links for 2010-08-30

  • Kevin: In July, Matt Brian of The Next Web reports about recent successes enjoyed by location-based network Foursquare: "Just days after securing $20 million series B round of capital, the location service has announced another big milestone – 1 million check-ins in one day."
  • Kevin: A look at the competition heating up in the location space with the launch of Facebook Places. "While some of you might think this trend marks the moment when social media jumped the shark, major media outlets and other businesses are looking to cash in on the impulse people have to overshare." I spotted this, and I think that news organisations need to pay attention to this. Geolocation has potential for news organizations, too, as demonstrated earlier this year after the foiled Times Square attack. In the days that followed, there was more than one false alarm, and the Wall Street Journal used a Times Square "check in" on Foursquare to alert others in the area that there was an evacuation.

    Editors can also use geolocation to help confirm eyewitness tips from the scenes of news events. That doesn't mean there won't be hoaxes or that the systems can't be fooled, but it's a step up from the e-mails and SMS tips we have now."

  • Kevin: Jonathan Stray of the Nieman Journalism Lab interviews my friend and former colleague Simon Rogers, the editor of The Guardian's Datablog, on the data journalism efforts at the newspaper. As Jonathan points out, most of the tools that The Guardian uses are free. Mostly free. The Guardian uses Google Docs and Google mail for much of office applications, but, of course, to use those at a business, there is a fee. However, it's less than traditional office applications. However, they also IBM's Many Eyes and time visualisation tool Timetric, both, which are free.
  • Kevin: Most location-based services in 2010 focus on retail and restaurants, but Zillow is one of a several location applications the focuses on real estate. They have iPhone, iPad, Android and Windows Mobile apps. Their CEO says that the app generates much better leads for real estate agents because people are actively out looking at homes. "Zillow’s competitors, such as Redfin, ZipRealty, Century 21,, have apps, as well."
  • Kevin: MG Siegler reports: "Future Checkin is an app that allows you to check-in to your favorite Foursquare venues automatically when you’re near them. You don’t have to do a thing besides simply have your phone on you and this app will check you in while running in the background with iOS 4."
  • Kevin: Shopkick uses the API of location-based network Foursquare to reward you for walking into a retail store in the US. The app knows when you walk into the store and gives you a reward, presumably a special offer of some sort. They also have a virtual currency called "kickbucks". They say the check-in method can't be faked. In the future, their app will know not only when you walk into a store but also where you are in the store. I suppose this would be of interest to the store because if the phone was sensitive enough it might know not only that you're in the store but also what department you were in. I think to achieve that they'll have to use Skyhook using hotspots because the GPS signal wouldn't be available in the store, but it's possible.

links for 2010-08-29

links for 2010-08-27

links for 2010-08-25

  • Suw: Despite a silly headline, this is actually a very good opinion piece by Mike Altendorf, questioning the kneejerk reactions of HR and boardrooms towards social media in the business.
  • Kevin: Yahoo's Barcelona research lab has created a tool that will not only puts past articles on a timeline, but it also looks at predictions made in those past articles. For instance, Tom Simonite in the MIT Technology Review gives the example of a 2004 opinion piece that predicted that North Korea would have some 200 warheads. It's a clever use of semantic technology that extracts dates from articles and delivers more information to the reader. It's a clever riff on the idea of a timeline, and it's a great discovery tool for a news organisations archives.
  • Kevin: "Statistics can make or break a story. Used correctly they add weight and conviction, but it’s easy to be seduced by cherry-picked data and meaningless surveys." A talk at the Centre for Investigative Journalism by Nigel Hawkes on how to become savvy about data.
  • Kevin: "Polymaps is a free, open-source JavaScript library for making dynamic, interactive maps. It is the result of a collaboration between Stamen Design and SimpleGeo. … Polymaps provides speedy display of multi-zoom datasets over maps, and supports a variety of visual presentations for tiled vector data, in addition to the usual cartography from OpenStreetMap, CloudMade, Bing, and other providers of image-based web maps."
  • Kevin: Scott Rosenberg has written a very thoughtful post on the risks of trusting Facebook with the future's past. He write: "In fact, Facebook is relentlessly now-focused. And because it uses its own proprietary software that it regularly changes, there is no way to build your own alternate set of archive links to old posts and pages the way you can on the open Web." I think the issue of memory and archive in the digital age is a really interesting one, and it becomes even more important when we outsource digital memory to closed systems that have their own priorities.
  • Kevin: A good howto post by Tony Hirst of Open University on how to screen scrape data from Wikipedia. Tony has a number of excellent tutorials on his blog on how to do this. One thing to note is that a lot of the data in Wikipedia is now available on DBPedia so you might not have to go through this process.
  • Kevin: A nice brief look at a new visualisation project from the BBC called that puts news events in a physical context. For instance, with floods currently covering a fifth of Pakistan, how does that translate on a map of the United States, allowing readers in the US to appreciate the sense of scale. Really good thinking.
  • Kevin: Alan Mutter writes about how major metro newspapers in the US are finding some success in creating niche print products. "(F)oresighted publishers are creating niche products to try to capture readers who historically were unlikely to buy the legacy newspaper – and, of course, the advertisers who covet them as customers." This is smart. As Philip Meyer wrote in 2004 with The Vanishing Newspaper, whenever a new medium has challenged an existing one, it has always pushed the legacy media towards greater specialisation. Some newspapers are focusing on this not only with digital products but also with new targeted print products.
  • Kevin: Caroline McCarthy at CNET has written one of the best pieces on the roll out of Facebook places. With Facebook Places, there was not just a shift from location as a standalone feature but also in how location was being talked about. "Facebook Places' debut marks a shift in the rhetoric of the location-based services market because of the company's vocal connection of geolocation to permanence and memory, rather than the language of exciting immediacy (see what your friends are doing right now! In real time!) touted by the likes of Foursquare and Gowalla." I wonder if this is simply a rhetorical shift for the purpose of marketing and differentiation or if it actually speaks fundamentally to how location will work on Facebook. They cynic in me thinks it's probably just a bit of marketing.
  • Kevin: Poynter has a great interview with Tiffany Campbell, a six-year veteran of the paper and a lead producer for She describes how mobile tools such as Twitter and live video service Qik are changing how they report news and interact with audiences. She talks about how they use Twitter not only as a distribution mechanism but also as a content creation platform. "By using Twitter as a mobile platform, we were able to give real-time updates and maintain users' interest in an event." They always see a spike in traffic when they go live with video or tweet a live event. She sees that this is not only changing reporting but also how audiences interact with journalism. People can interact with reporters in real time as they are reporting.

links for 2010-08-24

Skills for journalists: Learning the art of the possible

I’m often asked at conferences and by journalism educators what skills journalists need to work effectively in a digital environment. Journalism educator Mindy McAdams has started a nice list of some of these skills in a recent blog post. A lot of journalists (and journalism educators) scratch their heads over what seem an ever-expanding list of skills they need to do digital. It feels like inexorable mission creep.

I can empathise. One of the most difficult parts of my digital journalism career, which began in 1996, has been deciding what to learn and, also, what not learn but delegate to a skilled colleague. I’m always up for learning new things, but there is a limit. Bottom line: It’s not easy. In the mid-90s, I had to know how to build websites by hand, but then automation and content management systems made most of those skills redundant. It was more important to know the possibilities, and limits, of HTML. When I worked for the BBC, I picked up a lot of multimedia skills including audio recording and editing, video recording and basic video editing, and even on-air skills. I also was able to experiment with multimedia digital story-telling. However, with the rise of blogs and social media, suddenly the focus was less on multimedia and more on interaction. All those skills come in handy, but the main lesson in digital media is that it’s a constant journey of education and re-invention.

What do I mean about choosing what not to learn? In the mid-90s, I was faced with a choice. I could have learned programming and become more technical, or I could focus on editorial and work with a coder. I did learn a bit of PERL to run basic scripts for a very early MySociety-esque project about legislators in the state where we worked, but after that, I handed most of the work off to a crack PERL developer on staff. I knew what I wanted to do, and he could do it in a quarter of the time.

I knew that my passion was telling stories in new ways online and, whilst I didn’t learn to programme, I did pick up some basic understanding of what was possible: Computers can filter text and data very effectively. They can automate repetitive tasks, and even back in the late 1990s, the web could present information, often complex sets of data, in exciting ways. I realised that it was more important for me to know the art of the possible rather than learn precisely how to do it. My mindset is open to learning and my skillset is constantly expanding, but to be effective, I have to make choices.

One thing that we’re sorely lacking as an industry are digitally-minded editors who understand how to fully exploit the possibilities created by the internet, mobile and new digital platforms. Print journalists know exactly what they want within the constraints of the printed page, which often in presentation terms is much more flexible than a web page. However, they bring that focus on presentation to digital projects. They think of presentation over functionality, largely because they don’t know what’s possible in digital terms. As more print editors move into integrated roles, they will have to learn these skills. They will eventually but, by and large, they’re not there yet. Note to newly minted Integrated editors: There are folks who have been doing digital for a long time now. The internet was created long before integration. We love to collaborate, but we do appreciate a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

In terms of learning the art of the possible, my former colleague at The Guardian, Simon Willison, has summed this up really well during a recent panel discussion:

I kind of think it’s the difference between geeks and the general population. It’s understanding when a problem is solvable. And it’s like the most important thing about computer literacy they should be teaching in schools isn’t how to use Microsoft Word and Excel. It is how to spot a problem that could be solved by a computer and then find someone who can solve it for you.

To translate that into journalism terms, it’s about knowing how to tell stories in audio, text, video and interactive visualisations. It’s about knowing when interactivity will add or distract from a story. It’s an understanding that not every story need to be told the same way. It’s about understanding that you have many more tools in your kit, but that’s it’s foolish to try to hammer a nail with a wrench. It’s not about building a team where everyone is a jack of all trades, but building a team that gives you the flexibility to exploit the full power of digital storytelling.

links for 2010-08-23

links for 2010-08-20