Archive for the 'Projects' Category

Whats next for News Mixer

Mar 11 2009 Published by Ryan under Projects

News Mixer

The initial release of News Mixer was the result of eleven weeks of intensive research and development by graduate students at Northwestern University’s Medill school of journalism and sponsorship from the Cedar Rapids Gazette. The goal of the first release was to demonstrate different ways of thinking about how foster communities and conversations around news articles on the web, and not to build a real news website or software to power a real news website.

Version 1.0 of News Mixer is a standalone application built on Python and Django. It is meant as a technology demo. For those who liked the ideas and wanted the software, News Mixer is a great commenting system, but it lacks depth. There was very little time put into anything but the commenting. The content management component is minimal. There is no support for posting media. There was a lot of thought but little dev time put into comment moderation, either for site owners or visitors. It’s what happens when you only have 11 weeks to go from “you can do whatever you want” to working software + report + polished presentation.

Despite the minimalism of News Mixer 1.0, it was a hit. People were impressed and inspired by it. So for a tech demo it was a success. Now to make it usable …


Yes, there will be a WordPress plugin.

The next release of News Mixer will be a more useful application built to actually be used by folks. The plan is to build an API on top of News Mixer and build a plug-in to make the features available for WordPress. In addition to an API, we’re going to give News Mixer the ability to handle commenting for multiple sites.

Why not just put all the commenting features into a standalone WordPress plug in?

So the wheel re-invention is kept to a minimum. So we can plug the features into other applications without writing everything from scratch. So folks can manage the comments for many sites in one place. And so maybe it will grow up to be its own web service someday.

There is a big list of things that our team came up with that could make News Mixer better: more commenting systems, rating systems, moderation. But right now we need to make it accessible for people to use.


Keep tabs on us at the News Mixer Google Code Project.


This project has been dead for a while. Sorry for the disappointment.

Andy Dickinson built a plugin for WordPress called Feedback by Paragraph that accomplishes much of the paragraph commenting that was implemented in News Mixer.

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News Mixer

Dec 11 2008 Published by Ryan under Projects

We presented News Mixer this week to Medill Facult, friends and to our partner, The Gazette in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. People loved it. The internets were all a twitter about our project.

News Mixer is your home for connection and interaction around news in Eastern Iowa. News Mixer adds a new dimension to your relationships with your Facebook friends by taking advantage of a new service called Facebook Connect. We hope News Mixer will helps you build new connections with other people interested in talking about Eastern Iowa news.

This first version of News Mixer is a demonstration site for you to test and explore. Take a look around! We would love your feedback.

I’ll be posting more about the project when I get the time to write. In the meantime – checkout our code.

We got some write-ups:

Medill’s News Mixer remixes story comments – Patrick Beeson said it “could be a game-changing effort for news story comments,” and Richard Kendall, an editor for

Newsmix opens the door to engagement – Richard K called Newsmixer “Very impressive”

A good day for new media in Illinois – Classmate Erin Halasz wrote about our project

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CTA Incidents project code up

Nov 10 2008 Published by Ryan under Projects

I’ve setup a Google code project with my work on the CTA Accidents and Derailments project. I’m slowly plugging away at building a Django back-end to make data entry simple and open to everyone.

If you are interested in contributing to this project in any way send me a message or leave a comment.

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enviroVOTE is a sucess! UPDATE

Nov 05 2008 Published by Ryan under Projects

My fellow hacker j-school classmate Brian Boyer and I spent our weekend putting together a web site called enviroVOTE. It tracked the election results and showed the envirominty-ness of the elected candidates. We lined-up candidates with endorsements each received from environmental interest groups and used a meter to show how the environment was faring in the election.

Lifted from my story on the News 21 project website:

How might this election change our country’s policy on the environment? At, we show you the potential impact of this election by reporting how people are voting for candidates endorsed by environmental groups.

The centerpiece of the Web site is a large meter that fills up based on the number of newly elected candidates with environmental credentials. We are also comparing this year’s election with previous elections to see if the new crop of law-makers are greener then the last. Think environmintier officials to freshen the breath of the country.

Drill down through the site and find the meters for the results in specific states. Look at individual races to see what endorsements the candidates received and find out more about each candidate.

The night went well, we ran into some technical issues throughout the evening, but no show stoppers. Brian did a great job of promoting the hell out of the site. Here is some of the coverage:

Brian also setup a twitter page. At the last minute, he wired up envirovote to automatically twitter as we updated election results in the system. Very cool.

We had a lot of help from Medill grad students Alexander Reed and Julia Dilday, without whom entering all the election results would not have been possible.


Another post about enviroVOTE:

AcClimate: How “enviro” were Tuesday’s votes?

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Map-Timeline Flash project UPDATE

Aug 29 2008 Published by Ryan under Projects

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently working on a project for my “Advanced Multimedia Storytelling” class. I dove into a lot of different tools to throw together an interactive map-timeline flash app. I used a great little library called ModestMaps. You drop it into a flash project and you can get an instant draggable, zoomable map that can pull map images from Microsoft, Yahoo!, OpenStreetMap or images you generate yourself. I used a bunch of public domain GIS stuff – from the City of Chicago and State of Illinois – to generate a map that clearly highlights the CTA rail lines in Chicago. I used the wonderful Mapnik project to generate the image. Check out Paul Smith’s A List Apart article for more on rolling your own maps – it’s a great starting point.

My goal for the project was to compile accidents and derailments on the CTA rails from the past two years. I was surprised to find that there really isn’t a good public record of this. It’s easiest to find first or second day stories for about 3/4 of incidents, but many of those articles have important parts missing. Unfortunately I spent most of my time getting the flash together, so I only put a few incidents in at this point. I am working on a FOIA with the CTA to get some reports about the under-reported incidents. I worked with the media affairs department at CTA to get some of the data I wanted, but apparently they have no easy way to fill my request. I tried to the RTA, but after a couple weeks of phone tag, still haven’t received a report I asked for and was promised.

I would like to put this app up on it’s own site with a user-editable back end. Make it easy for others to records incidents on the CTA, and other time- and geo-tagged stories.

If you have any thoughts or ideas, drop me a comment.


Checkout the google code page to get the source code. Click on the source tab and follow the instructions. You need subversion to download the code.

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