Software skills, for society's sake
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Software skills, for society's sake

Thursday, 29 March 2007, 05:00 Hrs
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Bangalore: Subramanya Sastry holds a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin but chooses to deploy his software skills for the development sector back home. His tool, NewsRack.in, allows one to track and archive news on the web in easily accessible categories.

Explains Sastry: "Several NGOs, researchers, journalists and others actively monitor newspapers to track issues that they work on or are interested in. NewsRack leverages the potential of web-based newspapers and computers to aid this task."

This simple-to-set-up tool allows anyone to track news and archive it on the web in easily accessible news categories. The archived news allows you to look for patterns and trends in media coverage or to see how the issue has evolved over time.

"It also makes public all the gathered news and cross-references across categories and across all users. This cross-referencing establishes linkages between issues, sometimes throwing up interesting tidbits (for example, an article that mentions how funding for HIV/AIDS was tied in to acceptance of genetically modified foods)," says Sastry.

Even if only a few individuals have currently set up "accounts" for tracking news on NewsRack, since the gathered news is made public, a much wider section can benefit from the same without having to make the same effort.

Today, a whole lot of "development-oriented" news is being tracked via NewsRack.in. It can also track news across some Indian languages like Hindi, Kannada and Tamil.

Several organizations in the social development sector monitor news relevant to their work. They use a time-consuming, costly, cumbersome method that involves newspapers, scissors, gum, files and paper.

"The issue is not that this is manual and laborious. But organizations have a hard time playing catch-up with the task of news monitoring. Web-based news publications can be leveraged to aid their work," Sastry told IANS.

Newsrack.in is currently keeping tabs on a whole range of India-linked concerns, especially the kind of issues that civil society and the NGO sector focuses on.

"(But) any user can choose their focus: both in terms of topic and in terms of news publications. It just happens that a majority of our users have only used Indian news feeds," said Sastry.

To enable the India focus, he had to work on some auxiliary problems like generating RSS (real simple syndication) feeds for news publications that don't provide them (about 20 plus newspapers as of today), plus make the process multilingual to keep track of both English and regional news, he says.

"If you look at the Singur topic or the multilingual-demo topic, this will become clear," he adds.

One untapped potential of newsrack, which Sastry hopes to develop, is its use as a media-watch or media coverage analysis tool.

For example, news about the 1,500 MW Tipaimukh dam in Manipur shows that most of the coverage is only in northeastern news publications.

"This lends credence to the view that issues related to the northeast are usually ignored by the rest of the country, unless the media can find some sensationalism, 'national security', or high-profile actions like indefinite fasts, naked protests, or suicides," he adds.

NewsRack is being used on websites like Friends of River Narmada (narmada.org), Environment Support Group (esgindia.org), Action 2007 (action2007.net) and others.

Sastry developed NewsRack with an independent fellowship from the New Delhi-based Sarai.net organization.

So far, Indian users wanting to keep track of news have used tools like Google News, Google News Alerts, and Topix.net, which don't necessarily have an India-focus.
Source: IANS
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