Widgets ’n things

Site to offer stations interactive web tools for campaign season

Originally published in Current, March 3, 2008
By Jeremy Egner

Stations will soon be able to get their cursors on an online toolbox that will offer various localizable widgets and interactive features that stations can add to their websites. CPB funded the election coverage collaboration with a $1.4 million grant (Current, Jan. 22).

Developers, including reps from NPR, the NewsHour, PBS, Minnesota Public Radio and other project partners, briefed Integrated Media Association conference attendees Feb. 22.

The one-stop toolbox and workspace, the Knowledge Network, is still under development but will be available to all stations “hopefully in a matter of weeks,” said Andy Carvin, NPR’s senior product manager for community, in an interview.

This “wiki on steroids,” built with Jive Clearspace collaboration software, will also feature advice on best practices, social media features and “tags and RSS feeds for absolutely everything that gets produced,” Carvin said.

It will have sections for each of the tools, discussion boards and blogs with updates, instructions and examples for editorial planning purposes, and a simple, straightforward navigation structure, Carvin said.

“There’s not a lot of bells and whistles,” he says. “It’s meant very much to be a functional place for people get down to business.”

Most prominent among the web gadgets is an interactive, data-saturated NPR-NewsHour election map posted on multiple sites. The map points users to relevant stories from the two news orgs and from local stations, which are selected and uploaded by editors Anna Shoup (for the NewsHour) and Michael Olson (NPR).

“If you’re not sending your stories to Anna and Michael, you should,” Lee Banville, editor of the Online NewsHour, told the crowd at IMA.

Still in development is Get My Vote, an embeddable tool for prompting and handling digital uploads. It will ask listeners to submit video, audio or text commentaries explaining their values and what it will take for candidates to get their votes, Carvin said at IMA. NPR programs will air some of the best submissions or interview the creators on air. Stations will be able to use the device to solicit listener commentaries about local issues.

Also yet to come: a Flash-based educational tool geared to help high school teachers incorporate election content into their classes. PBS will launch it later this summer before the school year begins, said Kristin Calhoun, director of station products and services for PBS Interactive.

A feature that’s already starting to take shape is BallotVox, conceived by Public Radio Exchange to showcase the best of the election-related blogs, videos, photos and other digital expressions. In terms of the sheer labor involved, it’s one of the most ambitious election project components. Paid and volunteer curators will trawl YouTube, blogs, podcasts, Flickr and the like in search of insightful electoral needles within the dense haystack of mindless rants, puppy pics and Rickrolls. (PRX is still seeking 15 or more curators.)

The goal, said Jake Shapiro, executive director of PRX, is to “leverage our brand and trust with the audience to highlight the best of what’s happening on the rest of the Web.”

The online repository at www.ballotvox.org launched Feb. 14; widgets will be added.

The election project aims to demonstrate new collaborative ways for pubcasters to work together, not only to develop material around the election, Bruce Theriault, CPB senior v.p. for radio, said in Los Angeles. “Shame on us if we can’t find a way to keep it going.”

Web page posted March 4, 2008
Copyright 2008 by Current LLC


Election collaboration: Will it leave lasting payoff or is it another one-off?


Volunteer to be a co-curator of PRX's BallotVox project.



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