How They (Almost) Did It: The People’s Production House Reticulator Project

Examining the People’s Production House’s Reticulator Project provides a unique opportunity to unlock a project going through growing pains. When ONA first learned about the project (through our own Jeanne Brooks, a PPH board member), it was moving through the creation and submission process for the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media & Learning Project, which, unfortunately, did not select the Reticulator as one of the winning projects. So what do the folks at PPH think happened? Read on.

Idea

The Reticulator is a website plug-in that encourages users to rate and rank the media they consume. With the ability to rank a piece based on effectiveness, reporting, craft, accuracy, inclusion and collaboration, the Reticulator was poised to be a valuable tool in the fight for media literacy. Created by The People’s Production House, the Reticulator idea managed to work in both cutting-edge technologies and social justice principles.

Marisa Jahn, one of the project leads from the People’s Production House, references the core idea behind the project: “We wanted it to be a peer-to-peer system of evaluation, but one that gives users the information they need to make thoughtful assessments. So the core areas for evaluation have been initially developed by our team of journalists, media makers and educators, but are also open to further development by the Reticulator community itself. Ensuring that the entire framework is participatory is very important to us.”

Innovation

The idea hinges on making journalism more accessible. As comment sections across the internet illustrate, many users are frustrated by the structures of traditional reporting. The Reticulator solves this problem by allowing users to evaluate the stories they consume — and provide valuable feedback for news organizations in the process.

Team

The team was pulled together because of its members’ blend of unique strengths:

Matthew Hockenberry, visiting scientist at the MIT Center for Civic Media, technologist and scholar of supply chain studies and material culture. He is the creator of Sourcemap, a web platform for visualizing supply chains, and Sourcemap.com, an open-source website that offers a suite of tools for companies and individuals to share information about where things come from, what they’re made of, and their social and environmental impact. He has taught supply chain studies and the design of technology at New York University and at MIT.

Connor Dickie, current Mozilla WebFWD Fellow, scientist, artist, inventor and futurist who explores the edge of human-machine communication. He has developed a number of novel computing platforms that augment and share human memory and maximize attention. His interests lie in the creation and dissemination of modern mythologies that will inform and empower future generations. Connor was the Experience Director of the 2008 “Changing the World” youth innovation conference, Technical Director of the “10sec 1bayt” national poetry conference in Tajikistan, and is also the Creative Director and Founder of “kameraflage Inc.”

Marisa Jahn, an artist, community organizer, and writer recognized by UNESCO as leading educator and for her dedication to working with under-served youth. She is the editor of two books about art and in 2009 co-founded REV-, a non-profit organization dedicated to socially-engaged art, design and pedagogy. A graduate of MIT and a 2007-9 critic in residence at MIT’s Media Lab, she is currently the Executive Director of People’s Production House.

A native Texan, Anjum Asharia studied philosophy at Wellesley College where she hosted a weekly radio show at the campus station, WZLY. A social media coordinator and journalist for organizations including People’s Production House and Newsmotion, she has previously worked with the Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights, and the Family Literacy Involvement Program at the Children’s Museum of Houston.

Jahn notes:

The process of conceptualizing Reticulator leveraged Matt’s highly conceptual strategies and socially engaged tech ideation; Marisa’s background as a designer, her involvement as the Executive Director of the journalism non-profit People’s Production House, and her decade-long experience in youth-development/youth-education; Anjum’s expertise in social media, and Connor’s background in creating user experiences and rapid development/prototyping.

Mechanics

Reticulator runs on media participation — reading, evaluating, tagging, and sharing media. Through a progressive, Four Square-esque badge system, users can unlock different abilities and privileges. The rewards can be set by the hosting organization, and can be anything from allowing power users to comment on other assessments up to a free subscription or exclusive content.

Media Makers also have an incentive to sign up for Reticulator; the badge designations set by users signaling the journalist’s competencies are useful to readers and current or potential employers. Since Reticulator is designed to be dynamic system a change in skills or focus would be reflected over time.

Pitch

The People’s Production House chose to pitch the Reticulator to the Digital Media and Learning Competition, which is a joint project of the MacArthur Foundation, HASTAC (the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory), and Mozilla to focus on connected learning experiences. They kept their opening short and to the point:

We are proposing the design and technology for Reticulator, a civic media badge system we submitted in Stage One. By rewarding and evaluating participants’ contributions to accurate, nuanced, and well-crafted journalism, Reticulator aims to provide both a learning environment for advancing media literacy and a platform for networking individuals across the media ecosystem.

Reticulator will track ongoing performances across a set of core civic media competencies and abilities, including: working with others (collaboration); collecting and sourcing data (accuracy); synthesizing different stories and information (curation); creating technically thoughtful stories (craft); breaking new stories (reportage); and highlighting underrepresented voices (inclusion).

Outcome

The Reticulator was not selected. (The winners are here.)

According to Jahn:

We were told by two of the four jurors that they absolutely love our project and they gave us kudos for being ambitious and taking the badge system whole hog to a different level. Most of the groups we are most familiar with were significantly larger than our organization so the scope of what we proposed was ambitious indeed.

We also proposed a large budget of $200,000 (which was the max), which is what it would have taken to build if we were building it on scratch. However, they apprised us at the competition that they were [helping to build] a lot more of the tech than what was originally indicated, so I think our large [financial] request hurt our application.

ONA reached out to the DML competition via email, but did not receive a response with their perspective.