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Dec. 17, 2009, 11:30 a.m.

KNC 2010: FollowIndy tries to marry aggregation and geography

[EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re highlighting a few of the entries in this year’s Knight News Challenge, which just closed Tuesday night. Did you know of an entry worth looking at? Email Mac or leave a brief comment on this post. —Josh]

Former Indianapolis Star software developer Chris Vannoy brings something unusual to his News Challenge application: a fully functional site already built on nights and weekends.

FollowIndy is a hyperlocal aggregator, tapping into the vast web of information published through Twitter, Flickr, news sites, and blogs. Its value is in the limits of its geography: The site only targets news and information relevant to Indianapolis. “Unlike a lot of aggregators that sort of cast a wide net, the idea is to get a very small net that’s aiming for a specific area,” Vannoy said. “It’s about getting a full picture of what’s going on in Indianapolis and then providing some context around what people are talking about.”

Once the sources are pulled into FollowIndy, content is automatically tagged and aggregated, which makes it possible to aggregate all material related to arson, apartment complexes, or Peyton Manning.

Aggregating both professional and personal feeds means Vannoy has data to track how stories are pushed by each — if mainstream media is pushing a story that’s then being picked up by personal users, or vice versa. That’s similar to the Media Cloud project of our friends down the street here at Harvard. For instance, here is a visualization of mentions of the word “flu” in the sources FollowIndy tracks. Notice how mentions spike after The Indianapolis Star mentions is around 24 seconds in:

So if FollowIndy is already up and running, what does Vannoy need $100,000 of Knight money for? Vannoy wants to expand the network of sources it tracks (it doesn’t yet include local blogs, for instance), and it needs a variety of infrastructure improvements, such as better autotagging of content. But he believes FollowIndy is a model that can be duplicated in other markets, as he writes in his application:

By focusing on a single geographic area, you can go deep: pulling in blogs…alternative news weeklies, business journals, television stations and Twitter to try to grab every last speck of news. It’s that volume of data that suddenly makes things interesting and makes some things possible. Small-scale trends by geography, what a geographic area is linking to and the like become not just possible, but relatively easy.

POSTED     Dec. 17, 2009, 11:30 a.m.
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