Code in the public interest, make your mother proud

There’s too much data, and too few hackers.

The city dropped 10 years of incredibly detailed crime information a
few weeks ago, and we’ve barely touched it. The state of Illinois just
released an 9500-column-wide data set on school performance. And there may just be a few important elections peeking over the horizon.

The Chicago Tribune needs you. Your city needs you.

Join us.

Battlestar Galactica panel at the U.N. — Liveblogging tonight!

BSG is coming to the United Nations, and I’ll be there. Woot!

From the Chicago Tribune:

On March 17, there will be a “Battlestar” retrospective at the U.N. in New York and a panel discussion of how the show examined issues such as “human rights, children and armed conflict, terrorism, human rights and reconciliation and dialogue among civilizations and faith,” according to Sci Fi.

The “Battlestar” contingent on the panel will consist of executive producers Ronald D. Moore and David Eick, as well as stars Mary McDonnell (who plays president Laura Roslin on the show) and Edward James Olmos (Admiral William Adama).

UN representatives on the panel are Radhika Coomaraswamy, special representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict; Craig Mokhiber, deputy director of the New York office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; and Robert Orr, assistant secretary-general for policy planning, executive office of the Secretary-General.

The panel will be moderated by “Battlestar” fan Whoopi Goldberg.

Tune in at 7PM EDT for the play-by-play!

Battlestar Galactica panel at the U.N.

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Feeds, tweets and APIs are the beginning. Will news orgs step up to augment reality?

In her TED talk, Unveiling the “Sixth Sense,” game-changing wearable tech, Pattie Maes demos a system that creates interactive visual layers over the real world. The actual implementation, a tiny projector tied to a wearable computer that watches your fingers for input (using colored marker caps to identify fingertips!) is cheap, but not something you’d likely want to wear to the store.

But imagine for a moment a similar system, one that detects more subtle gestures and does not physically project light onto the objects you’re manipulating. A device that annotates the real world and presents information about the person in front of you, the product you’re considering purchasing or the comparitive likelihood of catching a cab at this corner or the next block over.

Map for driving by eszter
Map for driving by eszter, based on MacGyver Tip: Heads up display with a reversed paper map from LifeHacker.

I’ve blogged about this before, but Maes’ talk reminded me how important this technology will be. It *will* happen, and although there’s much work left to do in the end user interface (Rainbow’s End by Vernor Vinge, and Counting Heads by David Marusek present brilliant visions of how they might work) the inputs to these systems are coming online today.

Feeds, tweets and APIs aren’t just for the web

Twitter, when paired with TweetDeck gives me an always-on, ambient awareness of events worldwide. Its like a tiny, quiet news radio, feeding me timely information on events I care about. When I’m at my desk, I can hear the Internet hum. Soon, that spatial restriction will be lifted.

I already use Amazon from my phone’s web browser when I’m shopping, but the APIs are there to build new, better interfaces, that, as the Maes’ demos in her talk, can port Amazon ratings and everything else into the real world.

The NYT’s and The Guardian’s new APIs are similarly useful, but present even richer information. Detailed, expert analysis of not just products, but news and events. (And surely Bittman’s recipe for Roast Chicken With Cumin, Honey and Orange would be handy to have on a heads-up display, at the grocery store, when cooking, and when you’re regaling friends with the elegant simplicity of roasting a whole bird.)

Who’s building the future?

Of the 1180 APIs cataloged at ProgrammableWeb, only 18 are categorized as “news”. If news orgs want to hang on to their last shred of credibility as the essential information providers of the last century, they’d best get on it.

APIs are the future of information, and the content creators who adopt them will augment our reality.

ChangeTracker: Tracking changes at White House web sites so you don’t have to

ChangeTracker is a little tool that updates an RSS feed, emails, and tweets when pages change at whitehouse.gov, recovery.gov and financialstability.gov. It’s also the first project of my internship at ProPublica! Woot!

@changetracker on Twitter
@changetracker on Twitter

We put to together a bit of tricky internet plumbing and massaging of the tubes. ChangeTracker tweets, emails and feeds an RSS that links to pages at Versionista (a totally awesome tool, previously blogged about) that show left-right diffs of the page changed.

versionista
Versionista co-founder Peter Bray used Versionista to highlight position changes on Barack Obama’s campaign web site.

And we’re giving away the code! So it’s dead-simple for anyone to copy our work and set up change trackers for any web site.

Needless to say, it fills me with joy that I work at such a badass non-profit newsroom.

News Mixer roundup: links and thoughts on what comes next

It’s been a while since I’ve posted about News Mixer, and since then the intertubes seem to have taken a liking to our little project. I’m delighted that our code might live on in other projects.

Steal this code!

Like I explained in my interview with Kristen Taylor at Knight Pulse, the code is free.

So take it, and make cool stuff. Please!

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=2730442&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=&fullscreen=1

Using News Mixer right now

I was delighted to learn that the Populous Project decided to adopt News Mixer. Anthony Pesce’s post at Media Shift Idea Lab,Populous Is Adopting News Mixer (And More), covers the details.

Initially we were planning on building similar features into Populous, but our original vision was to create a whole separate network on our own site to handle it. That plan had a few problems, but two in particular were too large to ignore: Facebook is ubiquitous on college campuses and it does social networking better than we ever could, and new readers would have to join a whole new network which is an unacceptable impediment.

We realized that using Facebook Connect as a way of authentication for the site, and as a way of giving our readers a robust social networking experience, would almost work better than making the whole thing on our own from scratch. Facebook, we think, will also help drive additional traffic to our site because people who aren’t already on our network will still be exposed to content when their friends interact with it.

Patrick Beeson wrote a very thoughtful post about News Mixer in December (and I’m dying to know what he’s got up his sleeve…): Medill’s News Mixer remixes story comments

Although News Mixer [doesn’t] change the traditional story format — stories are still stories that don’t work as well online as they do in print — I think their radical take on user participation is a great step forward for news sites.

And because News Mixer is built in Django, I plan on using their open-sourced code for my own project very soon, in fact.

And be sure to check out Rich Gordon’s comprehensive post about how news organizations might use News Mixer: News Mixer Options: Launch a Site, Use the Code or Be Inspired

This past week, e-Me Ventures (a Chicago-based technology firm affiliated with Gazette Communications, which sponsored the class that developed News Mixer) announced it had deployed a portion of the News Mixer code as an add-in to a test site, powered by WordPress.

“The News Mixer idea was huge. I was really blown away by the work that [the students] did,” said Abe Abreu, CEO of e-Me. “We wanted to be the first to do something with it.”

With these new developments, it seems like a good time to lay out some of the ways News Mixer — and/or its functionality — might be implemented on a production Web site.

News Mixer in the news

Finally, if you’re interested in reading more about the press we’ve received, check out Rich’s excellent roundup, keep an eye on my newsmixer tag on delicious, and follow along on Twitter.