Earlier this morning, The Washington Post set the stage for a brand new era of journalism with the announcement that it has turned its popular and nationally-important WhoRunsGov.com site into what it calls a “moderated wiki”. At MindTouch we call this a collaborative network because real-time data is being pulled in on a contextually relevant basis from a variety of external news sources and blogs. Moreover, the content is augmented by situational applications which provide valuable views into individuals’ key associates and other pertinent information. I digress.
The fact is WhoRunsGov, with this new content moderation capability, is groundbreaking and has the potential to be disruptive to the newspaper industry as a whole. This is the first time a media organization has opened access to this extent. Now readers can meaningfully contribute to site’s content, and the technology enables this without ceding the editorial control the Washington Post must maintain. How is this different? Sure, there have been blogs and CMSes that allow content staging. These enable individuals to create drafts that are then published by an editor. These are not collaborative. MindTouch delivers something completely different for The Washington Post. Specifically, there has not been a technology that enables many users to collaboratively create content, without friction, and then allow site editors to quickly, in real-time, review contributions in a track-changes like interface and individually accept and reject these contributions or ban and block the users.
Think about that for a second….
For fact based reference sites this is this holy grail. It strikes the perfect balance between wide open and closed. This improves quality, accuracy and content freshness. Moreover, this dramatically lowers costs to the publisher. Because MindTouch allows all data (and platform behavior) to be accessible, with permission, programmatically via REST web services (machine readable) this data can be leveraged in a variety of ways. Examine WhoRunsGov briefly. I’ll wait…. Notice content is coming in real-time from external sources to augment content in WhoRunsGov. MindTouch makes this very easy. Now for another revelation. All the content at WhoRunsGov can be used to augment and provide context to external news sites. MindTouch makes this easy too.
Newspapers, and media as a whole, have a wealth of stale archived content. What if this content can be updated and monetized. Wait, it now can. Publishing archived content to the MindTouch platform is a trivial matter. Once in MindTouch, updating the content can be safely crowdsourced. It may not be oil, but there’s gold in the black ink of those archives. Hyperlocal content is a newspaper’s monetary lifeblood. Nobody should be able to beat the local news at hyperlocal. Unfortunately, for many, that blood was sucked dry by startups such as Craigslist and Yelp. Today’s move by The Washington Post is a momentous step in reclaiming control of hyperlocal revenue. After all, all politics is local, right? What other hyperlocal archived content are newspapers sitting on watching waste away?
To this end, Nieman Journalism Lab’s C.W. Anderson laid out a model for what he sees as the future of news organizations. It is a highly insightful post that I encourage you to read. In it, he plots a number of news organizations on a quadrant based on where they land relative to their level of institutionalization, fact gathering, commentary and level of organizational resources needed to get the job done. Like I said, I think this is a must-read post for anyone watching the evolution of political news organizations.
But C.W.’s model is not entirely accurate. I’d argue that with today’s announcement, The Washington Post is the only media organization that belongs in the top right quadrant (i.e., highly institutionalized with a high-level of fact-checking and filtering). It is the only organization that has the capability to do that (thanks, of course, to the MindTouch collaborative network platform). In fact, I’d add Yelp, Digg and the pioneer of crowdsourced tech news, Slashdot, to the list as well. Yelp and Digg are completely open to outsiders with no editorial control (a major issue in Yelp’s case, proving that the community can’t do it by itself). Slashdot, on the other hand, is built on user submissions hand-picked by an editor, but most readers visit Slashdot for the conversation in the underlying threaded comments. Therefore, here’s my take on how C.W.’s model should really look:
The Washington Post is approaching the new news business like nobody we’ve seen. It is striking the best balance between making its data open and maintaining (if not elevating) it’s journalistic credibility. It has uncovered a way to monetize its archived content, creating more targeted local advertising opportunities and building community stickiness. It knows its content can no longer be closed, yet cannot be completely open. It is using MindTouch technology to build a new business model based on safely crowdsourcing hyperfocused and hyperlocal content. Finally, the pioneers at WhoRunsGov are providing a workable model for making money off of content you’ve already spent money to produce.
In fear of making this an unwieldingly lengthy post allow me to outline some key factors that have led to the success of the Washington Post’s teams thus far:
- The community will only ever augment your content. You are the publisher. Act like it. You are the primary content creator. There is only one Wikipedia and the MindTouch platform isn’t a magic potion that conjures content creating elves.
- Keep it hyperfocused and/or hyperlocal and fact based resource oriented sites work best. Little league sports, hyperlocal directory information, local music, parks, beaches, whatever.
- Augment the content from your other news properties and augment your news properties with the source content in MindTouch. Leverage, leverage, leverage existing content, APIs and feeds.
- Not every micro-community you launch is going to stick. That’s ok.
Finally, here are some key capabilities of MindTouch that should be important to media:
- Editors dashboard for quickly scanning individual user contributions on the fly.
- Easy to use content moderation controls for accepting and rejecting individual contributions.
- 100% standards compliant. All content is XML compliant and portable.
- 100% web oriented architecture – all behavior and data is accessible via REST web services (machine readable)
- Frictionless and easy to use editing experience for contributers.
- Sophisticated anti-spam and banned words controls.
For more information on this technology for use by businesses to create an enterprise Collaborative Knowledge Base for product or technical documentation, visit the MindTouch CKB solution page. If you are in media and you are interested in understanding more about the best practices in launching these kinds of collaborative networks contact me or MindTouch directly. We are happy to share the successes (and failures) of our media and newspaper customers and partners.