There’s an unobtrusive box embedded on your screen. The latest news updates pop up at the top – text, tweets, links, pictures, video – telling you a story as it unfolds.
“When big things are happening in the world – like natural or man-made disasters – ScribbleLive makes it possible to communicate, in real time, right from the ground,” says Jonathan Keebler (BSc 2003 UC), the U of T grad who developed the software you’ve seen on news sites from Reuters to Rogers. “News can be shared instantly.”
When Keebler graduated from U of T’s computer science department a decade ago, he didn’t know what the future would hold. “I loved coding. But the dot-com bubble had burst,” he explains. “I wasn’t sure where I’d fit in. I wanted to be part of a small company where I could make a big impact.”
Keebler and ScribbleLive co-founder Michael De Monte landed website and technology jobs at CTVglobemedia and got a detailed look at how the media works. “Reporters were out there, on the ground, watching the news happen in front of them,” says Keebler. “But they had to come back to the office to file their stories, which were sometimes held back until the prime-time news slot.”
It was time, the two realized, to create a way to share stories in real time. With ScribbleLive, reporters can log into web pages to post text, pictures and videos, or give updates via email, voice mail or mobile apps. Pages update immediately, and readers see the latest without having to refresh.
For example, in 2011, when Egypt temporarily blacked out Internet access during the January 25 revolution, Al Jazeera reporters used the platform to call in audio updates and keep audiences in other countries in the loop.
It seems a simple idea – now – but making it happen took time. “You have to get in there, try things, hack around, experiment, and play with technology – that’s where you really learn to solve problems,” says Keebler. He adds some love for his alma mater: “At U of T, I learned how to learn. Now I pick things up quickly because I have a framework. And the university taught me critical thinking; that’s been key to my ability to solve problems, innovate and recognize opportunity as an entrepreneur.”
Six years after its launch, ScribbleLive has evolved to become an “end-to-end content engagement platform,” says Keebler. In addition to liveblogging, the software generates statistics to show how readers and viewers reacted to a story. It can also be adapted to create live chats or Q&A sessions, and update conference-goers or cover live events such as sports games or concerts. Keebler reels off a list of high-profile clients: “Red Bull, Ferrari, Bayer, Global TV, CNN, The Associated Press, Samsung, and ESPN.” With four rounds of financing under its belt, ScribbleLive has offices in Toronto, London, New York, Dubai and Melbourne. Keebler looks forward to the next major milestone: growing to 100 employees.
“For me, one day is never like the last,” says Keebler. “I’m always solving new problems and learning new things – it’s an aspect of my work I really love.”
A U of T lab is working with actors, writers and directors on how they could harness AI and other emerging technologies to generate new ideas and – just maybe – reinvent theatre