By Kevin Shalvey
Over at Local Fourth’s YouTube channel this afternoon, we have video interviews with Frank Kalman and Steve Melendez.
Kalman, above, a leader of the team researching business and revenue, discusses the process behind his team’s “cookbook,” which will detail the economics behind a local website like the one we’re building.
Melendez is one of the project leaders and a member of the technology team. He’s been dealing with the ever-increasing need for optimal communication between the technology and research teams.
Check out more videos at Local Fourth’s YouTube.
By Kevin Shalvey
Back before cable television, before web reporting and ever-quickening newsfeeds, scoops could be easily heralded — the story either was printed in your daily edition or it wasn’t. If another newspaper beat you on a story, the proof landed on your doorstep in the morning.
A rival newspaper could always do a second-day story, showcasing that it, too, was on top of an issue.
But as our dissemination of news quickened, the second-day story quickly became the second-hour story. And the second-hour story quickly has become the second-second story. (It’s complicated, I know.) So it’s getting tougher to decide who got there first, right?
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By Geoff Hing
With any collaborative project, there are the tools that you use to build things and the tools that you use to talk about building things. For the latter, our project uses some pretty rudimentary tools – Google Docs and a Google Groups-based e-mail list.
These tools are worlds better than the alternative, sharing attachments over e-mail, for two main reasons: they offer a globally accessible location for assets and conversations and the ability to loop new collaborators into those conversations or show them the assets. However, they still leave a lot to be desired for project management tasks like issue tracking, defining milestones and offering a heartbeat of where the project is at in terms of issues or milestones. While we had access to Basecamp and could have tried out a number of tools to handle these tasks, we ultimately decided that we’d rather have everyone using imperfect tools than let the account creation and learning curve of a new tool be a barrier to participation for folks who don’t geek out on finding the perfect tool for a job.
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By Geoff Hing
You’re in the middle of a big project with tight deadlines. Parts of your infrastructure are a little, well, jenky. Do you take the time to make things cleaner and more coherent, or do you focus on coding, hoping that your stack holds together until you have time to clean it up? Will a new tool pay off or is it just a distraction from perhaps more tedious, but more crucial work that needs to be done.
This was my situation early this week when I started looking at our deployment procedure when moving developing on our workstations to making our work public on our webhost. I was working on a bug where things that worked on our development machines weren’t working on the webhost. Instead of just setting up a new instance for testing on our webhost, I decided to invest the time in exploring a new-to-me tool called Fabric.
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By Geoff Hing
I first became acquainted with the term hackathon in college. A computer science student group organized an all-night event in one of the computer labs and ordered in pizza and a seemingly limitless supply of caffeinated soda. I remember the event as fun, but I mostly worked on classwork. I didn’t yet have a backlog of personal hacking projects that could really benefit from hours of uninterrupted coding.
At the start of this project, Shane, Steve and I participated in a mobile hackathon sponsored by The Media Consortium. It was a fun way to familiarize ourselves with our chosen software tools, get used to coding as a team and anticipate some of the hurdles we’d encounter during the innovation project. Though I spend a lot of most days in front of the computer, there’s something pleasurable about having an entire day, or weekend, of frenetic, uninterrupted programming. This might sound like hell to a lot of people, but it’s fundamentally satisfying to building something from scratch and to be able to be fully immersed in a project, really feeling every aspect of the process and design.
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By Eddy Rivera
There’s a little over a month left before our project is completed and ready to be presented, and I’m excited about the direction we’re taking with the mockup website that our programmers have conceptualized.
The main thing we’ve noticed, as we’ve done our audience research and usability testing, is that people want to engage with something. Long gone are the days where the public reads the news, and then are unable to express their feelings or thoughts immediately in a comments section or the like. Sure, a letter to the editorial would suffice but what guarantee was there that he or she would read it, let alone reply or post it on a newspaper?
Now? Interactivity on a news platform is seen as a necessity. And I think with the mockup website that our team has put together, we can offer something that allows people to engage not only with each other but with the reporters that are publishing the story. I think that’s cool, and it allows for a real-time news stream. Getting news up-to-the-minute is something that nearly everyone has an appetite for.
The hope, at the end of the day, is that we provide a fresh take on hyperlocal news and efficiently disseminate information to a community of readers. In this day and age, it’s all about efficiency. That’s one aspect of a business model that is essential for a site like ours to survive and grow.
By Geoff Hing
I’m finding the word community increasingly confusing, especially when navigating the world of hyperlocal publishing. When someone says community, do they mean community like the city of Evanston, or the city’s West Side neighborhood, or a block club or church. Or, do they mean the community of users of a particular site? When do these groups intersect, when are they too disparate? The 2010 Knight News Challenge goes as far as defining a specific Community category for entries:
Community: Seeks groundbreaking technologies that support news and
information specifically within defined geographic areas. This is designed to
jump-start work on technologies and approaches that haven’t arrived yet.
Unlike the first three categories, sub-
missions in this area must be tested in a geographically designated community.
But, in a Sept. 20 post announcing the 2010 challenge, the poster wrote “I think of this as our io9 category,” referring to a Gawker Media-run science-fiction and popular culture site. Perhaps the poster was referring to the future-focused voice of the site, but it also surfaces the possibility that people may increasingly identify with communities and person-to-person interactions that aren’t geographically bound. Read more »
By Emily Dresslar
Usability testing is a strange new world for most of us: card sorting, test scripts and paper prototypes weren’t part of our vocabulary before we began. But we’re feeling our way through the process, thanks in a large part to the guidance of Medill’s Jeremy Gilbert. In the same way we aim to uncover the words and actions intuitive to someone seeking online news, we are finding out what works and what doesn’t in testing.
Testing, we hope, will inform the development of a news and information site under construction by the project’s tech team. While it may not be ideal to test ideas concurrently with development, were working with the limited timeframe we have and doing our best to communicate along the way.
So far, we have conducted several rounds of testing trying to get at the heart of the ways people might interact with a new site. We’ve worked through questions like:
- How do people interact with a basic prototype?
- How do people sort questions or opinions into categories?
- What kind of questions do people ask after reading news?
- What words do people use to agree with the opinions of others?
Often, the results haven’t exactly matched the hypothesis, demonstrating the value of testing. For example, in one of our first tests, we asked about the connection between a “question” and a “concern” in regards to a local news issue. We thought that nearly every follow-up would fall into one of those two likely categories. To our surprise, test subjects indicated that questions implied concern and were largely the same thing; the other category was an opinion or a voice. This might seem like a minor semantic confusion to some, but to our team it was clear insight into how real people viewed interaction with news and information.
To date, most of our test subjects have been students we have rounded up on campus. As the project develops, however, we want to expand testing into the Evanston community – to get feedback from the very targets we believe would benefit from engaging with news and information in new ways.
By Spencer Rinkus
After another week of pondering our “hyperlocal situation,” I feel like we’re taking two steps forward and one step back. It’s progress nonetheless, but slightly stifled as we learn to navigate the space between testing, building and understanding the product we’re creating. I’m sure in the next week or so we’ll really pick up steam and plow forward with the project, but looking from the outside-in, it’s probably like trying to stream a video online with a really bad connection: You let it load for a while, the picture catches up to the load bar, and then you have to just wait.
Essentially, we’re speeding up to slow down. It’s not a bad thing–it’s part of the process, and certainly part of the process when implementing things like audience research (which is a fairly new idea when it comes to journalism) and usability testing and trying to incorporate those ideas with some new technology.
The tech team wanted to hit the ground running. They we’re looking to build something and test it within the first week, but they were told to slow down–there was research to be done.
The audience research team had to put their collective foot on the gas and develop personas (as Jordan so eloquently wrote out in her first blog post) to inform the business team and the tech guys. And once those were nearing completion…there was the thought that audience research should slow down and consider a few more persona options.
Start, stop, start, stop.
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By Eddy Rivera
It’s been an exciting time for Local Fourth, as our project is starting to pick up steam and — as told in our YouTube videos — we’re beginning the process of prototyping an online product that, we hope, can bring us closer to sharing hyperlocal news with the public in a more interactive manner than they’re accustomed to.
For the immediate future, we’re going to test-drive this vehicle to see what type of capabilities it has and what additional tools we’d like to implement. In technology, this is called ‘beta testing’ and that’s what our group of students (all 15 of us) will do for now. It’s an exciting time, without a doubt.
There will be bumps in the road, no question, and the next few weeks are going to be intensive, but I’m interested to see how it goes. By the end of the 10 weeks or so, the hope is that we can offer something different to the table when it comes to sharing news with a community.
I like to think that compiling and sharing news, at least with our product, will become a more collaborative effort. Social media, like Twitter and Facebook, do a great job of offering an interactive medium by which people can interact with other people in real-time.
Why not do that with a hyperlocal platform? Not just by leaving comments, mind you, but by asking specific questions pertaining to a specific story and having the reporter (and other people) give you an answer. That would be cool, right?
We’ll see if we’re right.