Hackathon: Impact Journalism in New York

On April 8-9 2016, the Global Editors Network (GEN), The Huffington Post and Change.org will gather the best media innovators in New York for a two-day Editors Lab focused on developing innovative news prototypes.

Theme

Impact Journalism: How can news organizations develop innovative and interactive ways to create impact by connecting audiences with issues they care about?

Jury

Further information at the source: http://www.globaleditorsnetwork.org/programmes/editors-lab/the-huffington-post-and-changeorg-editors-lab/

9 Reasons Why News Media Web Sites Should Consider Moving to HTTPS in 2015

If you work in news media and are interested in technology, you may enjoy my article listing 9 Reasons Why News Media Web Sites Should Consider Moving to HTTPS in 2015. I co-authored it with Eitan Konigsburg and Elena Kvochko, two colleagues with expertise, deep knowledge and passion for cyber security, privacy and technology.

It is published on the Times Open Blog maintained by the Software Engineering Team at The New York Times.

My personal Web site, rajiv.com is served exclusively on HTTPS thanks to CloudFlare.

Maker’s Schedule (For Managers Too)

The following memo from a department head to staff is an example of how to implement a productive maker’s schedule at your workplace. This approach recommends starting with baby steps, evaluating results and making changes accordingly.

Comic strip from XKCD

Dear Colleagues in the Technology, Project Management and Product Teams,

Executive Summary:1

We are implementing a maker’s schedule starting this Friday May 31st which means developers will have from 12 noon onwards on Fridays to focus exclusively on writing code, with no meetings or other interruptions. (This also applies to other contributors besides developers. For more information, see details below.) The goal of this is to increase productivity, creativity and job satisfaction. This practice is based on science and employed by other successful organizations. We request your understanding, your support, and your help in making Friday afternoons meeting-free.

The Details:

We are implementing a maker’s schedule system starting Friday May 31, 2013. What is it? A maker’s schedule is calendar scheduling system that gives a group of people a continuous multi-hour block of time to focus on their work with minimal productivity diminishing things like distractions, context switching or frequent interruptions.

The word maker in this context often refers to people like software engineers, designers, testers, systems engineers, infrastructure engineers, documentation authors, editors or anyone else making something. What they are making could be software code, documentation or a configured server. It need not even be technical work. Managers also do the work of making: writing a memo, editing a budget spreadsheet or creating a slide presentation, for example.2

The human brain has evolved in a way that creative work, innovation and productivity are maximized when a person is able to focus and work on one task at a time for multiple hours. It takes several minutes, often half an hour or longer to get in the flow state of mind that results in peak performance at work. Hourlong or half-hour long meetings peppered throughout the day with breaks in between supposedly to do productive work result in low quality work, cause stress, and lead to unhappiness.

One way to do better quality work, get more done and be happier in your job is to divide your day into two halves. Get all your meetings, emails and administrative tasks done in the first half and spend the entire second half of the day doing enjoyable creative work that puts you in the flow state of mind. You will leave the office less stressed, more satisfied and happier each day.

If you are interested in learning more about the maker’s schedule concept, the article titled Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule by Paul Graham is a good introduction.

Below are the answers to some frequently asked questions.

Q: Who does this policy apply to?
A: This applies to all makers as listed above, especially all engineers and quality assurance staff, people who spend the majority of their time writing, designing or implementing software code, systems or designs. This also extends to those in management roles who’d like to use this time to do maker’s work.  At this time, we are not applying this policy to employees with special employment contracts like guild or unionized employees.

Q: When will we have maker’s hours?
A: Fridays after 12 noon, i.e. the latter half of all Fridays going forward until further notice.

Q: Does this mean I can go home early on Fridays?
A: No. This is not a summer hours policy. This is meant to be uninterrupted software engineering and development time. It does not change anything about when you are expected to be in the office. The prior agreed upon schedules you have with the company will continue.

Q: Why Fridays and why only Friday afternoons?
A: We analyzed our organization’s current meetings schedule and found that Friday afternoon is the period where there are least meetings and those meetings can be rescheduled with least impact. We are starting the pilot program with Friday afternoons. After some months of evaluating the results, we may extend it, keep it the same or cancel it. Until Further notice, this policy applies only to Friday afternoons.

Q: Does this mean I only get Friday afternoons to write code?
A: No :-) What this means is that we must all do our best to not organize, nor attend meetings on Friday afternoons so that time is exclusively reserved for writing code, building systems and doing other maker’s work. You are expected to do maker’s work every business day and to manage your own schedule to block off enough time to do that on others day the same way you already do.

Q: What about production emergencies? Can I get called into an emergency meeting to deal with a critical production emergency?
A: Yes. Production emergencies qualify among the rare exceptions.

Q: What about meetings between makers? For example, between two software engineers.
A: That is a slippery slope. We are strongly discouraging meetings on Friday afternoons in this policy, but we are not the meeting police and are not going to ban all meetings, especially if all the attendees have a strong desire to meet. We trust you to use your best judgement and lean towards not holding meetings on Friday afternoons unless you determine you have a good reason to make an exception to this policy. Our suggestion is this: Pair programming is encouraged. Working sessions are ok, assuming that in the entire working session multiple makers are making something together. However having staff meetings at this time is not a good idea. Nor is it a good time to have your weekly 1-on-1 with your manager. Remember your manager is likely to be using this time to do their own maker’s work. So on the question of can developers hold a meeting with just developers at this time, ask yourself why. What is the meeting for? Is it a working session where each of you will make something together? If yes, that’s likely fine. If not, schedule it for another time.

Q: What should I do when someone invites me to a meeting on Friday afternoon and I plan to observe the maker’s schedule and write code at that time?
A: Please always be respectful, courteous and friendly while declining meetings. Use your discretion and common sense. If the meeting request comes from someone it may not be wise to decline, consult with your boss. In many cases, you can politely, respectfully and nicely point the meeting requester to this policy at http://www.rajiv.com/blog/2013/05/24/makers-schedule-for-managers-too/ and suggest or request another time. Letting your collaborators know about this policy in advance will also help.

  1. Thanks to David Perpich for suggesting this executive summary. []
  2. Since processing email has become such an information overload problem, distraction and waste of time these days, we hesitate to classify doing email as productive maker’s work. If you don’t have the unproductive bad habit of checking your email every 15 minutes and instead you process your email during a few blocks of time a day, you may consider email productive work too. []

Three Pillars of a Media/Publishing Company

MediaCompanyPillars-for-blog
Diagram illustrating three pillars of a media/publishing company: Journalism, Technology and Business. Some areas of their intersections are also shown here.

Questions:

  • Where should product be depicted?
  • Is product an extension of the journalism (newsroom)? In this way of thinking, all products including Web, mobile and all other digital products are primarily newsroom products. Or:
  • Is product part of technology and development? In this way of thinking, product is primarily product development. Or:
  • Is product a business-side function that manages multiple stakeholders including the newsroom, technology, sales and marketing? Or:
  • Taking the business-side approach in the previous point to the next level, is product a general manager function, and should be depicted at the intersection of all three pillars along with the publisher, finance and HR?

 

Future of Content Management for News Media for Web sites

Content on Web sites should be managed using systems that were designed from the ground up for the Web. Traditional content management systems with a legacy of features and workflows used for paper-based print products like newspapers and magazines are unsuitable for Web sites. The future of news media content management for Web sites is in:

  • simple & quick workflows
  • blogs & wikis as the main content types for text
  • social networking & community publishing

simple & quick workflows

Complex editorial workflows make sense for print products (on paper) , where once the edition is done, the content and presentation state is “locked” and sent to the presses. Working with Web content writers and editors over the past decade, I have learned that simple, quick workflows are preferable for Web sites. Many Web site producers who hail from print backgrounds now share the same conclusion that complex content management is a hindrance to successful Web site production.

The concept of an edition of the entire product is not necessary for a content Web site. The atomic unit that can be managed and published together can be a package of articles and multimedia or even just one article. A Web site is a living, dynamic, ever changing collection of content where individual items can be updated whenever required or desired or even automatically based on usage.

To be competitive, content needs to be updated and published quickly. Corrections can be made anytime. Thus for Web sites, the editing and approval process should be streamlined and quick all the way from authoring to posting on the site.

A new concept

The ability of online word processors like Google Docs or WriteWith to enable multiple people to edit a document simultaneously and collaboratively is different paradigm from traditional check-in/check-out access control.

blogs & wikis as the main content types for text

Content management system (CMS) which offers the simplicity of blogs and are extensible via plug-ins to add functionality like WordPress or MovableType, make good foundations of a CMS for a news media Web site.

For revisions, editing history and access control, wiki software works well. WikiPedia and WikiNews, which are powered by the MediaWiki software are two good examples.

The concept of content management systems that combine the agility of blogs and editorial control of wikis is interesting to follow. The term bliki seems to be the leading classification of such products.

In many newsrooms, writers are increasingly using blog posts to publish news articles instead of their enterprise-class content management systems. When asked why, they reply because it is simpler and quicker and they don’t need the overhead of things like complex approvals, advanced version tracking and access controls.

social networking & community publishing

Managing content using a blog or wiki is social networking and community publishing activity. On the readership side, successful social news sites like Digg and Reddit have accelerated the evolution of journalism and readership habits towards the social/community model. The distinction between authors and readers itself is blurring with wikis and comments on blogs.

Social networking features are being added to a variety of Web sites. Going forward, expect to see social networking and community features in content management systems.

Conclusion

Media companies should move to using CMS products that prefer simplicity over complex editorial workflows which were a legacy of writing and editing for print products. A news item, story or blog post should be the same content type. It is likely that blogging products that have proven so successful in empowering talented individuals in competing with large companies will evolve into content management systems with the addition of wiki functionality.

The Evolution of Web Sites

Over the past 15 years, as the Web has evolved, the web sites have gone through these generations. What’s likely to be next in the future of what the Web will be? This article describes the Web so far and what form it will likely assume.

  • 1993-1997: Generation 1.0
    • These web sites can essentially be considered digital versions of printed newspapers, magazines and books.
    • Like with the printed products, the consumer is primarily a reader and interactivity is generally limited to filling out and submitting forms.
    • Content and design are the most important part.
    • Product = Content + Design
    • Examples: Most news and other content sites in the 1990s.
  • 1997-2004: Generation 1.5
    • These web sites are similar to what interactive CD-ROM based software used to be in the 1990s.
    • The consumer is a user (as in user of software). There can be significant interactivity between the web site and the user. Interactivity between users is generally limited to discussion boards and marketplace activities.
    • Product = Technology + Content + Design
    • Examples: Online multimedia sites, online gaming sites.
  • 2004-present: Generation 2.0
    • The concept of user-submitted-content grows stronger. Users in the virtual community of the site publish, share and view photos, videos and text.
    • The consumer is a community participant.
    • Product = People (User Community) + Technology + Content + Design
    • Examples: YouTube, del.icio.us, Wikipedia
  • 2006-future: Generation 3.0 (prediction)
    • Concept of user-submitted-interactivity / user-submitted-programming arises. The users create, own, sell, share, alter and use interactive objects in the virtual environment.
    • Consumers are co-developers.
    • Product = Community Developed Interactivity + People (User Community) + Technology + Content + Design
    • Examples: Virtual environments and ecosystems like Second Life and Kaneva.

Integrating Legacy Technologies With Web Systems at Newspapers

The topic of integrating print technology systems with web technology systems often comes up in the newspaper, magazine and book publishing industries.

There is a key difference between Content Companies (e.g. newspapers, magazines) and Other Companies (e.g. pharmaceuticals). With the World Wide Web and information technology (IT) becoming part of everyday life, every company is becoming a content company in certain ways.

In the case of other companies like pharmaceuticals, aeronautics, construction, etc. their pre-digital products are not going away nor changing as drastically as a result of the world wide web and IT as is happening in the case of content companies like newspapers and magazines.

For those other companies, it makes sense to integrate the web systems like content management with their core products because their other core products are not fading away as a result of the web and IT.

However, in print media companies like newspapers whose legacy has been printing systems, their product in its printed form is fading away as a direct result of the Web and IT. So for them it may make sense to not spend too much effort on integrating legacy print systems with Web systems. Instead, it may be a better strategy to spend more resources on enhancing and upgrading the Web systems and digital media products. So for newspapers today, the 1990s holy grail of having one seamless print+web content management system may be less relevant in 2007. It may actually make better business sense to to keep the print publishing system and Web CMS separate, focus more on Web and digital media and allow the printed on paper versions of their products to gradually retire over the next two decades.

Consistency in Labeling Ads as “advertisements” on Content Sites

Some newspaper and magazine web sites visibly label some ads on their web pages as “advertisements” but don’t mark other ads including their own in-house ads on the same pages. Their intentions are journalistic: They want to visibly differentiate their editorial content from ads. (Though that doesn’t explain why they don’t label their own in-house ads.)

Sites should be consistent in visually differentiating journalistic content from advertising and other types of content. Either they should label all ads consistently or not label any.

In specific cases where the Editors believe advertising content may be confused as editorial content, they should label it as an “advertising section” like they do in print.

However, some sites choose not to label ads as “advertisements“. Their reasons:

  • Readers can differentiate an ad from editorial content in over 99%1 cases of web pages.
  • Ads are not visibly labeled as ads in print publications, except in special cases when the Editors feel that ad may be confused as content.
  • Why stop at ads? Why not label everything on the web page that is not editorial content?

Presenting an entire advertising section as that does make sense. The same way the sports section is branded sports in both print and online, it is useful to brand an advertising section as such. It also does make sense to label ads that look like editorial content (in the Editor’s opinion), such as text ad links and ads in between content.

A related article on this subject at MediaPost.

  1. This 99% is not based on a survey, but I believe the actual percentage would be even higher. []

On content sites requiring user registration

I wish I didn’t have to register at and maintain my profile for each web site that I use that requires me to log in. A shared (not necessarily centralized) registration/login system would be a big convenience and time-saver. The Liberty Alliance has been talking about one for a while, but don’t know when, if ever, it will materialize. Microsoft seems to be lowering the external marketing for Passport. I like Six Apart’s TypeKey, but wonder if they have enough backing and industry and public interest for it to last and remain free.

Some people worry about the privacy concerns of a shared registration system. I think it is safer to give your info to one shared system than to give it to dozens. What happens when I need to update my passwords (or anything else in my profile)? I’d rather do it in one place.

It does make sense for certain sites to ask for registeration: e-commerce sites, sites that provide utilities and services, and sites that charge for content. However, even for these sites, it would be nice if I could use a digital wallet — a common online digital identity, rather than manage my account on each site.

Also read the article by John C. Dvorak of PC Magazine on the topic of content sites requiring user registration before allowing readers access to content:

Thankfully, you don’t need to register to read his article :-)

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1759,1646213,00.asp

Searching Instead Of Browsing: Organizing Information Using Labels as Meta-Data

Being able to assign labels to content to organize information for searching is superior to placing content in folders for manual browsing. The folder concept may be suitable to physical documents on paper, but does not lend itself well to digital information. The labels concept combined with an effective search capability is a faster way to organize content and find information.

Organizing content is a means to the end goal of finding information. Since organizing content is not a goal by itself, it should be as simple and less work as possible required to meet the goal of finding information.

The folder concept has many limitations:

  • A particular item of content can only belong to one folder. Placing it in two folders requires either:
    • Making duplicates. This is problematic to maintain.
    • Using links. This is problematic too: With ‘soft links’ the content resides in only one folder and if that folder is deleted, the content is deleted too. With ‘hard links’, it is hard to know how many ‘folders’ contain this content and unlinking the last one may unintentionally erase it.
  • Similarly, folders can only be contained within one folder.
  • To organize content well in folders requires deep levels of sub-folders. These can be a challenge to browse.
  • All content must be placed in a folder for it to be well organized in this scheme. Doing this manually is a burden. Setting up rules for some of the content to be automatically placed in folders relieves the burden to a certain extent. However, after a rule has run and placed a content item in a folder, if the rule was found to have been flawed and it mixed the content in with other content in the wrong folder, it can be a bigger burden to find the content and place it in the right folder.
  • Folders are static. Search results are dynamic. With computing power available to the common person growing, dynamic search makes better sense than static folders which put some of the work on the user rather than the computer.

It should not be mandatory to apply all appropriate labels to all content. If the automated content categorization being used employs techniques like artificial intelligence and pattern recognition and can determine that this article is about personal information management or content management then that particular label should not be mandatory.

As the number of labels grows, the labels should not be organized in a taxonomy tree with a folders/sub-folders structure. Such a tree structure has the problems of folders associated with it. The labels should be associated with each other in complex relationships as ‘concepts’ in a language.

For example, placing the label “computing” should return the content in search results for “technology”. Placing the label “personal information management” should find it in the search results for the concept “email”. Note that in a traditional taxonomy tree, “computing” could be a child of “technology”, but “personal information management” could be a parent of “email”.

However, since web page URLs as they are commonly used, especially on static-html sites, are based on the concept of folders, this is a challenge. Now URLs don’t have to be folder-like in their appearance. For example, all the news articles on a site could have URLs like “phillynews.com/ra23px4” instead of something like “phillynews.com/sports/ice_hockey/flyers/04-08-27-victory.htm” or “phillynews.com/inquirer/2004/08/27/sports/flyers-victory.htm”. In this fictitious example, “ra23px4” is an automatically generated, short and easy to type id pointing to the article like the shortcuts generated by services like tinyurl.com and metamark.net.

Let us consider the organization of email. It seems to be headed in this direction. Some examples in the email space are Google’s GMail, Microsoft’s LookOut Search Plugin for Outlook, Nelson Email Organizer (NEO).

Some possible labels for this document: “personal information management”, “content management”, “computing”, “technology”.