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MuckRock and DocumentCloud merge to build tools for a more informed society

Posted
Jun 11th, 2018

Tags
Documents

Author
Aron Pilhofer

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.

Sincerely,

Michael Morisy,
Executive Director, MuckRock
michael@muckrock.com

Aron Pilhofer,
Executive Director, DocumentCloud
aron@documentcloud.org

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