Knight-funded news project focuses on easier social media info sharing

By Jessica Durkin

Jeff Reifman sees community engagement quickly evolving online and he has designed an open-source platform to make information sharing easy for publishers of small and medium-sized publications.

“Given what we’ve seen with news organizations is they are too compromised to effectively promote in communities,” Reifman said. “What we’ve seen is that most publishers deliver content and allow readers to comment, what we’re trying to do is expand storytelling and interaction, we think that can drive page views.”

The Seattle-based Reifman is the founder of NewsCloud, a technology project in its third round of grant funding by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. With the latest funding of $190,000 announced this month, the project has changed direction recently to focus on social media news sharing after a hard assessment of its early iteration.

A handful of legacy and new media outlets have partnered with NewsCloud on its turnkey platform for the Web and Facebook – indeed, one of the NewsCloud’s priorities is creating an organized social media presence for news publishers.

Reifman is working with The Washington Post and Boston Globe Facebook and Web sites. Independent hyperlocal news outlet Baristanet is also an early platform tester for its Facebook presence; and Reifman has launched stand-alone community site The Needle in Seattle for a “town hall” style curated and aggregated information feed.

The front-page layouts can accommodate news sections, feeds, a blogs tab, comments and social media integration and sharing.

Reifman said small, independent publishers could run their entire news site on the NewsCloud platform or use it as an extension for interactive features. Reifman said the platform is well-suited to sites with community populations of 1,000 to 5,000 people.

“We think this is the most innovative platform that no one has ever heard of,” Reifman said. “It has a feature set and it’s customizable and we think people should be checking us out.”

Reifman said the next platform release will be a 3.1 version available in the summer. He said programmers are simplifying installation and will continue updates through April 2012, when the grant ends. Developers are invited to work on the Rails-based platform.

Platform installation is free, but general site hosting and tech support costs apply – less than $100 a month. Reifman said he is working with Amazon.com to arrange one free year of cloud hosting for anyone using the platform.

“There are online community town halls where people can share stories, feed stories; multimedia galleries, idea gathering, classifieds, a lending library — everything in the system is completely tied in to Facebook, so if you want to share something you click a button,” he said.

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