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Nieman Journalism Lab
Pushing to the future of journalism — A project of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard

The Guardian creates an API for n0tice, its open news platform

Journalists, brands and other companies can now tap into the localized community messaging service.

The Guardian is taking its commitment to open journalism further today, releasing an open API for n0tice, its community messaging platform. Launched last fall, n0tice is an amalgam of several things, a community bulletin board, a classifieds service and a local news wire.

In the same way Twitter asks “what’s happening,” n0tice poses the question “what’s happening near you,” and on any given day that could include updates on Olympics-related road closures, public meeting notices or a recipe for a cocktail to celebrate the queen’s jubilee.

In releasing an API for n0tice, the Guardian is inviting businesses, journalists, and others to find new uses for all of the information residents are searching for and sharing every day. “It feels like we’re sitting on this huge bundle of potential and it’s just a matter of continuing to execute,”Matt McAllister, the Guardian’s director of digital strategy, said in an interview.

It’s probably not a coincidence n0tice asks a similar question to Twitter, both offer a deceptively simple service that has potential to offer more in return. n0tice is your newsfeed, but it’s also your CraigsList. And like CraigsList n0tice is inherently local. If you come to the site via desktop it asks you where you are, on the phone it uses GPS to determine your location. Though most of the n0tice activity takes place in the UK, you can find noticeboards internationally. “We’re certainly working with a new paradigm for users experience, where location is navigation,” he said.

The Guardian sees that as a kind of utility that has value to readers, but also to a broader network of developers who can build new tools, visualizations and applications. They’re launching the API now because they’ve built up a small but active user base and are looking to grow further, McAllister said.

The API can help with that in some ways by exposing n0tice to more people in new incarnations. The Guardian has been using the n0tice API internally for crowdmapping projects, including their coverage of the summer Olympics. As the the games’ symbolic flame makes its way to London, the Guardian is using n0tice to help map the torch route. Using an automated feed of photos and text updates from local n0tice users, those submissions supplement stories and multimedia the Guardian is already producing for the Olympics, McAllister said. “The torch route is quite fun because it just ticks a lot of our boxes,” McAllister said.

At least several of those boxes are marked “open” or “open source,” which is no surprise given the Guardian’s stated commitment to what they call open journalism. n0tice serves many needs, one for the locals as a means of connecting through news or activities, but also a need for the Guardian to continue to show what open journalism means.

The API is a clear invitation for people to wrench on the data coming through n0tice and explore what an open journalism project could look like. The Guardian is using projects like the torch map as an example for what the platform is capable of. McAllister said a company in the UK is planning to launch a branded campaign using the API soon. More than 700 noticeboards have been launched since the project started in late 2011, and most people are still discovering new uses for the platform. Though people are finding new uses for n0tice, McAllister said they’re mirroring habits from other services, essentially as another place to link to a blog or Tweet.

McAllister said the hope is for people to use the boards to cultivate public spaces they share with others. The more boards created, the richer the API becomes. “It comes down to an openness question,” he said. “When you can let go a bit and let a community run with the space you created then amazing things can start to happen.”

This is why the boards offer users a lot of ownership, they can customize their own branding and subdomain. They also can moderate the activity on the board. Another benefit to owners is the potential to make money with their noticeboards through ads, specifically having advertisers pay for prominent placement on boards.

With the n0tice site running and the addition of the API, McAllister said the next part of the trilogy is rolling out an iPhone app. While the site works well in mobile browsers, he said they wanted to create a unique app experience that can take advantage of the relationship between where you are and what’s happening around you. “When you’re holding a device location has much more meaning,” he said.

                                   
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