The Anvil Podcast: Sourcefabric

I’m speaking with Adam Thomas, who is with the company Sourcefabric. They have a project on SourceForge called Airtime which we featured a couple of weeks back on the front page. But they have a number of other projects that are interrelated, and they’re all in the space of journalism.

If the embedded audio player below doesn’t work for you, you can download the audio in mp3 or ogg formats.

You can subscribe to this, and future podcasts, in iTunes or elsewhere, at http://feeds.feedburner.com/sourceforge/podcasts, and it’s also listed in the iTunes store.

Rich: Thanks so much for speaking with us.

Could you tell us a bit about your suite of products, how they work together, and what they do?

Adam: Yeah, sure. I guess I’ll start with Sourcefabric, who make all the products. That’s the organization. Sourcefabric believe in quality independent journalism. We provide news organizations with software, expertise and support to produce quaity journalism online, in print, and on air. So we actually do a little bit more than broadcast. We work with newspapers as well, with big media organizations, with radio stations, and so on. And we offer four tools.

The first, as you said, is Airtime. This is specifically for radio stations.

The second is Newscoop, which is a CMS – a Content Management System – specifically built for newspapers.

We offer a tool called Superdesk, which is still in development. It’s not been released in its public 1.0 form yet. But this is Open Source software to manage an entire newsroom’s content. To manage the ingest process and output of that content.

And then fouthly we launched a tool last week called Booktype, in New York, and this is a collaborative authoring tool for writing, collaborating, and publishing both ebooks and print books.

Rich: That last one was one that really catches my interest. Can you tell me something about that project – what sort of formats it outputs, and what the collaboration process is? I think I might be getting a little bit sidetracked here, but that really caught my attention.

Adam: That’s no problem. You wouldn’t be the only one recently. We were featured on the front page of Forbes, ReadWriteWeb, we were kind of everywhere last week after we announced this tool.

Booktype's editing interface

It’s called Booktype, and it’s a free, Open Source platform that produces really beautiful, engaging books for pretty much any format you can think of. It outputs ready for print – print-ready PDF. It outputs epubs. You could push this to Amazon or iBooks if you wanted to. It formats out to HTML. It can push out to PDF of a variety of sources. ODT documents. Pretty much any way of publishing and circulating and distributing your book that you can think of, Booktype will push it out. The main beauty of Booktype is how it works as an editorial suite. It works as a WYSIWYG editor, where you go in and start a book, and you can start typing. And then other people can join in and start working on this book that you’re on. They work together collaboratively through a WYSISYG editor. You can then start to drag and drop chapters, move them around. Organize the content.

It also has a simultaneous way of chatting with people, exchanging text and pictures and URLs, to help you through the editorial and authoring process, which is obviously very important.

And then at the end you get a book.

We’re trying to merge print and digital work flows to produce these really nicely formatted books for any platform or format you can think of.

Rich: That’s very cool.

Back to Airtime – tell us about some radio stations that are using this, and how it assists their workflow.

Setting fades and cues in Airtime 2.0

Adam: Airtime is an Open Source radio automation too. It takes audio, you build shows from them, and then you play them out at certain times. You can also set a live broadcast mode as well. It’s being used by a lot of stations all over the world. One of the biggest stations using it is West Africa Democracy Radio. They’re a trans-territorial radio station. Their headquarters is in Dakkar, Senegal, right on the western tip of Africa. They have 35 partner stations throughout the region. They broadcast online using it. It publishes a schedule online of the things that they’re doing. They do do a lot of broadcasts as well. It publishes a schedule online for them so everyone knows what they’re doing. It helps to stream online as well. They also use a feature that Airtime has which is an automatic upload to SoundCloud, the audio sharing site. That then uploads their shows to Facebook and Twitter automatically, which allows them to get in contact with a very large amount of people in the diaspora, and in West Africa as well. Facebook is very very popular in West Africa. They build conversations with their audiences using this function. So ultimately it saves a lot of time for their technical team, because before they were doing a lot of this stuff by hand and they didn’t get the reach, especially in terms of social network, that they now can with Airtime.

They’re one of our real power users. They’re really pushing the platform to its limits, and we work very closely alongside them.

There’s a few other organizations as well. There’s NationTalk, who are based in Canada. They’re a large national newswire specializing in aboriginal news. They use Airtime to broadcast their news, bulletins and schedules, and network radio stations and audio all over Canada.

We have events and art stations throughout the U.K. using it. Sometimes for festivals, sometimes embedded in cinemas or arts venues.

We have a lot of stations in Poland using it – a really exciting one which I really won’t try to pronounce the name of, because my Polish is terrible. They’re a youth station with 50 young people from the ages of 12 to 18, who decided they didn’t like their local radio station, and they wanted to make their own. They’re using Airtime, and they just got awarded their FM license, which we’re thrilled about. They’re using Airtime both FM and online.

We have the award-winning Resonance FM from London, an arts and talk radio station, and very well respected. I think the Guardian said they were something like the best radio station in the world or something. They use Airtime for all of their alternative programming, which is around ten hours a day.

We see a variety of use cases. Some people really like the collaborative tools that help remote DJs and managers work together online, because it’s all accessed via the web – the schedules and the audio archives. It’s got very rock-solid playout. That’s one of the things we really worked hard on was getting the playout so it would never crash, and that the scheduling and the fading and queueing and all of this kind of stuff was done down to a sub-second precision level. We see a variety of use cases, and ultimately we’re trying to help independent media. It’s all Open Source, it’s all free, and we have a mission of supporting independent media.

You can find them all on our site, actually, which is Sourcefabric.org. We have a whole list of great testimonials from these people who put it in their own words exactly why they use Airtime and why they chose Airtime, which is always nice, because I can say as much as I like about Airtime, but obviously I’m a little bit biased, because I spend a lot of time working on it.

Rich: Tell us about the newspaper CMS product as well.

Adam: Newscoop is our Open Source content management system, and this is to help people build their online news publications. It has a variety of things that make it really specialized for a newsroom. It really tries to meet the demands of modern journalism, and the ability of people to publish things and to share them. The interface is really intuitive. It’s quite quick to learn and train a lot of people on. The templates are an important thing. It’s got a php templating system that we wrote ourselves, and this allows you to do a huge amount with the front end that can be done very flexibly based on the content.

Widget-driven dashboard

It’s totally multi-lingual, both in the back-end and the front-end, so you can access it in your own language in terms of the menus and things like that, and localize it very easily. But also on the front-end, you can run a multi-lingual site that can switch between languages for articles very quickly.

It’s got some really fantastic geolocation tools, which we’re very proud of. The ability to locate news articles onto a map, and then switch between any map system that you prefer – Google Maps, MapQuest Open, any of these kind of things.

You can manage multiple authors, which is very important, obviously, for any newspaper. And these authors can have a variety of user permissions. You can build a very complicated editorial workflow if you want, allowing articles to be pushed between editors and sub-editors and journalists for signing off. And you can also add in authors and guest writers and photographers and people like that into the system as well, and then have them all with their biographies. Manage a whole newsroom staff using it.

It’s really news-optimized. You structure your content in issues, sections, and different article types. Once you begin to configure it you really understand that it’s really very flexible for work flow for anything from five journalists to five hundred.

We find a lot of people, especially running college newspapers, really enjoy it because a lot of newspapers – a lot of smaller, independent newspapers – they don’t have the money to have a full-time Drupal member on their staff, or Joomla. And those CMSes are great for doing a lot of really good things, and a lot of really big sites. But you tend to have to have someone on staff a lot of the time working. I don’t want to start CMS wars, because I really do like those systems, and WordPress is great for what WordPress does, but we really think there’s a specific use-case for Newscoop amongst small to medium newspapers.

We have a variety of use-cases. West Africa Democracy Radio, who I mentioned, before, use Airtime. They also use Newscoop, partly because it integrates with SoundCloud. They can attach their news audio bulletin very easily to their articles from within the interface. We also are used by Tages Woche – they use Newscoop. They are a very interesting Swiss independent organization making big waves in the newspaper world for a really unique way of publishing to both print and online. We have a lot of South American news papers using it, including some of the biggest and first digital newspapers who ever launched in South America and they’ve been with us from a very early stage.

There’s a real variety of people all over Europe, quite a few in the U.S., South America, and Africa, and increasingly in Asia as well we’re seeing more people get interested.

Rich: Finally, tell us a bit about your company, and what services are offered through Sourcefabric.

Adam: We’re a non-profit organization. We’re not for profit, so that’s very important to us. Everything we do is Open Source, and everything we do is free, and always will be free. We really believe that by bringing together communities of the developers, and communities of people involved in either news or radio who have very strong communities themselves, we can get these two communities to work alongside each other to improve what each other is doing, so that the journalists can be telling developers what they really need from a CMS, or from a radio playout system, and vice-versa. Developers can be innovative and show journalists how they can reach new audiences. And obviously sustainability is very important in the media right now.

That’s really our focus, and what we do. We don’t make money off of the software in that sense, although we are offering a pro version of what we’re doing. The first one is Airtime Pro. This is the first one we rolled out, at the beginning of this year, and that’s essentially a cloud-hosted version of Airtime, so you don’t have to worry about installation and setup and configuration if you don’t want to, which is very popular right now amongst event people. Maybe bedroom DJs who want an in-house technician, but they don’t have the money to pay for it. They give over the technical side to us. And we’ll be doing this for Newscoop as well, and our other products.

But also we go in and work with big news organizations, like someone like Tages Woche, the Swiss organization, to really build out new features to the software. To really help them work on their work flows, give them consultation and training and all of this kind of stuff. And they obviously pay us to do that. And they save money themselves, because it’s Open Source, with no licenses. They find that they’re getting a lot of upgrades quicker. But of course the things that we develop for them get rolled straight back into main package and released Open Source to the rest of the community as well.

So through this community Open Source effort, we’re really hopefully strengthening the power of independent media everywhere.

Download the software, and check out the demos. Give us as much feedback as you can. We really appreciate it and we listen to every email and comment and bug report and forum post. If there’s something we can be doing better, let us know. If there’s something your newspaper needs that we don’t have, let us know and we’ll try to make it. Just come support us and give us feedback.

Rich: Thank you so much for speaking with me about this stuff.

Adam: Thanks Rich, it’s been a pleasure.

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