Poderopedia Uses Public Data to Take on Powerful Interests in Chile

    by Miguel Paz
    December 5, 2012

    The last months for the Poderopedia team have been full of learning, making mistakes, correcting them, and learning again in a never-ending iteration process.

    In the beginning of November, we started our private beta testing with friends and family, fixing bugs and updating the platform in order to release our public beta in December. When we launch, we’ll include feedback tools on our website to gather your ideas and suggestions. We’ll also include basic guidelines on how to create a local chapter of Poderopedia in other countries.

    For those of you who haven’t read our earlier posts on Idea Lab, a brief explanation about the project: Poderopedia is an editorial and crowdsourced data journalism website that uses public data, semantic web technology, and network visualizations to map who’s who in business and politics in Chile. Its aim is to promote greater transparency and to become a tool that helps journalists do better journalism, with richer data, more context, and visualizations that make massive amounts of connections and information accessible to any citizen.


    Our motivation behind this comes from the belief that because information is power, everyone should be entitled to that information in order to help people make more informed decisions; shed light on eventual conflicts of interest; make powerful people, companies and institutions more accountable of their acts; and promote better democracy and transparency.

    This video explains it a little better:

    What is Poderopedia and how does it work from Poderopedia on Vimeo.


    The path we took to get here

    Our intended outcome, as stated in the grant provided by the Knight Foundation is to launch; release open-source code and a platform that can be used by anyone, anywhere; become a helpful tool for journalists; and make connections and information accessible to any citizen.

    In order to achieve these goals, we primarily focused on the following four tasks during the first 12 months of the project:

    1. Building our governing board and core team
    2. Defining the scope of work
    3. Developing the platform that Poderopedia is based on
    4. Creating a sustainable business model

    Getting on board

    The first order of business to get the project off the ground was to file for the creation of the Poderomedia Foundation, which is the governing organization of Poderopedia.org and other online projects about data journalism and the use of open data to promote news innovation, transparency, accountability and democracy in Latin America. We recruited a diverse group of individuals to the board of directors, with deep knowledge and extensive experiences in media, technology, and investigative journalism. We assembled a Board of Advisers to expand the expertise and capacity of Poderopedia. And we built the core team that’s instrumental in delivering all aspects of the project, including content creation, platform development, and business development.

    Do you like it? Users and content validation

    To define the scope of our work and validate our hypothesis, the first big step was to research our future users; to that end, we created a survey to assess what users would like to see. The survey generated responses from 436 people, and the results informed us of the archetypes of our users: the strategic users who come from the communications sector and newsrooms, the secondary users who are developers interested in open source and using Poderopedia’s future API and code for developing new things, and designers/data visualizers who are interested in using Poderopedia’s content to create new visualizations.

    That led us to summarize the characteristics of entities the site covers and the features every profile of an entity must have in its content entry form:

    • Profile
    • Basic information (quick profile)
    • Avatar
    • Short bio
    • Editorial overview
    • Set of Connections
    • Related documents (using Documentcloud)
    • Related sources of information
    • Related entities
    • Visualization map of connections

    It will look like this (click on images to view in full size):




    Under the hood

    Although it was not part of the users’ request, a critical feature — we believe — was to build Poderopedia as a smart database with structured machine-readable information. In June 2012, we released the first version of our ontology, PoderVocabulary, which we use to mark all entities — people, companies, organizations and their connections — in a strict but flexible way. The goal here is to identify and express relations with Linked Open Data. While we’re focused on Chilean political, civic and business leaders, this vocabulary can be used in other contexts with minor or no modifications at all.

    The next step was to try to interrelate PoderVocabulary with other vocabularies of the Linked Open Data ecosystem, in order to make our vocabulary valuable to other ontologies and vice versa.

    To ensure that we deployed the best technology for the Poderopedia platform, we explored and tested several leading systems including Drupal, Python and Django. We also compared systems used by similar websites. We eventually determined that Python and Web2Py best suited the needs of Poderopedia.

    Using Python and Web2Py, we created a basic data management system, or DMS, that allows us to create profiles of people, companies and institutions, and scheme the visualization map of connections, while helping find bugs and issues that need to be fixed:

    Click on image to view in full size.

    The DMS, or lightweight CMS, was built using Bootstrap, Python, Web2Py, and we added our controlled vocabulary for semantic purposes. This system will remain in place until after the launch of the Poderopedia website. Afterwards, we intend to release our new and more friendly admin:

    i-790bfb53a1dfb6d7434f17f68298d594-Persona 3.png
    Click on image to view in full size.

    The metrics

    As of today in our system we have:

    • 2,212 people
    • 844 companies
    • 510 institutions

    and counting…

    With the great help and advice provided by the Knight Foundation team, we continue to work to establish a sustainable business model to secure the financial resources needed for operations in years two and three of the project. This model is based on a) paid customized installments of our platform and consulting b) the development of a paid software-as-a-service data intelligence product that aims to provide a new layer of revenue for media organizations c) new grants from organizations to support the creation of local chapters d) donations from citizens and other private sources e) paid events and workshops.

    awards and accolades

    Two achievements worth mentioning:

    • Poderopedia was one of the 101 selected projects from 37 countries (out of 1,509 applicants) to receive funding in the fifth round of the Start-up Chile program. Start-up Chile is a government program that seeks to attract entrepreneurs with initiatives that are in their early stages and are characterized by their high potential and global vision. Poderopedia will receive seed capital of $40,000. We are the first non-profit open-source project ever to be accepted in Start-Up Chile.
    • Poderopedia is a tech partner for Oxpeckers and NewsStack, two of the recently announced winners of the African News Challenge, and will provide consultancy for customized installment of our platform.

    During the past year, we enjoyed incredible media coverage and received a couple of awesome acknowledgements:

    • Poderopedia was chosen by Netexplo, a global observatory of digital innovations from France, as one of 100 innovative projects in the world for 2012, and…
    • The Next Web nominated this guest blogger as best Chile Startup (co-)founder in the Chile Startup Awards.

    We participated in various conferences to promote Poderopedia, with a few highlighted below:

    Our next post will be to announce our public beta launch. Although this little dream that began as a side project in a newsroom will start in Spanish, we would really like to have you on-board. Subscribe now, follow us on Twitter or Facebook, or drop us an email. We would love to know what you think and if we can collaborate with each other.

    Miguel Paz is a Chilean journalist and founder of Poderomedia foundation and Poderopedia; Knight News Challenge and StartupChile winner ProfUDP.cl; former deputy director @elmostrador and eternal muckraker. His work has been published in two books about the best Chilean investigative journalism.

    Tagged: accountability journalism chile crowdsourcing data bases data visualization latin america open data open source poderopedia semantic web transparency

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