Hack, hacker - makes no difference

Published 2011-07-22

A “six degrees of separation” database, nwsmkr will combine a journalist’s curated notes with public contributions & social APIs to visualize connections and distinctions between public figures, providing a new storytelling method for news organizations.


I remember the shock of it all, when I learned the bar to coding a basic webpage wasn't that high. Three years later, I'm seeing more and more that the bar to coding a really great webpage isn't all that high either.

It's patience and time, and the willingness to work hard.

It was about this time in 2008, I was handed the keys to production of our newspaper's website. To do it I was learning on the job: an anchor tag makes the internets go round-and-round, and view-source allowed me to discover something instantly.

Suddenly I learn could how to make big fonts, select menus and form inputs, and I had found my minor pentatonic scale.

In three years time, open web standards have advanced so far so fast -- you can't cruise Hacker News for a day without reading about another JavaScript library -- that the bar has fallen even lower, and enabling the kinds of UI and content enhancements that once were only synonymous with flash.

What's more, HTML5, CSS3, jQuery and the rest can allow developers to basically use the same codebase and achieve something important: a different user experience based on the device or machine they are using.

But here's the thing. Open source isn't just a way of pushing out code for people to use to new and interesting things on the web. I've learned it's a mindset and an ethos, very similar to that of a good journalist, the one who isn't going to waste your time with fluff.

Rather, both the open-source coder and the journalist will provide the user with information, and even walk you through the basics. But to get deeper, well that's where the reader -- or user -- has an active part to play. To paraphrase, one does not wade into open-source code like a pool, feel the water on their skin and say, "I'm wet."

But the similarities don't stop there, and more and more, I'm seeing that hackers and hackers are in many ways meant for each other.

For the egalitarian in me, it means it's not just those who can afford sweet creative tools who get to rule the web; there's a place for us small-town, no-degree-having folks who can get a job done.

For the noob in me, it means the knowledge I need to continue to learn is out there; it's on me to put in the 10,000 hours.

As for the journalist in me, who has read so much in the last three years about the future of newspapers and their impending demise? Well the folks driving html5, jQuery, django, node.js, leaflet.js and so many other open-source projects, well it gives me hope that there is another group of people out there who believe information shall be free and available and that there are a 1,000 ways to tell a story but you have to pick one.

Oh, and your work is only as good as your sources -- or source code.