Fusing journalism, tool-building and code

November 17, 2011 § 1 Comment

What is Mozilla doing in media? What’s the connection between media, freedom and the web? This post from the Nieman Journalism Lab provides some helpful context on why Mozilla and the Knight Foundation are working together — and why open source matters to news.

“The foundations see a future that fuses journalism and tool-building, storytelling and code.”

Calling the recent Mozilla Festival “a serenade of hackers in service of the hack,” they describe the opportunity this way:

There’s a need for people who can construct frameworks for improving the work of journalism, fusing the best of what developers do (tool-building through code) and journalists do (storytelling through content). And there’s a need for these technologists and journalists to work together, in traditional and non-traditional settings alike.

From the Knight Foundation blog

Programmers + reporters mutating into hybrid news hackers

We’re seeing the emergence of hybrid technologists and “news hackers” that embody both those skill sets. Taking a look at the bios of the newly minted Knight-Mozilla fellows, who will be embedded in partner newsrooms around the world, shows how:

The fellows are Mark Boas (Al Jazeera), an audio specialist and a co-founder of Happyworm, maker of the jPlayer media framework; Cole Gillespie (Zeit Online), a JavaScript developer who worked for CNN, National Geographic, and IBM; Laurian Gridinoc (BBC), a computational linguistics and semantic navigation expert; Nicola Hughes (the Guardian), who mixes a journalism background (starting at CNN in London) with coding skills — not to mention knowledge of physics, zoology, and anthropology — and has been working on the ScraperWiki project; and Dan Schultz (Boston Globe), a graduate student at the MIT Media Lab studying in the Information Ecology group, and a 2007 Knight News Challenge winner.

Press Event

Mozilla's Dan Sinker introduces the five new Knight-Mozilla news fellows


10 inspiring examples of where the web is headed

July 20, 2011 § 2 Comments

HTML5 Star Wars

Mozilla’s “International Developer Evangelist” evangelist Christian Heilmann blew some minds in Monday’s MozNewsLab, outlining the potential of HTML5 with fantastic demos and examples that seemed too good not to share more widely.

HTML5 and where the web is headed

You need the audio and Chris’s context to really do this justice — but even just clicking through his links and examples provide a mini tour of where the web is headed.

  • Video archive of Chris’s presentation. (With introduction from Phillip Smith and the Mozilla Foundation’s Mark Surman. Skip to 31:36 for Chris.)
  • Etherpad with links, resources and lecture questions and answers.
  • HTML version of Chris’s slides

HTML5's potential


WebGL enables 3D interfaces right in the browser. Google’s “body browser” demo allows you to zoom into and explore the human body.

Wheels of Steel

Mix and scratch DJ decks in the browser. Uses CSS3 and HTML5 (with Flash for some audio).
Wheels of Steel

20 Things I Learned About the Web

Interactive book from Google explaining web basics, including the benefits of HTML5.
20 Things I Learned


Interface for creating CSS3 animations that work across all HTML5 browsers.

Mediaqueries and “responsive design”

Mediaqueries allow developers to test how big the user’s screen is, or what kind of device they’re using. And then change the design and layout accordingly — “responsive design.”

HTML5 video + canvas

This demo uses HTML5 Video and Canvas to turn a music video into movable puzzle pieces. Solve the puzzle and download the song for free.
HTML5 video + canvas


The d3 Javascript library turns HTML data tables into beautiful visualizations and graphs. Uses SVG and Canvas, making it easy to dynamically adjust color and style.

High charts

HighCharts.js takes it further, creating beautiful animated charts and graphs, all using open technology — formerly the terrain of closed tech like Flash and Silverlight.
High charts

Drag and manipulate files in the browser

Drag files from your desktop right into the browser and manipulate them in real time. This demo allows you to drag an image of yourself into the browser and convert it into Commodore 64 format.


A Javascript library that allows you to synch video content with dynamic web content. “Hyper-video.”

Crystalizing talking points for MoJo

April 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

Phillip Smith’s “Catalyzing news innovation” post contains crucial ideas and talking points for MoJo. Especially given the back-and-forth and real-world testing with Geoff Samek — one of the smart folks behind the online news start-up Sacramento Press — who has written a pair of extremely thoughtful posts on this as well here.

Here’s a quick dirty capture of their talking points. For us to bake into our messaging for the upcoming MoJo web site launch. These are meant to supplement — not replace — the messaging already on the MoJo wiki and in our most recent Board Slides.

What are we looking for?

Ideas that:
  • Are highly innovative, with potential for broad adoption in the news community.
  • Useful to real-world media organizations, or born out of long-established newsroom experience.
  • Produce re-usable, open-source software that benefits the web as a whole.

How is our approach different? What do we want to do?

  • Empower tech people. Bring Silicon Valley-style innovation to news, instead of the same-old Old Media mindset.
  • Seek proposals from non-journalists and fund them.
  • Create challenges and pitch contests for entrepreneurs looking to fund really  outside the box ideas.
  • Direct money to fund breakthrough  innovations, instead of just specific stories.
  • Take more  risk. Give out more grants, smaller grants, and ask different people to  take that risk. People outside the traditional comfort zone.
  • Don’t just push the large players forward an inch. Focus on pushing the entire industry forward a mile.

Why is Mozilla interested in news?

  • To advance its mission of protecting the open nature of the Internet.
  • We want to ensure that the same ideas that make the web awesome — openness,  generativity, co-creation, massive collaboration, “hacking” and Maker Culture — are embedded and embraced by news organizations around the world.
  • Our theory of change is: “The web is changing, and journalism is changing with it.”
  • Put another way: news organizations have a massive influence over the web’s future. The Knight-Mozilla project wants to ensure they change it for the better. And vice versa.

Working with news partners to disrupt the market

  • By working with some of the world’s leading news partners, we’re aiming for the broadest possible exposure of the new ideas that  come out of our design challenges and fellowships.
  • We believe these ideas will be embraced  by news organizations of all shapes and sizes, both ‘traditional’ and  radically new.
  • The emphasis is on news partners that can host fellows effectively: embracing innovation and committing to really implement new ideas and software.

Protecting the web and journalism from new risks

  • Start-up frenzy is resulting in the “appification” of everything. This  is reinforcing some negative trends:
  • encroachment on user privacy
  • social silos
  • less focus on the creation of free and  open-source software.
  • We need to guard against market failure and business models that involve lock-in or threaten consumer choice.
  • And also financial failure. We don’t just need ideas, but also the financial models that can sustain those ideas.
  • Those models will take a broad range of forms. From ‘values-based’ start-ups to ‘public trusts’ to traditional news organizations to new for-profit start-ups.
Comments welcome.

Making MoJo design challenges sing

April 19, 2011 § 5 Comments

The Knight-Mozilla News project (aka “Mojo”) is preparing a series of design challenges. The goal: invite the world’s most creative designers and developers to solve problems that will shape the future of news and the web. The three design challenge topics have been chosen — now we need to ensure the storytelling and messaging are right.

The challenge statements below are at second draft stage. They need your testing and feedback to get to a third and final draft. Do they make sense? Do they inspire? Would you, as a challenge participant, have enough info to get started? Please post feedback as comments here, or suggest edits directly in the etherpad version.

(please note: KnightMozilla.org is not up and running yet)

***DRAFT ONLY — not for publication***

Challenge 1
Unlocking video: How can new web video tools transform news storytelling?

the PBS Newshour 2011 State of the Union address uses Popcorn.js to combine context and analysis with video

Going beyond boring embedded video boxes

Video is a central part of people’s daily news experience. But most online video is still stuck in a boring embedded box, like “tv on a web  page,” separated from the other forms of content around it — offering little in the way of context or opportunities for  viewers to explore or go deeper.

New open video tools make it possible to pull data from across the web right into the story, and for information related to the video to literally pop onto the page. The challenge is using these tools in ways that serve the story, enriching journalism with new forms of context, engagement, and the real time web.

Invent new ways to tell multimedia news stories online

Propose compelling demonstrations of how HTML5 and open video can  create new ways of telling news stories online, weaving together moving images with related data, context and opportunities for  engagement. Take a moment to:
  • Check out Arte’s use of semantic video tools and storytelling here and here.
  • Visit sites like Storify and paper.li. What might a similar aggregation experience feel like for video?
  • Need more examples here. Please add as comments below.

How would you tackle it? 

  • What creative storytelling approaches do these new web video tools open up for  news  organizations?
  • How might you tell a story by pulling in video, data and other material from across the web?
  • How  can semantic video help audiences dig deeper into other forms of  context and content?
  • How do we make it a compelling narrative experience  — and not just overwhelm viewers with information overload?

Submit your idea before May 6

Submissions for this challenge close May 6. Your entry can take many forms. You could submit:
  • a concept brief or blog post explaining your idea (500 words or less)
  • an embedded video or link to a slidecast (extra points for explaining your idea this way!)
  • an early software demo, proof of concept, prototype, or HTML mock-ups
  • sketches, wireframes or visual mock-ups
  • a draft open protocol or standard

More details about rules, judging and other logistics are taking shape in the MoJo Challenge Brief (draft only) and MoJo Reviewer Guide (draft only). Good luck!

Challenge 2
Beyond Comment Threads: How can we reinvent online news discussions?

Creating new connections between news producers and consumers

Online discussion threads have been a part of the Internet since the late 90s. But the form of user commentary has stayed fairly static, often relegated to sit far below the fold at the end of the story.

New capabilities in the browser, like HTML5 canvas and video, provide opportunities to completely re-think the relationship between news users  and producers. Emerging  standards like OStatus, Webfinger and Salmon are creating opportunities to liberate discussions from being tied to a single site, make commenting more social, and re-aggregate users’ discussions into a single identity. And “atomic” commenting enables users to comment on a specific paragraph, sentence or moment in stories.

At the same time, media is moving beyond the traditional “news story” as the only unit for commenting and interaction, stretching to include narrative arcs of multiple stories over periods of time, “explainers” that provide background knowledge for strings of stories, “streams” that include initial reports followed by updates and corrections, and new forms of data-driven journalism. All of this means the commenting space is ripe for innovation.

Design news ways to weave the audience’s voice into news

Demonstrate  a new form of user interaction with news that is atomic, aggregated,  augmeted, or just plain awesome. Push beyond the ways we currently think  about comments and debate online. Grab your sketch pad and:
  • Explore the current state of user-interface innovation using JavaScript (here, here or here) or JavaScript plus HTML packaged as a browser add-on.
  • Have a look at this presentation on Salmon.
  • Check out early examples of atomic commenting like the Django Book (note the comment bubbles at the side of the page), or SoundCloud and Viddler, which allow users to place comments and tags at various points on the timeline.
  • Any additional examples here? Please add.

How would you tackle it?

  • What’s next? Where do you see the next radical improvement in user commentary?
  • How do we go beyond end-of-story  comment  threads? Are there other ways for news users to interact with  news  content?
  • How do we make it more social?

Submit your idea before May 20

Consider  these in the context of online comments or debates, then show us what  the modern web platform can do. Submit your idea for this challenge before May 20. Your entry can take many forms. You could submit:
  • a concept brief or blog post explaining your idea (500 words or less)
  • an embedded video or link to a slidecast (extra points for explaining your idea this way!)
  • an early software demo, proof of concept, prototype, or HTML mock-ups
  • sketches, wireframes or visual mock-ups
  • a draft open protocol or standard

More details about rules, judging and other logistics are taking shape in the MoJo Challenge Brief (draft only) and MoJo Reviewer Guide (draft only). Good luck!

Challenge 3
Blow our minds: What’s the next killer app for news?

Tapping the app opportunity for news

News  organizations are creating a host of interactive tools, applications,  visualizations and new ways for readers to interact with reporting and  data. But most of these news applications and tools — like ProPublica’s  “Dollars for Docs”  or the LA Time’s “Mapping LA” projects — are confined to a single web site or page. They’re not able  to take on a life of their own, create new experiences for users beyond  the traditional web browser, or tap into the growing app market.

HTML5  presents an opportunity to create entirely new ways of interacting with  “news apps” that we haven’t even imagined yet, and to create whole new  experiences for users. What happens when we combine news and your phone and geolocation and  your social network? How do we get data, reporting and local knowledge  into the hands of users wherever they may be, on whatever device or  platform they happen to be using?

Design a mind-blowing news app using HTML5

This  challenge is an opportunity to design the next  killer app — think  Shazam or Yelp for news — across multiple devices and platforms,  creating whole new experiences for news consumers. Check out news applications like:
  • Any additional examples here? Please add.

Get a sense of what HTML5 and “open web apps” make possible:

  • Any additional examples here? Please add.

How would you tackle it?

  • What will the  news  applications of tomorrow look like?
  • How can news applications break free of web pages and become cross-platform, immersive experiences?
  • What  itch does the next killer news app need to scratch? How can thinking  beyond traditional web pages create new audiences and uses for news?

Submit your idea before June 3

Submit your idea for this challenge before June 3. Your entry can take many forms. You could submit:
  • a concept brief or blog post explaining your idea (500 words or less)
  • an embedded video or link to a slidecast (extra points for explaining your idea this way!)
  • an early software demo, proof of concept, prototype, or HTML mock-ups
  • sketches, wireframes or visual mock-ups
  • a draft open protocol or standard

More details about rules, judging and other logistics are taking shape in the MoJo Challenge Brief (draft only) and MoJo Reviewer Guide (draft only). Good luck!

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