MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIF. — Today at the Googleplex, a group of roughly 200 journalists and technologists are talking about how to create a more perfect union between muckrakers and technologists at CIR’s TechRaking conference. The Chicago Tribune’s Brian Boyer gave a seven-minute ignite talk directed toward “the people who are bosses of people who put data on the web.”

Boyer’s metaphor? News apps are like pottery: It’s supposed to be useable; it’s a craft. Does your mug still work when their’s hot coffee inside? Or does the handle force your fingers to touch the cup, burning your skin and rendering the cup unuseable?

The ¬†questions Boyer’s team asks before approaching every project:

  1. Who are you users?
  2. What are their needs?
  3. What can we do for them?

The example he used was for a nursing home database. The users? People with elderly family members in nursing homes. Their need? They read scary reports about nursing home abuse and want to know if grandpa is going to be OK. What can you do for them? Give them a database so they can search for offenses at Grandpa’s nursing home.

Just because you have location data and time information doesn’t mean you need to build a map and a timeline. In the example above, Boyer had the information for nursing home locations and time of incidents, but that’s not what’s useful for people using the app.

“Our work sings when it helps folks find their own story,” Boyer said. Don’t overdo it for the sake of overdoing it.

His final four points:

  • Craft is useful
  • Fight your urges
  • Know your audience
  • Make useful stuff