Defining and Designing the building block of Social Journalism
Well before we heard the term Social Journalism, we had an idea for how news could serve as a platform for public discourse and action. It was very simple. Where people read news, they should be able to blog/respond. If the readers connect strongly with the story, they should be able to act on it.
We built a superb story-telling experience. We built engines for petitioning, events etc. We built a scope for people to import petitions from Change.org. We built algorithms to seamlessly connect the dots between stories and actions.
People loved the idea that they were part of news. We brought democracy & actionability to news.
Right around this time, we were introduced to the world of Social Journalism by one of our advisers. We got excited that there were industry influencers whose vision for the future of the industry is the same as ours. In fact, we are one of the pioneers in this world, even without knowing it! We started exploring this world further.
Meanwhile, a problem was brewing on our platform. As the number of users grew, the amount of content produced and the activity around it increased. The distribution of content became quite challenging, primarily because of the way we organized them: by categories. National politics is very different from regional politics. So, when our algorithms used categories as a basis for distribution, things simply didn’t work. Notifying users that there was activity that concerned their interest became incredibly hard. People didn’t get what mattered the most to them.
As we were searching for a solution, we found the answer in the dialogue about Social Journalism. Even on our own platform, users were talking about and following stories that mattered the most to them. They would often come to our platform to engage in a single topic that mattered to them and disappear until they discovered another spark in the same topic. Without realizing it, micro-communities were brewing on our platform with people that wanted to engage in specific topics.
The, Eureka! moment
And that keyword was the answer to our problems: COMMUNITIES. If micro-communities are the basis on which people like to stay in touch with news, activity and people, then, we realized, our Social Journalism platform should be centered around them.
Besides, Social Journalism experts suggest that communities are the key to local news and that engaging them is the key to future of journalism.
So, we went back to the drawing board to bring together all our learnings from the past year and the knowledge from the Social Journalism dialogue and reviewed the fundamental building blocks of the platform. Categories, as we saw (and still see) it were deadweights. They helped gain a birds-eye perspective of the activity, but didn’t add any other value. Then came in Space.
The holy grail of Social Journalism
A while ago, we introduced a structure called Space to help translate news into communities. A community that cared about and was fighting for the rights of homosexuals came together in a Space that was all about Section 377, India’s law that deals with homosexuality. Anyone following the Space would be aware of new activity, including latest news updates or action or opinion/analysis in the Space by means of notifications. People were able to discover and connect with people that cared about the topic as much as they did.
Space was the holy grail of communities developing around news. Unwittingly, it became the building block of a context driven Social Network. Space was, essentially, a self-marketing (because of its context in news) and self-contained website in itself dedicated to individual communities. It is ground breaking!
So, we decided to rebuild the entire platform with Space as the building block. Every activity — be it news, analysis, opinion, action-element, Debate or Townhall — would be a part of a Space. So, people who cared only about regional politics could follow only Spaces dedicated to them.
We would personalize a user’s feed based primarily on the Spaces that the user is following. So, whenever users come back to our platform, they always interact with topics and people that matter the most to them.
Our notifications and email digests are also being designed to help users stay connect with communities that matter the most to them.
It’s a two way stream
Space is good not just for consumption, though. This notion is extremely powerful even in production, moderation and communication.
Citizen Journalism is a very important aspect of Social Journalism. In the age of categories, people usually submitted their story into broad categories. It makes the life of algorithms extremely difficult, especially because citizen writers don’t necessarily produce the best structured stories. With Spaces at hand, every user submits into one or Space relevant Spaces.
Moderation is an important aspect too. After all, users may submit activity into buzzing Spaces just to grab attention. So, we designed Space in such a way that every Space has an independent set of administrators and moderators to make sure that the Space is clean and active.
One of the perils of Social Media is that it is very personal. While that does an amazing job of connecting people, there are studies that show that Facebook is known to, inadvertently, skew people’s opinion because people often tend to become friends with people who think alike. So, their worldview is narrowed. Spaces are context driven than people driven. So, if someone is interested in a topic/Space, one will see all sides of the story, not just those that align with one’s worldview.
Space, as we see it, is the perfect building block for Social Journalism.
Besides, the context driven social network that the Space driven model of Social Journalism creates opens new revenue opportunities that news sites never had before! More on that in another post, if people care about it.
Excited and fingers crossed!
We, SaddaHaq.com, are a startup, based out of India, that is excited about the future of the media in the Digital Social age. In fact, we are reinventing the centuries old industry for the future. We have made some great strides and Space is our biggest one yet.
We just launched our revamped platform. So far, we have received rave reviews. People seem to love the idea of being able to indulge in topics and connect with people that matter the most to them.
We hope Space will prove to be the building block of Digital Media.
If you have any ideas, suggestions, complaints, feedback or criticism please write to me on email@example.com