What can developers build for the news?


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I’ve been on App.net for just a short time now and the first thing that became abundantly clear is that there are LOTS of developers on there. That makes a lot of sense if you know the whole story behind ADN (as we have come to call it). In case you don’t know what I’m taking about, here you go.

The community is still fairly small and a lot of people are reading the Global feed which consists of the posts of everyone currently on ADN. So suddenly it dawned on me that here I have all these developers listening… maybe I can ask them to build some stuff for the news biz, instead of the umpteenth game or social tool (and yes, I know that’s not what all developers build, stay with me here).

So I asked them. I got a few responses that asked me what I would like to see built. I was at a bit of a loss. The ideas are seemingly endless and I responded saying something to that effect.

Then a (female!) developer responded that developers don’t really understand what the news business needs so they don’t know what to build. I introduced her to Hacks/Hackers, but obviously getting techies and journalists together is a big job and one organization can’t do it all.

In the meantime, we need ideas for what developers can do for our business and I asked people for some on Twitter. Some responses:

When I asked Noah what that would entail, he said the map would show every legislative district from U.S. House and Senate all the way down to a local town council or whatever the smallest unit of government is (perhaps school districts too?). He said it would also show polling data, local demography, previous election stats, etc. In other words, a political nerd’s dream come true. He envisioned it as something both reporters and readers could use to gain all manner of insights. Sounds fantastic.

This I just love. We have a big problem of context in news stories. It used to be that people would read the same paper every day or watch the same TV station and be able to follow a developing story as more and more was reported on it. Obviously, few people do this nowadays and a lack of context can be quite detrimental to a deep understanding of the topic of a story. In other words, people read a story and don’t understand what’s happening or, worse yet, get the wrong idea about what has occurred or what it means.

The problem of how to deal with this is monumental if you think about it. You can have links within a story that point to previous reports, but many people won’t follow them. You can group the stories together, but many people will not find that page. And it isn’t just previous articles that are at issue. What if understanding the story requires an even rudimentary knowledge of law or medicine or science or any one of dozens of other topics? How can we impart this knowledge to the reader while not turning off those who may have deep knowledge in these areas?

These are just a few ideas of course. I bet there are a thousand others. If you have a good one, please leave it in the comments and please share this post with other news geeks you know. I may add some of your suggestions to the post and then share this with the huge gaggle of developers on ADN. Who knows? Maybe something amazing will get built as a result.


  1. Anonymous September 4, 2012

    I also kind of agree with the notifications… there are so many times where I’ll see a story that has limited information and I’d like to know more when it’s updated.

    For example, the little girl killed in Highland Park yesterday, since it’s my home town. When I saw the story it had only basic info that a child had been killed in a particular location and her mother & siblings had been hurt.

    Do they survive? Who hit them? What caused the accident? What happens to the driver as a result?

    It’d be nice to flag a story (too much noise if simply based on articles read) so that one can keep up with it over its lifespan. Of couse, that also implies that new organizations even bother to follow up with a story down the road… maybe there also needs to be a tool for journalists to project manage stories with sporadic timelines, where they can check in on victims progress, get updates on investigations, court outcomes, etc.

  2. Anna Tarkov September 4, 2012

    Good point. FYI, Patch has more info on the story:


    Hyperlocal is always best for news like this BTW, because they’re the most likely to follow up. As you can see, Patch also has an option to be emailed updates about the story. While I agree this might be unworkable with all instances where we want to know more, at least it’ll help you in this particular case.

  3. Anonymous September 4, 2012

    I think something as ‘simple’ as plotting every story on a map. Imagine if every BBC News story (for example) had location data of what the story was about, and you could view the latest news on a map of the world/UK – see new stories popping up live showing their location and such. :)

  4. Anna Tarkov September 4, 2012

    Lloyd, that’s a great idea! And I speak from virtually no technical expertise here, but that sounds like something that’s actually doable.

  5. Anonymous September 5, 2012

    They really don’t know what business new need now. And how can they make people to read these news.

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