The goal of the first release was to demonstrate different ways of thinking about how foster communities and conversations around news articles on the web, and not to build a real news website or software to power a real news website.
Version 1.0 of News Mixer is a standalone application built on Python and Django. It is meant as a technology demo. For those who liked the ideas and wanted the software, News Mixer is a great commenting system, but it lacks depth. There was very little time put into anything but the commenting. The content management component is minimal. There is no support for posting media. There was a lot of thought but little dev time put into comment moderation, either for site owners or visitors. It’s what happens when you only have 11 weeks to go from “you can do whatever you want” to working software + report + polished presentation.
Despite the minimalism of News Mixer 1.0, it was a hit. People were impressed and inspired by it. So for a tech demo it was a success. Now to make it usable …
Yes, there will be a WordPress plugin.
The next release of News Mixer will be a more useful application built to actually be used by folks. The plan is to build an API on top of News Mixer and build a plug-in to make the features available for WordPress. In addition to an API, we’re going to give News Mixer the ability to handle commenting for multiple sites.
Why not just put all the commenting features into a WordPress plug in?
So the wheel re-invention is kept to a minimum. So we can plug the features into other applications without writing everything from scratch. So folks can manage the comments for many sites in one place. And so maybe it will grow up to be its own web service someday.
There is a big list of things that our team came up with that could make News Mixer better: more commenting systems, rating systems, moderation. But right now we need to make it accessible for people to use.
This new work for News Mixer is being done by the Gazette and me (Ryan Mark). I’ll be writing more about the progress on my blog: http://ryan-mark.com and on twitter: http://twitter.com/ryanmark. Send me your thoughts.
Running along Cedar Lake in Cedar Rapids, IA / Image by CR Artist
As described in the previous post, we are a group of journalism students looking for ways to engage the Cedar Rapids community through local news.
One of our first steps in this process is to pinpoint a target audience. After we decide who we are trying to serve, we will need to figure out what their interests are and use that information to develop a product that better serves their needs.
Back to step one – Who are we trying to reach?
The Cedar Rapids Gazette has conducted market research into the online habits, media attitudes and news interests of their audience, which will help us to narrow our focus to a particular segment of the population.
Using the information they provided and reports by the Pew Internet and American Life Project we have decided to concentrate our efforts on reaching young adults (age 20-34) who may be starting families, careers and/or putting down roots in the Cedar Rapids area. According to the data, this group is already technology savvy and uses the internet for both news and entertainment. We have also found BetterTogether.org to be a helpful resource.
To get to know them better, we will be sending out surveys and talking with people in this group to get a better idea of their online habits, news sources, local interests, community involvement and ideas for improving the Gazette’s Web site to meet their particular needs.
We are in the early stages of information gathering, and what we will eventually develop is still being shaped by the feedback we hope to get from the Cedar Rapids community.
Tree of Five Seasons in Cedar Rapids, IA. fluidicmethod/Flickr
A problem facing many online news outfits is how to handle reader conversations. Do they enable comments?
Some do and others don’t.
It’s difficult to keep things constructive. Irrelevant, offensive, spam and false comments can plague sites that do allow commenting, especially those that don’t require readers to register.
So how do we improve the participation? How do we direct user participation into a constructive debate or conversation?
These are the issues that our group of graduate journalism students have decided to look at in our 12 week new media capstone project at the Medill School of Journalism. We are fortunate to have a partner, The Gazette in Cedar Rapids, IA., to help us explore these issues. We will be talking to them and the people of Cedar Rapids in order to better understand what people want from online conversation.
As part of our project we will develop a working application that draws from the lessons we’ve learned and addresses the problems of online participation on news websites.
We’ve spent the last 2 weeks learning about the people of Cedar Rapids and eastern Iowa, the great flood of 2008, The Gazette and their vision. We had a chance to visit Cedar Rapids and speak to the staff thanks to the Gazette’s content ninja, Annette Schulte. We will be interviewing people and brainstorming over the next couple of weeks, and logging our experiences and the things we’ve learned on this site.