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Dec 20, 2008

CLIP: NewsMixer: An Innovative Community News Framework

NewsMixer: An Innovative Community News Framework

With the apparent death of newsprint now upon us, journalists and others in the business are struggling to come up with a new model to save their industry. One new attempt to do so is the recently launched site News Mixerdeveloped by a group of Medill School of Journalism students in conjunction with the Cedar Rapids Gazette. The site, integrated with Facebook Connect, lets users read and respond to stories as well as share them with their online friends.

News Mixer is still a little rough around the edges, but it has some great features that has news industries professionals taking notice. Upon your first visit, you will be prompted to log in via Facebook Connect - there's no username and password to remember. You're then presented with a list of the day's top stories which represent a mix between local news reporting and citizen journalism. Beneath each article, you'll notice that the there are counts of how many "letters," "questions," "answers," and "quips" (comments) have been left by other readers.

These appear to be buttons you can click on, but they are only there for displaying the information. In order to access the commenting and feedback features, you have to actually click the headline to read the article. That's a very minor complaint, though, as it's the commenting feature that really makes the News Mixer site shine.

Facebook Connect Makes the News Personal

Because of the site's integration with Facebook Connect, News Mixer is able to highlight the comments left by your Facebook friends. This brings their thoughts to your attention which in turn delivers a more personalized news experience. (Unfortunately, I couldn't test that aspect of the commenting feature since I don't know anyone in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.)

If you choose to participate, you can select from a drop-down box of responses which will preface your comment. By default, the site suggested "Sarah Thinks." (Obviously, your name would display in place of "Sarah.") Other options include "feels," "wonders," "agrees," "disagrees," "hates," and "loves." These choices are very similar to the options presented to you at the microblogging site Plurk, a Twitter-like site for sharing status updates with friends. On Plurk, you are also given various color-coded prompts to choose from when posting a note, the same as News Mixer.

Another plus to News Mixer's commenting feature is its transparent nature. Instead of allowing for the creation of fake names or internet handles for use on the site, Facebook authentication means that people's real identities are being displayed. No more comments left by internet trolls hiding behind their mask of anonymity!

Today's commenting systems are largely broken, as social media pundit Robert Scoble noted today on his blog. The main reason for his post was to share ideas about the state of commenting and interaction systems on the web. He wanted there to be a way that he, as the writer, could call attention to some comments as being more important than others. He had also said that he wished there was a way to see the social networks of the people commenting. As it turns out, News Mixer has introduced a great example of how that second request of his could work.

Newspapers: Steal These Ideas!

Although at the moment the News Mixer site appears somewhat plain and clunky, you can see the potential is in its framework, if not its design. In fact, the press release even notes that the New York Times interactive news technologies editor Aron Pilhofer encouraged media industry members to look at News Mixer, adding that there were "bits and pieces of it I'd like to steal right now."

We would encourage others in the industry to borrow some of News Mixer's ideas as well. It's not too late to save the daily paper - it just takes some fresh ideas. Like Rupert Murdoch recently said, the time for doom and gloom is over - the internet is really just a huge new market ready to be tapped. We agree. Now is the time for innovation because...well, it's either innovate or die. Hopefully most will choose the former.

Why blogging comments suck

The other day, Gary Shapiro, the guy who runs the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, dropped by and left a comment here. There were a few problems:

1. My commenting system caught his comment in moderation, so people didn’t see it posted until I took it out of moderation right now.
2. No one probably knows who Gary is and thinks he’s just another random commenter. Some comments ARE more important than others, but there’s really no way for me to point out Gary’s comment without doing a new blog post. Even then, if you happen only to see the post that Gary commented on you’d never know that Gary’s comment deserves more attention than the other 54 comments left there.

How do you fix this? Not easily. I wish there were a system where I could tell my readers when a comment came in that deserves a lot more attention than the others. Also, I wish we could see the social network of the people commenting (I’d love to have their Facebook, Twitter, FriendFeed networks show up linked into their comment somehow and also have warnings when people leave me comments that have a huge amount of social capital, like Gary does).

How did I know who Gary Shapiro was? I met Gary once and have heard him speak. His comment gives a hint at what he does, but his comment that he “runs the show” could be easily missed by an untrained eye.

Anyway, I’m interviewing Tim O’Reilly this afternoon (leave questions I should ask him here on this FriendFeed cluster) and I’ll definitely ask him about how we can improve our interaction systems on the web to better expose those who have real impact on all of our lives.

Thanks Gary for dropping by and defending trade shows and I’ll see you at CES.

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