Breaking news
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"Nothing is really news until the news industry says so," says Hong Qu, the programmer and designer behind Keepr. "Someone has to say this is newsworthy and publishable. The New York Times says 'anything that is worth the print'. But Keepr says, lets go back a step, how did something become newsworthy?"

Qu recently received a Knight Foundation Prototype grant to develop this idea and the software to explore it – his answer is social media monitoring tool Keepr.

"Events happen all over the world and there's a lot of noise and chatter of people talking about things," he told Journalism.co.uk. "The news industry cannot cover everything, like the long tail of local events and smaller things, even if you have the internet. You can't make everything the story."

Keepr lets the user search Twitter for keywords on a specific beat or story to find sources, returning media articles, popular and timely tweets and most active accounts on the topic.

"At the moment it's solely mining Twitter data as I feel like that's the biggest win, the biggest benefit for the lowest amount of analysis," explained Qu, although in time he hopes to expand the number of social networks that the platform will integrate with.

"Say I was a crime journalist covering shootings in the US," Qu said. "I can search for shootings and if there's something that's happening you'll find it right away. These are your expert sources. There's eyewitness sources, official sources, expert sources and media sources."

mount kelud keepr
Screenshot from Keepr.com

Searching for the recent eruption of Mount Kelud in Indonesia (above), Keepr displays published pieces "like the Google News feature" on the left; a central column of the developing story with tweets based on interaction and frequency of key words; and the most active twitter accounts on the story displayed on the right.

The same can be seen for yesterday's Brighton bomb scare, below.

brighton bomb keepr
Screenshot from Keepr.com

"My hope is that by making it easier for journalists to use they will turn to it as one of their tools, in addition to Tweetdeck and other social media monitoring software," he said. "Keepr is another resource for them to follow a fast moving news story and maybe as a starting point."

Finding the 'signal in the noise' of social media is a recurring theme for  finding sources. Qu identifies the process as "noise => chatter => rumours => sources => developing stories => news" and hopes that Keepr will be able to streamline the process by highlighting the most relevant and popular tweets around a story.

The homepage is populated by selected breaking news accounts with trending topics displayed below the search bar, but the search functionality is the focus, said Qu, in helping journalists to quickly assess a story, understand what they need to know and who may be relevant to contact.

"By utilising the high frequency and topics that everyone is talking about, you don't really have to know what to look for," said Qu, "but you will gain situational awareness pretty quickly using Keepr for a story that you just jumped into and you may want to get updates on."

UK flood keepr
Screenshot from Keepr.com

"It's really a news notification service," he said, pointing out the automated email alert service at the bottom of the page. "In the future we hope besides email we can enable the functionality of sending a text message or to your Facebook feed or any way you feel compelled to consume that update."

Qu recognises that Keepr is still in a very early stage, hence the prototype grant, and welcomes journalists to test the platform and offer feedback. With a career history involving prominent roles at YouTube, Google and Upworthy interspersed with stints at Berkeley, CUNY and Harvard, he hopes that Keepr will be able to join the journalist's toolbox in an increasingly open digital landscape.

"I think news has already gone open source," he said. "Not the act of writing software for news but that it's like Wikipedia. If someone sees something mistaken then someone can overwrite it or contest it. This liberal atmosphere of open dialogue, open opinions and open conversations.

"In itself, Keepr is agnostic to getting it right. Keepr is a tool that lets the voices be heard."

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