Web app allows media to explore eyewitness news across social networks

By Mike Doel

iWitness uses geolocation data shared by users to pinpoint the location where a post, photo, or video originated. It allows users to see content from a particular location in real time or by specifying a time range. It is expected that this will be particularly valuable during emergencies when people look to share eyewitness news across social media channels.

Designed to be easy to use by anyone, if a user knows when and where something happened or is happening, iWitness will show first-person photos, videos, and messages from people there on the spot, integrating diverse media types in one interface.

The web app was beta tested live during development by the news desks of five US national and regional newspapers. Reporters used iWitness in their daily reporting – identifying what was useful, what was not and what else was needed. New Context worked closely with Adaptive Path to synthesize that feedback and incorporate it into the design, adding new features and shaping the final design.

"iWitness could be one of the most important tools during a breaking news event. Newsrooms are always turning to Twitter to find initial reports from the scene of breaking news and iWitness lets you find those key tweets and photos," said Sona Patel, social media producer for The Seattle Times.

iWitness was designed and built with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation after Adaptive Path submitted the idea for iWitness to the Knight News Challenge, an open competition for media innovation projects.

Adaptive Path brought New Context in to work on the project because of their track record in balancing the latest technologies with proven methodologies. New Context combines elements of extreme programming with behavior driven development to produce high quality, low defect output.

"New Context was an enormously valuable partner for us on this project," said Jesse James Garrett, co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Adaptive Path, and project lead for iWitness. "Their agile approach enabled us to quickly evolve the design of iWitness to best meet the needs of our users, and their technical savvy helped me realize my vision for the product."

New Context developed iWitness as an open source application using Ember, a JavaScript framework. This agile development process rapidly produces functionality with a minimum of waste. Starting with a series of exercises New Context agreed the domain language, key concepts and features before turning the requirements into a discrete set of user stories. Each user story representing a distinct requirement that could be understood or developed in isolation.

This has been a fascinating project to work on and we are very excited to see how it will start to influence the news agendas and news reporting. By using agile methods we have been able to work closely with Adaptive Path and the end user to ensure that iWitness does exactly what they need it to do.

These agile methods follow short bursts of work that allow for rapid feedback and evaluation. Developing in two week cycles or iterations at the end of the cycle New Context review the stories developed during the iteration before getting sign off from Adaptive Path. The firm was one of the first design firms focused on user experience and over ten years has worked at the frontier of UX design, working with hundreds of organizations to define experiences for new products and services, strategically evolve existing ones and integrate experiences across channels.

About the author

Mike Doel is project manager of the new app, at New Context, an agile company specializing in rapid sustainable development of mobile and web applications. Since its launch in 2006, New Context has specialized in the development of mobile and web applications for both startups and Fortune 500 companies.

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