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IPTC rNews - an example of agile standard development
rNews is a new standard for embedding semantic, machine-readable metadata in web documents. This text, however, focuses not on the standard itself. I want to tell you the story of how we got there in just about a year – tremendously fast, in the world of standards.
The term "agile", referring to software development, has become a buzzword in the technology community since its introduction in 2001 but I have never before seen it applied to standards development.
According to Wikipedia,
Agile software development is [...] based on iterative and incremental development, where requirements and solutions evolve [...]. It promotes adaptive planning, evolutionary development and delivery [...] and encourages rapid and flexible response to change.
Traditionally, work in standards bodies tends to follow the rules of the so-called waterfall model instead. Waterfall methodology promotes thorough up-front research, thorough discussion and feature definition and finally, the design and construction process. Suffice to say, the two models are not compatible with one another: Any sizable project takes years to materialize under the waterfall model.
When the IPTC formed a working group to develop rNews in 2010, we agreed on three guiding principles:
- rNews had to be simple to implement
- the rNews schema would focus only on publishable metadata (i.e., not contain behind-the-scenes and workflow-related properties)
- rNews had to be ready soon
Simplicity. Focus. Speed.
The third requirement was somewhat unusual, compared with much of the previous work the IPTC (or most other standards bodies, for that matter) had done: In standards development, there are rarely deadlines. A standard is ready when it's ready. Obviously, people try to finish their work as soon as they can but if a detail requires further discussion, the necessary time is usually taken. This is because a standard, once approved and published for the world to use, must be reliable. It must allow people and organizations to base their products, processes and projects on without the fear of having to change everything a few months down the road: it's simply an issue of trust.
Simplicity. Focus. Speed. Trust.
It's only apparent in hindsight that in order to achieve all of that, we had to employ many of the methodologies that have come to be known as "agile"
but we did so organically, without an upfront decision or discussion.
To keep it simple, we started with our experience in the industry. We made assumptions. We discussed them, agreed and wrote drafts. We actively sought feedback. We incorporated new ideas, threw old ones overboard, disagreed, discussed some more and made compromises.
We wrote more drafts. We tried implementing our own ideas, ran into walls or little stumbling blocks. We asked for advice, received valuable help and went back to the drawing board again.
Our four guiding principles focused us: we could test any new idea or assumption against them. If a given idea did not further one of these principles or, worse, contradicted it, we killed the idea.
Our speed is also owed to a bit of a coincidence: the core authors behind rNews are only three people and we are all based in the same area. One of the drawbacks of that was that it turned out to be a lot of work for each one of us (in addition to our respective day jobs). But the huge benefit was that we could all quickly join calls, meet in person and
break ties when we disagreed.
We gained the necessary trust by doing all this very publicly. We talked to people, spoke at meet-ups and conferences, blogged and tweeted about it. We were (and continue to be) approachable and we stand behind the work we've delivered.
Shortly before our release date we were approached by Google, Bing and Yahoo, the sponsors behind schema.org (later to be joined by Yandex). We wanted the search engines to endorse rNews. They wanted us to collaborate on schema.org. Both sides understood that a competition between two standards with very similar goals would be a waste of everyone's energy.
The result were some pragmatic decisions and excellent collaboration on both sides. The IPTC's Board of Directors even approved a change in license terms to accommodate the needs of schema.org, a fairly complex legal procedure for an established industry standards body. (Full Disclosure: I am a member of the aforementioned board.)
I think all involved, inside and outside the IPTC and its member organizations, can be rightly proud of how quickly rNews has come this far and how it has been made available to millions of web publishers, many of whom are implementing it via schema.org without any knowledge of the IPTC and its origins.
...I'd like to leave you with. One: if you or your company builds tools and technology for the media or publishing industry or is itself a part of this industry, have a look at the IPTC. They don't bite, they love to work with smart people and they get stuff done. If you have questions about joining, let me know and I'll put you in touch.
The more important one: If you want to define a standard, know your audience and your goals. Define them so you can test against those definitions. Release "betas" and iterate. It doesn't have to take years.
 It's a mouthful, I know. It means that publishers who implement rNews can mark (in a machine-readable way, e.g. for search engines) things like the headline, authors' and editors' names, copyright and usage terms. Better yet, we added powerfully simple ways to mark up the people, organizations, locations and topics that the published text (or photo, video, audio) is about. For more about rNews itself, please check out our extensive documentation at http://rnews.org/ ↩
 http://agilemanifesto.org ↩
 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agile_software_development ↩
 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waterfall_model ↩
 The International Press Telecommunications Council is a global media industry standards body that was formed in 1965 and has since produced numerous standards that are used in the publishing industry and outside. The IPTC is probably most widely known for its Photo Metadata standards. More information is available at http://iptc.org or on Wikipedia (though slightly outdated). ↩
 A few of the people who deserve recognition in this regard: Michael Steidl (Managing Director of the IPTC), Vincent Baby of Thomson Reuters, Jarred McGinnis of the Press Association (PA), Jean-Pierre Evain of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), Jayson Lorenzen of Business Wire and also Raphaël Troncy of EURECOM. ↩
This is a personal post on the occasion of the first anniversary of a good friend's death.
Today it's been one year.
One year since a colleague walked into our newsroom with a look of incredulity on her face when I was just getting into the office and showed me a Facebook post on her phone: "Chris Hondros has died."
It turned out to be the start of an hour-long struggle for actual facts. The message was premature at the time, posted by someone on the ground in Misrata (who was either overly eager to break the news or who might have just misinterpreted what he saw or heard – it doesn't really matter anymore). But as the day went on reality caught up. Chris Hondroshad died. He died, together with Tim Hetherington, from injuries they sustained in a mortar attack while they were covering the siege of Misrata in Libya.
I am not just very good at compartmentalizing, I also have a tendency to check things off and move on if it's clear that I can't do anything about a given situation. That has served me very well over the years but I knew that this particular behavioral pattern also put me at risk to quickly forget and just get back to my routine. And I wanted to make sure I didn't.
Actually, I want to make sure I don't forget (present tense). Justin Sullivan had made stickers with the initials "CH" that now grace a lot of our photographers' computers, including my own. My laptop's desktop picture shows one of Chris' many iconic shots, taken just a few days before his death. And since I've named my computers after cities for the past 15 years or so, last year's new MacBook Air is no exception: If you see a machine identifying as MISRATA in your network, that might be mine.
They might seem silly but it's these little things that make me pause and remember. They make me think of Chris' laughter and his mischievous grin. (For those who knew him, I'm sure you understand why I found both very inspiring.) I am happy to say that I've accomplished both: not letting myself get caught up in questions of "what does it mean" but also not forgetting and simply moving on.
Now I'm looking forward and asking myself: Where do I go from here? How can I do my part to ensure that what Chris has done and what he worked and stood for will not stop?
And that's obviously a lot harder to do than to say. For one thing, it's really hard to define what "that" even is. Chris touched individuals' lives. He helped people, directly and indirectly. He told their stories and showed others like you and me what we couldn't see for ourselves, as photojournalists do.
I never was, nor will I ever become, as good a photographer as he was. So that's a non-starter.
As an editor, I offer advice, support and sometimes shape coverage. That's an option and I've been working in that part of our industry for a number of years. (Although today, I hope to empower the editors on my team to do this more than I do it myself.)
As a business person and an editorial technologist, I see myself as an enabler. One of the guys in the background, in the best possible sense. I provide frameworks for others to work within. Lay foundations for others to stand on and improve upon. Make sure the workflows, servers, databases, data models -- and business models! -- are set up to support telling the important stories of our time.
Is that enough? I don't know. Time will tell, I guess.
My new The New iPad iPad 3 is on its way. The usualsuspects have already written very eloquently about which kind to get and what it looks and feels like, but let me add my own thoughts to the conversation.
I skipped the iPad 2 because I buy these things with my own money and did not use my original iPad quite as much as my iPhone or my MacBook Air -- so I decided to save a few $$$ for once.
But now is the time to upgrade. If you remember the difference between the screens of the iPhone 3GS and the iPhone 4, you'll understand that when Phil Schiller announced the (or rather: confirmed the long-rumored) Retina display on the new iPad, my decision was made.
I pre-ordered my original iPad back in 2010 for delivery on the first day of availability but because this was a very new class of devices I wanted to be prudent and went with the most basic configuration: 16GB Wi-Fi. I can safely say that this taught me one thing over the last two years: get as much memory as Apple offers (or you can afford). Having to decide how to scale down your music and video library and which apps to install (or not to delete) for each trip sucks. Especially if you travel a lot.
Consequently, my iPad 3 is the maxed-out version and I went with built-in LTE this time, too. I haven't taken my original iPad with me on a number of occasions because I knew Wi-Fi wouldn't be available (and tethering via iPhone is still a pain). This time, I want to try out how this additional freedom will change my behavior (or not).
Seeing how the newly optimized apps for the Retina display weigh in in terms of size (after all, doubling the resolution means 4x as many pixels), I still think Apple should have offered a 128GB option. I seriously expect that to be the limiting factor for my new toy, despite the fact that I got the largest one available.
So which apps am I going to put on it when it arrives?
Anything important I missed? respond to @agebhard on Twitter.
Today, instead of hastily finishing one of my own posts in the drafts folder, I want to point you elsewhere. To Greg Campbell's blog and his latest post, Breaking on through. (Greg is an author and many of you know the movie Blood Diamond, which was based on one of his books.) I like these personal accounts and reminders of my friend Chris Hondros, precisely because they're filling in blanks for me as I did not have the chance to know him from way back when...