Something is happening and you don't know what it is... Do you, Mr. Jones.

Published 2011-07-17

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.


My wife mentioned the other day that I could learn a thing or two about minimalism and she's right. For years, as I've compiled ideas, thoughts and plans, I've mistaken verboseness for thoroughness.

That's not say I've filled the world with drivel -- mostly -- but rather given too much background: the hows and whys of the way I think about everything. Call it lack of self confidence or eagerness to hear myself, but more and more I'm noticing how much I do it.

And even now, I feel the want to relate this revelation to several things at once, which would require oodles of space and -- more importantly -- time and attention from the reader, which is a really important consideration if I am to make any headway toward fulfilling the vision I have for myself as a participant in the Mozilla-Knight Journalism Learning Lab.

So going forward I'm going to need to:

So I'm going to spend some serious time with a "DRY" Approach to News and here's why. 

Looking at the idea through the above filters, I can now see that I've taken about 279 problems that need to be solved in today's newsroom and gone about addressing every one of them. Need user interaction/participation? Here's 53 ways to increase it.

And if I were to take this mockup and begin to prototype, the exercise would end in frustration, feature creep, and end up on the shelf as a partially-started project because there is no way to possibly fulfill that vision. Put another way, in the quest to develop a method for providing more context for the user, there is such thing as "too much."

So I begin now to rethink the approach, and two phrases from this week are coming to mind:

From Aza Raskin, the Creative lead at Firefox:

"If the problem you are trying to solve requires a magnum opus, you are solving the wrong problem."

From Burt Herman, the co-founder of Storify:

"Identify the minimum viable product."

To Raskin's point, I need to fill a void in the newsroom and give journalists tools provide the user with more context and information about their beat; a similar void exists when thinking about presentation of news content to the user. But here's the thing: I don't need to fill every void.

To Herman's point, I will build a simple yet effective platform that will address that void and solve it elegantly. As Storify went from idea to product, Herman consciously approached the process by embracing a "self-serve" model that offers a simple embed code and limits the need for heavy lifting by web developers, and giving it a clean and unobtrusive look with little design and simple fonts.

So what did I learn this week?

If the presentation isn't appearing, you can find it here.