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!

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.

How we built News Mixer, part 2: the trouble with Facebook Connect

This post is second in a three-part series on News Mixer — the final project of my masters program for hacker-journalists at the Medill School of Journalism. It’s adapted (more or less verbatim) from my part of our final presentation. Visit our team blog at to read the story of the project from its conception to birth, and to (soon) read our report and watch a video of our final presentation.

Facebook Connect launched last week to much fanfare. Put simply, it’s a tool that gives Facebook users a way to log in to News Mixer, or any web site, without having to first set up a username and password and all the usual crap you’re forced to do when you when you want to use a web site. Just click the blue button, and you’re in.

Log in with Facebook Connect on News Mixer

Besides reducing barriers to entry, Connect lets us do some pretty neat stuff. Comments used to happen in the darkness — they were buried at the bottom of an article, where only the trolls dwell. But when you make a comment on News Mixer, your Facebook friends can see — and it’s our hope that this will bring your friends into the conversation.

More identity => less jackassery
In addition, by putting your name and face next to what you say, and showing your words to all your friends, we also hope that you’ll put a little more thought into that comment you’re writing.

But at what cost?
The thing is, we can find out a lot more about you than just your friends list. Connect reveals to us all sorts of information about our users. We could wish you happy birthday or tell you when one of your favorite bands is coming to town. Or we could help you find an apartment when you change from married to “it’s complicated.”

You see, whenever you use a Facebook Connect site, or any Facebook application for that matter, you effectively make the application your “friend.” Anything you reveal to your loved ones, we know too.

Facebook’s terms of service do tell us that we’re not allowed to store this data, but this is almost impossible for them to police. Facebook does allow users to restrict the information revealed to applications, but the reality is most people have no idea how much privacy they’re giving up with each witty remark.

But I promise, we’re being good! Other sites might be creepy, but we’re not. The only data News Mixer looks at is your name and your friend list, and we don’t store anything.

That’s it for part two! Can’t wait and hungry for more? Check out Facebook Connect in action at News Mixer!

Creating real-world social constraints with Facebook Connect

In our efforts to increase connections among the fine citizens of Cedar Rapids, Team Crunchberry has decided to integrate our efforts with a cool-as-hell new way to leverage social networks, Facebook Connect.

Facebook says Connect will enable users to:

  • Seamlessly “connect” their Facebook account and information with your site
  • Connect and find their friends who also use your site
  • Share information and actions on your site with their friends on Facebook

Connect with Facebook

By clicking on a button like the one above, you’ll be automagically logged in to our site!  This enables us to do some very interesting things, as I wrote about on the Crunchberry blog:

Besides lowering the mental overhead of forcing a user into signing up for yet another account, we’ll be able to play with real, established social networks. (And without expecting folks to set up a friends list on a site that none of my friends use!)

For instance, when a user makes a comment, we’ll push it to their Facebook feed. Will you be more likely to comment if you know your friends will see what you have to say? Will you be less likely to act like a jackass?

A little Face(book) to Face(book) chat

We’re betting that we can increase the quantity and quality of conversations by bringing them into to your network.  Why would I comment in a vacuum?  I want my friends to hear what I have to say.  And when they do, maybe they’ll back me up.  And since I’m being heard, maybe I’ll think twice before being a jerk.

Yay, props!  Yay, shame! It’s almost like a real world argument.  All we need now is a pitcher of beer and a table to pound on. Is there a django plugin for that??