Do you think we read online news in the same way we read newspapers? A digital media maven known for comedy websites wants to upend the media industry by introducing a piece of software that will present news suited for the online era.
Haz Cheezburger comedy sites, is frustrated with the news industry. Everyone's moaning about job cuts and the death of traditional journalism, but Huh believes people should stop whining and instead brainstorm solutions to a big problem - the way we read the news hasn't changed since people began reading newspapers.
We still have the "inverted pyramid" structure of an article, and front pages ported to the Web don't fit how we read news online, Huh believes.
Enter the Moby Dick Project. Still in its inception phase, the initiative is a piece of open-source software that would allow people to curate their daily news, with a crucial difference from today's offerings: this technology would make sure to include perspectives you might not normally subscribe to, such as left-wing opinion columns if you read mainly right-wing news sources.
"To read different perspectives on one platform can change how people read news," Huh says in a phone interview. "We should read opinions we might not normally encounter when we keep going to the same source."
Huh has also been frustrated seeing the same news repeated in breaking news. Why not just get the news that's most important, and that's it? Huh wonders. After all, look at what Twitter has done for news out of Egypt, for example. Huh says he notices repetitive journalism giving us background info we read elsewhere 10 times already.
"Let's break down the news to the most important facts, one or two sentences," he adds. For readers who want to learn more, the Moby Dick Project will allow users to click a link to read background on the subject.
In a wireframe for Moby Dick (below), Huh outlined his vision: the left side displays the headlines and timely news, quick headlines and short briefs. The middle column shows media relating to the news. Just to the right, an "unfiltered stream" includes tweets and news awaiting confirmation, much like the tweets we read in Egypt or Tunisia. Once these bits of media are verified, a scale on the bottom can switch to "Credible" (as opposed to "Speculation").
"We consume media from diverse sources," Huh says, "and giving people a place to discuss and air varying opinions is important."
Huh also thinks it's integral to look back at the front pages of the past, but how can someone find the exact headlines on CNN.com on 9/11? One of the project's other objectives is to aggregate a searchable database of home pages from across the world.
What did Huh learn from running the Cheezburger network, his comedy sites attracting 400 million pageviews monthly? "It's an uplifting experience to understand how users want to participate in the media process. We see that on our sites, where we rely on people to submit content voluntarily."
A business model is too far away to discuss, Huh says, but if Moby Dick attracts passionate consumers and demand soars, a business model will begin to emerge, he points out. Journalists, programmers and UI designers will be expected to volunteer their time to the project, Huh says.
In fact, Huh is looking for more interested people to contribute to Moby Dick. On July 29, Moby Dick fans will convene at Stanford University to hash out the first phase of the project. Huh says anyone looking to get involved (especially those in the San Francisco area) should contact him via his blog.
This project is also giving Huh a chance to return to his roots. The digital media CEO is a journalism school project who interned at newspapers such as the Times-Picayune. Huh describes the return to journalism as both thrilling and annoying: journalists today aren't taking advantage of all the technology available to them, Huh says, but it's exciting to see the many news start-ups taking the reigns and innovating the media process.
"Still, though, those upstarts rely on a standard presentation format, and we'll be innovating on that side of the journalism industry."
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