Sunday, August 7, 2011

NearbyNews - Mozilla NewsLab Final Project

The Pitch

Design document

High-level architecture of NearbyNews components and processes

NearbyNews requires almost no installation.

NearbyNews leverages the newsroom’s existing infrastructure in that stories are fed into the NearbyNews database by way of the news organization’s RSS feed.

News organizations are also required to place one simple block of JavaScript into their page template and NearbyNews maps for all of their stories will automatically appear on the appropriate article pages.

Settings can also be configured to have newly published stories mapped automatically.  After an initial import of stories into the NearbyNews database, organizations may also opt to manually add new stories by hand.

(The interface for the NearbyNews story tool)

To review and edit maps, reporters and editors would login to a web-based dashboard.  A browser-based web app will be available guide news staff through the complete geolocation process using the story tool.  The can also map multiple stories within a series using the series tool.

Detailed documentation and on-site training will be available, as well as remote support by telephone and on-line chat.

NearbyNews is built collaboratively with reporters and editors

NearbyNews will be built for the newsroom, in the newsroom.  And understanding the newsroom culture of any participating organization will be part of the project.  Getting to know journalists and news directors and listening to them discuss their views on mapping is an important step in the process.  Journalists and editors may be asked to talk out loud while they use the NearbyNews tools and notes could be made regarding any difficulties or additional functionality that is requested.   Reporters could also be videotaped using the tool (with care to recognize excessive hand movements).  Adjustments to the interface could be made iteratively based on feedback.

NearbyNews will be built collaboratively with newsroom and open-source developers.  This code will be fully open-sourced.  A special fork of the program will be made for each participating news organization.  Enhancements made by newsroom or open-source developers can be merged back into the base product for the benefit of all.

Building an active, happy developer community depends on writing highly usable, high-performing, quality code along with quality documentation that anticipates the developers needs at every step and reduces as many barriers to adoption as possible.

NearbyNews leverages the following apps and platforms

A prototype of the NearbyNews can be found at and the code can be found  on Google Code.  NearbyNews is currently built using Python and Web2py and can easily and cost-effectively be deployed on Google App Engine.  It uses GoogleMaps and jquery and KCRW’s NPRAPI Python library.  Future enhancements draw inspiration from Guilhem Vellut’s tutorial on Text Geotagging with Open Calais and Chris Heilmann’s GeoMaker and more.

NearbyNews aims to explore and resolve the following issues and challenges

The process of extracting location information from news stories based solely on a description or transcript (using Yahoo Placemaker and OpenCalais) is not entirely accurate.  Refining geographical information by a reporter or other staff member may be preferred.

The question of what to do with stories that are "not mappable” is a good one. The question of what to do with stories which, by their subject matter, are more general or conceptual should be considered in more detail.

The benefits of integrating geolocated stories into location-based services like Layar or Google Latitude still needs to be explored.  What will be the benefits to the news organization in terms of strategy, time?  Best practices around this strategy should be published.

How to best use location information to increase revenue?  How effective is advertising targeted to a neighborhood or region.  Would this really add value to advertisers?

How to create a user experience in the physical world around news?  Best practices for organizing, for example, a “walking tour” based on a particular topic or series of stories have not been established.  Would this kind of community engagement increase audience?  These experiments need to be tried and refined and the results published.

Business Brief

Mapping stories is an important part of framing a story and helping listeners relate to your reporting and to their world, yet this is a feature that is noticeably absent from many news stories online.  NearbyNews provides a news mapping service as well as an easy to use set of tools that are tailored specifically for journalists.  Rather than focusing on complex data visualizations, NearbyNews aims to provide a fast, practical way to geolocate the stories coming out of your newsroom.  NearbyNews works equally well as a way to map collections of stories in a series; such as your newsroom's coverage of seasonal wildfires.

There are a handful of mapping tools on the market, but none are tailored specifically for news organizations.  Some tools are more general like Google Maps, some are specific to disaster relief like Ushahidi’s CrowdMap, some cater more towards data visualization like TileMill.  Other tools focus more on crowdsourcing like  However, NearbyNews is the only mapping tool made specifically for journalists where speed, simplicity and ease of use is a premium -- and NearbyNews comes at a price-point that any newsroom can afford.

NearbyNews easily integrates with your existing tools and workflow, places little demand on your reporting staff and yet can be used to create in-depth maps as the story or series requires.

NearbyNews also provides many additional benefits and opportunities.  Your audience will benefit by discovering your stories serendipitously via their mobile phone (using a familiar Google Maps interface) in the places that are relevant to the stories and relevant to them.  Your sales departments and your local business partners will benefit from using NearbyNews in that advertising can be targeted to specific neighborhoods or regions.  Your organization may enjoy increased visibility and perceived value in your community by having your stories positioned in the physical world as location-based services become more widespread.