Black Belt Map

Other than appearing in one of the lectures, this image has nothing to do with the post below. It is included because it is completely awesome. Read why in this article.


This week saw the launch of #MozNewsLab, the next stage of this year’s MoJo innovation challenges.  I’m taking part in this because I submitted an older project that I thought had potential to improve intellectual integrity in the media: Re:Poste, which I originally started work on in 2005 but dropped before it could go anywhere due to changes in the web platform that made it impractical.  Basically I was using techniques that were very similar to XSS, and there has been a big push to close those security holes over the last few years.

The problem that Re:Poste was trying to solve has only gotten worse in the intervening years though, and–technological limitations aside–I still believe that the core ideas are useful.  This week Aza Raskin, Burt Herman, and Amanda Cox gave us some great thoughts that spoke to the early stages of launching a project.  What I found interesting is that the one person who didn’t expressly talk about launching a project, Amanda Cox, is the one that I think gave me the most insight into how Re:Poste could be more successful.

As documented here, I went through many of the rapid prototyping and development stages that Aza and Bert discussed in their talks during Re:Poste’s original design phase.  This is the basic interface that I prototyped:

You could get more information by rolling over the icons in the left hand column, but this was pretty much it for the end-user interface (contributors had a few extra buttons).

There are a few basic data visualization aspects here.  The background color of the post shows community approval of that post, while the color of the weeble on the left shows what level of expertise the poster has claimed on the article.  But the interface is intentionally limited: there are no threads (in fact, discussion is not possible at all on Re:Poste because it is intended to focus on responses to the article, not other commenters, so the system only allows one post per person on an article), no options to reorder posts, no names or even account names shown.

There also isn’t any hint of why the data that is shown is meaningful.  In trying to strip down the interface and make the system as clean and neutral as possible, I removed the ability for commenters to make any kind of compelling case for their comment.  I went to a lot of trouble to make a Javascript interface that could load on top of any page on the web in an effort to maintain context, but just putting the the window on the page isn’t sufficient.  It needs to allow interaction with the underlying page, at least give the option to use granular tools to mark up a story, and show what pieces are good or bad.  This interface only tells users a story if they read the red and green comments; instead, it should show the community’s opinion of the story at a glance and include text as more detail.