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Help NPR Plan Our Social Media Activities for the Inauguration

The presidential inauguration is less than a month away and the NPR social media desk is kicking it into high-gear to figure out how we can get all of you involved in our inauguration coverage. We're also looking for some techies who can help make it happen.

After our successful VoteReport experiment last month, in which we work with bloggers around the country and invited the public to submit reports on their voting experiences, we're hoping to do something similar for the inauguration. Some of our partners in the VoteReport project, including Dave Troy of Twittervision and mapping guru Andrew Turner, are volunteering again to help re-purpose the VoteReport tools for the inauguration. We've also got some new folks involved, including American University journalism professor David Johnson, and I'm sure others will come on board in the coming days and weeks.

Among the things we've got in mind:

Inauguration '09 citizen journalism iPhone app. Dave and his colleagues created an awesome iPhone app for VoteReport that allowed users to post audio and text reports online and have them plotted on maps, using the iPhone's GPS capability. We're thinking of adding on to this app so that it could also allow users to attach inauguration-related photos or perhaps even short video clips. One idea that was also suggested was to allow an iPhone user to save their reports on their phone and post them later, in case AT&T's data networks are jammed on January 20th. We're also thinking of giving users the ability to submit their email and phone number so NPR reporters can contact them in case we want to use their audio in one of our stories.

Mobcasting. During VoteReport, Dave set up a bank of telephone lines that allowed users to call in and record a voicemail about their voting experiences and have it posted for all to hear online. Given that not everyone participating in inauguration festivities will have iPhones, we want to do what we can to make sure that any phone line could be used by you to file a report from the field.

Twitter and tags. Many of our VoteReport participants used Twitter as their primary method of sending in reports, and we expect that to be the case for the inauguration. We're planning to track all Tweets that are tagged either #dctrip09 (for people road-tripping to DC) or #inaug09 (for Inauguration Day itself). We'll then be able to display all the tweets as they come in. People can also use these tags when they upload to sites like Flickr, YouTube, etc, so we can aggregate that content as well. (Though you shouldn't use the # sign when tagging on Flickr or YouTube - that's just a quirk of tagging on Twitter.) Of course, we'll have to encourage people to use those tags in order for them to work, so we'll need your help getting the word out.

Texting. For people who want to send a text message but don't have Twitter, we hope to have an SMS shortcode available. Fingers crossed.

Maps, maps, maps. Thanks to the hard work of Andrew, Dave and others during VoteReport, we managed to pull together some pretty snazzy maps of all of this user-generated content as it came in. We plan to do the same for the inauguration, particularly in the week leading up to it, so we can track content submissions from people all over the country as they make their way to DC. One thing I'm hoping we can pull off is tapping into all those users with iPhones, since the GPS capability will make it possible to plot each person's route, see how far they've traveled and explore what they've uploaded. For January 20th itself, we're thinking about setting up a hyperlocal map of DC itself, so you can observe everyone's submissions over the course of the day, no matter where they happen to be around the National Mall. This might be the toughest thing to do in the project, particularly for content that's not submitted with GPS metadata. (Using zip codes as geolocators, for example, won't work to well when zoomed in at the street level.) So we may put together a series of DC-specific tags (#ellipse, #washmonument, #lincolnmemorial, #airandspace, etc) to make it easier to identify who's doing what where. Journalism students from American University will also be volunteering to cover the inauguration throughout the city, so we'll be highlighting their activities on the map as well.

Of course, all of this is going to be one big, messy experiment, particularly given the fact that many mobile network providers are forecasting serious congestion and possible outages due to the huge numbers of people using their phones simultaneously. Nonetheless, we think it's worth the effort, given how many people are planning to be involved in the inauguration. There are going to be lots of stories to tell that week, and we want to give you the tools to help share those stories.

Lastly, we'd love your help building this project. We don't have many resources to pull this off, and everyone is volunteering their time to do this. Dave and Andrew are tech geniuses, for sure, but they can't do it alone given the limited time between now and January 20th. So we're looking for some techies who can back them up. Our biggest need is for iPhone app developers who can help them repurpose the VoteReport app and get it in the App Store as soon as possible, so people will be able to install it prior to their roadtrips to DC. We'll also need some Rails, Google Maps and Javascript gurus. If you're interested in helping, please post a comment below and describe what skills you can bring to the table, and we'll be in touch with you soon. If you're on Twitter, you can also send me a note at @acarvin.

As for everyone else reading this post, we'd love your feedback. Does this seem like a worthwhile effort? Is there anything you liked or disliked about VoteReport that we should take into consideration? Are there any specific features or requirements we should try to work into the project? Please let us know what you think.

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