Tackable works with San Jose Mercury News on crowdsourced photojournalism app

A private company is working in close collaboration with The San Jose Mercury News to build a smart phone app that could put newspapers at the center of a social network focused on photography.

The app, called Tackable, enables people to share photographs tagged with their location and gives editors a way to solicit photos in connection with news events and assignments.

Spartan Daily Tackable app

An early version of the Tackable app is being tested by the Spartan Daily at San Jose State University.

Tackable’s developers are sharing offices with the Mercury News interactive group as they work on features and figure out how the app would fit into the paper’s workflow.

In return, Tackable is building a modified version of the app for the 20 papers of MediaNews’ Bay Area News Group, which includes the Mercury News, Contra Costa Times, Oakland Tribune. (Tackable is working with other newspapers, too.)

One of Tackable’s cofounders, Luke Stangel, said the app is being developed specifically for news organizations. Newspapers are “perfectly poised to run social networks,” he said. “We are excited that journalists are at the core” of this project.

Stangel told me on Thursday that he expects MediaNews to start using the app within two months, with a consumer version available soon after. A beta version of Tackable is available for the iPhone, with an Android version in the works.

How it works

The Tackable team is also working with San Jose State University’s student newspaper, the Spartan Daily, to test a similar version of the app. That one works like this:

  • A news editor or reporter makes a photo assignment that is published to the app.
  • People using the app can accept assignments and submit images via their iPhones. They get “karma” points for completing assignments.
  • Users can submit and share images without an assignment, too.
  • News editors can select photos shared via the app — assignments and others — for use online or in print.
  • Submitted images are geotagged and presented on a map within the app and on the Web.
  • Users can share the photos on their other social networks and comment on them within the app.

In some ways, the concept is similar to Intersect, a Seattle-based social storytelling service. Intersect enables users to organize their stories into story lines that they can tag with a place and time to create an “intersection.” Users can then scroll through other users’ story lines and see if their stories intersect.

Intersect uses an iPhone app too, although the service isn’t mobile-only.

How Tackable could fit into newsgathering

Stangel said newsrooms could use the app to request photos for everything from parades to holiday events to breaking news.

For readers and editors, the advantage of Tackable’s social network, he said, is that it’s based on location, not relationships.

He pointed to the potential for a live stream of images to emerge for a news story such as the uprising in Egypt. “There are certain events [for which] you need to connect with people who are actually there,” not just those commenting on Twitter or Facebook, he said.

So far, the Spartan Daily has based most of its assignments on campus landmarks and events. Each assignment is worth a specific karma score. This week, students who make the app’s leaderboard are eligible for a free doughnut from Psycho Donuts.

Rewards foster participation

Rewards and game mechanics are important because users, especially early adopters, need an incentive to stay engaged with the app. The key to any user-generated-content project is attracting enough of an audience to make the effort self-perpetuating.

“It is a classic problem,” Stangel said. “You need to have content to get users and you need users to get content.”

That challenge is one reason Tackable decided to partner with newspapers. Local newspapers come with built-in audiences, as well as a platform to publish reader-submitted photos — another incentive for participation.

Shared photos can be reproduced anywhere

Readers will be able to follow participating news outlets — or even individual reporters and editors at several different newspapers. Readers can also follow friends and other contributors to monitor the photos and comments they submit.

Once the MediaNews app is rolled out, Tackable will be made available, for free, to any media outlet. And like Twitter, all of the activity on the network will be public, including assignments and photo submissions.

That may pose a concern for editors, considering that anyone could publish photos submitted for a news org’s assignment. But Stangel said the Tackable team believes openness is the only way to make the app’s social network viable.

That openness also raises some legal challenges, as contributors will need to release their photography for editorial use. Stangel said those details are still being ironed out.

The Tackable team believes their app could reshape newsgathering. Imagine, Stangel said, “you can connect instantly with anyone, anywhere on the planet, over something you can see live” on your phone or computer.

“If we can replicate this globally, you will never have to wait for news,” he suggested, “because a citizen journalist [will have] already created it” and posted it to Tackable.

Here’s a video demo of the app:

CORRECTION: The original version of this post misspelled Luke Stangel’s name. It has been corrected.

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  • Anonymous

    Since my earlier message, I’d guess it’s pretty likely now :-).

    Mark Loundy
    Twitter: @MarkLoundy

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Mark. I am not sure if ‘karma’ is a term chosen by the SJSU paper or if it is one built into the app itself. My impression is the two apps (Daily Spartan and Tackable) currently in the iTunes store are being used for A/B testing and are not final versions. So features (and terminology?) may change.

    Damon Kiesow
    Digital Media Fellow

  • Anonymous

    It is (perhaps unintentionally) appropriate that crowdsourced images be awarded “karma” points. So-called “good karma” is actually called “dharma. Karma is the bad side.

    Mark Loundy
    Twitter: @MarkLoundy

  • Anonymous

    I like the part about “karma points” and when you get enough of these you can redeem them for donuts. If only the people who came up with these ideas were paid in donuts, maybe we would have a few more working photojournalists in the field.

  • Anonymous

    Sid -

    I have been reading some of the commentary on PhotoJ forums, but I think many are reading too much into this app. It appears to me to simply be an extension of the citizen journalism “UGC” efforts many media groups already do. I am pretty sure the Mercury News has no intent to replace professional photo coverage with reader images. But, I guess we will have to wait for it to launch to see how it is actually used by newspapers.


    Damon Kiesow
    Digital Media Fellow

  • Anonymous

    Very interesting. Guess I’m sorta a traditionalist, even though I do a significant portion of my work in the online world today. In my mind there’s always a photo editor involved in the requesting, assigning and selecting of photos, but like I said, I’m sorta a traditionalist. And I still like the idea that people who do creative work getting both “karma points” and financial compensation.

  • Anonymous

    Very interesting. Guess I’m sorta a traditionalist, even though I most of my work in the online world. In my mind there’s always a photo editor involved in the requesting, assigning and selecting photos, but hey, I’m sorta a traditionalist. And I still like the idea that people who do creative work getting both “karma” AND financial compensation.