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In Need of a DocumentCloud for Video, Data

Apr 30th, 2010


Amanda Hickman

Cross posted from PBS Idealab.

Brainstorming the next brilliant News Challenge project? I’ve got two for you, and you’ve got until fall to noodle over them.

As the program director for DocumentCloud I spend a lot of time talking to journalists, writers and researchers about what DocumentCloud is and, often, what it isn’t. DocumentCloud is great for documents. It is a repository of primary source texts and a great set of semantic analysis tools for text.

Whether you want to use our annotation tools for reporting jujitsu, as ProPublica did when the subject of an extensive report offered only “no comment” on nearly every question put to them, or to put broken news back together, as the Chicago Tribune did with the former Illinois governor’s attempts to subpoena President Obama, DocumentCloud is great. For documents.

What About Video, Data?

I’m consistently surprised, though, by folks who want to know how DocumentCloud handles video. Or spreadsheets. It doesn’t. I suppose you might want to annotate a spreadsheet. But rows and columns? Functionally, our software has no idea what those are. Same with pictures and sounds.

You’ll need a different name for your project, but I can tell you now that there are people looking for something like DocumentCloud for data and for video.

Data sets are everywhere. Reporters have them, advocates have them. Transportation Alternatives spends a lot of time FOIA-ing data like the location and severity of pedestrian and cyclist injuries on New York City streets. I happen to know them unusually well (my better half has worked there for almost a decade) but they’re not unique. I’ve had similar conversations with reporters all over the country, reporters with interesting data sets and nowhere to put them.

Video confuses me a little more, but it might just not be my thing. Nonetheless, almost every time I give a presentation, whether it is to a newsroom or a conference, someone asks, “What about video?” My answer is pretty simple: no, no video. No plans to support video. Video and audio material is not text, and figuring out a great way to handle audio clips or videos is just not part of our project. But I get asked about it often enough that I can tell you for sure: There’s something there.

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Discuss In Need of a DocumentCloud for Video, Data on PBS’s IdeaLab.