As we watched traffic stats skyrocket last month as newsroom after newsroom uploaded President Obama's birth certificate to DocumentCloud and then embedded it, my reaction was hardly one of joy.
Why on Earth is a birth certificate more interesting than, say, the pages and pages of receipts documenting some outrageous meals (15 steaks, two orders of fish and a lamb chop -- for five people submitted by National Grid to the Long Island Power Authority after their Hurricane Earl cleanup)?
I like to think these are the documents we built DocumentCloud for -- that we're here to give a leg up to reporters scrutinizing spurious spending reports (reporting that prompted a formal state investigation) or documenting patent dishonesty and the unusual lengths one California town went to in order to conceal extraordinary salaries paid to city officials.
Vote of Confidence
Forgive me if I was underwhelmed by all the attention that the birth certificate got. My esteemed colleagues, however, helped me see the bright side of the flurry. For one thing, it was fast. Within minutes, 10 different newsrooms had uploaded the birth certificate and embedded it.
That says a lot: It says that when they have something they know their readers want to see, reporters turn to DocumentCloud. That's a huge vote of confidence in us. Plus, we didn't falter under the weight of the tenfold increase in traffic -- that's solid architecture for you. We built DocumentCloud with the hope that we could improve the way newsrooms share source documents with their readers, and at that, we're thrilled to be succeeding.
Increasingly, DocumentCloud is a resource for breaking news. When the news broke that Osama bin Laden had been killed in a town called Abbottabad, a search for "Abbottabad" turned up some pretty rich stuff, most notably that a former Gitmo detainee led U.S. authorities to the Pakistani town back in 2008.
New Feature Roundup
Meanwhile, we're still listening to our users and looking for more ways to make DocumentCloud easier to use and to help reporters give their readers the documents behind the story.
We're looking forward to seeing what our users do with our new tool that lets you embed a single annotation, and we're excited to watch the great uses newsrooms have put document sets to.
From embedding documents accumulated over two decades spent covering an Oregon commune where things went horribly awry to sharing the documents detailing the Federal Reserve's support for ailing financial institutions, or the background material from coverage of a profoundly embarrassed local philanthropist, reporters seem to be getting the hang of embedding document sets.
So we have a question for the reporters who have been using DocumentCloud already: What would have made this even easier for you?