DocumentCloud: Why Talking to People Matters

    by Amanda Hickman
    September 30, 2011

    I hopped down to New Orleans this week, to tell even more journalists about DocumentCloud, a catalog of primary source documents and a tool for annotating, organizing and publishing them on the web, and had the opportunity to sit down with The Lens’ Ariella Cohen and Steve Beatty.

    Steve is doing some great work on a charter school reporting project, covering every New Orleans parish school board and incorporating documents about many of them. Most of what we discussed is what I talk to most journalists about: how they approach their work, what they see as their mission, and the reporting and community information landscape in the places they cover.



    But the conversation veered toward their DocumentCloud pet peeves, including the way that our file uploader automatically strips dashes and underscores from file names to propose a document title, even if those dashes are separating the month from the day from the year in a date in the file name.


    We can fix that (I’m pretty sure we already have), but it reminded me once again that with a project like DocumentCloud (and there are a few such projects in this round of Knight News Challenge winners) there’s no substitute for getting out and talking to people long enough to hear what really bothers them. The smallest things make a big difference in usability.

    P.S. We really love this example of an embedded annotation from the
    Center for Public Integrity. The signatures are part of a longer report on payday lending that you can find here and here.

    Tagged: documentcloud file uploader journalists new orleans pet peeves the lens

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