Archive for the ‘Citizen Journalism’ Category

How to create a free searchable listings site

June 20, 2007

It is a constant source of annoyance to me that I have to pay for TimeOut, the London listing magazine, and they don’t have all their listings on the web. So I’ve been thinking for a while on how a newspaper could create a free listings and reviews site. I think this could be done very easily by introducing your community of bloggers to microformats. Don’t worry, it’s not complicated, here’s how you can do it.

Obviously you’ve already engaged the bloggers that write about your community. Bringing bloggers into the fold is nothing spectacularly innovative. These people should be your eyes and ears, reporting on things you can’t get reporters to, and providing leads for stories.

Now you want to aggregate the events that your bloggers are going to. After all they have been chosen as thought leaders and taste makers in your community. If you’re able to pull it together in a nice way – hey presto! – free listings. The problem is that simply searching blog posts and lumping them together will not produce a format that is as easy to use as the TimeOut listings page.

Luckily this problem can be solved by microformats. With microformats information is entered in a certain computer recognisable format that makes it easy to search and display. (The whole formatting of data is linked to Web3.0 and the semantic web – if you like using annoying zeitgeisty words). Let me explain how this would work:

i) Your approved blogger is writing about which band they will see in a week.

ii) As opposed to just writing a post about it the blogger also enters the information into an ‘Event’ microformat. Imagine it as an online form you fill in, with certain boxes for certain information.

iii) This information is entered under a certain format. Now, as opposed to searching for information by key word, your aggregator can simply can bring back all information labelled ‘Event’. Standard data to be entered could be Date, Location, Band, Genre, Preview, Band website.

iv) As this data is entered so clearly it can now be retrieved by a machine in a far more easily searchable, flexible and readable format.

v) Users can now search by Date, Band, Genre as the machine can splice and display this information easily. Want to search all bands in your area in the next week? It could display the information by Location. You get the picture.

vi) Reward bloggers who enter content in this way. You might have to give them cash, though recognition and traffic might be enough.

The ‘Event’ microfromat doesn’t yet exist, but it could be very similar to hCalendar. This is already used by some bloggers to format event information they put on their blog. It doesn’t have the Genre or Band website labels we spoke about, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be that difficult to change. (By the way, I have run this idea past Stew our developer guy and he says it makes sense).

This would be especially easy if blog platforms incorporated microformats within them as most bloggers don’t know HTML, but I’m sure there could be a way round this.

And there we go – a TimeOut killer.

ps. If there are any sites out there that already do this, then apologies, but I haven’t seen one.


Worrying developments for citizen journalists in France

March 7, 2007

As any celebrity will tell you, there is now a camera around every corner. This is bad news if you are a Hilton or Spears and have yet to grasp the fundamentals of underwearing, however, it is hugely exciting for citizen journalism. The first pictures that came out of the tunnels in the July 7 bombings came from camera phones. The massive tsunami was brought to life by tourists camcorders.

This is a good thing.

However, the other side of the story is the rise of happy slapping. I’d heard of this lovely social phenomenon before it hit the frontpages from a teacher in a not particularly nice school in Hackney, who’d been hit in the face whilst trying to break up a fight staged for cameraphones. (A sidenote : it started in the days before YouTube but I guess it only spread to everyone once that great video distributor started).

To combat this France has decided that any recording of violence by a non-professional journalist will be punishable and “anyone publishing such images could face up to five years in prison and a fine of €75,000 ($98,537), potentially a harsher sentence than that for committing the violent act” (via Infoworld). 

Whilst no one wants to watch chavs hitting strangers what happens if a Rodney King situation arises? Will witnesses who gather evidence of violent crimes be prosecuted? If riot police attack a crowd (and the French CRS are partial to a bit of baton) will the passerby with a video camera be prosecuted?


At the same time there is talk of “ a certification system for Web sites, blog hosters, mobile-phone operators and Internet service providers, identifying them as government-approved sources of information if they adhere to certain rules.” This is a clear sign that they don’t “get it” because this certification exists : inbound links and reputation already work as certification for news. In true Economist style, I think I can say this is unnecessary regulation where the free market already works.