I think NewsLab process has helped quite a number of people rise to this challenge. Warning: more mind melding ahead.

Dan Sinker joins Mozilla as MoJo lead

July 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’m excited to announce that Dan Sinker will soon be joining us to lead the Knight Mozilla News Innovation Challenge (MoJo). MoJo is already kicking butt. It’s about to kick even more.

I knew Dan was the right guy for this gig when I learned that he a) taught web dev to journalists at Columbia College for 3 years and b) successfully ran Punk Planet magazine for 13 years. Web dev, journalism and gritty business chops to boot. Exactly the sort of things MoJo is about.

Dan’s other claims to fame include: a year as a Knight Fellow at Stanford; entertainingly imitating the Mayor of Chicago on Twitter; and belonging to a secret mailing list of menschy hipster dads with young children.

Of course, it’s what Dan is about to do with MoJo that has me most excited. When we first met over tap water in an AirBNB’d living room, we jumped right onto the topic of ‘wow we could build a huge and really awesome news innovation community‘. We’re still talking about this today. Dan wants to make it happen.

Dan is going to do an excellent job running the MoJo fellowship, for sure. I also believe he has the chops and vision to turn MoJo into something much bigger.

Welcome, Dan. See you on August 8th.

Interview: Susan Crawford on MoJo

May 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

I asked open internet activist Susan Crawford what is blowing her mind in the world of online journalism. Continuing on a theme, she said:””I love the way Andy Carvin is serving as a one man band covering the Middle East,” she said. “He’s got video coming in. He’s got people acting as his producers, editors and commentators. That’s blowing my mind.” I asked her to say more:

Susan is also well known as loud and articulate voice for the open internet. I asked her what the open internet has to offer journalism: “The openness of the internet is the rescue of journalism. The idea that you can speak to audiences without an enormous printing press is the whole point of the internet.”

If you are interested in the connection between the open internet and journalism, you should enter the MoJo challenge. All you have to do to get started is submit your idea.

This is part of series of interviews with people involved in the Knight Mozilla News Innovation Partnership (MoJo). Find out more on the MoJo web site or enter the MoJo news innovation challenge.

Interview: Boston Globe’s Moriarty

May 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

There has been alot of talk on the MoJo list about whether Knight Mozilla fellows will really be able to innovate inside large news orgs. I asked Jeff Moriarty what kind of environment fellows will be landing in at the Boston Globe: “We have reporters and developers working across desks from each other. Everybody is now involved in every platform.” As VP Digital, Jeff has really pushed the integration of journalists and developers. I asked him to say more about how this works:

When I visited the Globe a few weeks back, I saw two things that really impressed me. The first was the prototype of a fully cross platform HTML5 version of the paper: I saw it work (and resize itself) seamlessly across big monitors, tablets and phones. It was beautiful. I also saw a mini-lab with about 10 devices that allowed developers to test the new paper in real time: as I surf, all the devices show the page I am on at the same time.

These are small parts of Jeff’s bigger vision of how the paper should innovate: “We’re building a media lab where we can prototype new ideas and work on emerging technologies.” The idea is to both physically and socially build innovation into how the Boston Globe works.

IMHO, this is an awesome environment for a MoJo challenge fellow to land:  there are real people and resources in place to help the fellow play, invent and innovate. For someone building a career in media and technology, that’s a pretty awesome platform. And, it’s the kind of platform all of our news partners are building inside their organizations. That’s why we chose them to host our first fellows.

If working in Jeff’s lab — or a similar setting at Al Jazeera, BBC, Guardian or Zeit Online — sounds interesting, enter the MoJo challenge and compete to become a fellow.

This is part of series of interviews with people involved in the Knight Mozilla News Innovation Partnership (MoJo). Find out more on the MoJo web site or enter the MoJo news innovation challenge.

Interview: @acarvin, twitter, revolution

May 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

Riffing on Amanda’s comment on my last post, I decided to ask NPR’s Andy Carvin how he’s been using online conversation to cover recent revolutions in the the Arab world. “I’m using twitter to produce journalism on an open source model,” he said. “I find experts who chime in in a very public fashion. They help me do everything from identifying landmines to translating obscure dialects.” I asked Andy to say more:

Andy’s got a very different take on our “how can we reinvent online news discussions?”  challenge: he sees online conversation as a way to get people involved in making news. “There are so many people out there who are subject matter experts or who are witnessing real history being made. Now they have the tools in their hands to document it.” Andy is bringing these people into the process, getting them to make the news alongside him and his NPR colleague.

To borrow a phrase from the MoJo discussion list, what Andy is doing is “as old as the Cluetrain Manifesto”. But that doesn’t make it any less exciting.

IMHO, what Andy is talking about is at the core of what MoJo hope to produce: tools and practices that get audiences involved in making and shaping the news. If you’re a developer or designer with ideas for tools like this, enter the MoJo challenge. All you have to do to get started is submit your idea.

This is part of series of interviews with people involved in the Knight Mozilla News Innovation Partnership (MoJo). Find out more on the MoJo web site or enter the MoJo news innovation challenge.

Interview: DocumentCloud’s Hickman

May 11, 2011 § 2 Comments

I asked DocumentCloud’s Amanda Hickman to respond to the question: “How can we reinvent online news discussions?”  “We do a good job getting people to comment on things like the royal wedding. But we all have insights on things like how our city works or where our food comes from,” she said. “News could be doing more to get audiences weighing in on real policy issues like these.” I asked Amanda to say more:

Amanda also talked about the kind of people she hopes to see getting the MoJo fellowships. “If you’re talking back to the evening news, apply to the challenge.” Which gets at a key point: the MoJo challenge really is about shaping the future of news. There is a chance to develop a web app or online tool that puts ‘the people formerly known as the audience’ in the drivers’ seat.

If you’re passionate web designer or developer you should enter the MoJo challenge. The current challenge asks: “How can we reinvent online news discussions?” All you have to do to get started is submit your idea.

This is part of series of interviews with people involved in the Knight Mozilla News Innovation Partnership (MoJo). Find out more on the MoJo web site or enter the MoJo news innovation challenge.

Interview: Schoenborn, news + comments

May 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

I asked Knight Foundation web lead Eric Schoenborn about what’s broken with comments, news and the web. He said: “We need to get online discussion past the low common denominator trolls. We need a way to get people who actually care about democracy engaging online.” The second MoJo innovation challenge is all about this: asking developers and designers to re-imagine online discourse around the news. Eric said more:

I also asked Eric why a web developer or designer would want to enter the MoJo challenge. “These fellowships offer a chance to work at a really high level,” he said. “You can have a huge impact on your community and humanity in general.” It’s true that our news partners — Al Jazeera English, BBC, the Boston Globe, the Guardian, Zeit Online — can provide huge stage for fellows. There is chance to do something truly world changing.

If you’re passionate web designer or developer you should enter the MoJo challenge. The current challenge asks: “How can we reinvent online news discussions?” All you have to do to get started is submit your idea.

This is part of series of interviews with people involved in the Knight Mozilla News Innovation Partnership (MoJo). Find out more on the MoJo web site or enter the MoJo news innovation challenge.

The challenge: reinvent ‘TV news’ online

May 3, 2011 § 9 Comments

Recently, we’ve seen a huge change in video online. The advent of web native <video> makes it possible to mash up moving images with social media, tie clips to data from across the web or, more simply, create simple transcript-based interfaces for navigating long pieces of video. Yet, despite the these capabilities, we’ve seen almost nothing in the way of new kinds of storytelling. Telling stories with video online today looks pretty much the same as it did when I used to shoot local TV news 20 years ago.

This is something we hope to change with the first Knight Mozilla news innovation challenge topic. We’re inviting hacks and hackers from around the world to answer the question: how can new web video tools transform news storytelling? People with the best ideas will get to bring them to life with a full year paid fellowship in a world leading newsroom.

The next ‘montage moment’

What do I mean by transform storytelling? Just that: taking today’s online video tools beyond the mechanical and obvious, bringing people, ideas and events to life in ways we haven’t seen before. To get your imagination going, think back to how visual storytelling emerged in the world of cinema.

The Lumiere brothers made some of the worlds first films. Workers going to a factory. A train arriving at a station. Etc. The Lumiere’s fixed frame wasn’t much to write home about in terms of story. But seeing moving photographs was hugely impressive to most people at the time. It was a technical wonder.

It took 25 years for Eisenstein to grab hold of this technical wonder and then say: wow, I bet you we could tell a more powerful story if we varied the shots a bit and then edited them together. With Potemkin, he invented the visual language we still use to tell stories today: montage.

The fundamental technology didn’t change in those 25 years. The Lumiere’s knew how to splice film and move the camera around. Eisenstein’s breakthrough was to use basic film technology to tell a story in a new and creative way. Which is very much like where we are at with web native video today: huge technological potential just waiting to be seized for creative storytelling. What we need now is a ‘montage moment’ for the web era.

Open video: a huge palette of awesomeness

The potential of web native <video> truly is awesome: we can now link any frame within any video to any other part of the web. This was hard to do in the world of Flash video. The introduction of the HTML5 <video> tag over the last two years has made it easy.

Early experiments and demos hint at the potential of this new open video palette. With the recent State of the Union, PBS used Mozilla’s popcorn.js tools to synchronize their live blogging with the timecode of the President’s speech:

The same tools have been used to show how transcripts can be used to search and then navigate immediately to anywhere within a long clip. This demo from Danish public radio shows how this can work with web native <audio>. The same thing could easily be done with video.

Of course, the big potential is in connecting video to the massive amount media and data that already exists all across the web. Imagine if you could weave the sum of all human knowledge seamlessly into your news story or documentary. That’s now possible. This book report demo shows the basics concept, with a student connecting her narration to wikipedia articles and news reports.

Google and Arcade Fire took this idea a step further, pulling moving images from street view and Google Earth into a rock video. If you enter your zip code, your neighborhood becomes a character in the narrative in real time.

The Japanese based Sour-Mirror went even further, pulling you into the video. Enter your Facebook ID and turn on your camera, and then you become a character in the band’s video. Again, in real time.

These demos make an important point: the line between what’s in the frame and what’s on the web is dissolving. Or, put nerdily, timecode and hypertext are fusing together. They are becoming one.

Are you the next Eisenstein?

Despite all the niftyness, there is a problem: these demos do not yet tap the open video palette to tell stories in meaningfully new ways. Open video tools like Mozilla’s Popcorn and Butter provide a starting point. But they need people with a creative flair for both web technology and storytelling to bring them life. Which is exactly why Knight and Mozilla threw out ‘how can new web video tools transform news storytelling?’ as our first MoJo challenge question.

We’re hoping that you — or someone you know — is up to this challenge. If you think you are, you should enter the MoJo innovation challenge. All you need to do is: draw up a napkin sketch showing how you might tell a story in a new way with open video, write a brief paragraph about it and then submit it online. If your idea is solid, you’ve got a good chance at a fellowship where you could actually bring it to life at the Al Jazeera, BBC, the Guardian, Die Zeit or the Boston Globe. Who knows, maybe you could be the Eisenstein of open video?

Find out more about Knight Mozilla News Innovation Partnership on the MoJo web site. Or enter the MoJo news innovation challenge today.

MoJo Interview: popcorn, video and news

April 29, 2011 § 1 Comment

I asked Mozilla Web Made Movies Lead Brett Gaylor excites him about news and video on the web today. He said: “Open video can help re-establish journalism as the fifth estate.” As the first Knight Mozilla news challenge topic is about video, I asked Brett to say more about this:

Brett riffs on the idea of a ‘wonk-a-pedia’ that uses open video on the web to connect video clips of politicians to their voting records, past positions and so on.

The current MoJo challenge topic is about exactly this question: how can new online video tools transform news storytelling? Tying video snippets to other web content and data. Letting audiences join into the debate. And do on.

If you’re a talented web developer excited about HTML5 video, you should enter this first MoJo news innovation challenge. If you want advice or inspiration, head on over to popcornjs.org or Mozilla’s popcorn IRC channel. Lots of people there who can help you out.

Just think of it: you might end up at BBC, the Guardian or one of our other news partners working on the next big thing in online video. All you have to do to get started is submit your idea.

This post is part of series of interviews with people involved in the Knight Mozilla News Innovation Partnership (MoJo). Find out more about the partnership on the MoJo web site or enter the MoJo news innovation challenge today. I’ve also posted a really simple primer on MoJo.

MoJo interview: Al Jazeera + innovation

April 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

I asked Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Nanabhay what excites him about news innovation on the web today. He said: “I’m excited by the sheer velocity of change going on. The web has taken the concept of live news and stretched it to the limit”. As a part of our joint work on the MoJo, I asked Mohamed to say more about this:

Mohammed also talks about the merging of traditional media and social media: a phenomena that has shaped a great deal of the coverage of recent events in the Middle East.

As Mozilla Knight News Innovation partner, Al Jazeera English will be hosting a fellow who will work on web apps that explore this trend. I know that Mohamed is especially interested in fellows who want to work on grassroots reporting, social media and video, which  ties into our current MoJo challenge topic.

If you’re a talented web developer or designer, you should enter the MoJo news innovation challenge. Who knows: you might end up at Al Jazeera building the next big web news app.

This post is part of series of interviews with people involved in the Knight Mozilla News Innovation Partnership (MoJo). Find out more about the partnership on the MoJo web site or enter the MoJo news innovation challenge today. I’ve also posted a really simple primer on MoJo.

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