Monthly Archives: October 2009

Building an open Carolina news network

Chip Oglesby's Publish2 links for Boeing

Chip Oglesby's Publish2 links for Boeing

Warning: News geek alert. I hope this post will be of great interest to a small group of people, but I’m throwing out ideas that might be filled with jargon.

The recent rains that paralyzed Atlanta taught a lesson: Building a network before critical need arrives can make the sharing of news and information faster, more powerful and effective.

In the case of the Atlanta flood, local leaders in the Twitter community brought together people by advocating the use of a tag on Twitter that was easily searchable.

But we have more network tools than just Twitter, and the principles of networking apply across social networks.

One emerging news tool is Publish2, which is a for-profit company that allows journalists to bookmark links and tweets and share on their websites with widgets. The company also has widgets that allow website managers to add a request for tips from readers.

The New York Times uses Publish2 to aggregate “What we’re reading” posts. The (Columbia) State’s Chip Oglesby used Publish2 to aggregate stories about the Boeing move from Seattle to South Carolina, including posts from Seattle that gave a different perspective on the move. The screenshot above shows his work.

But Publish2 also has the ability to let journalists collaborate across newsrooms, building lists of links about a particular topic in newsgroups. Then different newsrooms (or blogs) can share the crowdsourced links with widgets on their own websites.

That’s a powerful tool, as illustrated with the crowdsourced use of hashtags on Twitter during emergencies and breaking news. And in the Publish2 case, the crowdsourcers are all pre-approved, theoretically “reliable sources.”

Another example: The hearings about former N.C. Gov. Mike Easley have generated widespread coverage, and interest, across the state. Mark Binker of Greensboro is generating amazing quick coverage on Twitter, and the Greensboro News and Record is using Cover it Live to aggregate those tweets. Raleigh is taking a different approach, using live video, live blogging and comments on the News and Observer site.

News organizations across the state have interest in the hearings but can’t always afford to staff them. Publish2 could help them work together to aggregate coverage and link out to original sources from their own websites.

Admittedly, Publish2 is a for-profit company. Where this goes, I’m unsure. Perhaps Google Wave will make this collaboration easier in a different form in the future. But not yet, and hey, Google is a for-profit company too, just like Twitter (some day).

It’s past time to try out Publish2 collaboratively and learn some broad principles that can apply to networking the news. Let’s build a North Carolina network and a Carolinas network before we get hit with a hurricane or some other big news event that will need all our resources, collaboratively.

Perhaps some day, we’ll find similar tools that are open source and free.

Let’s experiment and iterate now. I’ve created the groups and seeded them with some Carolinas journalists on Publish2.

I have to acknowledge this: I’m throwing out this idea from outside any legacy newsroom, and I understand the heavy competitive pressure within those newsrooms. Perhaps this idea won’t fly in those newsrooms. But then, it might fly among the growing ranks of independent journalists. And as we experiment, other projects like the J-Lab Networking the News effort are encouraging cooperation among independents and legacy newsrooms in two N.C. cities, Asheville and Charlotte.

Ryan Sholin and Greg Linch of Publish2 are behind this idea and willing to help.

If you’ve already used Publish2 and want to join the North Carolina or Carolinas networks, let me know. If you want to be an administrator, let me know. If you think it’s a dumb, stupid idea, let me know.

Update from comments: If you’re not already on Publish2, send the email address you want to use to sign up in a direct message to Underoak on Twitter (me), or email it to me at akrewson45cATmacDOTcom. It looks like that method will automagically put you in the newsgroup or groups.

Try. Try again. Repeat.

Standardize basic hashtags for Charlotte

Statistics from what the hashtag wiki for #chs

Statistics from what the hashtag wiki for #chs

“People want to slice information for local cultures; this means that the local cultures need to be able to do the slicing rather than rely on institutions that are more likely to create universal organization schemas. No organization has the diversity necessary to build all of the different glocalized systems that people desire.”
danah boyd, 2005

It started with #tacos and #pbr08.
Charlotte people on Twitter early used hashtags, those words preceded by the # mark, to make jokes and organize drinking parties.
It evolved into #snOMG, a snow event in pre-Oprah 2009.

Now Dan Conover and others in Charleston have shown a way forward, a way to filter the noise of Twitter, from the beginning of the message, enabling better manual search and better search on clients like Tweetie and HootSuite. It’s a folksonomy, or agreed-upon naming convention for tags, which helps people find and share specific information. In this case, keeping it local is key.

Don’t let “folksonomy” scare you. It just means keywords that a community chooses. Charlotte already has #charlotte, used in at least one RSS feed on a commercial website for tweets from Charlotte. It used #cltgas during a shortage in the fall of 2008, borrowing from Atlanta, which invented #atlgas and, most recently, #atlflood.

Charlotte also has #cltcc for the city council, although perhaps it’s sometimes overused by some candidates running for election. It was documented by Brandon Uttley on what the hashtag.

Of course, Twitter itself is working to enhance filtering, creating lists, in which people will be able to group sources together.

Even so, power remains in shared, collaborative keywords, first developed on Twitter during the San Diego fires of 2007 and popularized after a post by Chris Messina.

Conover’s story shows that a filtering method is available now, controllable in a shared way by individuals. He told the tale at Columbia’s Social Media Club on Thursday about a hashtag summit, in which local media representatives and bloggers met at a bar and agreed upon basic hashtags for the Charleston area. And they discussed principles, like uniform length (short) and amount of total tags.

As of Friday night, the basic tag, #chs, has been used in 722 tweets, with 242 contributors, for an average of 103.1 tweets per day, in the past week.

Conover made it sound so simple, but I suspect it was more like herding cats, in a day when many people are seizing branding opportunities in social media. Getting competing media to agree on using standard hashtags isn’t necessarily easy. Conover and others in Charleston deserve credit for a strong example of cooperation.

“During the boom, there was a rush to get everything and everyone online. It was about creating a global village. Yet, packing everyone into the town square is utter chaos. People have different needs, different goals. People manipulate given structures to meet their desires. We are faced with a digital environment that has collective values. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in search. For example, is there a best result to the query “breasts”? It’s all about context, right?”
danah boyd, 2005

Conover said cities like Louisville, Ky., and Vancouver have adopted similar practices since Charleston’s effort. And in Charleston, “even the police use it,” he said at the social media summit. On the panel with Conover, discussing the future of journalism and social media, was Charlotte’s Jeff Elder, who took this video afterward of Conover explaining Charleston’s efforts.

And in Asheville, Jeff Fobes of The Mountain Express announced a change on Oct. 7 from branded #mxnow tags to community centered #avl tags. The Mountain Express is a weekly paper that embraced hashtags early on its website, allowing community members to tweet information and have it appear on the site easily.

To be effective, the hashtags need to be well-known, documented, shared and short. Getting buy-in from others also seems to require a bottom-up, collaborative approach. So, to get things rolling, I’ve added to Uttley’s documentation of the #cltcc tag on what the hashtag, borrowing liberally from Charleston.

Here are Charlotte’s proposed tags, many of which are already in widespread use but weren’t necessarily documented previously:

  • #clt A short general tag for Charlotte. It’s been around awhile and echoes the airport code. Use of it doesn’t mean #charlotte goes away, especially if RSS feeds have been built on the longer tag. But it’s a suggestion for a shorter, standard tag that already gets used fairly often, going forward.
  • #cltvote A tag for tweets about voting and elections in Charlotte.
  • #cltwx Proposed tag for tweets about Charlotte weather. Local TV weather guy @wxbrad is promoting the use of the tag #severeweather, but #cltwx is consistent with others’ use, could provide more geo-specific information and be shorter.
  • #cltbrkg Proposed tag for Charlotte breaking news, copying Charleston’s similar tag.
  • #clttrfk Proposed tag for Charlotte traffic.
  • #clteats Proposed tag for food and drink in Charlotte.
  • #cltdeal Proposed tag for deals in Charlotte.
  • #cltbiz Proposed tag for business news in Charlotte.

Remember, what the hashtag is a wiki, so if you think that list excludes a tag you want to see, you can add it yourself. In addition, you can edit existing entries. Certainly it seems Charlotte needs a documented school board tag, and it would be great to create #cltneeds to help with efforts like Mission Possible. I suspect we need to add tags for Ballantyne, Plaza Midwood, the Eastside, Uptown, etc.

Hashtag conflict.

Hashtag conflict.

Of course, the shorter the tag, the more room you have for your tweet or other tags. At the same time, the shorter the tag, the more likely it will conflict with someone else’s use.

Specifically, #clt appears to be used in India as well. What the hashtag makes a graph of the number of times the tag is used and who’s using it, so the wiki can be used for data analysis and conflict resolution as well as documentation. And sometimes collisions happen: #cbj apparently stands for the Columbus (Ohio) Blue Jackets as well as the Charlotte Business Journal. But that’s why a wiki matters: It can help sort out conflicts.

Few of these tags should be static; our world is constantly changing. We can at least begin. If you want to talk more, I plan to be at BarCamp Charlotte on Oct. 17.

“It’s important to realize that Web2.0 is not a given – it is possible to f*** it up, especially if power and control get in the way.”
danah boyd, 2005

Further reading: danah boyd.