With the election season coming up fast, it's increasingly difficult to keep track of any one candidate's activity when news, commentary, and quotes are being distributed from hundreds or even thousands of sources.
The solution, at least in the mind of David Gewirtz, publisher and editor in chief of ZATZ Publishing, was to leverage the WordPress platform's content management system and augment it with some custom code to retrieve the flood of commentary and place it into easily accessible categories based on candidates.
His efforts have resulted in the Website, TrackYourCandidate.com.
This isn't the first time WordPress, or for that matter, other CMS platforms like Joomla and Drupal, have been extended for specific purposes. Each of these systems hosts a wide selection of plug-ins that add functionality to the basic system.
In fact, Gewirtz uses one such plug-in, WPRobot, to scan RSS feeds and populate a database with articles. But sifting through the constantly increasing mass of content requires other tools to format, categorize, and select articles appropriate for publication.
Gewirtz, a former computer science professor, explains: "What was nice about this combination is that I could put all my development time into the AI Editor, and the WordPress platform and various plug-ins could do the rest of the work." The AI Editor, short for Artificial Intelligence Editor, is the program Gewirtz created to sift through the accumulated RSS items to detect those that are pertinent to each political candidate.
WPRobot periodically collects items from a series of RSS feeds and adds them to the WordPress database as content items. Once the RSS articles have been stored, the AI Editor takes over and analyzes each article based on a series of criteria. As the AI Editor evaluates each article, it changes the content item's status indicator from “Draft” to either “Trash” or “Published.” In this way only those articles vetted as valid are published.
When I asked Gewirtz about the skill level required to build this system, he told me, "A good programmer could do it, but I'd probably say [the AI Editor] is substantially beyond the entry level."
Of course, not all RSS entries are created, or appear to be, equal. But when you look at TrackYourCandidates.com, you see there is consistency to the entries. This is another function of the AI Editor. As Gewirtz describes it: "If a post manages to make it through all of the AI Editor’s steps, including successfully writing it up as an English-language post (and this involves a large combination of steps to go from terse or incomplete RSS item to complete three-paragraph article and relevant excerpt), the AI Editor then assigns the post to a candidate category, updates the candidate’s newsworthiness metrics for the week, and then eventually sets the WordPress post element to ‘published,’ which is when it goes out to the world."
Aside from delivering a technical achievement that leverages open-source efforts, the site is a great resource regardless of your location or political affiliation. It's still in beta, but definitely worth exploring.
— Scott Koegler was a CIO for 15 years and has been writing about technology for the last 18 years. He is editor of www.ec-bp.org, a newsletter that addresses supply chain technologies, and manages other newsletters at www.YourCompanyNewsletter.com. You can contact him at email@example.com.