16 November, 2009

Gonzo Camp II: Writing Ruby

Thanks to Mark Briggs, the Gonzo Camp II event was well-run and very informative. The event brought together a variety of experts, practitioners and students of journalism. Mark's guidance and inspiration created a fertile environment for the development of a variety of entrepreneurial ideas for journalism.

This camp was less productive in terms of running code demonstrated than the inaugural event, probably because a large fraction of the coders who signed up didn't attend. The poor internet connectivity was also an impediment – the prototype that I developed could have had more functions if I'd been able to test faster and download more code to integrate. Still, it was surprising that I was on the only team (out of 5) to demonstrate a working prototype.

The prototype I built for our team implemented a low-cost paywall targeting community news outlets. It implemented a basic HTTP gateway. I built it by extending Mongrel and adding an entry to my local hosts file to simulate a DNS entry. The result was a paywall erected for lodinews.com that allowed viewing of the paper's home page without registration, required confirmation to view any local news article, and allowed unfettered access to AP articles.

It was disappointing that I didn't get to see how others would approach building a prototype within 3-4 hours. On the other hand, it was very interesting to learn about the ideas that were developed with the influence of students and young journalists.

Thanks to Mark's organization and the event sponsors, there were plentiful tasty refreshments, nutritious lunch and a bountiful after-party. Gonzo Camp was definitely a valuable experience.


  1. We had a working demo because we had the best programmer in the room! I bet we also have the first product to market. ;-)

    On the lessons learned side, there is something to be said for narrowing the focus of your project. Future Gonzocamps should stress the importance of narrow focus so folks still have time to build.

    Mark asked for "demos not memos"

    Next time we ask for "Products not pundits."

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