INN Nerds Invent Tools To Promote Community At SND Makes Austin

A couple weeks ago a group of designers, developers, community managers, educators and students met up in Austin, TX for the latest edition of SND Makes. The group included two members of our team, Ryan Nagle and Adam Schweigert, among representatives of 22 different news organizations from around the country.

This was the latest of a series of events presented by the Society for News Design and our design challenge for the weekend was: "How might we invent tools that promote community?"

There were ten teams in total and SND has a recap post that you should check out showcasing all of the projects to come out of the weekend. Here are the two projects our respective teams cooked up and a bit of the thought process and work that went into them.

The Gist: Giving Topic Pages A Makeover


Topic pages on news sites tend to be very static and are often just a reverse chronological list of stories about a given topic or category.

Our team wanted to re-imagine the traditional topic page as something more dynamic. We wanted to also use the topic page as an opportunity to create and engage a more active community around any given topic and establish the reporter/editor at our hypothetical news organization as more of an authority on that topic by positioning them as a "host" of that topic page and community discussion.

What we created for our hypothetical news organization (called The Gist) is a re-designed topic page that would replace the traditional "Education" section front or topic page on the site. When visitors to the site click on "Education" and then land on this page, instead of being presented with the usual list of stories, they would instead see the topic for that week (or perhaps month if the news organization had a slower cycle of fewer resources). In our example we picked "Racism on Campus" because there was a lot of conversation around that topic this week and we believe that picking a more specific topic each week will lead to a more engaged community around that topic on The Gist.

At the top of the page we see the topic, a link to view the traditional list of stories in the education category (for readers who still want to get to that easily) and then an introduction to the topic for that week, the host of the page for that week and then everyone who has contributed content or added to the conversation.

Below, we see a list of curated stories, links to conversations on social media, promoted comments, photos, videos, graphics, etc. that have been selected and arranged by the page's host. We specifically call out content that has been added by the community to help them feel like their contributions are valued by The Gist. At the bottom of this river of updates, you might expect to find the usual comment form, but instead we ask readers what we've missed or what they'd like to add and then make it easy for them to contribute. The host for the page can then add this contributed content to the river above.

At the end of each week, we would have captured a collection of some of the best stories, discussions, personalities, sources, etc. on a given topic and then we would send out a weekly newsletter to either help people catch up or to give them some further reading on that topic. We also tossed around the idea of hosting a weekly QA with the host or particularly active contributors, experts on that topic, etc. so that the activity on the page each week would drive to some capstone event which could then also be recorded and offered as a podcast or on YouTube.

At the end of the week we would also announce the topic for next week and again invite the community to send us the best content, conversations and personalities they've found on that topic to help inform our reporting. And we would have an archive page that would allow you to see previous topics if you wanted to go back and reference them.

The team consisted of:

Cultivate: Unearthing Community Leaders


Team Zilker created project Cultivate, which sprang from the desire to find and foster community advocates or leaders by analyzing the activity of community members on social media.

We used Twitter for our proof of concept since its API is relatively straightforward to work with and would provide enough data to make a real-world judgement using our algorithm.

The algorithm, as it stands after the event, is pretty naive. It assigns a score to individual users based on their mentions of a particular keyword (something associated with our brand or organization), their total number of followers and how many times their mentions are interacted with by other Twitter users.

The use case: team member Chris Coyier works for and is visiting New York. He wants to find Codepen community leaders in town and offer to take them out for dinner. With cultivate, he enters keyword "Codepen" and location: "New York, NY." He gets back a list of users ranked using the algorithm described above.

The team consisted of: