‘Slices of Boulder’: Deep local digital news & information
Starting date – May 2010 | Status – ended
NOTE: The Slices of Boulder project was developed in partnership with a Canadian start-up company, Eqentia, which in 2012 ceased operating. Working with emerging technologies, and collaborating with young companies, can be risky; the technologies sometimes don’t work out, and/or the companies sometimes fail to find a sustainable business model. Nevertheless, these university-private collaborations and partnerships are learning experiences for everyone involved. –Steve Outing, Digital News Test Kitchen
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Boulder digital media-sphere captured & tracked as deep verticals of local news/info, designed as personalized aggregator for news consumers
Digital News Test Kitchen, CU-Boulder Journalism & Mass Communication, and Eqentia Inc. (a Toronto-based start-up that has developed a powerful platform delivering tailored, semantic-based knowledge portals). Project leader: Sandra Fish, faculty, CU JMC. Research assistant: Jenny Dean, CU JMC master’s candidate.
The project will focus on cataloging and capturing the constant flow of links to content from the rapidly expanding digital news/info-sphere that now exists in Boulder, Colorado.
The Slices of Boulder project will create a large number of deep vertical news and information portals (a.k.a., streams) solely about Boulder. It is a sophisticated, locally focused aggregation service (think of it as a variant of a localized Google News that goes much deeper) that will steer interested, relevant readers to online sources large and small in Boulder. Starting from a taxonomy of the major types of online sources emanating from within Boulder, vetting and tagging of the many sources, and text mining, it will create many vertical news streams of links to deep content, conveniently categorized and ranked for the Boulder news consumer. Sources will cover the full spectrum of Boulder’s digital news/info-sphere, components of which are visualized below, each of which will benefit from the added audience referred by Slices of Boulder. (Click image for larger view.)
From these initially vetted and tagged, then constantly scraped sources, the Slices of Boulder system will create a significant number of Boulder-specific vertical portals or streams, each fed daily with links to text-mined content from contextually relevant sources like those in the diagram above. A Boulder news consumer using Slices of Boulder might, for example, choose to monitor or receive daily vertical streams of links to fresh content on:
- Breaking news
- City politics
- Open space
- Boulder dogs
- Mapleton Hill neighborhood news
- Boulder climbing scene
- Boulder coffee shops
To take this last example, a Boulder coffee shops portal or stream would include links to new coffee-related stories on, for example:
- Boulder Coffee Shops Blog
- Tweets from The Cup coffee shop
- Tweets by @bldrcoffee
Users of the system will choose the portals or streams to follow (or have fed to them) to get their own personalized, complete Boulder news river made up of individually selected streams. (I.e., links to fresh local topic news and information on things they care deeply about and want deep coverage from multiple sources.) The publishers listed in the example above would benefit from the Slices of Boulder system sending them additional users who are passionate about the topic of the local coffee scene — a highly targeted group of great value to relevant advertisers.
Traditional-media business models (the “Fourth Estate”) are degrading rapidly, and the quality of legacy Boulder news organizations such as the Daily Camera continues to erode as a result of shrinking budgets and fewer journalists in the newsroom. At the same time, digital technology has made it possible for anyone to be a publisher, so the number of digital niche news and information sources available in a a city like Boulder is shooting upward rapidly (what some media experts are calling the “Fifth Estate”). But many small, quality sources remain unknown to and undiscovered by most Boulder residents.
If we diagrammed the Boulder media-scape 20 years ago, it would have one large media name (Daily Camera) and a few medium-size names (weekly papers, university student media, KGNU, KBCO, some magazines, etc.). A diagram today would include a smaller but still large name for the Daily Camera, and hundreds of other names of various but smaller sizes representing remaining Boulder “old media” and a large and growing new Boulder digital news/info-sphere. This graphic shows just some of the digital and news information sources available online today which are expanding the depth and breadth of coverage of what’s going on in Boulder.
There is already a need for Boulder residents to easily receive news and information of special interest to them, on personal topics of interest, from all of the digital-media sources now available. (The content coming from all these local sources is not all available from any single source, such as DailyCamera.com. Not even mighty Google News can deliver such hyperlocal and local vertical news, because it doesn’t track local sources down to the micro level that is possible when a system such as Slices of Boulder is focused on a single city.) It’s impractical for an individual Boulderite to collect this today; there are too many local media sources. The task must be automated, and aided with human intelligence and action, and the Slices of Boulder system is a demonstration of how to do it.
Additionally, Slices of Boulder will be a milestone research project that catalogs, tags, and tracks the growth and evolution of a city’s emerging media eco-system in this era of digital transition. The project has both academic and practical benefits, for CU and for the residents of Boulder. Once completed and refined, it can be duplicated for and deployed by other communities.
A later phase of the project could involve developing a revenue model to enable users of Slices of Boulder to financially support their favorite sources within their personal river of Boulder news and information, in order to promote quality journalism and growth of the new digital media sector — and fill the gaps in community information and coverage left open by declining old media. Slices of Boulder might, as examples, charge fees to its users and distribute shares of the revenue to the sites its users visit via using the vertical local-news streams; or accept advertising and likewise distribute a share to the Boulder websites that it is sending high-quality user traffic.
This project, begun in May 2010, can be done relatively quickly due to the Eqentia technology automating much of the initial process of discovery and selection of qualified online sources. After this initial run by the system, the project team has a significant one-time manual vetting and tagging task that could take up to a few weeks. While the research part of the project will consume a graduate student’s attention for a long while, the personalized Boulder news system described above should be operational and available for public use in a few months.
The Eqentia system initially spiders the Boulder digital landscape doing automated search and discovery of sources, based on a taxonomy created by us to guide the system in its task. This initial automation aids researchers who then “accept” or “reject” the discovered sources, as well as add sources that the automated process has missed. Next, a researcher categorizes, rates, and tags each source based on our Boulder taxonomy. This laborious initial process completes the main work involved by humans, as the system for maintaining and delivering Boulder vertical news/info link streams is primarily automated afterward. The system continues to watch for additional sources added to the Boulder digital eco-system, and more importantly, a researcher watches for and manually adds and tags new sources as they appear (new blogs, neighborhood news, etc.). Researchers working long term on the project would analyze how the digital news/info-sphere in Boulder evolves and changes.
Do you have ideas for improving this project? Please leave your suggestions and feedback in the comments area below. Thanks!
Can you help fund this project? Please refer to our Giving page.