Building Facebook-Connected Communities with NewsCloud

Jeff Reifman Seattle, Washington @newscloud / @reifman

Jeff Reifman - My Background
• Grew up in Los Angeles, California • Earned Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
– 1991, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York

• Moved to Seattle to work at Microsoft 1991 1999
– Helped launch MSN News and 1995 – 1996

• Built technology tools for NGOs 2001 – 2004
– Supported by grants from Omidyar Foundation

My Background (continued)
• Studied non-fiction writing at University of Washington in evening adult classes 2003 • Wrote freelance features about Microsoft for Seattle Weekly 2004 • Began experimenting with journalism and social media in 2005
– Created a video sharing site with Bit Torrent called – Created a news sharing site called which became NewsCloud

My Background (continued)
• Entered Knight Foundation News Challenge Contest in 2007 unsuccessfully • Began conversations with Knight Foundation about Facebook and journalism • Received first of three grants from the Knight Foundation to support NewsCloud work 2008

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

“Knight Foundation aims to help sustain democracy by leading journalism to its best possible future in the 21st century. We focus on funding Media Innovation, Journalistic Excellence, Freedom of Expression.” -

About Knight Foundation (continued)
• The Knight Foundation has more than $1 billion in assets • It has invested more than $454 million in more than 1,000 journalism and media grants since 1950. • It has invested more than $100 million in new technologies and techniques, including in more than 200 community news and information experiments since 2007 • Its media innovation portfolio seeks to improve public media, discover new platforms for investigative reporting, increase digital and media literacy, promote universal broadband access and support a free and open Web. • Anyone, anywhere can apply for grant funding through its website

Knight Foundation News Challenge
• In five years, News Challenge has reviewed more than 12,000 applications and funded 76 projects for $27 million. • Unsure if it will proceed in 2011/2012 • Past winner includes Russian Alexander Zolotarev for Sochi Reporter
– Won $600,000 USD for pre-Olympics community site –

• Many international projects • More at

Failure is Part of the Strategy
• Many Knight Foundation technology grants fail
– This is expected – Breakout successes like are rare – NewsCloud itself is not yet a success
• No clear example of a successful news partner

• Only a small percentage of entrepreneurs succeed, most fail (95% or more)
– Be willing to fail – Learn from your failures – Try again

• I’d rather hire someone that’s known failure than someone that hasn’t

Knight Foundation Grants to NewsCloud
• 2008 – 2009 Research Grant
– Studied the engagement of young people in news inside Facebook via two NewsCloud applications: Grist’s Hot Dish and The Daily (UofM) –

• 2009 – 2011 Launchpad Grant
– Subsidized the launch of twelve media companies on our NewsCloud Facebook application platform

• 2011 – 2012 Evolution Grant
– Making NewsCloud simple and affordable for everyone

What is NewsCloud’s Facebook software?
• Free, open source software for running Facebook Applications or Facebook Connect websites • Provide online community town hall for a city e.g. Seattle or a topic e.g. Politics • Can extend existing news website with interactive features, user generated content • Facebook identity aids sharing, civility
– Vkontakt integration possible

NewsCloud’s Interactive Features
• • • • • • • • • User generated news links and blog posts Discussion forums Resource directories for organizing links Question and Answers (Q & A) Classifieds & Lending Library Idea gathering Photo and Video Galleries Event Calendar Predictions game

Why is it useful for news organizations?
• Powers a variety of interactive features for building online community
– Essentially, a virtual online town hall with news – Allows readers to interact with you and each other

• Extends storytelling and outreach
– Provides interactive and crowdsourcing features to enhance the story

• New source of page views and revenue
– Viral integration with Facebook and Twitter

• Go beyond Facebook Pages

Limitations of Facebook Pages
• Pages are generic, bland and limited to the functionality Facebook gives you • Your audience will never think of your Facebook page as a great place to come back, nor a great place to start • Pages drive discussions away from your website • No way to monetize them

NewsCloud Platform Features
• • • • • • • • • • Runs inside Facebook & on Web simultaneously Reflects your brand Fully customizable front page Facebook Connect & Twitter Integration Real time notifications Your advertising engine Your stats engine Site maps for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Supports foreign languages Sharable widgets to link from your existing website

Project Status
• Open source code and basic online support is free
– Installs easily in just a few steps – Host for less than $45 USD per month at Rackspace

• Funded through April 2012 by Knight Foundation

What We’ve Learned
• Our research showed that NewsCloud’s kind of application can foster community online and increase participation and engagement in younger audiences
– See, (Hot Dish summary) – Strengthened young people’s news consumption & online interaction – Interest in topic (climate change) increased – The application’s options for participation helped people participate in ways they were comfortable (lightweight to heavyweight) – People expressed themselves in new and different ways

What We’ve Learned (continued)
• News organizations in America are very bureaucratic
– Generally, don’t promote / market their community sites – Difficult to convince them that building community has long term value –

• Now focused on making open source easy for smaller organizations
– E.g.

Success Tips for Your NewsCloud Community
• Promote it a lot in the beginning to seed community! • Dedicate staff to curate the community • Make the application a place for audience participation • Link news stories to the application’s interactive features • Build links into your site navigation • Place widgets from the application on your website • Train and connect everyone in your organization with the application

Links and Contact Information
• NewsCloud Blogs
– –

• NewsCloud’s Social Media Research

• Download NewsCloud’s free open source software

• Follow us on Twitter
– Follow @newscloud / @reifman

• Email us

• Knight Foundation

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