Three threads tied together

I’ve been doing a bit of lightweight reporting and writing for a few other spots on the Web over the last two weeks, and the stories all pull together very nicely, like so:

First, over at the official Publish2 Blog, I posted a few notes on Evolving Platforms for Collaboration. You’ll find five examples there of collaborative (or transparent) projects fueled by emerging technology. Spot.Us, Mark Luckie’s book, Rex Sorgatz’s anti-agency, and more. Here’s why I thought Mark Luckie’s story of 10,000 Words was important:

Mark’s radical transparency about his career path — a form of collaboration with his readers and the online journalism community — has left a breadcrumb trail for talented journalists motivated to make work for themselves as bloggers, consultants, and authors. As more independent operators take off on their own, new models for collaboration across networks of freelancers and consultants are popping up left and right.

Second, I picked up that line of reasoning in an IM interview with Mark for the PBS IdeaLab blog. We talked about Mark’s career path, how he pulled together and published the book, and how he writes for an audience of novice online journalists.

I rarely ever feature software on the blog, not only because there is a lot of sketchy software out there that can do damage to your computer, but also because it’s hard to convince people to download, install, and try full-fledged programs. I love web-based applications because it’s an opportunity to try a new tool without investing too much time and effort into it. If you like it, you can keep using it and if not, you can just kinda move on. Also, if you really like a web-based tool you can always upgrade and grab professional software that offers more features.

Third, at Wired Journalists, I talked with Rex Sorgatz (you might know him best as Fimoculous) about building and running a networked and distributed development, design, strategy, and marketing anti-agency.

I despise digital/creative agencies! They’re slow, ineffectual little monsters. And they bill you like lawyers. But I like to create companies around the fringes of what I hate. So I came up with this twist on the idea: a very horizontal organization that consists of a loose collection of talented but disparate people (designers, developers, marketers, content specialists, product managers) to crowd-source projects. We borrow a trope from cloud computing: finding the resources for the task at hand. Some projects are huge and involve hiring dozens of people, whereas others are just me helping someone figure out a solution to a problem.

In all three of these posts, I’m thinking heavily about the mindset, skillset, and technology platforms that power collaboration — in the media world and elsewhere.

I hope you’re thinking about that, too.

IdeaLab: Q&A 2.0

Over at the PBS IdeaLab blog, I wrote something earlier this week about what I think of as Q&A 2.0, the recent string of modern, general purpose question & answer sites exploring different ways to gather, filter, and deliver information.

And that’s the right way to think about it: Gather, filter, and deliver information. That’s a basic function of journalism, right?

Here’s one of my takeaways from a short tour of a few Q&A 2.0 spots:

“From Quora, we learn the value of frictionless real-time interfaces. Don’t assume your application has to follow patterns generated by its predecessors. You’re building next year’s tools, not last year’s.”

That’s a critical idea for anyone building user interfaces these days, isn’t it? Learn from best practices if you’re building, say, a hyperlocal news site, but you shouldn’t feel obliged to assume you need all the same pieces every other news site in history has ever had. It’s fine to emulate success, and well-designed presentations, but if you’re not trying anything new, the odds are long that you’re building something innovative, something that’s moving the needle ahead, something with a chance at mass, transformative appeal.

In other words, it’s OK to have new ideas. But I don’t need to tell you that, right?

Right.

New at IdeaLab: The People Formerly Known as the Audience need a new name

Over at IdeaLab, I’m continuing a conversation I started on Twitter a couple weeks ago that spilled over here as well.

What do you call your readers now that they’re participating actively in the creation and curation of unbundled media?

Do you call them a community?

Better yet, what makes an online “community” and how can local news sites foster an environment that makes that more likely?

Here’s a bit from the IdeaLab post, related to something I read recently at GeekDad:

“Because I’m a geek/dad, if not necessarily a full-blown Geekdad yet, it makes perfect sense. These are people like me writing about experiences that are either familiar to me, or talking about ideas that I’m profoundly interested in as a member of the community of people who self-identify as geekdads.

So maybe readers have a common topic of interest (baseball, city government, gardening), but a community is the topic of interest itself (baseball players, city council members and local activists, serious gardeners).”

What do you think?  Head over to IdeaLab and add a comment to let me know.

New at IdeaLab: What’s new in ReportingOn 2.0 and what’s been left undone

Over at IdeaLab, I’ve got a post up that circles back to the first version of ReportingOn, my Knight News Challenge project.  In the post, I revisit some of the problems the 2.0 release was intended to solve, and I do a bit of scorekeeping on RO’s progress.

Here’s a bit from the post about one of the challenges I faced in building a backchannel for beat reporters to help each other out:

Twitter is faster than me

Right, so 140-character limits are long-gone in RO 2.0, and the straight question/answer session should (theoretically, at least) make for longer conversations with more depth to them. As has been pointed out more than a few times, Twitter is a good place to start an argument, but a really poor place to finish one. Although I’d hesitate to frame the sort of exploratory, qualitative Q&A that could happen on ReportingOn as “argument” or “debate,” I’d like to believe that highlighting a “good answer” as noted by the person who asked the question will help lead to a permanent archive for reporting resources in a way that Twitter simply doesn’t do.

To put a finer point on it, if I ask a question of my followers on Twitter and I get a great answer, I get it in a stream of replies that are useful to a certain subset of Twitter users at that moment, but fly right by in the stream and never come back unless I pull them out of the flow of Twitter and display them somewhere. At this particular moment in time, Twitter’s search functionality is highly ephemeral in nature, as it starts and stops indexing from time to time, and rarely dips back in the chronology as far as might be useful. So where the quick-answer utility of Twitter stops, the long-term archive of ReportingOn begins.

There are four or five more points of navel-gazing analysis like that over in the post, which I hope you’ll check out.  If nothing else, they should provide a useful roadmap for the next person who tries to build something similar.

Meanwhile, the crew at BeatBlogging interviewed me recently — you can listen in as I answer some questions about ReportingOn 2.0, the launch, development, and what happens next.  The audio file is at the end of that post, or you can hear it in iTunes.

New at IdeaLab: An interview with Baghdad Brian

Over at IdeaLab, I’ve interviewed Baghdad Brian, who I met in October 2007 at the first Networked Journalism summit Jeff Jarvis threw at CUNY.  At the time, Brian was raising money to keep Alive in Baghdad going, and we did everything but pass a hat around the room to try to back him up.

The next time I remember hearing about the project was two months later, in December 2007, when one of the citizen journalists working with AIB was killed.  At the time, it wasn’t clear whether or not his murder (he was shot 31 times) was related to the story he was working on.

Brian popped up on my radar again over the last two weeks or so, as he quickly ramped up Alive in Tehran, exploring different communication channels to get stories out of Iran during the current post-election upheaval, protests, and violence.

I spoke to Brian by phone a few days ago. You can listen to the audio at IdeaLab or read the full transcript.  Here’s a sample [emph. mine]:

“…I don’t really have any contacts there. I have a couple of contacts, it’s sort of funny, because we did look into trying to set this up, back in…a couple of years back, sort of looking at doing a project in Iran, with a couple of filmmakers who are known over here and in the blogosphere. I got the impression that nobody wanted to be associated with a project called “Alive in Tehran” because it was too political. It seemed political, inherently. And it is to some degree political, because we’re making this statement that we don’t necessarily need the foreign press to go and say “Live from Tehran, this is what you need to know.

Check it out.

At IdeaLab: Paul Bradshaw on crowdsourcing investigative journalism

Over at IdeaLab, I’ve been way past deadline for a post, after (again) making all sorts of promises about helping out more over there.  Until now.

After playing the modern equivalent of phone tag (Twitter DMs and e-mail across two operating systems and one ocean) for a week or so, Paul Bradshaw and I landed on Skype at the same time for 15 minutes for a quick chat about his freshly funded project, Help Me Investigate.

Here’s the post at IdeaLab, where you’ll find the full video interview.

If you want to head directly to the background on this, read Paul’s post about the funding and the next steps for the project.

Here’s why I’m so interested in this project, and in my Knight News Challenge project ReportingOn, and David Cohn’s efforts with Spot.Us, and in the Collaborative Reporting tools we launched at Publish2 recently:

I really, REALLY, REALLY want there to be easy ways to gather structured data from readers, users, journalists, and editors, and I want that data to be attached to their identity whenever possible.  I want that data to be portable and exportable, so it can be displayed in any and all useful formats. I want profiles for everyone so I can track their participation, reliability, and levels of knowledge about different topics, beats, locations, and stories.

I’m becoming more and more passionate about this, with my level of surprise that no one has built the right tools for this job yet growing by the day.  But we’re getting closer.  Platforms are emerging.  Standards will follow.  Collaboration is key.