Re:Poste is a 3rd party commenting system designed to allow rigorous discussion on the events reported in the media. Conceptually, it is based on the idea of peer review. Articles can be annotated and rated for quality and accuracy by a community of commenters. The best articles float to the top as part of an aggregation system that recontextualizes articles away from their source sites and into event-specific groups. Eventually, these curated news feeds will become fodder for new primary source material as discussions and interviews are introduced into the event feed in response to Re:Poste itself.

Re:Poste deployment comes in four phases: aggregation, interpretation, curation, and deliberation.

Though they all feed off each other by sharing data, each phase of Re:Poste is largely a stand-alone application and they can be deployed incrementally. The aggregation phase is similar to existing services like Reddit or Google News, except that articles are algorithmically (with some pruning from humans) grouped by specific events rather than by category. Given the success of existing aggregators and the twist Re:Poste introduces, phase 1 has value even before the heart of the system is added in phase 2. Pragmatically, the aggregation phase may be the most important piece to Re:Poste’s ongoing viability because it is where brand loyalty can be built and revenue produced.

Phase 2, interpretation, is where Re:Poste begins to really differentiate itself from other systems. A user on any media site only has to click a button–depending on the browser, either a bookmarklet or a plugin will work–and the article in front of them will be reformatted and dropped into Re:Poste’s commenting interface. The transformation is technologically not much different than existing techniques used by the Readability application, but Re:Poste adds functionality in addition to making the site easier to read. Like Readability, the source page doesn’t require any special markup or changes so compatibility is automatic–though it can be helpful to add some semantic markup if the media site decides to explicitly support Re:Poste.

Users have the choice of commenting on an entire article or just a part of it, as indicated by the hierarchical bar to the left of the text. When a user clicks on one of the indicated comment regions the column on the right displays annotations that other users have added to that section. In addition to the text comments, users will have given that comment region a rating for accuracy and completeness (not agreement, though certainly that will influence ratings to some extent). The amount of vertical space taken up by each class is a weighted total of the ratings given to that section of the text; in the example above, the weighted vote says that 72% of users believe that line to be completely inaccurate and 28% think it is more inaccurate than accurate. No true neutral option is given, forcing anybody who want to have a say to choose a position to stand behind.

The commenting system is critical to Re:Poste’s success. A commenting community without regulation will quickly devolve into trolls and flamewars, and the goal of Re:Poste is to apply academic levels of peer review which–snide remarks aside–try to avoid that kind of discussion. To combat this, Re:Poste uses a game-based trust metric. Users adding an annotation are also forced to claim a level of expertise on the subject of the article, ranging from no expertise to special expertise on the specific event in the article. If other credible users find this claim to be bogus and the annotation is inaccurate, the author’s credibility will drop and their influence on overall ratings of other comments and articles will drop as well. Lesser claims of expertise have less severe penalties, but also count less toward the weighted article rating.

Phase 3, curation, brings the rating data generated by comments back into the initial aggregation interface. Now, though, Re:Poste is no longer just a simple aggregator; it reorders headlines and highlights the articles that that best tell the story of the event at hand. No one news organization is privileged over another as individual articles are brought to the fore by the community. Ideally, balance can be found by surveying different media sources and users will find themselves outside of the echo chamber that tends to form around individual news sites.

Phase 4 takes the credibility fostered by the previous stages and leverages it to begin to produce new content focused on an event. With the curated news feed as a jumping off point, new online discussions with experts and principles of a story are held. The results of those discussions are archived and introduced into the event’s news feed, providing new primary source material to lend texture and context to the event.

Each of the four phases is its own semi-autonomous service, taking input data and generating new information about that data.  Since each of them could stand on its own, that is how they will be designed. The four phases are independent pieces of software linked through APIs.  Better yet, since the APIs are open the four primary phases of Re:Poste can be augmented by new interfaces and modules designed by others.  Want a Twitter stream of comments?  Go ahead and build one. Think a specific commenter is full of good information?  Make an interface that filters by author instead of event. Re:Poste’s internal flexibility is also an external asset, so the power of its commenting and trust systems can be applied wherever and however users think they make the most impact.

Re:Poste’s target is not limited to a specific newsroom or journalist; instead, it assumes that journalism is not definitively authoritative and directly addresses the needs of democratic society that journalism is supposed to support. With the modern multitude of news sources, it is possible to gain a larger view of an event than any one source can provide. Re:Poste, while privileging articles from established sources, also subjects them to critique and believes that end users have valuable contributions to make. When all informed voices are heard, everybody benefits.