Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Steal This Checkbox News - CityPipeline.com

Last month I entered a grant competition sponsored by the Knight Foundation, called the News Challenge and designed to bring traditional news into the future.

In the middle of my first honeymoon week in Paris, they now tell me my application has advanced to the next stage and gone on the Web along with a bunch of other applications. Great news.

My idea is a map and news hub on local real estate development, easily customizable. It's called CityPipeline and is based on ideas I stole from other people, ideas you too should steal :-)

Checkbox News

From Dave Winer, I stole the idea of Checkbox News (see also).

With Checkbox News, you can instantly and easily customize your view of the news, without creating an account or otherwise leaving the page. The mockup in the image at right tells the story well.

I wanted this at CityPipeline. Traditionally, people who care about real estate news get it all bundled together. The newspaper I work for, the SF Business Times, does not let you filter by topic like Checkbox News. So if you only care about hotel and restaurant real estate, or only residential, or only retail, too bad, you get it all. If you only care about news in your neighborhood, too bad, we cover five counties!

For CityPipeline, I made checkboxes that instantly filter the database by type of project (residential, office, hotel, retail, restaurant etc), stage in the pipeline (no problem to only see news on projects under construction or approved by city government), date and, eventually, more. We automatically remember what is checked and unchecked when you come back to the site. You can also center the map on any address and zoom in and out, and we remember that too.

Eventually, I'd like to have RSS feeds and email notifications based on proximity to an address (home or work, usually) and the other filter criteria.

The news is a platform

The bigger idea I stole from Dave was to try and make my news site (someday, if I'm lucky) into a Coral Reef, complete with its own API.

The smart news publisher knows he is not a publisher so much as a platform vendor. On the Web, his readers are his competitors (they publish too!) and his competitors are his sources (thanks to the hyperlink). It's the sort of complicated relationship Microsoft had with other software companies and that Google now has with other Web publishers (including newspapers).

So to win today, the smart news publisher creates a kickass API to all his news. He becomes the most efficient and trustworthy conduit of information.

He lets other people steal his data (which was never really his data in any sense, including legal or ethical or practical) so they will give him their data. They will flood him with their data -- news tips, links, stories -- when they see they can easily get their data our of his site, and when they see that plugging data into his site routes it to the right people, quickly.

This is how news has always worked, since the first days of print and probably before, it's just that now you need to know how to program to make it happen, and news companies just suck at software right now. And as the oldest of old media, they also come from a culture that is too closed and hierarchical.

Even in prototype form as submitted to the Knight Foundation, CityPipeline lets and explicitly encourages anyone basically slurp the entire database as a giant XML file. Since I'm trying to get people to submit real estate data into my site, including links to news and blogs and raw information on real estate developments, I have a selfish reason for doing this. You should too!

In my grant application for CityPipeline, I outline other ways I'd like to make CityPipeline into a platform, including by adding an API (which could be used to add, read, search and list projects and associated news and documents) and by adding RSS feeds (for individual projects, the map as a whole and by category).