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Posted: December 06, 2010

Slices of Boulder

Digital Media Test Kitchen serves it up

Brooke Wylie

The Digital Media Test Kitchen, hosted by the University of Colorado at Boulder School of Journalism & Mass Communication, has launched what may prove to be a news delivery game-changer, in the form of its new website, www.slicesofboulder.com.

The website, now in beta form, powered by technology partner Eqentia, is believed to be the most thorough web aggregator of the constant flow of news and information about a single city and its surrounding area. Slices of Boulder uses semantic search and text mining, based on a taxonomy created specifically for the uniqueness of Boulder, to track not only traditional news sources but news, opinion and informational content from new online sources, including BoulderBlueline.org, event-listing services, institutions' information feeds, niche bloggers and even Twitter accounts.

Digital Media Test Kitchen Director Steve Outing said that although the site is still quite new, he has seen growth in its Twitter feed (@slicesofboulder) recently. It's too early to judge the traffic success of the website itself.

Because Slices of Boulder is so new, what exactly it will come to mean to Boulder, and to the world of web aggregators, remains to be seen. However, the benefits to students are already clear to Outing.

"From an educational perspective, Test Kitchen projects like Slices of Boulder are about bringing emerging technology with significance to the future of journalism to students so that they aren't just learning about decade-old projects," he said. "People coming out of the J-school need to also understand how emerging technology might impact their jobs."

On one recent day, visitors to slicesofboulder.com could find headlines ranging from, "How to race cyclocross in Boulder" (Colorado Daily) and "CU's Secret Underground" (CU Independent), to "2B: What's It All About?" (The Blue Line) and "Police respond to threats in bathrooms at Boulder High School" (City of Boulder).

The next step in the Slices of Boulder project will be analysis. "The research that is coming next will give us a snapshot of the digital ‘mediasphere' of Boulder as it looks today, and we can track that as it changes over time," Outing said.

Outing stressed the importance of interdisciplinary research, as it is the core of the Digital Media Test Kitchen, and the major link between all of the Test Kitchen projects going forward.

In a blog about the progress of Slices of Boulder on the Digital Media Test Kitchen site, Outing noted that all future projects will share one key characteristic with Slices of Boulder: They will be the result of "Academic innovators and researchers working with private-sector technologists, entrepreneurs, commercial companies and non-profit organizations."

One research project recently begun at the Test Kitchen involves the exploration of new business models for news. Specifically, it will explore "news membership" models as an alternative to the paywalls that have recently been set up by news websites the likes of The Times/Sunday Times of London, and that will be put in place at NYTimes.com in early 2011.

Outing spoke to the hope that such projects can find a solution to help the struggling news business. "The basic idea is to identify emerging technologies that could have an impact on solving news-industry problems and address new opportunities in the future," he said.

"The system is broken and it needs to be fixed. Journalists alone really can't solve a lot of these problems. Journalists, computer professionals, MBAs and experts from other fields need to get together; that will be what it takes to change things."
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Brooke Wylie is a ColoradoBiz intern.

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