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A New Widget Makes Actions Out Of Words

ShoutAbout equips news websites with the ability to give readers more than just the facts: It can also help connect them to things to do and debates about the issue, transforming readers into doers.

Even before Hurricane Sandy caused unprecedented devastation throughout New York and New Jersey last week, anyone reading the news, absorbing social media, or looking at any sort of screen, more or less was barraged with constant updates about the storm.

But getting informed about a disaster is one thing. What does it take to move people to process that information in a productive, engaged way and take action? One possibly useful tool is a news widget called ShoutAbout: an experiment in bridging the gap between news and action, by providing media sites an easy way to integrate action-oriented items by placing them at the end of a news story. So readers not only can leave a comment, they can potentially find out a way to participate in current events, whether it’s a hurricane or international affairs.

According to ShoutAbout, "The best news educates about issues of public importance. The best organizations offer tangible and meaningful opportunities to impact these issues. But when people learn about important current events, there’s usually a disconnect—they don’t know what they can do to make a difference." This disconnect was experienced firsthand by Mat Morgan, ShoutAbout’s creator, who, during his time as a communications officer at the American Red Cross, realized how hard it was to both inform and mobilize, even when the media picked up on a story.

ShoutAbout is currently in a pilot run with a handful of sites, including PBS, who placed the widget at the end of an article about Americans’ evolving opinions on gun control. Click the button "Act" and a link to a petition asking President Obama and Governor Romney to address guns in the debate shows up. Click "Learn" and a list of further reading about guns in America shows up.

The widget lets users themselves suggest their own actions and vote up the most compelling ones—which means publishers don’t have to compromise their editorial independence by picking and choosing the advocacy groups to get behind. It also means that swamped editors don’t have to add extra work to their plates, for which we’re sure they’re thankful.