OpenCan – The #MozNewsLab Final Pitch

SO, opencan might just stand for “Open, Collaborative, Annotated News”
Maybe.
What it is for sure is a Graphically Dynamic News Ecosystem.

Here’s why:

It’s a visual (graphic) representation of news topics made up of all contributing elements/information concerned with that topic. (News articles, professional and citizen photo/video/audio, infographics, documents, social media posts, etc.)

It’s an interactive and fluid (dynamic) user experience for news readers to experience news evidence and facts in an omni-directional flow and for news writers to collect, organize, and visualize their story material throughout the news writing process.

It’s a collection of all newly received or noteworthy information. (Okay, so all I did was just define news here, but you get the point.)

It’s a community of interactive individuals (ecosystem) that collaboratively builds and annotates all elements contributing to a news story.

why it’s unique
Rather than transposing/translating a print format of news, this project takes a digital-first approach to news gathering, construction and dissemination.

Different web applications right now are addressing different elements of opencan, but no one is bringing all of these elements together.

why it’s useful
This project leverages the best elements of cutting edge web applications to:

  • streamline journalistic and editorial workflow;
  • create deep, meaningful and highly organized information databases;
  • encourage user interaction, participation and content generation
  • meaningfully visualize the components which contribute to  news stories to foster the audience’s confidence and trust in their comprehension of news items
  • cultivate a culture of non-linear, omni-directional storytelling in news journalism.

how it works
opencan organizes all elements contributing to a specific news topic on a visual field in the browser – videos, photos, news articles, tweets, you name it. (These elements are collected either by web news scraper, or by user/editor submission.)

Each element of thoroughly tagged with relevant metadata so each element can be sorted in a myriad of different ways, relative to the other elements. (Such metadata would include: usefulness, credibility, interest, accuracy, date created/published, times referenced by other publications, other elements referenced within, author, geolocation, etc.)

Users can then constrain the elements to experience different element orientations. eg: connections between elements, the ontology of the story, most credible and useful elements – it is up to the users.

For a news reader, they can now experience a news story, rather than be told about it. For a news producer, they can use opencan as a private content organization and visualization tool.

opencan is intended to be interacted with by various parties which results in an organically evolving story. This collaboration can happen between producer and audience, or between multiple producers.

design
In short, it’s an interactive mind-map on drugs.
Each element in the ‘map’ is fluid, the position dependant on the user defined variables for organization. Users (can) have the ability to add, edit and modify elements.

implementation
Step by step…

1) Dynamic content organization system.
Have journalists, or J-school students use the application as a news content management system and story building tool. All ‘private’ to begin with.

2) Read-only news “end product.” (A news viewing tool.)
Use opencan as news viewing tool, where web users can explore and visualize elements of stories in different ways, as directed by user defined variables.

3) Enhanced private collaboration.
Focus on developing tools to have multiple collaborators working on constructing an opencan story before publishing to web.

4) Full public collaboration.
Adding functionality to allow users to contribute information to opencan stories.

unknown and anticipated hurdles
How in the hell do we build this?
Using javascript treemaps is where I am starting with this, but I will need some serious help to determine a serious development path.

How to work with, or as, a content management system?
Sure, opencan would be a seriously awesome approach to building a new content management system for news organizations. (Or, for anyone with heaps of information to archive.) However, I reckon that news organizations would be weary of doing so. What is likely critical is to determine if it is truly more beneficial to build a new CMS, or if opencan can effectively use the current news organization’s CMS as it is.

why does this need to exist?
Current static news formats on web are failing to capitalize on the dynamic nature of the internet. Someone better get web journalism whipped into shape. If it has to be me, than so be it.

Here is a “business brief” for opencan, directed towards the #MozNewsLab partners (Al Jazeera English, BBC, The Guardian UK, Boston.com & Zeit online.)

References to other cool things, from which opencan steals the best ideas:

Bestc.am is fostering a niche online ecosystem via browser and mobile applications.
Etherpad is a great example of collaborative content generation.
Evernote is doing an interesting job of online/offline note taking, synchronizing and information organizing. (Using tags and projects, aka ‘notebooks.’)
Zotero is an example of comprehensive metadata tagging, and document annotations.
Storify brings together different sources of news into one, evolving visual timeline.
Theyrule.net: great example of interconnected visual organization of different elements, while javascript treemaps is my initial template for an opencan visualization and interface.

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