KNC13 OPENGOV | OPEN BS DETECTOR: Baffle-speak sensing and contextualization | Knight News Challenge

OPEN BS DETECTOR | Baffle-speak sensing and contextualization

Short URL: http://j.mp/skknc13obsd

Twitter: @OpenBSDetector

Public officials too often rely on rote phrases devoid of real meaning (baffle-speak) when answering questions of public interest. Open BS Detector spots the sound bites, logs, tracks and alerts about them, and offers useful information and context.

THE TASK
Citizens and journalists need to be able to more quickly and easily discern fact from fiction or misdirection in statements by their politicians and public officials, put those statements in context, and get accurate facts to make informed decisions and take action.

SOLUTION
Open Baffle-Speak Detector will parse those comments and answers to questions, compare them to a historical record by the individual on a topic, and return statistical information, as well as verified facts to the individual seeking a better understanding of a subject and an official’s approach to it.

IMPLEMENTATION
Open Baffle-Speak Detector will have three modes to enable people to identify and contextualize the accuracy, veracity and utility of officials’ statements:

  1. A browser plug-in for use on news articles, online transcripts and other text or Web pages.
  2. Voice-recognition/transcription and a Shazam-like mode for real-time assessment.
  3. A photo/facial recognition and/or augmented reality function that enables the user to easily identify the individual, their track record and overall baffle-speak score.

Our preliminary research discussing this idea among people in the open government movement, journalism, and technologists has been met with enthusiasm. The technology to do this exists or is in development in other arenas, and simply needs to be brought together for an end-to-end, easy experience rather than a patchwork that results in a laborious series of tasks, or a lack of capability in this particular sphere. We plan to collaborate with as many developers of existing projects, tools and technologies as possible.

SIMILAR PROJECTS AND COLLABORATION OPPORTUNITIES
The Truth Goggles, Lazy Truth, Super PAC App, and Churnalism projects are a few examples of similar ideas with different applications and approaches. They focus on parsing text or standardized data. None handle live, real-time input. Open Baffle-Speak Detector will stitch these approaches together for a robust, on-demand tool that works in live situations.

CURRENT STATUS
We have not commenced development on Open Baffle-Speak Detector, but have had initial contacts with people working on other and related projects. We will collaborate and build on Truth Goggles, Hyperaudio and other projects as much as possible to avoid duplicating work.

TEAM
Saleem Khan: Project leader, journalist [editor and reporter, ex- CBC, Metro International, Toronto Star newspapers; chairman/director, Canadian Association of Journalists]; advisor, University of Toronto ThingTank Lab [Faculty of Information]; founder, invstg8.net.

Collaborators & Advisors:
M. Boas: OpenNews Fellow 2012. Hyperaudio leader, jPlayer HTML5 media library project coordinator, open Web developer.
L. Gridinoc: OpenNews Fellow 2012. Creative technologist specializing in computational linguistics, semantic Web, and visual analytics.
P. Hunter: Over 20 years designing productive interactions between people and technology; expertise in speech recognition, software tools, and education; Fellow in the Leading by Design program at California College of the Arts; veteran of three start-up businesses; currently at Microsoft.
K. Kaushansky: Two decades specializing in speech recognition, voice user interface design, interactive audio experiences, speaker verification, and voice biometrics at startups and global technology firms, including Nortel and Microsoft. Currently at Jawbone.
K. Khan: User experience strategist and designer consulting to governments and Global 1000 corporations, OCAD University sLab advisor; leader of UXI, Canada’s largest UX professionals group.
H. Leson: Director of community engagement, Ushahidi; open source community developer, library and information technician.
M. Saniga, CA: Co-founder, near-realtime business intelligence/data insight generation software firm Quant Inc.; former finance director and manager at Cara, Dell.

FUNDING AND TIMELINE
We anticipate that Open Baffle-Speak Detector will gain interest and uptake among civic development and open government foundations, news organizations, and real-time intelligence companies and investors which would continue to fund development and custom or applications-specific versions.

ONE SENTENCE SUMMARY
Open Baffle Speak Detector is a tool that empowers citizens to identify when public officials give rote vs. real answers in their statements, and adds verified factual context.

LOCATION
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

KNC13 OPENGOV | OPENLYNX: Streamlined citizen information tool | Knight News Challenge 2013

One of my entries for the 2013 Knight News Challenge for OpenGov [open government]:

OPENLYNX | Streamlined question, routing and information tool for citizens to get access to public-held information

OpenLynx enables citizens to submit information queries and receive responses via low-bandwidth communication technologies accessible with basic mobile phones — such as text and SMS messages, e-mail and a lean/mobile Web site — to enable everyone to gain access to civic information otherwise unavailable to them.

THE TASK
Access to civic information, resources and services are limited by knowledge of methods, and access technology, which can put government out of reach of some citizens. OpenLynx aims to surmount those barriers by making it easy to connect to government.

SOLUTION
OpenLynx will enable citizens to submit a question or information request, and receive an automated reply with the requested information, or have the request routed to the most appropriate government official for a response. In cases where access to information is restricted, OpenLynx will enable people to submit a freedom-of-information request, or contact a journalist to propose a story or investigation, even from a basic mobile phone.

IMPLEMENTATION
OpenLynx will allow citizens to submit civic information requests via:

  1. Text or SMS
  2. Web
  3. Smartphone app.

All of these modes will be processed through a single engine that will draw on a database of common questions and responses to automatically respond, or pass on the request to a person if the answer is not readily available.

SIMILAR PROJECTS AND COLLABORATION OPPORTUNITIES
A preliminary search has not revealed anyone taking this particular approach to public information requests, although some municipalities have a 311 information service. There are open source dispatch and support ticket software projects that we could build on, but nothing we could use “out of the box” with only cosmetic or minor modification. We anticipate being able to collaborate with the invstg8.net project, which is already building a flat request-and-answer system. We have been in touch with FOIAMachine about collaborating on providing the FOI function, and Document Cloud as another source of information.

CURRENT STATUS
A proof-of-concept of the question submission, parsing, assessment, routing, handling and response engine is in development as part of the invstg8.net project. We anticipate having access to a demonstration version of a proof-of-concept engine by early summer.

TEAM
Saleem Khan: Project leader, journalist [editor and reporter, ex- CBC, Metro International, Toronto Star newspapers; chairman/director, Canadian Association of Journalists]; advisor, University of Toronto ThingTank Lab [Faculty of Information]; founder, invstg8.net.

Collaborators & Advisors:
M. Boas: OpenNews Fellow 2012. Hyperaudio leader, jPlayer HTML5 media library project coordinator, open Web developer.
L. Gridinoc: OpenNews Fellow 2012. Creative technologist specializing in computational linguistics, semantic Web, and visual analytics.
K. Khan: User experience strategist and designer, OCAD University sLab advisor; leader of UXI, Canada’s largest UX professionals group
H. Leson: Director of community engagement, Ushahidi; open source community developer, library and information technician.
M. Saniga, CA: Co-founder, near-realtime business intelligence/data insight generation software firm Quant Inc.; former finance director and manager at Cara, Dell.

SUSTAINABILITY AND FUNDING
We anticipate that OpenLynx will gain interest and uptake among governments seeking to improve engagement with citizens and reduce costs, civic development and open government foundations, news organizations, transparency groups, and any company or organization with an interest in gaining access to government information quickly and easily. We believe the tool would also have application to customer relations and community management by for-profit enterprises, which may lead to customized for-profit versions that could help to fund development of the public-interest tool.

ONE SENTENCE SUMMARY
OpenLynx empowers citizens to gain access to government information and services irrespective of their skill at navigating government channels or access to technology.

LOCATION
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Investigate Net: Microcollaboration for journalists

Investigate Net

Investigate Net MozNewsLab proposal from Saleem Khan on Vimeo. ]

 

Concept


Investigate Net enables journalists to surmount structural barriers to newsgathering.

It uses simple, readily available technologies to help journalists find and collaborate with colleagues anywhere.

Investigate Net home page mockup

Investigate Net home page mockup.

Investigate Net mobile mockup.

Investigate Net mobile mockup.

 

 

 

Inspiration


Investigate Net was inspired by an African journalist I met, who was unable to identify the value or uses of minerals mined in his country because the experts worked for mining interests and would not talk to him.

Research was difficult with a maximum of 30 minutes per week on a dial-up connection, and a low-end mobile phone for most of his communication.

He said these problems were widespread in Africa.

The information he sought, I could easily get in minutes. That was the seed of Investigate Net: Information one journalist found impossible to gain was easily accessible to a peer.

 

Problem


Journalists in one locale are forced to shelve or discontinue investigations because they cannot obtain crucial, basic information due to access, technological, financial or practical barriers.

That information is easily accessible by journalists elsewhere. Yet, it remains out of reach to isolated journalists because collaborations typically stem from personal networks and both groups are unaware of each other and their needs.

 

Solution


Investigate Net enables micro-collaboration among journalists on a local to global scale.

It connects journalists around the world to peer-sourced information that is otherwise unavailable, through low-bandwidth communication technologies such as:

  • a lean or mobile Web site
  • text or SMS messaging
  • e-mail

 

Function


A journalist submits an information request and other pertinent information, such as keywords and privacy considerations, through a simple, mobile-friendly, Investigate Net form online, in e-mail or text message.

 

Investigate Net request form

Investigate Net request form mockup.

 

The query goes to journalists who self-identify as experts or interested in subjects noted in the request. They obtain the sought information and send it to the requesting journalist according to preferences: E-mail, text message, fax, etc.

 

Investigate Net e-mail inbox notification

Investigate Net notification deliveries are set by the user.

 

Journalists in the economic North with abundant technology or information access may also need sources outside of their networks, especially when a story leads abroad where their news outlet has no presence or contacts. It is impractical to always fly a correspondent there, so the story is shelved or killed.

Instead, Investigate Net would enable Southern journalists to become virtual field producers.

 

Technical


Investigate Net builds on existing technologies, tools and behaviours familiar and accessible to journalists:

  • Web forms
  • e-mail
  • text messages
  • and the reporting process.

It uses simple, form-based submissions to collect and disseminate information requests.

Investigate Net request and fulfillment flow

Journalists in the North and South can send and receive information through distributed servers. If technology limitations are a factor, requests and fulfillment can be sent and received in off-peak hour batch operations.

 

For journalists with limited Internet access, batch-send operations could process locally cached requests during off-peak times.

Investigate Net fits with a newsroom’s reporting workflow: Research, make calls, interview and synthesize it all into a coherent context. The outcome is information but benefits are greater.

 

Sketch: News story timeline

News story timeline

 

Fulfillment is good professional courtesy. Journalists privileged to work in the North are responsible — perhaps obliged — to help less privileged colleagues in the South.

Northern journalists realize reciprocal benefits and discover stories they may not otherwise find.

Above all, these simple information requests can help all journalists build networks and foster collaboration.

 

Development


Several open source projects could be used to build Investigate Net:

  • FrontlineSMS to manage and transmit requests and answers.
  • osTicket support system as a backbone to handle and track requests.
  • Apache projects as the server and Web management platform.
  • The recently launched Investigative Dashboard portal cites collaboration as a goal and could enhance Investigate Net. (I discussed the problem Investigate Net aims to solve with Dashboard’s Paul Radu at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference in 2007.)

Journalists can easily participate by:

  • identifying gaps in their information needs
  • helping to design request and fulfillment processes
  • testing as end-users.

Developers bring key technical knowledge to build Investigate Net. Because requirements are simple by design, it will be a quick and easy build at minimal cost.

Editorial and technical collaboration should be smooth as the system’s simplicity in scope and concept minimizes miscommunication.

 

Issues


Journalist participation in the North in particular is not guaranteed. It may be necessary to add incentives or game mechanics. This will be revealed in iterative testing.

Privacy and security beyond the browser connection may be needed. Tools like Tor and profile management features may address them.

Authentication occurs at a device level but does not address device sharing, or human error that grants access to a user’s Investigate Net profile. This is an issue for future development.

Services like Quora, StackExchange, WikiAnswers, LinkedIn Answers and Facebook Questions, and a range of journalism discussion lists and forums, are nominal competitors but do not address the South’s technology limitations, structural, privacy or security needs.

 

Benefits


Investigate Net will enable and extend the capabilities and impact of journalists and news organizations:

  1. Barriers to basic and critical information will be erased, letting journalists focus on developing deeper stories instead of scraping for simple facts.
  2. News organizations will be able to better allocate personnel and financial resources, save significantly on story-related costs and improve productivity.
  3. Journalists will be better linked, fostering work and co-productions.
  4. Journalists will gain information, and in the South, income, too.
  5. Stories that would not be told, or would fall short, will gain life and momentum. You cannot report on something if you cannot meaningfully identify and understand it, or if the trail leads somewhere and you have no budget, presence or network to follow it.
  6. Deeper co-productions will stem from Investigate Net collaborations, making it possible to maximize editorial impact on a local, regional, national or global scale and drive the news agenda. A story or investigation by one news organization is easy for authorities to ignore; one covered by multiple outlets is not as easily dismissed.

Future


Investigate Net is meant to be extensible and scalable.

It could extend to amateur journalists, commerce, rich media distribution and more.

Ultimately, Investigate Net will foster collaborations and joint investigations that tell local stories in the North and South and span the globe.

 

[UPDATE 08.21.2011: The video at the page linked via the Investigate Net image above has been corrected. +08.15.2011: is not the correct one but I am leaving it there for historical context, at least for the moment. A blog post on this is forthcoming. The actual Investigate Net proposal video is online.