Nulpunt to Give Freedom of Information Some Digital Grunt

Every good design project starts with a problem, and one of the biggest is how to find the key facts in a sea of data. 

A design studio in Amsterdam called Metahaven is developing a product called Nulpunt to do two things: Firstly, it tells journalists and activists when their government has published a document holding information they care about, and secondly it lets users highlight, annotate and share the important sections.

Metahaven say that Nulpunt will integrate with the new Freedom of Information Laws The Netherlands is drafting. The new legislation will demand the publication of vastly more documents produced by government, the public service or private companies working on publicly funded projects. 

It’s great for transparency in theory, but assuming the laws pass and aren’t hobbled on the way through, it’ll mean that the FOI “problem” won’t be about scarcity any more, it’ll be about abundance; how to organize and sift through a vast sea of data. And that’s the problem that Metahaven is aiming to solve with Nulpunt; using key digital characteristics; personalization and socialization.

They’re not the only people to be attacking the problem space: If you’ve got youself a huge document dump you can use Document Cloud to automatically ‘read’ the files for key facts, subjects and dates, or turn to The Overview Project to get a kind of visual table of contents. 

The point of difference for Nulpunt, assuming it gets a release, seems to be that it’s designed to integrate with a specific source of information; namely the Dutch government. Metahaven are keen to launch Nulpunt in more countries, although they have also said Nulpunt will not always be non-profit and commercial free, which is a tough business model to scale.

There’s more on the product at FastCompany Design and The Verge



Somewhere on the long list of new skills and concepts every good journalist needs is “talking to the geeks” (I say this as a confirmed journo/geek myself). If you’ve ever sat in a meeting and nodded wisely when the talk has turned to design or looked at a design budget and thought “holy hell…it’ll take THAT long”, this might be worth a quick look.

User-focused design (aka User Experience Design, or UX) borrows from ethnography, marketing, psychology, and good ol’ fashioned newspaper editing.

A top-flight UX designer for news will understand your audience’s behaviors, what devices they’re using, what their needs are and then boils that knowledge down into defining exactly what your website or app actually is and does.

When you consider that the design process will influence, if not dictate, everything from how many stories get published in a day, their length, how they’re organized, laid out, enhanced with photography, reach mobile devices and social networks, it becomes pretty obvious that designers are good people to understand.



OK, first let’s define some terms. Here, I’m using the label ‘sensor journalism’ to mean the nascent practice of deploying a large number of sensors around an area, taking readings from those sensors then compiling the readings to give an audience a picture of what’s going on in the space.


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