In December 2008, almost a year before Sebastián Piñera was elected president of Chile, the millionaire businessman and politician got together with his closest friends for a small birthday party in his investment headquarters in upper Santiago.
This tight group, which the media has dubbed "Piñera's business West Wing," was composed of Piñera's brother Pablo, CEO of the state bank BancoEstado; his top adviser and current Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter; and seven high-profile businessmen who own some of the biggest investment banks, pension funds, private health care companies, airlines, and TV stations, among other things. Many are also board members in some of the biggest economic groups in Chile. Most went to school together, spend summer vacations with each other, and are in the same gentlemen clubs and think tanks.
When Piñera was elected president in January 2010, his friends were there to greet him. And despite now being entrenched in politics, the president's ties to the business class remained almost untouched. Since then, conflicts of interest have become one of the government's biggest headaches, and Piñera's credibility, according to surveys, is in tatters.
Piñera's business West Wing is just one example of who and what kind of connections Poderopedia intends to keep track of in order to promote greater transparency and accountability in Chile.
Poderopedia will be an editorial and crowdsourced database that visualizes the relationships among Chile's political, civic and business leaders, shedding light on any conflicts of interests, so you can understand why things happen. Crowdsourced information will be vetted by professional journalists before it's posted. Entries will include an editorial overview, a relationship map, and links to sources of information.
SHOW, DON'T TELL
In countries like Chile, as you can see in the slides above, your last name and where you are born define your chances in life, because the elite are very much inbred. All this determines who becomes powerful and influential in the business and political world, usually affecting (for better or worse) the course of public affairs, government decisions, and bills approved in Congress.
Journalism has always been about asking the right questions at the right moment with the best contextual information in order to dig deeper and discover new things that are relevant to the public. But with an overflow of information, it's hard to distinguish between what's urgent and important. Sometimes media companies don't have the time or money for it. Many don`t care. In other cases, editors are just worried about tomorrow and think of developers as the guys who fix their computers.
In this mega real-time data ecosystem, there is a big opportunity for curating, sharing, hacking and linking, as writers Clay Shirky and Jeff Jarvis and others have said so many times. It's a chance to provide filtered content, meta-content and context-driven content to help people understand what happened, why, and who is responsible for it.
Everything has to do with who's connected with whom and how, whether it's a company merger that leaves thousands out of work, the approval of a hydroelectric project rejected by the community, or the decision to pass a bill that will neglect our children's education but will serve corporate interests.
All this data is out there. It's in articles written by journalists, in documents, wikis, and public databases provided by government offices, in studies made by scholars or NGO reports, in information given by whistle-blowers that reaches the hands of citizens. These are the sources Poderopedia feeds on.
Poderopedia is being developed by journalists, programmers, librarians and citizens who aim to publish the most accurate and fact-checked information in order for it to become a daily reference for the media and a helpful resource for academics, NGOs and concerned citizens.
The project is starting in Chile -- thanks to a grant from the 2011 Knight News Challenge -- and after its 2012 launch, it will grow to other countries.
In its initial phase, an editorial team will validate each published entry. But once we open the platform for everyone, collective intelligence will help us validate and detect errors.
Sound too much like a Wikipedia spinoff? Well, sort of. It's Wikipedia on speed with a journalistic twist. Poderopedia double-checks every piece of information from both public and anonymous contributors before publishing it. And besides including typical basic information, Poderopedia focuses on the key newsworthy aspects and historical records of a person, company or institution, digging deep into their networks, with the purpose of letting you have a profound understanding of who's who.
The Poderopedia website and its content will be free of charge, open source, and use Creative Commons license Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike (by-nc-sa).
When we launch Poderopedia in 2012, you'll be able to grab the content and put it in your website using Poderopedia widgets. You'll also be able to quote Poderopedia in any way you want and republish its content on your website or blog, following our Creative Commons license guidelines.
Our next move will be to release Poderopedia's API (application programming interface) for developers interested in making new programs with it. Every line of Poderopedia's code will be released under the open-source GNU General Public License and will be published in our GitHub repository. APIs and documentation will be released on a regular basis to provide you and the news ecosystem with new, exciting tools (by that we mean Information Retrieval tools, Relationship logic software, and more). You'll need to sign up to access our services, telling us basic information, such as how you'll use our platform, and accept our Terms of Service.
A LITTLE Q&A
We've been receiving a number of queries about Poderopedia, so we've put together a brief Q&A to answer some of the most common questions for our Idea Lab readers.
Q: I am developer, journalist, designer, UX/IA, mad scientist, publisher, scholar, citizen, soccer mom, can I help Poderopedia?
A: Yes, please! Send us an email. We always need a hand, and we're really interested in crowdsourcing ideas to make Poderopedia better. If you truly rock at what you do, we'll definitely try to hire you as well.
Q: Will I be able to use your results as a source in my investigation/article?
A: Of course! If you have more questions about it, please email us.
Q: What kind of services will Poderopedia offer for news organizations?
A: Free updated and validated profile databases and several development toolkits oriented to build new storytelling experiences, which allows you to save time and put your energy into other important tasks.
Poderopedia will also have a paid, custom plug-and-play database platform that you'll be able to use with your own content and databases to provide context and new data for your users, increasing traffic and revenue from your own advertisements.
Additionally, our recommendation engine will give you the power to connect your existing databases into our software platform, enhancing your documentation centers or knowledge bases.