Journatic: The Mechanical Turk of journalism

I completely agree with this. Journatic’s problem is with execution, not concept. The core concept, however sad, is sound. It’s just not reasonable to pay reporters to simply gather data (school lunches, police blotter). I used to hope this sort of content could be fully automated (see: EveryBlock) but, as with the evolution of search from hand-built directories (Yahoo!) to algorithmic search (Google) to algorithm+human-powered social search (Bing, Google+), we learn that the algorithm needs help. The sources (local governments, usually) often can’t provide automated access to the data. Much of it remains – and will remain – human-powered for the foreseeable future. (Case in point: the company I work for deals with dozens of police and sheriff’s departments, each of which has their own format and process for providing blotter information and most of them are done by hand) Journalism has to evolve to become more efficient. The Mechanical Turk-ization of data-as-content is inevitable.

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A short URL service of our own

The recent confusion over tr.im’s future lit a fire under me to finally set up my own short URL service for work. A quick Google search turned up a few candidates for suitable scripts and I finally settled on YOURLS. Honestly, finding a suitable URL took longer than selecting and installing the software on our MediaTemple grid service account.

After sifting through dozens of 2-character TLDs, I finally settled on .cc partly because I like the name. Our new service, pnw.cc was born in less than an hour.

YOURLS is a good start. I would prefer that it offered per-user stats but global stats will work for now. There’s a bookmarklet available and it comes with an API, which would be more interesting if Twitter clients allowed you to bring your own shortener.

The best part of YOURLS is a WordPress plugin from the same author. The plugin comes dangerously close to giving me the workflow I described in an earlier post. The plugin can be configured to automatically generate a short URL for each published post and/or page. It can also auto-tweet when you publish a post.

The automatic generation of short URLs at the publishing level is important because it removes some of the friction from the process. Even if you opt against the auto-tweet function, you can still tweet directly from WordPress’ post editor with the YOURLS panel. Reporters already have a lot to do so incorporating this into the publishing phase will certainly help in making sure they use the in-house service and that they Tweet their stories.

One interesting feature of the WordPress plugin is that it includes 2 template tags to include a link to the short URL in the post display and in the page head. That last option is intriguing. It respects the RevCanonical concept for discovering canonical short URLs before a 3rd party shortener creates the new URL.

We’re just getting started with pnw.cc. The latest update from tr.im says they will donate the software to the community, in which case we’ll take a close look to see if we would be better off running our site in the tr.im code, rather than YOURLS. In that case, we could continue using the WordPress plugin since it supports 3rd party shorteners as well as a self-hosted YOURLS install.

Gnomedex pano

I really need to try Autostich on my phone!

Starting the blog again.

Starting the blog again.

Gnomedex day 1 photos

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Sen. John Edwards, originally uploaded by Seth Long.

A few decent photos from the back of the room. Mostly of the Edwards session.