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July 8, 2015, 10:39 a.m.
Reporting & Production
LINK: product.voxmedia.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Justin Ellis   |   July 8, 2015

Making a beautiful app for news is great; making a beautiful reusable app for news is better. At least that’s the thinking behind a new project released by Vox Media today: Autotune is a system meant to simplify the creation and duplication of things like data visualizations, graphics, or games.

Autotune was designed by members of the Vox Media product team to cut down on the repetitive work of taking one project — say, a an image slider — and making it easy to use elsewhere. It’s “a centralized management system for your charts, graphics, quizzes and other tools, brought to you by the Editorial Products team at Vox Media,” according to the project’s GitHub page. And, yes, that means Autotune is open source.

As visuals and interactives become a bigger part of online media, we’re seeing a new generation of tools to make their creation easier; Quartz’s Chartbuilder is in the same space.

Ease-of-creation takes on greater significance for a company trying to serve the needs of seven different titles. Vox Media is increasingly trying to find ways to share knowledge and resources across its growing properties. One approach has been devising new tools and strategies through hackathons.

How does Autotune work? From the Vox Product blog:

For an editor or reporter, Autotune works like this:
1. You log in to create a project.
2. Choose which blueprint you want to use (e.g. a chart, a quiz, an image slider, or whatever else you can dream up).
3. You plug in the relevant data required by the blueprint. (e.g. a title, a data source, a theme, an image).
4. Publish and grab your responsive embed code.

Ryan Mark, the engineering director for editorial at Vox Media, told me over email that Autotune will let developers focus on the content and output of a tool rather than its functionality.

“It’s hard to go from a one-off, bespoke chart or story package to a tool that makes many charts or packages. It usually means rewriting everything in a different framework or for a different context,” he said. “Autotune enables us to use all the same stuff for building tools and for building one-offs, so we can be much more iterative and rework one-off projects into tools.”

Which means it could become easier for Vox Media sites — or your own site — to swap tools on a regular basis. A data table on college recruiting could wind up on Vox.com. A Taylor Swift headline generator on The Verge could make its way to Eater.

You can get started on cloning your own projects and find out more about how Autotune works here.

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