Monica, the CRM to make you a better friend

Monica is my new favorite software. It’s a CRM to “organize the social interactions with your loved ones.” In the few weeks I’ve used it, Monica has done a great job proactively encouraging me to be a better friend.

Monica is also open source on GitHub with an active community. It’s clear how this has influenced what the product is. I’d love to see Régis Freyd (the creator) turn Monica into a viable business too. This would ensure its long-term sustainability, and also help solve for product gaps (e.g. hiring for design polish).

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BCNI Philly: APM’s Public Insight Network

Drew Geraets led a session this morning on American Public Media’s Public Insight Network, an initiative and tool to bring their audience deeper into the reporting process. Funded by the Knight Foundation, they’re currently doing a complete rebuild of their CRM for journalism to produce a fully open source project and expand usage beyond the 12 existing media partners.

Specifically, by doing the rebuild, they want to: share more insights, offer better tools for sharing, enable sources to update their profile within the system, offer sources more granular privacy controls, instantly publish insights, create credibility systems for sources, offer a better user experience, and integrate with existing sites.

The prototype dashboard for the reporter-facing Audience Insight Repository is project-based and focused on collaboration.

Journalists can search through a huge database of sources based on demographic metadata.

Once they’ve found a worthwhile lead, the journalist can click through and get contact information, background on the source, and a record of prior interactions.

The project also has plans for a user-facing site tentatively called MyPIN where they’d be able to engage more fully with the news organization’s reporting process or update their profile information.

There’s a certain amount of friction, however, in requiring sources to manually update their profiles every time a bit of their personal data changes. As the system exists now, American Public Media requires readers to submit full contact information every time they fill out a form. If the contact information on the form is different than what is in the database, then that discrepancy is flagged and an analyst has to manually address that conflict. In the future, in addition to enabling users to update their profiles on their own, it might also be worthwhile to explore integrating with LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter. With LinkedIn or Facebook, the user could update their resume, contact information, etc. and have it automatically pulled into the Public Insight Network. By integrating Twitter, for example, journalists could easily find sources for a given story by having search localized to updates from users within the network.

We also discussed user privacy, which getting correct is of significant interest to American Public Media. More importantly, what control users have over their privacy and how to make policy changes without surprising or alienating them. An idea I suggested is that, rather than presenting just a list of options for the user to choose from, they should instead try a Hunch-style approach. With this, they’d be presented a series of questions detailing scenarios about their data and how it might be used. The decisions the user made responding to each scenario could then guide their privacy options. At some point, American Public Media would like to start sharing source information amongst all of their media partners using the software, but it will be critical for them to execute that move right the first time.

What aren’t we going to build?

maxcutler: 3 journo devs and 6 hours to work. Please give us project ideas! Tomorrow with @danielbachhuber and @davidestes

The question isn’t what are we going to build, but really what aren’t we going to build?

Open Assignment Desk

The Open Assignment Desk (formerly known as the Virtual Assignment Desk) is a tool for leveraging openness in the story creation process. Hat tip to Jay Rosen and Dave Winer for talking about the left side of the same idea in episode #12 and episode #18 of Rebooting the News.

It brings the funk in stages.

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Voting on the freshness of an article

A Twitter idea that I want to make sure gets archived somewhere so that I can build it later: it would be really cool if, as a reader and news consumer, I could indicate graf by graf on an article whether “I already knew that” information or “this is news to me.” For someone reading a lot of the #swineflu coverage, it seems as though most of the articles are largely rehashed information that I’ve seen elsewhere. Empowering the user to give feedback as to whether they’ve heard the information before will allow the news organization to focus more on providing new and unique coverage.

This data generated by ranking the freshness of information would immediately begin to build profiles of what the reader knows. If they’re logged in, the news organization could put this information on what they’re indicating they know and don’t know in a database, start aggregating it, and then feed the reader related links and stories on similar topics. Related information, however, would now be determined by both topical metadata and a virtual profile of their knowledge base. On the front end, the data that the readership is contributing could go towards a rating of how “fresh” the article is. If the organization were really forward-thinking, the content of the article could then depend on this profile of how much the reader knew.

Voilà. Another new format for news.

Take reputation systems one step further

Mark Briggs wrote a post on Journalism 2.0 about how a reputation system could be applied to comments on a newspaper’s website. It got my brain in a party. A reputation economy is something we’re taking very much into consideration as we develop some of the core ideas behind the Connection Engine, the platform CoPress will eventually build to power our community, and I think the concept has tremendous potential as a tool to evaluate the map of expertise within your community.

In Mark’s scenario (borrowed from Stack Overflow), the reputation system would be used to identify the good comments from the cruft. If you post a good comment other people think adds to the conversation, then they might vote you up. You’d earn reputation points from that transaction. If you were trolling to derail the conversation or intentionally trying to provoke, then the community could vote you down and you’d lose reputation points. The author of the post, furthermore, could use his or her super reputation to bestow blessings upon really intelligent feedback. All of this information about the quality of content would be useful to the CMS and webmaster, and editor I suppose, in trying to determine what gets placement where.

The kicker is when you tie this reputation system into the database that’s tracking people in your community. This is where things could get really interesting. By adding semantic information to the reputation system (i.e. recording the topic that the commenter is writing on and saving structured data about the nature of their response), you could build a super useful for finding the diamonds in the rough. For instance, if Marcus Doe (a fake name to protect his identity) commented often on articles about climate change and water access issues, and his fellow commenters rated his insights highly, then Marcus’ profile in the database would indicate that the crowd seems to think he makes fair arguments. The news organization would then invite Marcus to contribute a guest article. If the readers then found that contribution valuable, it would increase Marcus’ profile as a source of knowledge about climate change and water access within the community. This would only work with real, verifiable commenters, of course.

This reputation system would be the engine to empower the community to evaluate information and sources for merit.

BarCamp Portland and the future of news

There’s talk on the town about adding a journalism session to BarCamp Portland. This should be a time to brainstorm and collaborate on the future of news in the Portland-area, instead of just being a space for journalists and bloggers to come together and try and resolve their issues. Let’s have an idea-generating session on what the journalism needs of Portland are, how we’ll be able to fill those news from the grassroots if/when The Oregonian implodes because of their terrible CMS, and then, in turn, how we’ll be able to monetize that. This is something where perspectives from both camps, the journalists and the bloggers, would offer value to the conversation.

To provide fodder for this discussion, listen to the most recent installment of Dave Winer and Jay Rosen’s Rebooting the News. One of the ideas that I think will “save journalism” is the digital assignment desk Jay starts talking about near the end. His part of the idea is this: a tool to map out all of the particulars that might need to be reported on in the coverage of any given issue. Once the editorial team has this laid out, they can then decide what resources they want to apply and where.

I’d like to take this two steps further.

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Free strategic advice for the @dailyemerald

Last night, I realized we’ve started bitching about the Daily Emerald in the peanut gallery without offering any positive advice for change. I’d like to offer my thoughts on how to turn the struggling newspaper into a successful digital news enterprise.

Step one: hold a transparent weekend (or weeklong) jam session to develop a strategic plan. Invite as many intelligent stakeholders as you can to a retreat, and put together a website for that retreat with the agenda, list of everyone involved, and goals. It might also be useful to have a open community forum in the week preceding to hear strengths and weaknesses from the perspective of the audience, or launch a website where the community and submit and vote on ideas for the news organization. When retreat happens, however, make it open and participatory. Make sure everyone at the retreat is documenting the discussion on Twitter, and livestream as much of the discussion as you can. Have a designated “community manager” for the retreat who looks for suggestions from watchers and brings those to the meeting. Tap the intelligence of the digital crowd, especially because you’ll be able to bring even more smart brains from afar.

Step two: campaign over summer 2009 amongst the Daily Emerald alums to raise the funds necessary to implement the strategic plan. Shop the plan out to them to get their feedback and insights, and use CRM (or customer relationship management) software to track these interactions. When I left, they were using a FileMaker database system and analog mail. I would ditch this system immediately, and my first investment would be software like Salesforce.com (which a news organization could also use to sell advertising more effectively). Using the new CRM, it would be wise to fundraise amongst the alums who want to see their old newspaper experiment with this platform called the internet. Including them in the process, by sending them the strategic plan and a link to the website with an archive of all the video, will make them more invested in the process (if they like what you’re doing at least).

Step three: implement the strategic plan starting in Fall 2009. If I were the publisher of the Daily Emerald, these three are of many things I would attempt to drastically right the direction of the news organization:

  • Quit the College Publisher habit. Being on a locked, proprietary content management system is probably the worst foundation you could have for a digital news organization. Focus heavily on recruiting a few developers out of the computer science program, and build a basic website on Django that you can grow from. If you ask nicely, the Daily Gazette at Swarthmore or Daily UW might be willing to lend enough code to get you started.
  • Move to once a week in print. I know that this would be very, very difficult, especially because the bulk of revenue comes from the print product, but it needs to happen nevertheless. Necessity is the mother of invention. Do it, and publish daily online.
  • Empower your community. Break down the ivory tower, and hold workshops to teach interested community members how to report on the issues they’re passionate about. I am quite certain that club sports at the University of Oregon don’t get the coverage they deserves, and there are probably at least several people who could tweet at games and submit high quality images for a photo gallery.

Right now at the Daily Emerald, though, they’re going about it the API emergency meeting way, and this is just one of the many reasons I think startups make more sense in this climate. I mean, look at all of the effort it’s going to take to turn this ship around, let alone reinvent it.

There’s also been discussion that student news will be largely unaffected by the tornado ripping through regional newspapers right now. Even if that is the case, I would like to propose an analogy: if you’re driving towards the cliff of irrelevance, your direction is what is most important. It doesn’t matter that your car’s engine hasn’t seized up yet.