I tried something new this week when I attended the Moby Dick Project gathering at Stanford. I didn’t take notes. I didn’t tweet. I just listened and tried to engage.
What did I learn? Well, for one thing, apparently my memory is shot. I’m looking forward to seeing the posted photos and videos to help jar some more detailed remembrances.
But I do remember some things from the experience. Among my takeaways:
*** We need to have more events like this that bring together journalists, designers and developers to communicate with each other. The mixing of the players forces each to engage the other, and forces everyone to set aside his/her concerns about how changes in media affect them. Instead, we focused on the user.
*** Small groups can come up with engaging ideas when the focus is put on solutions, rather than problems. I could give kudos to Ben Huh for a lot of things about this conference, but this is the biggest one. Without defining an agenda (in fact, he threw his initial idea for the focus of the day out the window before the day began), he made it clear from the outset that we would be creating solutions, not just identifying problems, and in the end, there were some excellent ideas and prototypes that came to the surface.
My team of 6 focused on the challenge of delivering a quality news experience to someone in a way that took into account the variables of time and interest. If you have one minute for a story, or only a passing interest in a story, can I design a high-quality news experience for you while using the same content to give someone with more time or a greater interest ten quality minutes of content. Or 20. (There were also groups that worked on the how-can-I-consume-more-stories-effectively-in-my-allotted-time issue – but we were focused on an accordion/fractal approach to a single story.)
Our solution was incomplete and needed some significant work – but there’s a kernel in there that has merit, and to be honest, I think ours was one of the least-finished products at the end of the afternoon.
*** There was surprising agreement across the groups on the problem areas for online journalism. The same needs came up in group after group:
- How to provide news in a way that fits the user’s time more effectively
- How to build in context and background in news stories stories
- How to improve discovery and ensure users’ access to multiple viewpoints
- How to improve and make more credible user contributions and comments
The groups were not expected to solve any of these “big problems”, but to tackle an aspect of the issue and draw out something that might solve it. We ended up building ideas for a variety of platforms (our small group used a tablet interface), but each came up with a solution that made some headway. (And gave me some fodder for blogging in the future.)
And of course, there is always great opportunity at these things to meet and talk with people you only know by name and reputation. I wish I had more time to talk with Dan Gillmor and Jay Rosen, but I finally got to connect with Bill Densmore, who is from UMass, but who I apparently had to travel 3000 miles to have a good discussion with about the future of New England media. More on that some other time.
So what’s next? Funny thing, there aren’t a lot of concrete plans. But there was an interest in continuing the work, expanding the work to regional sites, and diving deeper into the issues.
Even though my luggage was lost or stolen from SFO, it was a great experience. And I didn’t like that roller bag much anyway.