Online photos have the power to give an issue a face, or break a story within seconds, so a new iPhone application called Completure aims to make news images verifiable and private enough to protect Netizen journalists.
Completure focuses on photos and gives users 60 characters for a title before votes and comments layer on the image as the story develops. To cut through the noise of photo blogging Lebanese developer Mark Malkoun, 26, added a voting feature to the photo application so users can vote for favorite stories. To prevent redundancy photos submitted from a specific event are grouped together.
“The idea is to create a democratized news solution where everyone can create a story in a few seconds by posting a photo and title,” Malkoun said. “We rely less on words than Twitter and make sure the pictures are taken by the iPhone to ensure these are genuine. We don’t have filters like Instagram that play with the picture. We want to keep it as authentic as possible. We have to double check for the content in different ways.”
Every user must geo-tag the location of their photo within 72 hours to ensure stories are not outdated, which also allows Completure to verify whether or not photos are doctored to further personal agendas.
“Usually, the power of a story diminishes the further you are from it geographically,” Malkoun said. “When users open the app, they can view news photos according to their location, most recent upload or what others have voted top news. Top stories are grouped by country, continent or the world as a whole.”
Every good journalist also knows how to protects their sources, so Malkoun wants public input on privacy concerns, such as tagging photo locations on GPS. If users seek some anonymity about their location they could state the photo was taken in Syria, instead of a specific city, for instance.
“This is part of the umbrella of respecting people’s liberties of anyone who wants to submit content,” Malkoun said.
“So far we don’t know exactly how far some governments want to go, but we will go even further to protect people who want to submit content.”
Options to improve anonymity could include leaving out real names, but there is still a need for real names to verify sources. One solution Malkoun is considering could involve keeping real names a secret among a select few Completure staffers, who could stand by the authenticity of photos if they became major international news.
Giving Internet users a vote on content is important in countries with media that is either biased toward governments or that glosses over certain news stories, Malkoun said.
“Most big media corporations out there are imposing what the top stories should be,” Malkoun said. “You may have attempts to abuse a story from all sides. Everyone will try to game the system. Our goal is really to be unbiased and democratized. You have a difference of opinion and you see the whole story. And with the voting you see who is in favor of it and who is against it.”
The same way social media amplified efforts of people with decades-long grievances in last year’s Arab Spring uprisings, Malkoun said that communication potential fueled a tech development boom with his generation in the Middle East. For another example of post-Arab Spring innovation, check out Cryptocat, the encrypted chat room app created by fellow Lebanese programmer Nadim Kobeissi.
As Completure evolves, Malkoun said he will consider encryption for the app, along with features for video, languages besides English and use by other smart phones. To contact Malkoun, reach him on Twitter @Completure or through the Completure home page.
“Citizens are definitely understanding the impact of citizen media and communications,” Malkoun said. “Even in countries that are really not tech savvy the TV networks are talking about Facebook and Twitter more. I think there is a general belief in many Arab countries that it is social media that gave them freedom. Even those who didn’t understand the power of it before cherish it now.”