Yesterday Seattle-based news aggregator NewsCloud publicly announced Hot Dish, a Facebook publication featuring headlines from Grist.org that is designed to both provide environmental news and also engage the younger generation in current events. Hot Dish allows Facebook members to share and post their own stories and spread the information to their Facebook network of friends. "The role of traditional media is changing," the Hot Dish site states, "giving you (and your friends) more power than ever to shape both global conversation and global action."
The Hot Dish application is also a contest that will run through May 3, 2009. Facebook users from 16-25 years old may earn points for involvement in the application and personal demonstrations of environmental change. Prizes range from an Arctic expedition to an Apple Macbook to organic cotton t-shirts.
NewsCloud founder and former Microsoft employee Jeff Reifman received a $249,000 grant to launch Hot Dish from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which funds research on improving journalism. Together with University of Minnesota researchers, Reifman will study how incentives and the Internet can be harnessed to connect with younger generations in innovative and effective ways. Reifman says, "The construction of offering rewards is valuable in creating critical mass in a short time period so that we can quickly and economically gather larger amounts of data to study the issue of engaging young people in current events and engaging them in their communities." Research from the experiment will be published later this year.
On his blog yesterday Reifman discussed the role of Hot Dish in the context of the difficulties in the news industry and where he expects the application to fit in online media. Two of the problems he hopes to address with the publication are the disconnection young Americans feel towards news and social issues and how to reach this disconnected audience as the journalism business model changes. "Hot Dish makes the bet that Facebook is a platform with enough longevity to warrant further exploration," he says. "Social networking usage is skyrocketing with young people; so, this is a good place to try to re-engage them in current events."
Reifman does not claim that Hot Dish will solve journalism's problems, as it is primarily an editorial aggregator of news. However, it will provide an easy and fun way to spread awareness of one of society's most important issues by capitalizing on technology and the large Facebook network. "There is likely no single solution but a collection of building blocks," he maintains, "which will support the foundation of journalism in the future. It is likely success will be closely related to how connected and engaged readers feel in news-based communities."