Home DocumentCloud Gets Funding to Create Research Memory Bank in the Sky

DocumentCloud Gets Funding to Create Research Memory Bank in the Sky

A team of journalist-engineers from ProPublica and The New York Times has been awarded the Grand Prize in this year’s Knight News Challenge and will receive $700k to build DocumentCloud, a new online knowledge-bank filled with documents unearthed in journalists’ and bloggers’ research and commented on by the public. “While rich source documents are the foundation of investigative journalism,” the DocumentCloud team writes, “too often reporters throw or tuck them away after a story fades, never to be used again.”

This year’s Knight News Challenge winners were just announced this afternoon, nine winning projects will receive over $2 million total to try and change the way the news world works. All of us should benefit from the results.

Media watcher Joshua Benton at Harvard’s Neiman Media Lab said diplomatically today that he thought the applicant pool, winners and prizes were a little disappointing – but several of the projects look pretty exciting to us.

None more so than DocumentCloud. The winning project’s description continues: “DocumentCloud will provide an online database of documents contributed by a consortium of news organizations, watchdog groups and bloggers, and shared with the public at large. Users will be able to search by topic, agency or location. Reporters will benefit from the wisdom of the crowd, which will be able to collaboratively examine large document sets.”

Examination of large document sets and the systematic creation of shared cross-institutional memory with public access online? In concept at least, it doesn’t get much hotter than that. It reminds us of Infochimps, a similar cloud for large sets of data, with programmatic access and user feedback on data quality. DocumentCloud isn’t built yet, it appears, and InfoChimps is going to have a radical relaunch with more complete functionality soon. (We hope not to burst with excitement first.)

These kinds of juicy public banks of information are a big part of what the future of content and application functionality will be built with. Right now we’re stumbling around online in the dark, with no illumination on all the data and documents around us except for cold-start full text or metadata search of what a handful of search engines can find spread out across disparate locations. Hopefully these upstart projects can pull it all off and all of us will be able to do much more informed research in the future. For updates on DocumentCloud, see the project’s Twitter account.

The eight other winners of today’s Knight Challenge include Salon.com co-founder Scott Rosenberg’s proposal to build a neutral site for the public to discuss reporting errors with journalists, Aaron Presnall’s proposal to create an easy-to-use data-visualization tool set, Katrin Verclas’s plan to build a mobile media toolkit to turn anyone in the world into an instant mobile reporter and artist John Ewing’s virtual street corners – a project that puts full size audio and video displays for real-time conversation between people on two different street corners in different locations. Information about all the winners is here.

Disclosure: The New York Times syndicates ReadWriteWeb.

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