We’re chugging along over at Populous, and getting closer and closer to a public release of our CMS beta and demo. Right now we have an alpha of our CMS we’re using to test and get selected feedback on, and we still have a bit more refinement to do to get things up and running for public consumption.

I’m excited to discuss some of the other projects and features we’re incorporating into Populous. We realized a long time ago that we weren’t going to be able to make a viable platform for online publication unless we included a number of other projects that would help us accomplish some of the functionality we’re looking for.

We are leveraging and incorporating the following open source projects into Populous, which I think all news sites should be taking a look at:

News Mixer and Facebook Connect
Most people who read this blog have heard of News Mixer, so I don’t think I have to explain what it is. At Populous we think it’s the future of commenting on stories, but also a whole lot more than that. Many of the social networking features we were planning on building into our project can be accomplished through News Mixer and Facebook Connect. Basically, when you comment on a story, ask or answer a question, etc it will alert your friends through Facebook.

Initially we were planning on building similar features into Populous, but our original vision was to create a whole separate network on our own site to handle it. That plan had a few problems, but two in particular were too large to ignore: Facebook is ubiquitous on college campuses and it does social networking better than we ever could, and new readers would have to join a whole new network which is an unacceptable impediment.

We realized that using Facebook Connect as a way of authentication for the site, and as a way of giving our readers a robust social networking experience, would almost work better than making the whole thing on our own from scratch. Facebook, we think, will also help drive additional traffic to our site because people who aren’t already on our network will still be exposed to content when their friends interact with it.

Open Calais
One of our more exciting discoveries has been Open Calais, which automatically tags text with names, events, and other important information. The applications for this are endless, but to list a few it will: improve searches, improve suggestions for related content, allow for the easier creation of automatically generated topical pages, and even automatically suggest content for further reading from other sites.

All of this tagging is called “semantic metadata,” which basically means key words are extracted and associated with the content. Yahoo has actually begun an endeavor to index this data across the Web, which means that in the future indexing this data on Populous sites could make them more valuable and searchable to the broader public. The strangest, and most exciting, application for the kind of automatic tagging Calais offers is that eventually newspapers might be able to discover relationships between content on their site they hadn’t thought of before. Because users aren’t creating these tags (though editors will be able to tag stories in other ways) they won’t fit into existing paradigms of news coverage and conventional tagging.

GeoDjango
GeoDjango is a highly complex and powerful application that allows sites to integrate geo-tagged information. As an example of what it’s capable of, GeoDjango can automatically generate google maps with geo-tagged information. In the context of an earthquake in Southern California, readers could submit geo-tagged photos through an iPhone and have them automatically populate a map to show which areas in a city experienced high levels of damage (or not).

It can also be used for real-estate listings, mapping buildings or businesses, mapping crime or city infrastructure, etc. You can even geo-tag video, audio, news stories, or other content to populate on a map so readers could look at stories that were geographically relevant to them.

OpenX
Advertising isn’t exactly my specialty, so I won’t spend very much time here. We spent a while thinking about an advertising solution for Populous, and came to the conclusion that it would be more adoptable by a wider array of news organizations if we simply went with a well known and well supported open source solution. OpenX is powerful and scalable, which means it can do as much for you as you want it to — everything from simply placing ads on a Web site to managing whole networks of advertisers.

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