28 May, 2015

Small Tools

Talk of the tools of the modern media company invariably leads to technology stacks. These will include reverent nods to Vox Media’s Chorus, Quartz hacking Wordpress beyond the reach of mere mortals1, or BuzzFeed’s voodoo for conjuring virality out of the ether. These are great and truly valuable for advancing the conversation about how we publish.

Recently, the newsdev team at The New York Times has been putting together a collection of small tools that are as interesting and possibly as important as the monolithic systems that get so much attention. The latest, Driveshaft, is a simple Ruby-based app that converts a Google doc into JSON, and deploys it to S3. This sounds simplistic (or maybe esoteric) but it’s profound in what it enables: editors can quickly and easily update information in a place and format they are familiar with and confidently publish to the web. Custom apps can be built around these tools, new visualizations can be published quickly, and breaking news infographics can be updated in real-time. These continue to be difficult challenges, especially as the publishing ecosystem expands beyond the web and mobile apps, and small, simple tools help make it possible.

Driveshaft, and siblings like ArchieML and ai2html, are philosophically aligned with an old-school philosophy of software design, that applications should be small, focused, and good at their jobs. A fitting mantra for today’s publishers as well.

  1. This Quora question appears to be genuine.