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Published on May 6th, 2013 | by EJC


Dutch App Enables Context Curation

This article was written by Gemma van der Kamp, and originally published in the EJC magazine on 1 April, 2013. Republished with permission.

Online information has become abundant, making it sometimes difficult to distinguish robust from frail arguments. Tackling topics such as the Euro crisis or the Arab Spring can prove difficult.  Mattermap, its founders say, can help to solve this problem.

Dutch journalists Petra van Doest and Esther van Rijswijk recognised a marketplace for a tool that sorts and filters the mass information available to the public. So the two recently launched the application Mattermap, a tool that helps scrape, order and publish information in a bright journalistic mindmap.

“The idea is simple,” van Doest says. “Everyone likes structure: we put papers with the papers, pencils with pencils and we like to throw away the things we don’t consider relevant. For me and Esther, the public debate felt as a messy household that needed a clean sweep. And journalists contribute to that; if they do their research for an article, they quickly collect the facts and start analysing but easily forget to give an overview of what already has been said about that topic.”

For more than two years, Ter Doest and Van Rijkswijk worked on a visual infographic that would facilitate the gathering of background information and particular viewpoints about chosen topics. The goal was to make information gathering and consumption easier.

The Dutch Stimuleringfonds voor de Pers granted the two a subsidy as they felt Mattermap could help the reader – who often doesn’t follow debates about certain topics from the beginning – be able to grasp topics more easily and more rapidly. Readers would be encouraged to form an own opinion.

The result is a bright, straightforward journalistic mindmap. The Mattermap creator puts the central issue in a big circle surrounded by boxes with different ideas or perspectives about that issue. Big black lines lead to clouds with quotes, videos and research results that support or illustrate the specific viewpoints.

In a glimpse, one can see various perspectives on a topic. In a Mattermap about the new Dutch King Willem-Alexander, for example: who likes him, who does not and why. In another Mattermap, relevant arguments on whether the Arab Spring has been fruitful or a flop, are clustered. Interestingly, in every cloud, one can add hyperlinks and relevant information about the person referred to, therefore providing context.

Simplifying the Info-trend
Tools for mindmapping and the creation of infographics and visual tools that enable readers to think through complex issues are growing in importance in all forms of media. Comparable to Mattermap are tools such asDebate Graph and Wrangl, both apps that try to visualise ideas and perspectives.

The biggest difference, however, between Mattermap and Debate Graph is that the latter is meant as a working tool to crank up debates and keep them going: little balls with arguments expand into new balls and everyone on the web can add to the discussion.

“It makes a discussion very comprehensive,” Van Rijswijk says, “but loses its survey ability.“

Mattermap is more focused on the audience that has no time peruse hundreds of arguments.“Mattermap keeps it simple, the journalist has done his research, gives an overview of what he found and encourages the reader to think for himself,” Van Rijswijk says.

So far, Mattermap has been well received and several Dutch media outlets have shown interest. The application is free and everyone can create an account.

But Ter Doest and Van Rijswijk are considering creating a paid model, one that would allow a media outlet to change the design to one in harmony with its corporate identity. Currently the Mattermap software is only available in Dutch, but a Quick Start in English is present along with two international Mattermaps.

About the Author:

Gemma van der Kamp is a journalist and anthropologist. After finishing her Masters in International Journalism in London she embarked on a summer reporter trip across Europe for the Dutch journalistic blog De Nieuwe Reporter. She holds a Master degree in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Amsterdam. Her anthropological field research and development work led her to live for short periods in India and Sri Lanka. Her ambition is to pursue a career in journalism and media development. Follow her on Twitter

Photo: Mattermap

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