ask question
Credit: By eleaf on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

New open-source software designed to allow newsrooms to crowdsource information from readers was made available to publishers on request today (19 September) by The Coral Project.

Ask is the second in a trio of products from The Coral Project, a collaboration between The Washington Post, The New York Times, and the Mozilla Foundation.

Greg Barber, director of digital news projects at the Post, and strategy and partnerships at The Coral Project, likened Ask to an enhanced version of Google Forms which allows journalists to request information from readers, such as opinions, personal anecdotes, or suggestions on topics to cover.

"With Google Forms you can ask a question of users and get a series of responses," Barber explained, speaking to from the ONA conference in Denver.

"Then as a news organisation you can take those responses and do something with them.

"What Ask does is it takes care of that 'something' part of it. You can actually curate the responses within Ask and then create a gallery."

The form also has a light moderation console which allows editors to remove responses if needed.

Screenshot courtesy of The Coral Project

The first of The Coral Project's suite of tools, Trust, launched in March. It aims to make it easier for newsrooms to moderate user-generated contributions by focusing on the user’s history of submissions.

The third, Talk – live commenting and comment-moderation system – is due to launch by the end of the year.

All three are designed to work in symphony with one another to make it easier for newsrooms to identify and reward their most engaged users, and those who contribute to the conversation.

At the same time, the three apps will help outlets to give less priority – or even ban – users who are prone to harass and troll others.

"One of the challenges that we've got in managing communities... is that there's no sort of institutional memory around who these users are," explained Barber.

"What we're going to do is provide [newsrooms] the tools that will allow them to see which users have contributed the best stuff over time, as defined by them, by that organisation and their users."

The aim is for community managers to spend less time moderating and "weeding out the bad stuff," and more time highlighting good contributions and creating relationships with readers.

"Then for people who read comments, who consume this content, it makes for a better reading experience," he added.

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).