Two sites will expand work with journalists, non-profits, and the public
We are thrilled to announce that DocumentCloud and MuckRock are merging.
The reason is simple: Mission. Our organizations share a core belief that institutions should be open, transparent and accountable to the people they serve.
This merger will strengthen both organizations and allow us to serve our users and that mission far better than either of us could alone. In fact, as we have been discussing this privately with friends and advisors, the most common reaction has been, “Why didn’t you do this sooner?”
Over time, our goal is to make the sites and services we run work seamlessly together, helping guide our combined 30,000-plus users through every step of the reporting process, from finding initial ideas to obtaining documents to analysis and, finally, publishing reporting critical to an informed democracy.
By the end of the year, you should start to see some visible changes: Easier document search and analysis in MuckRock. The ability to log into both sites with a single account. Better account management. A shared design. Enhanced stability, scalability, and speed for DocumentCloud.
The first example of this is already live: MuckRock’s Assignment tool, a powerful crowdsourcing platform that allows users to ask the public for help turning caches of records into structured data for easier analysis. DocumentCloud users can easily select a collection of documents on that site and import them into a new Assignment with just a click.
We’ll continue to build out this suite of integrated tools for accountability and transparency. In collaboration with our friends at Quartz, we’ve launched one already: Quackbot, a Slack bot that performs useful tasks for journalists.
We’re excited to help supercharge Quackbot with new “superpowers” — taking what’s traditionally done with one-off scripts or specialized services and packaging them for easy use by everyone. (If you’re a newsroom developer with a superpower you’d like Quackbot to learn, be sure to apply to be our News Nerd in Residence.)
On an administrative level, the two organizations have been working as one since January, and we’ve been delighted with how smoothly the process has gone. Going forward, Michael Morisy will act as Executive Director of the combined organization, with Aron Pilhofer serving as Chief Strategy Officer and Mitchell Kotler as Chief Technology Officer.
The organization’s board will draw from DocumentCloud and MuckRock’s existing boards.
Some important things won’t change: Both services will continue to be open source. The parent organization will continue to be a 501(c)3 nonprofit with a public service mission to help the public better understand their government, their communities and their world.
And, most importantly, both services will continue to be dedicated to serving their incredible communities that work every day to leave us all a little more informed and aware. We’re excited to get to work together.
What this will mean for MuckRock users
Whether you’ve known it or not, if you’ve used MuckRock much you’ve already used DocumentCloud; the site has powered the embedded document viewer since launch. But because the feature relies on DocumentCloud’s public API, there are serious limitations on the feature set available to users.
The merger means we will have better access to each site’s APIs, meaning as soon as you get documents back through MuckRock you can take advantage of all DocumentCloud’s analysis and collaboration features. Take a peek at some of those features here. We’re also working on Quackbot integration, so hopefully soon you’ll be able to get updates on your requests right in Slack … and possibly even file new ones.
If you’re a MuckRock Pro or Organizational subscriber, we’ll be adding even more premium features so that you’ll get even more value out of your account. We have a roadmap we’re very excited about, but we’d also love to hear what you want to see so if you have ideas or feedback, let us know.
What this will mean for DocumentCloud users
The merger will mean a better, more stable, more functional platform. It will mean you will have access to a vast, and growing, set of tools, including MuckRock, Quackbot and FOIA Machine.
This merger is more than tools. Although documents are at the heart of both platforms, MuckRock adds a layer of workflow management, the notion that there may be many steps to a desired outcome. That could mean managing a large set of FOI requests or a crowdsourcing effort through the assignments tool. Workflow management is something DocumentCloud has never had, and now we will. Assignments and Quackbot are just the beginning, in other words.
There is another big change: By the end of the year, we plan to begin asking our users to support us financially, and will likely restrict some advanced features to those who do. This is nothing new. From the day we launched DocumentCloud in 2009 we said we would begin charging at some point, and that time has come.
We now host 4.1 million documents and serve more than 200 million document views per year. Our users are regularly uploading 40,000 or more documents per week. And as a result, the cost to run the platform has quadrupled over the past few years, and we think it’s fair to start asking for help defraying those costs.
There will be a limited free account available. That won’t change as a result of the merger. But for users who need to upload more than a few documents per month, and/or need access to advanced features, like bulk processing or publishing via our API, we will be asking for support.
There’s one more exciting change coming: DocumentCloud has historically limited access to newsrooms and freelance journalists. In part this was to limit our legal liability, since any user can publish to the documentcloud.org domain. However, our shared technical roadmap includes some key changes that will allow us to offer a DocumentCloud account to anyone who wants one: journalists, yes, but also bloggers, citizen journalists, activists, academics. This is something we have always wanted to do, and now we can.
These are just a few of the improvements we are planning. Much, much more to come. We are both excited beyond words for this next chapter and look forward to having you along for the ride. If you have any questions, concerns or suggestions, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.
Executive Director, MuckRock
Come help build the future of journalism. DocumentCloud.org is looking for a developer to help us expand our open-source platform designed to make journalism more impactful, transparent, and trustworthy.
DocumentCloud.org is a global platform that now hosts more than 4 million documents and serves hundreds of millions of pageviews each year. It has been used by tens of thousands of journalists worldwide to upload, analyze, annotate and publish primary source documents.
DocumentCloud has helped the largest and most innovative news organizations in the world tackle high-profile stories such as WikiLeaks, Panama Papers and the Snowden documents.
The role is for a full-stack programmer who can continue to evolve and run a large-scale Ruby on Rails site in an AWS environment where uptime matters. The job requires being involved with the entire stack, from front-end to document indexing, but one needn’t be an expert in everything.
You’ll be working closely with an experienced team to help you grow in the areas you’re interested in, including opportunities to experiment with machine learning, chatbots, crowdsourcing and more.
As important, this is for someone who cares about making better journalism but knows that code isn’t the solution to every problem. The developer will work hand-in-hand with the rest of the team to assess new opportunities, forge key partnerships, evolve the product roadmap and overall strategy for DocumentCloud.
We are extremely flexible with location and remote working. DocumentCloud is a distributed team, based coast-to-coast, with people in Philadelphia, the Bay Area and Boston.
We believe deeply in the importance of diversity and inclusion. We strongly encourage people of color and LGBTQIA candidates to apply. We’re committed to structuring our hiring process and organization to be welcoming to applicants of all backgrounds.
This is a full-time position with paid vacation and health care benefits, vision, and dental benefits and a 401k.
The ideal candidate will have:
Experience building and scaling Ruby on Rails applications;
Experience working with Amazon Web Services or a similar cloud-based infrastructure;
Experience with front-end technologies and frameworks;
A desire to work for a mission-driven organization.
Other skills we’d like to see but are not a requirement:
Familiarity with indexing engines, such as Solr;
Experience with Python and Django;
Experience working with distributed teams;
Experience with using data and documents to tell a story, either through traditional reporting or in other ways.
If this role sounds interesting to you, drop Aron a line at email@example.com or apply directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
We thought you’d like to know about some of that work — from caching to a beefier database server to compressing the files we serve — and how it plays out every day in faster load times, a more stable platform, and improved performance during high-traffic situations.
One benefit of using CloudFront is that we now serve files from multiple places around the globe. That means our users and readers in Europe, Asia and South America now see faster load times. We’re very happy to support better performance this way as our worldwide user base grows.
Compressed assets: DocumentCloud assets are now served compressed, a step developers had requested to improve performance. That means web browsers don’t have to download as many bytes to load our viewer and the code around it. This speeds up viewing and saves us some money on data costs — double win.
Caching: We’ve improved caching on our main application server, which frees it up to do other work. We did this by using its NGINX web server as a reverse proxy cache, which keeps track of requests for documents and other resources and saves the responses. If we see multiple requests for the same document or resource, we serve the response from the cache rather than making the server generate the response all over again.
Previously, the server relied on Ruby on Rails’ built-in page caching. While that worked well in most instances, it wasn’t able to handle resources over a certain length, typically those containing a large number of options and parameters (such as certain API calls). Using NGINX as a reverse proxy cache removes that limit and considerably improves caching coverage and performance. For example, our new caching setup came in very handy when publicity around the Panama Papers pushed traffic to documentcloud.org up 25 times more than usual.
Database upgrade: Finally, we recently upgraded our database to PostgreSQL 9.4 and moved it to a more powerful server. Our database server gets a considerable workout recording data about each document uploaded, processed and served, and as our user base grows we were starting to hit limits on memory, storage and processing. Now, we have room to spare.
We have plenty of work ahead as we embark on improving the data model for handling accounts and create a new workflow for signing up. But we hope these less-visible back-end improvements help you get your work done faster and improve your readers’ experience with DocumentCloud.
DocumentCloud is updating its Terms of Service, and we’re giving our users time to review the update before it takes effect on May 25, 2016.
Before we highlight what’s new, we’d like to express our deepest gratitude to Dalia Topelson Ritvo and students at Harvard Law School‘s Cyberlaw Clinic, based at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. The Cyberlaw Clinic gave our team invaluable assistance in writing our updated Terms of Service, along the way giving us outstanding guidance on legal best practices and answering many questions. Thank you!
DocumentCloud’s Terms of Service has remained relatively unchanged since we launched in 2010. Over time, we’ve added a number of features, and consequently users have found new ways to use DocumentCloud. This update better reflects DocumentCloud’s services today, and we’ll continue to update it as our services evolve.
Highlights of changes and additions:
Overall, we’ve updated the document’s organization and its language to reflect best practices for software products as well as current DocumentCloud features and capabilities.
Real names and email addresses are required for accounts. We allow one shared account per organization for organization-wide use, which can have an organization name. We also allow one machine account for automation or API use. (Section 2.2)
We specify that you may not sell, rent, or otherwise offer the Services to others without DocumentCloud’s prior written consent. (Section 3, paragraph (b))
We prohibit using DocumentCloud in any way that interferes with the operation of the service, impacts or harasses any other user, or circumvents our security protections. (Section 3, paragraph (m))
You represent that you have the right to contribute your content to DocumentCloud, and you grant us a license to that content in order for us to deliver our services. (Section 5)
We clarify that when you delete a document, we also delete it from our platform. If you redact a document, we erase all data related to the redacted information, create a new redacted document, and delete the original. (Section 7.1)
“Why should Ruby and Python get to have all the fun?” Murphy said, referring to the fact that coders for some time have been able to use python-documentcloud and the documentcloud RubyGem wrappers to work with the DocumentCloud API.
“The more I use Node.js, the more I like having the option to complete tasks in the language,” Murphy said. “DocumentCloud also has a relatively straightforward API structure, so it also seemed like a good opportunity to try building a client for the first time (something I’ve wanted to attempt for a while).”
DocumentCloud’s API is a powerful piece of the platform, a web service that lets you interact programmatically with resources such as documents, projects and entities. Various API methods let you upload files, create projects, update document data and embed assets via oEmbed, among other tasks.
You can interact with our API via the programming language of your choice, but if you’re a user of Python, Ruby, or now Node.js, the wrappers around the API contributed by the open-source community provide many shortcuts over coding all the interactions yourself.
Murphy sees his library as a gateway to additional features and platforms around DocumentCloud.
“For example, one of the first spinoffs I’ve begun work on is a command line interface on top of node-documentcloud — something that would allow you to interface with the DocumentCloud client from your terminal,” Murphy said.
“Then, it could be as simple as something like documentcloud-cli upload <name_of_folder> to send a bunch of documents to the service. Or, documentcloud-cli download <document_id> to pull down a file. It’s still early going!”
Read all about the wrappers
You can learn more about node-documentcloud by visiting its documentation on Github or npm.
If you’re a Python or Ruby coder, take a look at:
python-documentcloud: From Ben Welsh of the Los Angeles Times’ data desk comes this full-featured API client for Python programmers. In addition to covering the basics, this library goes deep with providing details such as the location of annotations in a document. Documentation.
pneumatic: A Python bulk-upload library for DocumentCloud, written by Anthony DeBarros of the DocumentCloud team. Provides features including cataloging all the files uploaded and their URLs in a database. Documentation.
DocumentCloud: A RubyGem for interacting with the DocumentCloud API, created by Miles Zimmerman. Upload, search, retrieve data about documents. Github. RubyGems.
A big congratulations from the DocumentCloud team to Tyler Dukes, public records reporter at TV station WRAL in North Carolina. Dukes received a 2016 Sunshine Award from the North Carolina Open Government Coalition for work including a custom document-search application he built using the DocumentCloud API.
The API is a powerful piece of the DocumentCloud platform, a web service that lets you interact programmatically with resources such as documents, projects and entities. Various API methods let you upload files, create projects, update document data and embed assets via oEmbed, among other tasks.
When the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill released hundreds of thousands of pages of documents gathered during an independent investigation into academic fraud involving faculty, staff and student athletes, Dukes turned to the search method of DocumentCloud’s API to build a web application that let users find and read documents by keyword or key people in the investigation.
“We wanted to build something to allow users to browse and search hundreds of thousands of pages of documents all in one place,” Dukes said. “DocumentCloud’s existing embeddable search was close, but because the documents were arbitrarily spread across hundreds of batches, I was concerned it would be too confusing for the average user.
“The API allowed us to very quickly prototype and roll out exactly what we wanted for this very specific circumstance,” he said. “We used the API to pull every page from documents stored in a single project and display them in an intuitive application that allows users to read page by page (or even random pages) or search everything at once. We’ve updated the application twice now, and we’re currently up to 680,000 pages and counting.”
Dukes’ project is one of several in recent months that have used our API or components to give readers custom search and viewing, including a Wall Street Journal application to let readers tag Hillary Clinton’s emails and La Nacion’s election crowdsourcing application VozData.
Starting this week, DocumentCloud notes are sporting a subtle facelift that aligns their type style and color palette with the more modern aesthetic developed for our recently launched page embed.
Improved storytelling is one of DocumentCloud’s aims, and weaving notes into a story can build a stronger narrative. For example, the Chicago Tribune recently reported details on when aides to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel became aware of facts in the police shooting of Laquan McDonald. Reporters placed notes at key points in the story to highlight portions of emails, calendar items and other documents showing when officials discussed the shooting.
Oregon Public Broadcasting also used notes to highlight phrases in potentially confusing earthquake insurance policies. By weaving notes into the story, readers could quickly view the specific contract language the story discussed.
Our work on notes and pages is leading towards improvements to our main document viewer and is part of an effort to improve overall publishing performance. Our code is open source, so if you’re a developer you can follow progress on notes, pages, and our whole platform on Github. As always, we welcome your thoughts at email@example.com.
We’re excited to announce that DocumentCloud’s custom WordPress plugin now features support for Page Embed, our lightweight, responsive viewer. Version 0.4.0 — which includes additional enhancements and bug fixes — is available for download now, and we recommend upgrading as soon as practical.
The plugin makes publishing documents, notes and now pages as simple as dropping a shortcode in your WordPress post. As with documents and notes, the embed wizard in the DocumentCloud workspace generates the shortcode for a page at the same time it creates our traditional embed code. Here’s an example:
For more information on embedding, check out our Help docs.
Our WordPress plugin — as with the entire DocumentCloud platform — is an open-source project, and we welcome your contributions, ideas and feedback! Visit the GitHub repository or get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org
Our goal’s simple: We want DocumentCloud to give you the tools you need to find news in documents and tell stories with them.
At the same time, we’ve been having a lot of conversations to lay groundwork for perhaps our biggest challenge: making sure DocumentCloud has the financial resources to continue its civic mission and develop technically to match our users’ changing needs. What started in 2009 as a great idea has grown up into a full-fledged software product serving thousands of journalists worldwide. In recognition of this, our most recent grant from the Knight Foundation directs us to find ways to generate the revenue needed to ensure DocumentCloud’s future.
Many of those conversations have been with you — our users. Whether casually at a conference or in a formal interview by phone, we’ve talked with reporters, web producers, editors and application developers to find out how you use DocumentCloud, the features you like best, the improvements you’d like, and — relative to DocumentCloud’s sustainability — the extent to which newsrooms value DocumentCloud and would consider paying for its services.
We’ve learned some things. We’re glad to know that DocumentCloud remains valuable to you, and if the price is reasonable and our platform’s competitive, there’s a good chance you’ll talk with your managers about supporting us. But you’ve also made it clear that newsrooms are watching budgets more closely than ever, and we need to keep proving our value. We hear you.
We’ve also learned more about you — for example, that DocumentCloud users aren’t monolithic. For some, we’re the go-to tool for amassing and researching hundreds or hundreds of thousands of documents for investigations and news applications. For others, we’re mainly a publishing platform — a great way to enrich stories with notes, complete documents and now responsive pages. We’re happy being both, and we’ve made sure this past year to make improvements to DocumentCloud that serve everyone.
So, out of those conversations — as well as ongoing study of analytics around user and platform activity — we’ve placed several efforts in motion:
We’re developing a pricing model for the platform and will begin charging for certain levels of access at some time in 2016. We’ve yet to land on specifics, but we are committed to providing a free usage tier as well as discounts for non-profit news organizations.
We’ve engaged University of Miami assistant professor Vamsi Kanuri to help us conduct an analysis of DocumentCloud user preferences related to features and pricing. Later this week, we’ll send a survey to a set of DocumentCloud users. If you get one, please help us by completing it!
We’ve been opening DocumentCloud on a trial basis to paying customers from fields including education, research and libraries/archives. Many have long believed that DocumentCloud’s value extends beyond journalism, and the early results are encouraging. We’ll share more about this in the months to come.
Thank you for using DocumentCloud and for sharing your thoughts with us. What we learn from you informs our plans on how to build better tools for making the news.
Also thanks to our advisers, who have shared their thoughts on the business, technology and civics of news. Each has been full of ideas and wise counsel.
On Monday evening, the number of documents available in the DocumentCloud public catalog passed one million. All told, the number of public pages now exceeds 13 million.
These public documents — plus another 1.4 million private documents in our database — represent a lot of your hard work. Often, they’re the result of hours of dogged reporting, persistent requests to government agencies, the scraping of websites, and a determination to treat “no” as an unacceptable answer.
It’s a moment to celebrate. We at DocumentCloud and Investigative Reporters and Editors applaud you. We’re grateful both for your reporting that shines a light and for what, collectively, you’re building along with us. Thank you.
With content consumption continuing to shift to mobile, we’ve been spending a considerable amount of time thinking about how to help our users tell stories with documents across a range of devices. Loading and reading a 50-page PDF on a desktop computer is an experience that, for many reasons, doesn’t translate well to a smart phone. So, what’s a better way to point readers to what matters in a document when it appears on one of your mobile pages?
Today, we’re pleased to announce our first step in moving toward a better mobile PDF experience: DocumentCloud Page Embed. It’s a lightweight, responsive viewer that highlights a single page, along with your annotations, and works across desktop and mobile. It’s available in our workspace right now. Look for “Embed a Page” under the Publish Menu and use the wizard to generate the code. See our Help documentation for details.
Here’s an example of Page Embed showing a page from an investigative report on a fire that injured several firefighters in Northern Virginia. The page has one note highlighted:
Why a page-focused embed? We noticed that publishers often embed simple screenshots of document pages. While easy to use and natively responsive, images deny readers the rich context of an embedded DocumentCloud document: annotations, searchable page text, and of course access to the original source document itself. While our full document viewer offers all these options, it’s overkill for presenting a single page.
Our new page embed strips the cruft from the document viewer and lets the reader focus on the page (and your annotations, if you’ve added any). We know how important mobile has become for document publishing, so we’ve made the page embed natively responsive. The entire interface resizes and changes capabilities with its surrounding context.
Extending across the platform
In fact, we’re so happy with the page embedder, we’re using it as the foundation for our next-generation full document viewer. Our goal is a responsive, extensible viewer with minimal interface chrome that lets readers view the document and your annotations and then get right back into the story. In other words, our focus is keeping their focus on you.
We still have plenty of improvements and additions in the pipeline. We’ll soon add the navigation to all the pages and text in the document, more immersive notes, more customization options, and better performance. We also plan to support page embeds with our oEmbed API and WordPress plugin. You can go ahead and start using it today, but keep an eye on the wizard for new options and capabilities in the near future.
Hello and happy summer! We’ve been busy here at Team DocumentCloud, using the weeks since meeting many of you at IRE 2015 and SRCCON to focus on building a stronger platform and getting in position to ensure the long-term sustainability of DocumentCloud.
There’s lots in motion, and so here’s a quick update on the highlights:
Milestone: 2 million docs
Thank you for keeping us busy! In July, the total number of files uploaded to DocumentCloud passed 2 million, and our platform now holds more than 27 million pages of the documents you’ve gathered. The numbers keep growing as more news organizations join us – more than 1,400 worldwide right now – and as more people use our API for bulk uploads. Keep those documents coming (and we always appreciate a tip at email@example.com if you’re planning a big drop)!
A mobile-optimized viewer embed
Whenever we chat with our users, the most-requested feature for DocumentCloud is a better experience for viewing our embeds on phones. Well, we’ve heard you and have been busy developing documentcloud-pages, a new responsive embed type that displays a page with minimal chrome but also allows navigation through the entire document. We’re aiming to launch an early version in late August or September; if you’d like to contribute code or issues, please visit the project repository. In fact, we’re excited that the folks at La Nacion are already using the new embed in their Doc2Media project.
Get tips and updates in your mailbox!
We’re here to help, and soon we’ll launch two newsletters filled with info on how to get more out of your DocumentCloud account. News & Tips will highlight new features (and ones you might not know about) plus tips for publishing, collaborating and working with documents. App Developers will offer information for developers working with our API or building news apps based on our open source components. Both newsletters also will highlight great uses of DocumentCloud from around the world. You can sign up now.
An OpenCalais update
Since the launch of DocumentCloud, we’ve used Thomson Reuters’ OpenCalais API for our entity extraction. There’s a new version of the API, and we’re migrating to it this month. There won’t be any immediate difference in how we display entities, but we’re looking at whether the new API may offer us some new features. Stay tuned.
Welcome, Clay Selby, to the team!
There’s a new face at Team DocumentCloud’s daily scrum: Clay Selby of Austin, Texas, joined us in July as a part-time developer (thereby doubling our Texas staff). Clay’s the founder of email marketing startup SocialRest.com and brings a good dose of entrepreneurial experience along with his coding chops. Initially, Clay’s been working on moving us to the new OpenCalais API, but he’ll also be focusing on a lot of our back-end processing improvements.
Out and about
We’ve seen many of you in the last few months at various places on the map, from IRE 2015 in Philadelphia – where we held a hands-on class and talked to hundreds who stopped at our table – to SRCCON in Minneapolis. We had the fortune to show off DocumentCloud to students at Medill/IRE’s National Security Journalism Data/Watchdog Workshop in Washington, D.C., and we checked in with a couple of our user newsrooms as well. If we’re in your area and you’d like to get together, let us know!
A sustainable DocumentCloud
Finally, but not least, our current Knight Foundation grant directs us to find ways to make DocumentCloud financially sustainable. Since launch in 2010, thanks to Knight, our service has been offered to journalists for free. In the spirit of improving journalism and making reporting more transparent, we’re intent on maintaining a level of free access to DocumentCloud for journalists while developing a pricing model around features of the platform. In addition, thanks to a new account signup page, we’re hearing from many outside of journalism who’d like to use DocumentCloud, and we’re exploring that option. In the weeks ahead, we’ll be reaching out to many of you to discuss our plans.
Thanks for reading, and as always we have several ways for you to get in touch or follow our progress in several ways:
Good news – or, if you speak Danish, gode nyheder! Starting today, Danish-speakers can set the DocumentCloud workspace to default to their native language, thanks to translation help from Nils Mulvad, editor at Kaas & Mulvad and associate professor at The Danish School of Media and Journalism.
The addition of Danish increases the number of workspace translations to five. Along with English, we also support Spanish (thanks to work by Fernando Diaz), and Russian and Ukrainian (thanks for both to Roman Kolgushev).
Widening our language support remains an ongoing mission at DocumentCloud, part of our commitment to making our platform accessible to journalists around the world. As we wrote in March when we added OCR support for three additional languages, DocumentCloud language support falls into three categories: text search, entity extraction and workspace translation. We also have work under way to support additional languages in the document viewer.
Thanks to recent work by our development team, we’ve made it easier for collaborators to translate our workspace into more languages – and we’re looking for help! If you’re interested in helping bring DocumentCloud’s workspace to your language, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The WordPress plugin – which builds upon an earlier version developed by Chris Amico for NPR’s StateImpact project – adds the ability to embed notes as well as documents using shortcodes. And we’ve updated our embed wizard so it will generate the WordPress shortcodes for you like this:
The plugin is powered by our new oEmbed API. It's our next step in helping you integrate DocumentCloud embed codes into your content management system so embedding documents and notes is as simple as pasting in a URL.
Since 2011, WordPress users have been able to embed documents on their blogs thanks to a plugin created by Chris Amico for NPR’s StateImpact project.
Chris’ plugin let users embed documents with shortcodes by translating the shortcodes into HTML embed codes.
With Chris’ help, and input from Adam Schweigert of the Project Largo team, we’ve released a new version of the plugin that adds:
Note Embeds: You can now embed individual notes as easily as documents. Just pass a note URL into the shortcode with the url attribute.
Raw URL Support: You can now paste the URL for a document or note onto its own line, and the plugin will translate that into an embed.
oEmbed Support: Embed codes are now fetched from our oEmbed service rather than generated internally, so they’ll always be up to date.
Full installation and usage instructions are available on the plugin page.
Note for users of the existing plugin: Because we’re releasing a whole new plugin, prior installations of Navis DocumentCloud won’t automatically update. You’ll have to deactivate/delete Navis DocumentCloud from your site and install the new plugin. Sorry! This should be a one-time process, and future updates will be delivered through the normal WordPress update mechanism.
We’ve added an oEmbed API to make it easier for developers to get embed codes for documents and notes. oEmbed has become a standard for easily embedding Web content, and it has long been one of our users’ top feature requests. Now, instead of having to reverse engineer the format of our embed codes, developers can just send a request to the DocumentCloud API to ask for a correctly formatted embed code.
If you’d like your CMS to support embedding documents as easily as DocumentCloud’s WordPress plugin, you or your developers can read more about our oEmbed service in our API help pages.
DocumentCloud is pleased today to welcome five media and technology professionals to its group of advisers. The expanded group, which includes two of the platform’s founders, will help guide DocumentCloud as it develops new offerings and plans for sustainability.
DocumentCloud, which is a service of Investigative Reporters and Editors, serves thousands of journalists worldwide with tools for organizing, researching, annotating and publishing documents gathered while reporting. The expanded advisory group is one of several efforts under way as part of a 2014 Knight Foundation grant that is enabling DocumentCloud to add staff, improve the platform’s efficiency, and implement new features.
The advisers will help the team weigh questions related to technology, market opportunities, product development and revenue models.
“We’re excited to have a strong group of experts who are willing to share their expertise with us,” said Mark Horvit, executive director of IRE. “Their guidance will play a key role in helping us chart the future of DocumentCloud.”
The DocumentCloud advisers includes:
Penelope (Penny) Muse Abernathy, the Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics at the University of North Carolina and a journalism professional with more than 30 years of experience as a reporter, editor and media executive. @businessofnews
Matthew de Ganon, Senior Vice President of Product Management & Commerce at Softcard, the mobile wallet joint venture of AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon. @deganon
Eric Gundersen, CEO of Mapbox, a leading provider of custom online mapping solutions. @ericg
Jacqueline Kazil, an Innovation Specialist working on cross-agency platforms for the federal government. @JackieKazil
Scott Klein, an assistant managing editor at ProPublica and a co-founder of DocumentCloud. @kleinmatic
T. Christian Miller, a member of the Investigative Reporters and Editors board of directors, is a senior reporter at ProPublica, which he joined in 2008. @txiatianmiller
Aron Pilhofer, Executive Editor of Digital at The Guardian and a co-founder of DocumentCloud. @pilhofer
Biographies of the advisers are available on our staff page.
We’re happy to announce that Justin Reese is joining the DocumentCloud development team. Hailing (and working remotely) from Tyler, Texas, Justin will focus on building the next generation of our platform’s front-end components, from the document workspace to embeds to the overall site experience.
Justin comes to DocumentCloud after spending years translating complicated business requirements into simple, usable web apps for companies such as Essilor Labs and Bon-Ton. We’re excited to have Justin as a collaborator. His work shows a thoughtful consideration of users and attention to detail, and as a contributor to projects such as Hack Tyler he shares DocumentCloud’s eagerness to create software that serves the public good. Justin’s artistry extends beyond software: he also makes short films and tolerable Neapolitan-style pizza (which we expect to taste asap).
The addition of Justin is part of our current funding from the Knight Foundation, a grant intended to expand and improve the platform. Our goal is to make DocumentCloud the best document reporting, research and publishing platform for journalists and those who work with public documents and to also ensure the long-term sustainability of the platform. In addition, we’re eager to continue DocumentCloud’s legacy of making elements of the platform available as open-source components, such as our recent release of PDFShaver. Justin will play a key role in helping us make that happen.
Starting today, DocumentCloud users can choose three additional languages to OCR uploaded documents: Hungarian, Norwegian and Swedish. We’ve added the three based on support requests and feedback we heard during last week’s NICAR conference in Atlanta.
The addition brings the number of languages available for OCR to 17. To see them all, click “Manage account” beneath your user name and click the “New Documents” dropdown under “Language Defaults.”
We believe that journalists around the world should have access to tools that enable better reporting, and growing our language support is critical to that. DocumentCloud’s language support falls into three independent categories (so partial support of your language may be possible):
Text Search: DocumentCloud fully supports Unicode, allowing users to search documents in a variety of character sets. For scanned documents that require OCR, DocumentCloud uses the battle-tested open-source Tesseract engine, which also powers Google Books and is maintained by Google. The open-source community has contributed language packages for many widely used languages, which allows DocumentCloud to enable them on our platform. So, if DocumentCloud does not yet support your language, please reach out and let us know about your interest!
Entity extraction: DocumentCloud supports identifying people, places, organizations and other entities through OpenCalais. As of now, OpenCalais only supports English, French and Spanish. We are evaluating other tools that would allow us to bring entity extraction to other languages.
Interface translation: Accessibility to our tools is more than being able to process non-english documents. Our users have already collaborated with us to translate DocumentCloud’s Workspace user interface into four languages: English, Spanish, Russian and Ukrainian. If you are interested in bringing DocumentCloud to your language, please email us at email@example.com
As of this week, documents uploaded to DocumentCloud will process much faster thanks to a new tool we’ve written called PDFShaver that wraps Google Chrome’s PDFium library.
How much faster? From our preliminary statistics, a lot.
Under the covers, DocumentCloud uses our Docsplit open source library to disassemble documents. Prior to PDFShaver, Docsplit relied upon Graphicsmagick and Ghostscript (GM+GS) to render PDFs and save pages as images.
GraphicsMagick and Ghostscript have served DocumentCloud well, but we’ve had trouble processing some poorly constructed documents that journalists receive from sources — governments, companies and non-profits, for example. Our search for a replacement led us to PDFium, and we found that not only did it solve a number of our issues but it also provided substantial gains in speed.
Testing PDFShaver and Graphicsmagick on 50 documents picked at random from DocumentCloud’s public collection shows that PDFShaver can render documents an order of magnitude faster (here’s our raw data). These data are a preliminary sample, but we’re excited about what it shows about the kinds of speed gains we can make to our processing pipeline. We’ll continue to track PDFShaver and DocumentCloud’s performance as we make improvements, so look forward to more updates!
Rendering PDF pages with PDFShaver & PDFium
PDFShaver works by connecting PDFium to Ruby with a C/C++ extension inside a Ruby gem. PDFium itself is an open source library and the software that powers Google Chrome’s PDF viewer. And aside from taking advantage of the speed and capabilities Chrome’s tools provide, we’re happy to be able to make open source PDF processing easier to access through a programming language such as Ruby.
For example, picking the landscape-oriented pages out of a document and rendering them is as easy as these three lines:
We’re looking for a data engineer to join the growing team at DocumentCloud! If you’d enjoy a chance to help develop the next generation of our service — an open-source civic platform that more than 1,000 news organizations use to analyze, annotate and publish documents for the public good — we’d love to hear from you.
This is a full-time, two-year position with full University of Missouri benefits funded by a grant from the Knight Foundation. We’re a nimble, tightly knit team that works remotely — we stay connected via Slack and video chats — so you can live where you’d like and work flexible hours.
You’ll work on DocumentCloud’s processing pipeline, which makes searching and analyzing document collections accessible to journalists, to improve DocumentCloud’s extraction and analysis capabilities. The pipeline consists of several open source tools wrapped up in our Ruby-based infrastructure (a Rails-driven API and our CloudCrowd parallel processing toolkit). You’ll also play a key role in developing our production API capabilities, especially focused around what information we extract for users from documents and how best to do so.
Our ideal candidate would have the following skills and qualities:
— Independent problem-solver who values learning, keeps current on trends, and knows how to pick the right set of tools for a problem.
— Able to write clean, well-documented code; you know your way around Git, and your Github account shows activity.
— Strong ability to collaborate and communicate with a distributed team.
— Ruby and Rails.
— Experience with Unix-based systems.
— Some knowledge of data science, linguistics, information extraction or search. SOLR experience is a bonus.
— An interest in language and data processing.
— Knowledge of SQL (Postgres preferred).
You’ll join DocumentCloud at a significant time. We’re enjoying widespread use of our platform, and our tools have been used to investigate and publish stories from the grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri, to the Guardian’s NSA spying leaks. We collaborate with organizations such as the Washington Post, The Associated Press and Mozilla’s OpenNews fellows to build better ways to present the news, and you’ll have the chance to be part of the community exploring this intersection of news, data and technology.
To apply, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’re coming to IRE’s annual data journalism conference March 5-8 in Atlanta, be sure to stop by and say hello to the DocumentCloud team!
We’ve made a few ways for you to learn more about the platform, tell us your ideas, and hear about what’s next for DocumentCloud:
— Saturday at 3:20 p.m., join us for a hands-on class, “Reporting and Presentation with DocumentCloud.” Get to know the suite of tools that DocumentCloud offers to help you better organize, analyze and present public documents.
— Sunday at 11:20 a.m. in the Demo Room, we’ll offer “Advanced DocumentCloud: Examples and Suggestions.” Take a deeper dive into DocumentCloud and its API and bring your ideas for features you’d like to see in the platform. Plus, see some of the best uses of DocumentCloud in the last year!
— Throughout the conference, you can find the DocumentCloud team on hand at its booth outside the conference rooms. We’ll be set up to give you a demo, answer questions about accounts and hear how you use the platform.
If you’d dropped into the DocumentCloud workspace in Columbia, Mo., at the start of January, you’d have found at least two things: a team actively avoiding the single-digit temps outside the office and a whiteboard that we frequently filled with ideas, photographed for posterity, erased and filled up again.
We ended up ignoring the temps. The ideas generated enough heat to last us until summer – and beyond!
So, what’s ahead for 2015? We’ve spent the last year researching and reflecting on what you want, both as a buildup to the recent $1.4 million Knight Foundation grant and to make sure you’re as happy as possible with the service. We want to be sure the platform is fast, reliable, and enables you to do your best work.
There’s a legacy to continue. DocumentCloud was founded by and for journalists to support in-depth reporting around public documents. Today, more than 900 news organizations worldwide use the platform. Whether it’s publishing the documents related to doubts about the guilt of a Texas man executed for murder or the grand jury testimony regarding the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., journalists use DocumentCloud to give their readers a first-hand view of the primary source documents they gather.
We plan to build from that success. The DocumentCloud team’s expanding, and we’re locking in a roadmap to grow and improve the platform. We’ve recently hired a director of product development, and we’ve just posted a job description for a front-end developer. With a bigger team and lots of focus, we believe that by the end of the year, you’ll see substantial improvements and expanded offerings that will maintain DocumentCloud’s place as an essential reporting and presentation tool.
So, here are some things we’re going to do to help you:
— Improved processing. If you use DocumentCloud, you upload documents to the platform. You want them processed quickly, without errors, so you can get right to publishing or annotating. Over the last year, we’ve made substantial improvements to our processing cluster and sped up imports of popular documents uploaded by multiple users. And we’re glad that you’re noticing the results. We have more work planned – look for a blog post soon detailing the changes.
— Go mobile. We know (and so do you) that more of your readers view more of your content on their phones. So, we’re planning mobile-specific changes to the viewer to improve scrolling, zooming and the experience in general.
— More storytelling tools. We’re exploring ideas for expanding the display options for the viewer, such as presentation templates, social media sharing, notes displays and more. Many of you have asked for oEmbed support, and we’re looking closely at that!
— Telling DocumentCloud’s story. We’ll bring you more blog posts like this, keeping you up to date on our progress and listening for your ideas. We’ll also tell you more about how to make better use of all the site has to offer — such as deeper search options — and highlight great examples of your storytelling.
— Expanded reach and premium offerings. We want to make sure DocumentCloud is going to be available to journalists for years to come, and one way to do that is for the platform to begin generating revenue. This goal is part of the Knight grant, and so we’ll be exploring options – premium features, opening the tool to additional types of users on a fee basis, donations, and other ideas.
Beyond those, we have many more ideas, among them better feedback on document processing, ability to rotate pages, better organization of the site and workspace, and batch processing options.
That’s a lot to chew in one year, but with our team expanding – and, we hope, with continued contributions from the open source community – we’re pretty excited about the prospects.
You can live where you’d like and work flexible hours. We’re a nimble, tightly knit team that works remotely. We scrum daily and stay connected via Slack and video chats. Our code is open source, so your commits to our Github will be seen by the growing community that depends on our platform.
You’ll join DocumentCloud at a significant time. We build a civic platform that more than 1,000 news organizations worldwide use for the public good, and we value transparency, accountability and the preservation of a free press. Our tools have been used to investigate and publish stories from the grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri, to the Guardian’s NSA spying leaks. We collaborate with organizations like the Washington Post, The Associated Press and Mozilla’s OpenNews fellows to build better ways to present the news, and you’ll have the chance to be part of the community exploring this intersection of news, data and technology.
You’ll be at the center of several of our immediate goals: we plan on improving the experience of reading documents on mobile devices; developing templates for displaying documents; and refreshing our website and user workspace. And we’re interested in your creative input as we navigate DocumentCloud’s path forward.
Here’s what we’re looking for:
In this front end role, you’ll focus on DocumentCloud’s Backbone/Rails components, which let users upload, organize, research and embed documents – making it easy for users to highlight and publish the newsy parts of documents. You’ll develop for desktop and mobile web across browsers, creating a smart, easy workflow for journalists investigating and publishing documents, as well as our readers in the public.
We’d like you to have some or most of these skills and qualities:
— Strong ability to collaborate and communicate with a distributed team.
— Independent problem-solver who values learning, keeps current on new trends, but knows how to pick the right set of tools for a problem.
— Able to write clean, well-documented code; you know your way around Git, and your Github account shows activity.
— Familiar with Ruby/Rails and SQL/databases or willing to dive in and gain enough knowledge to contribute when needed.
I’m excited to announce that Anthony DeBarros is joining DocumentCloud this week. We’ve known Tony for a long time as a DocumentCloud user at Gannett Digital and USA TODAY, where he’s led technology projects and data-driven stories and interactives. Tony will be joining me to lead and manage DocumentCloud’s product efforts as our platform and team grows.
Thanks to a grant from the Knight Foundation, we’re looking forward to expanding and improving our platform. We’d like to find new ways to help journalists with reporting, research and publishing on deadline.The grant also is designed to give us the footing we need to guarantee DocumentClould’s long-term sustainability, so that journalists can continue to rely on the platform into the future, and Tony is going to be an important part of that process.
DocumentCloud is a technology service created to help journalists and improve transparency in journalism. Our platform helps journalists find and highlight interesting information in the primary source documents used in their reporting.
Our document research & publishing platform is used by the likes of the New York Times, ProPublica, the Guardian, NPR, La Nacion, Al Jazeera, Homicidewatch and many more. Journalists have used our tools to support their innovative, award winning and world changing reporting (you can see examples on our featured reporting page).
With the help of a $1.4 million grant from the Knight Foundation, we’re expanding our team so that DocumentCloud can grow as an organization and sustain itself as an effective and efficient tool for our users.
We’re searching for a product manager who has experience working with software development teams. You need to be comfortable with human-centric design processes (even in an informal way). As manager you’ll work with our development team to plan, prioritize and keep us focused on making good products. Together with our team, you’ll be responsible for developing products & features in line with our mission and our goal of generating enough revenue to sustain DocumentCloud.
So, we hope you’ll join us to make great products with an eye to make the world greater too. You’ll be able to join us from wherever you live, as DocumentCloud operates as a distributed organization. Officially we’re based out of the Columbia, Missouri offices of our parent organization, Investigative Reporters & Editors, but we primarily function through Slack, IRC and Hangouts/Skype.
By Tom Meagher, data editor at The Marshall Project,
Emily Yount, interaction designer at The Washington Post,
Matt DeLong, national digital projects editor at The Washington Post
and Ted Han, lead developer at IRE/DocumentCloud
On Aug. 3, The Marshall Project, a new nonprofit journalism organization focused on criminal justice issues, published an investigation in partnership with The Washington Post that revealed new evidence raising doubts about a high-profile Texas execution.
TOM: Our reporter, Maurice Possley, began working on this story months before most of the rest of our newsroom at the Marshall Project was even hired. By the time we were able to start helping, the story was mostly reported, so we dove into the documents to bring ourselves up to speed.
The case against Cameron Todd Willingham — who was executed in Texas for the murder of his three daughters — had been written about extensively over the last 22 years, but a lot of new information was uncovered, and it was all in the documents. We knew we wanted to be able to explore and highlight the correspondence that cast this case in an entirely new light. DocumentCloud was clearly the answer.
In the course of his reporting, Possley, who has covered this case for more than a decade, was given access to copies of dozens of primary source documents that tell the backstory of Cameron Todd Willingham and the informer who helped convict him. In filing its grievance with the State Bar of Texas against the former prosecutor in the case, the Innocence Project had acquired these documents and assembled them into a series of appendices. They gave us eight PDF files that added up to nearly 400 pages. We used DocumentCloud to stitch them all back together into one large file.
We then combed through the appendices and dozens of other records of court testimony and correspondence. As we saw the various typefaces and handwriting styles that made up the key passages, we knew we wanted to use DocumentCloud notes to present excerpts directly in the story.
Matt: I started working on the story in earnest a couple of weeks before it published. We were very excited about having so many primary-source documents to enrich the narrative. The Post has been using DocumentCloud for years, but we’ve long been frustrated by one of its biggest limitations: it isn’t mobile-friendly. This isn’t really DocumentCloud’s fault; these scanned documents are a set size, so when you scale them down, at some point words will become too small to read.
We had seen how the New York Times addressed the problem, by putting up the text and linking to the original document in DocumentCloud. That’s totally logical and fine if the words are all that you care about, but in this case we have official letters and handwritten notes between the characters in the story. The pages themselves are interesting, and many readers will want to see them with their own eyes.
We decided at the outset that however we ended up displaying the documents we included in the story, they had to be responsive. But this meant we’d have to come up with our own hack. Emily and I had both been thinking about this problem individually for a while, and we had some time to work on it, so we decided to try to figure out a solution that we could use in this project.
Emily: At the time of publication, DocumentCloud’s note embed code already resized and repositioned the note based on the width of the DC-note-container div, so I knew we only needed to solve for when the note is wider than the note embed and the right side of the note is cut off (see image below).
The original coordinates, width and height allow us to determine how wide the note is in relation to the document image and resize the document just enough to make the note 100% of the embed, instead of the document image 100% of the embed. This helps with readability by making the text as large as it can be. At times, depending on the width of the note and the size of the text, there will still be readability issues, so cropping the annotations carefully and testing to make sure they are readable is really important.
Here’s an example from the Willingham story of a responsive note on an iPhone 5:
Ted: We were thrilled when Ben Chartoff (OpenNews fellow at the Washington Post) reached out to put Emily in touch with us.
We believe deeply in DocumentCloud as an open source project as well as the service to which journalists post documents relevant to the public interest. Emily and Matt’s motivation to extend the behavior which DocumentCloud already provides and to share their code back is exactly the kind of effort we love to see and encourage.
Technology in the world of news is a means toward the end of better reporting. Especially in competitive industries like ours, an open source ethos around the tools we all share is an avenue for us work together to improve the state of all reporting. Anyone who solves an issue for their own needs can help to solve that issue for everyone.
In that spirit we were excited to incorporate Emily’s code into our own. To do so, we spun our note code off into its own repository to make it easier for anyone to contribute (you can find the code on Github as documentcloud-notes). Then with the Washington Post’s & Marshall Project’s stories as a basis we began incorporating the changes. Ultimately, we ended up rewriting much of Emily’s code in the process, but what she had written served as the design criteria to anchor the code we wrote.
Our responsive notes code is already live on DocumentCloud now, and journalists needn’t take any additional steps to use it. Any embedded note from DocumentCloud will now behave responsively.