Radio Engage, social network in drydock
A ‘ship’ for stations
to sail on Web 2.0
Web technologist Margaret Rosas is a newcomer to public radio, but has become a big admirer—and a believer in something more.
Rosas, one of the 16 winners of the Knight Foundation’s annual Knight News Challenge, is working with her local station, KUSP in Santa Cruz, Calif., to develop an open-source software package for pubradio stations, including a social network for users, to help them connect better with their communities, and systems for streaming, archiving and podcasting.
Her project, Radio Engage, aims to develop the system based on Drupal, a no-charge, open-source content management system, creating a turnkey product that will be available to all stations.
The project, whose $327,000 Knight grant was announced in May, is moving into a new planning phase: On Nov. 14-16 in Santa Cruz [these are revised dates], they’ll hold what web geeks call a barcamp—an open-sourcey, user-generated conference that community-minded software developers call to brainstorm a project.
These ad hoc gatherings, which can culminate in a “code sprint” by hard-core techies collaborating on a big chunk of code, are such intense experiences, Rosas says, that participants can benefit by holding a silent retreat afterwards to assimilate what they’ve heard, said and done.
NPR has also been working on a social network package for public radio and expects to announce it in October, according to Darren Mauro, NPR Digital Media’s director of user experience delivery. He says the system will have similarities to Facebook, including pages controlled by users, who can designate “friends.” Every NPR-member station will also have its own address in the system.
The advent of NPR’s project is fine with Steve Laufer, web chief at KUSP, who wants to work with network techies to avoid duplicated effort, “so we can get the most bang for the R&D buck.”
Watching multiple parallel projects is a desirable fact of life for Rosas, founder of Quiddities Dev Inc. in Santa Rosa. She has no illusions that Radio Engage will answer all the needs of public media, or remain in use forever.
Rosas paraphrases journalism reformer Jay Rosen: “We need to launch a lot of ships because we don’t know which will make it to the other side.” By bankrolling dozens of projects, Knight is launching ships, and Rosas counts herself a shipbuilder.
The biggest piece of this phase of development, she says, will be conceiving and coding the social network that aims “to make KUSP the digital heart of the central coast community,” according to the project website, radioengage.com.
Laufer’s dream is that the project will give a small station a leg up to keep current with web technology for community participation.
He thinks even a small station, dependent on volunteers’ work, can stay relevant to community needs. KUSP tasted a bit of that in June, when a fire burned 162,000 acres south of Monterey. Though it lacked a news department, KUSP aggregated emergency info, and residents turned to it for trusted information. Usage of its website soared from about 15,000 unique visitors a month to more than 90,000.
“Here it’s very reasonable that KUSP is going to aggregate local news, no matter who’s providing it,” says Rosas. “They’re going to be the ones who will curate that information.”
“I think people want filters because we don’t have time to go hand-pick what we want,” Rosas tells Current. “I’m busy, I have three children, I have a business, I have a grant. I don’t have an hour in the morning to flip through various sources.”
Especially with the shrinkage of newspapers, public radio can have a new role in local public affairs, Rosas believes. “They’ve been groomed 30 years to take this role.”
Update: The Public Media Camp for planning Radio Engage has been postponed to Nov.14-16. It was originally set for Oct. 24-26. More info.
Web page posted Sept. 7, 2008, revised Sept. 17, Nov. 3
Copyright 2008 by Current LLC