@michaelmaness and @dansinker: Open source is key to innovation

technology / Article

November 6, 2011 by Jon Vidar


Yesterday at Mozilla Fest, Michael Maness, Knight's VP of Journalism and Media Innovation, and Dan Sinker, director of the Knight Mozilla partnership, sat down for a fireside chat to discuss key themes of the Knight News Challenge and the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership

Michael gave a sneak peak of the Knight News Challenge 2012, which is going to be broken up into faster, more focused competitions. In the coming year, three calls for entries, centered around three different topics, will each be only 12 weeks in length - a way to be more responsive to the fast-paced culture of the start-up world.

Michael also noted that the process will rely much more heavily on digital technology than it has in the past, complete with a video pitch that will allow the judges to really connect with the members of the project.

The main theme of Saturday's discussion, however, focused on the power of "open." 

"We don't move forward if we don't fail," Dan said.

Maness went on to point out that through his experience working for Gannett prior to Knight Foundation, he saw that products usually go through about four iterations before becoming truly viable. 

By open sourcing projects, you open up development to a community who can work together to help the product grow.

In the five years of the Knight News Challenge, the projects that have been truly successful are the ones that either came in with a community, or were able to grow one very quickly, Michael said.

Another component of success within News Challenge winners has been releasing individual components of projects that can then be manipulated and used in numerous other ways.  Document Cloud, for instance, released both Backbone.js and underscore.js during their development.

Despite the power of good tools and the ability for communities to make them stronger, Dan quickly pointed out that the tools are really only as powerful as the content they display. Without good information, the tools do nothing in and of themselves. 

He added that the way to move big organizations from proprietary software to open source is through little wins. The Knight-Mozilla partnership is a step towards that by placing real world technologists into newsrooms. 

"Little wins to move to a big win," Dan said.

Jon Vidar is a 2011 Knight News Challenge winner and co-founder and executive director of the Tiziano Project. He wrote this post as a freelance writer for KnightBlog.


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Highlights from last week’s Mozilla Festival

technology / Article