16 May 2009
Our goal with Swift is to provide a crowdsourcing platform for “data triage.” Imagine something like Mechanical Turk used only for tagging news, photos, microblogging and videos. Here's a fun introduction if you are new to Mechanical Turk.
There’s no business model or anything like that — it’s strictly Open Source Nonprofity Goodness(tm). All of the code (rails on github) is released under the MIT Open Source License. Swift is currently a prototype in development using the Twitter Vote Report platform. We are indebted to Dave Troy and Andrew Turner in particular for showing that this can work. For it's first public iteration, expected in the coming month, Swift will focus on identifying people, places and organizations that are influencing the Middle East. This dataset will complement the Freebase.com-hosted Meedan Arabic-English Index.
So, what the heck is Swift, this new prototype software? As a user of Swift you can sit down at an “assembly line” of news and tag it with people, places and organizations. These tags will "resolve" back to "entities" that are represented on Freebase.com. (More to come soon on Meedan's data-relations with Freebase.)
Swift will give you an aggregator's "firehose" of any news (say, news about earthquakes in northern Iraq) then asks you to tag all of the people, places and organizations in that data. You will be able to help correct noise on the line, recognize newsworthy people, and identify influential organizations. All of the sources that are parsed by the Swift "human interface" will be tagged minimally with the location of the events that are being described.
With a little bit of effort (curating a few rss feeds and marking up all the content) it becomes possible to put a very bright light on an emerging part of the web. You can, for example, tag violations of electoral code in an election, as we are doing with Vote Report India, which uses Ushahidi and Wordpress as a platform for grassroots reporting in the month-long Indian election.
Swift hopes to advance international journalism by providing a more relvant interface to the realtime web. By focusing on events as they emerge in real time, and then tagging those links with a tag-suggesting backend we think we can make a very useful tool and news discussion forum.
For Meedan, Swift is ultimately a tool for a team of editors who need to produce interesting content for their digital newsroom. Because it is an aggregator, Swift serves naturally as a listening post as well as a tagging workbench. Rope in a few feeds (such as Twitter search results feed for “election” and "Egypt" ) and then let a few of the wonderful Meedan editors tag the links. The result of this distributed effort can be a rich commons of data about elections or any other public interest story. The key to Swift is that it relies on self-interested teams of editors who are entering data in a structured, simplified way. They are able to contribute easily in their pajamas, because they care, and the software is very simple.
Here is a presentation about Swift presented in Palo Alto at the InSTEDD offices last week:
All of the photos and links can be found on Flickr.