Meet FCC Squishify and OpenImage

The Final Projects from #owhack, and Our Wrap-Up Notes

MIT on a glorious June day (Ryan Pitts)

In part one and part two of our #owhack report-backs, we introduced four new projects that emerged from the Hack Day. Today, we introduce the final two and wrap up with our notes from the event’s closing circle.

FCC Squishify

Website:: FCC Squishify
Team:: Dan Schultz, Joanna Kao, Andrew Tran, Matt Carroll, and Andrew Vitvitsky

Dan Schultz, former Knight-Mozilla Fellow and Media Labber, pitched FCC Squishify as a way to accurately summarize the FCC’s “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” for the Net Neutrality regulations presently under consideration with careful reference to the original text. The result of the project is both the summary itself and the beginnings of a tool for annotating other, similarly wordy documents with readable summaries.

Project contributor and Media Lab Future-of-News lead Matt Carroll wrote, about the project’s purpose:

It is hugely important for people to understand what is going on with the open web. A free and open web is important to everyone in America—the Internet is one of the country’s primary sources for innovation and creation, and a huge source of job growth. To have it throttled is a horrible idea and threatens all that creation and innovation. Yet it is difficult for citizens to get good information about the complicated issues at hand. Worse, many people are confused about what is at stake and what can be done. And one of the primary source documents—the FCC report—is written in terrible bureaucrat-ese. There is a lot of good information there that needs to be teased out. We hope the short summaries of what the FCC has written help people have a better understanding of the issues at hand.

Schultz added:

The Net Neutrality conversation is important, but it is difficult to understand what is being said at the primary source level. This interface tries to solve that problem without losing the authenticity of the original document. You can see what was actually said, which means there is blunt transparency in our summarization.

On the tool side of things, this is generally something that we think journalists would benefit from being able to do on any document or argument. A lot of government documents are long and complicated. Squishify makes it possible to convert those into something that is both consumable and credible.

Contributor Joanna Kao joined up because she “liked the idea of thinking up new ways of conveying complicated information. Also, I had some personal interest in the topic of Net Neutrality and knew that I needed to learn more about it to keep up to par on the subject.”

I asked the team what else they wanted to do with the project, and Schultz suggested creating an interface to let people easily create their own Squishify, along with minor UI improvements and more context: “right now if you don’t know what the NPRM is or where it came from, this page loses a lot of value because it just looks like a blog post.” Kao added that the tool specifically offers value for journalists and teachers. You can contribute to the code directly via the project repo.

The FCC Squishify team at work


OpenImage in progress

Repo: https://github.com/briantjacobs/owhack
Team: Brian Jacobs, Yvonne Leow, Ben Chartoff, and Sebastian Kraus

The OpenImage project emerged from a pitch by current Knight-Mozilla Fellow Brian Jacobs, who wanted to find ways of connecting more public-domain imagery to existing databases of content. I asked the team why they did the project and how it helped to strengthen the open internet. Jacobs wrote:

An open web is vitally important as cultural works are increasingly digitized, providing access to books and art from libraries and museums around the world. But this content shouldn’t just be archived. The interactivity afforded by the web is an opportunity to resurface stunning works of public domain content with additional information and context. In the case of Ernst Haeckel’s 19th century illustrations, we’re bringing in modern scientific knowledge and levels of scale to better indicate what’s depicted in each set of illustrations.

Generally, I’m more attracted to science topics than tech issues given the options at the hack day. Specifically, I love Haeckel’s work and want to better understand his species of interest and why he studied what he did. I’m also interested in biodiversity knowledge bases like the Encyclopedia of Life (eol.org), and how they might better integrate or augment classic illustrations to show different facets of organisms while highlight how scientific knowledge has evolved.

Contributor Sebastian Kraus added that he wanted to “show the internet that there’s so much more than Getty images” and added:

There’s tons of public domain imagery out there and it’s not used a lot (yet). We were talking with Dan Cohen from DPLA about this and they’re constantly trying to think about ways they can visualize and contextualize their archive so that people start using it more. […] When I was a bit younger and while downloading stuff on eDonkey I would browse Wikipedia by clicking from one article to the other. It would be cool if many people were attracted to doing the same thing with the stuff that’s on Europeana or DPLA.

Asked where the project was going next and what remains to be done, Jacobs wrote:

Get it online! I want to think about something like this as a framework, if this type of presentation can be applied to other imagery and integrate with APIs for more content. Crucially, I want to make the design of the app disappear, focusing all attention on illustrations themselves.

Kraus added that he hoped to “showcase it as a prototype for a way to use APIs to automatically contextualize specific subsamples of public domain archives. (An online shop for Haeckel themed temporary tattoos would be an obvious next step too. \o/)”

Once the repo goes live, we’ll send an update on @Source—the team is working on connecting elements of the illustrations to their corresponding descriptions and photos, and will be publishing soon.

Notes for Next Time

Sunset on the Charles

From our perspective as organizers, the #owhack event was really encouraging: everyone was focused and collaborative, and we ended up with six really solid projects. As with our previous events, we found the non-competitive model tremendously productive. Multiple participants also noted that they hadn’t considered media hacks and editorial work potential hack day outcomes and were pleasantly surprised by how well those projects played out. We also heard shout-outs to the helpfulness of Tabula for PDF-handling, NPR’s news app templates, and the practice of testing during development, even in a 24-hour event. As always, we are grateful to the participants for making time to work on open code, to the Knight Foundation for funding the work, and to MIT and the Media Lab for their concrete and enthusiastic support over the last three years.

Follow @Source on Twitter for updates when the last couple of project repos go live, and for announcements of our next coding event!





Current page