Content Ninja's Weblog

An exploratory journey on the edge of newspaper evolution

Crunchberry Project rolls forward November 18, 2008

Filed under: innovation — contentninja @ 1:35 pm
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Drawing of an early Pelton wheel (also known a...

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Word came Friday that the Crunchberry Project application for a Knight Foundation News Challenge grant is moving forward to the next step in the application process.

This doesn’t mean that we get a grant. It means I get to fill out a longer application. :) Due date is Nov. 30. Winners won’t be announced, however, until summer 2009. When you consider that more than 2,300 applications were made for $5 million in grants, we’re incredibly lucky to still be in the race.

Crunchberry is, of course, the name given to the project by professor Rich Gordon‘s master’s students at Medill, the J-school at Northwestern University. We partnered with them this semester for Gordon’s innovation class.

The students are Brian Boyer and Ryan Mark, recipients of Knight scholarships for programmer-journalists; Kayla Webley; Angela Nitzke; Joshua Pollock; and Stuart Tiffen. Pay attention to those names; they’re gonna go places.

What’s the project (besides cleverly named after one of Cedar Rapids’ signature scents)? The students have been exploring how news Web sites can improve upon community conversation around content. By the final presentation in early December, they will have prototyped three new styles of commenting, all using¬† Facebook integration via the developers’ beta Facebook Connect. Those comment structures are, in highly simplified terms, Q&A, short-form and letters to the editor.

One semester isn’t much time, actually, and while the project is off to a kick-butt start, it won’t be finished. That’s why we asked for a grant — to help fund the next phase of development. Things like bug fixing and integration with our clunky, er, fantabulous legacy systems. Even without the grant, though, we’ll test the features in some way on our content and collect user feedback.

I’ll be learning a handful about grant-writing in this application process, and our friends at Northwestern — Gordon and Medill Associate Dean Mary Nesbitt — will be helping. (To prevent me from messing it up too badly, thankfully.)

It’s important to note at this point that we (read: Gazette Communications Inc.) do not “own” this project. We sponsored the class and we’re applying for the grant, but the project is the result of the students’ hard work. We gave input that helped them determine a direction and focus for the project, but the ideas are theirs.¬† And the project is built on the promise that the end result is open source, meaning anybody can have the code.

I think the results of the Crunchberry Project will be impressive, and I admire the students’ entrepreneurial efforts. The speed at which they are delivering is enviable. (If only companies could be this nimble, eh?)

So keep your fingers crossed for the Crunchberry Project and the grant app.

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