This was originally published on NYC 3.0, a project that covers in tech start-ups in New York.
Cody Brown thinks he may have stumbled across the “holy grail” in news publishing.
Brown, a senior at New York University and founder of NYU Local, is embarking on a new venture called Kommons. Kommons is a real-time news platform that’s intended for users in specific communities. He’s starting with NYU.
“It’s a culmination of everything I have learned in media so far,” Brown said. “Kommons is a quest for the holy grail in media.”
How it works
The Twitter/Wiki-like platform is in its very early stages and Brown is looking to shape the product through private alpha testing in the coming months.
From a demo of the product you might think that Kommons is a “lite” version of Twitter. But make no mistake, it’s functionality and purpose are quite different.
The platform was built by Brown using Ruby on Rails, which was used to build Twitter, and has a layout familiar to Twitter as well.
A profile page has a stream of status updates, but anything that is @tagged by a user in a status message becomes its own wiki-like page that users can edit and add information to in real-time. This means anything can be tagged and have user-created information attached to it. The function applies to users that are tagged. A user has a short background profile, but other users can attach information about that person. In a lot ways, the identity is determined by the community of users similar to how a bio page functions on Wikipedia.
But Brown argues that Wikipedia pages are overwhelming for a lot of people. The layouts for editing pages on Kommons are very simple in terms of bridging the gap for non-techie users. When a user edits the page, anyone can see the last person who made a change or added something to the page, whether they are tips about a local venue or news about a specific subject in the area.
Brown said a student at NYU could ask a question about what the @events are tonight and users would be able to edit that tag and answer his question.
Why Twitter is not adequate
According to Brown, Twitter has shown us only a “piece” of how real-time news can work. Twitter has also had issues with source verification because user accounts are often not genuine and identity can be difficult to determine, Borwn said. If news reporting in real-time is to improve, genuine identity has to be established. Brown stressed that his site, like Facebook’s-beginnings, is focusing on genuine identity.
“Anonymity leads to platform decay,” he said. On Kommons, everyone is who they say there are. Because the first community on the site (each community has it’s own subdomain, i.e. nyu.kommons.com) is starting at NYU. Each user that signs up has to have an NYU e-mail account to participate.
Also, the wiki-functions make it easier to track news or get information about specific subjects. In Twitter, this is achieved through hash tags. An individual can click on a tag and is then sent to search results of users using that tag. On Kommons, anything tagged with an @ in front of it becomes a one-stop page that can be edited and updated, which may make it easier for users to keep up with news on a topic in the news.
“Imagine a stream of messages coming out of NYU in real-time and you actually know who each person is,” Brown said.
Location and community
Then there is location. Because Kommons is built around a community of users, such as the NYU community, Brown thinks the information will be much more useful for users. It also becomes easier to know who to follow based on the community your are in.
“Twitter is overwhelming, especially for new users,” he said. “You don’t know who to follow and a few people are making a lot of noise. This is offering a better experience.”
Of course, Twitter is working on rolling out it’s own geotagged tweets that might fill the gap for creating location-based real-time information and community. Google’s new Buzz also has a Google Maps layer that allows you to see buzzes from users in your area. But the centralized community pages set Kommons apart and the wiki aspect creates lasting pages of useful information. In a way, the platform combines real-time information with content that is crafted over time in topical pages by its users.
The platform is still in its very early stages. But it’s definitely one to keep an eye on.