What Does Apture Mean for Open Government?

On Thursday, May 7, the New York State Senate is set to launch their new Web site. Albany’s King Geek, Andrew Hoppin, and his team have been working on upgrading the online portal for the past few months, creating new ways to display information on government bills and hearings on the Web, as well as training Senators in the art of blogging, Twittering, and generally breaking down the walls between citizens and their elected leaders. The Observer will be there the day of the announcement with more details on the site’s new features.

But once all these New York government officials start making their own YouTube channels and Twitter pages, and documents get out of PDFs and into more reader-friendly formats, what could that mean for news sites? Can they leverage that information to their advantage?

Consider Apture. The New York Times’ Web site recently enabled the new feature on a few of their blogs. In late March, links with tiny icons debuted on Dot Earth, Economix and Diner’s Journal blogs and became “super links.” When users click on them, a little window pops up allowing them to instantly view related photos, YouTube videos, documents, maps, PDF files—whatever was relevant to the link without ever actually navigating away from the page or opening up a new tab or browser window. Check out this Diner’s Journal post, in which writer Indrani Sen created a swine-flu-inspired “Support Pork Week” series by eating the other white meat at El Puente in Wiliamsburg. A little icon next to “El Puente” indicated that it was a “super link” and opens a window of UrbanSpoon.com reviews on of the restaurant.

AdaptiveBlue, a New York–based company, has a similar feature called SmartLinks, which lays out a slew of related materials in their little pop-ups, from Flickr photos to Wikipedia articles.

The “super link” feature is usually associated with sneaky pop-up advertising in blogs and commerce sites (ick!). But it actually makes browsing links within articles a bit easier and makes readers spend more time on the original site, instead of clicking on a bunch of links within an article and getting lost down the Internet rabbit hole while surfing the Web. News sites like NYTimes.com can benefit from keeping readers engaged with their pages for advertising reasons too—it bumps their “engagement” stats.

Apture is a Silicon Valley–based company founded by three Stanford graduates and incubated from Stanford Knight Fellows, a group of distinguished journalists from all over the world, who had ideas on how to improve online news. Steve Taylor, a former executive vice president of The Boston Globe, is just one angel investor that contributed to the $4.1 million the company announced that they received to finance the venture in March.

Apture can be installed as a plug-in on blogging platforms like Blogger and WordPress. But they’ve also made some big-time deals with publishers, including Washingtonpost.com and BBCNews.com. On April 29, Apture announced a new partnership with Reuters.com (see this article on the Ashton Kutcher–Britney Spears–CNN Twitter race as an example).

Last night, on March 5, at the New York Tech Meetup, in an auditorium at New World Stages on West 50th Street, Tristan Harris, Apture’s co-founder and chief executive, explained how the feature can change open government practice with their partnership with washingtonpost.com.

The feature allows readers to instantly review Congressional bills and a politicians’ financial disclosures and voting records in those little pop-up windows, not to mention the ability to send an email from the washingtonpost.com site to air their views. Click on the little White House icon next to Senator Chuck Schumer’s name in this recent article on Arlen Specter’s party switch, for example.

Mr. Harris also demonstrated how Apture links in the Washington Post Congress browser are enhanced with videos from that Congressperson’s official YouTube Channel. Readers can watch a senator’s speech alongside their official Twitter stream and voting history “to see if there’s anything contradictory to what she’s saying,” Mr. Harris explained to the crowd. All that information, usually difficult to find within government walls, is just one click from a senator’s name on washingtonpost.com, but Mr. Harris explains how any blogger can use this kind of feature on their own site in this video.

Have at it, Government 2.0!

What Does Apture Mean for Open Government?