Adrian Holovaty: A fundamental way newspaper sites need to change:
This is a subtle problem, and therein lies the rub. In my experience, when I’ve tried to explain the error of storing everything as a news article, journalists don’t immediately understand why it is bad. To them, a publishing system is just a means to an end: getting information out to the public. They want it to be as fast and streamlined as possible to take information batch X and put it on Web site Y. The goal isn’t to have clean data — it’s to publish data quickly, with bonus points for a nice user interface.
But the goal for me, a data person focused more on the long term, is to store information in the most valuable format possible. The problem is particularly frustrating to explain because it’s not necessarily obvious; if you store everything on your Web site as a news article, the Web site is not necessarily hard to use. Rather, it’s a problem of lost opportunity. If all of your information is stored in the same “news article” bucket, you can’t easily pull out just the crimes and plot them on a map of the city. You can’t easily grab the events to create an event calendar. You end up settling on the least common denominator: a Web site that knows how to display one type of content, a big blob of text. That Web site cannot do the cool things that readers are beginning to expect.
I left a comment responding to a poster saying this sounded like the Semantic Web, I’ve been meaning to write Adrian for a while now as well:
I’ve been meaning to say hello to you for a number of different reasons over the past few years.
I’m an old Knight Ridder Digital developer. One of the folks that helped develop the Cofax CMS that was later replaced by KRD with… something else.
Cofax was a framework as well as a CMS, and in some very positive ways (well *I* think so :)), Django reminds me of it. Cofax was open sourced, but when KRD replaced it, well, work pretty much kept me from going back, refactoring, and taking it where it could still go. It’s still in use in many places. Well enough of that…
I definitively agree with you that newspapers are terrific places to work if you are a software engineer. The pace is quick, the work challenging, and you get the rare opportunity to not only practice your profession, but do so building tools and services that connect, inform and empower people.
It’s hard to beat.
anonymous – yes, I think Adrian is talking Semantic Web here. But like Adrian’s call for newspaper organizations to take a hard look at how they manage information in their publishing systems, Tim Berners-Lee has made the same call to the web developer community. The hard sell has been that that the Semantic Web likewise solves a series of problems of lost opportunity. It requires an investment in time and effort by the developer community to see its potential archived. Adrian, please correct me if that’s an incorrect understanding on my part.
Related reading material: Aaron Swartz: “The Semantic Web In Breadth” and Shelley Powers: “The Bottoms Up RDF Tutorial”. Then there’s “Practical RDF” also by Shelley Powers (which I ummm need to get around to reading, but have always heard good things about).
More at Techdirt.