NYT to release open-source “document viewer” for investigative journalism

To help create their fantastic piece about Hillary Clinton’s White House schedules, the NYT developed a tool to aid them in analysis of the enormous amount of information that the schedules contained.

Today at the Online News Association conference, Aron Pilhofer, editor of interactive news tech at the NYT, told a session audience that they are planning to release this tool as an open-source project!

(He said it’ll be on Amazon EC2, though I’m not sure exactly what that’ll amount to.)

Details are slim, but this seems like a pretty cool thing. Pilhofer didn’t give a timeline on this project, or on their previously-announced news API, but both are on the way.

I’m guessing it’ll be after the election. They’re probably pretty busy creating all those kick-ass visualizations.

UPDATE: Be sure to check Aron’s comment below. It will be open source, but they’ll also deploy it to EC2 for folks to use instantly.

New York Times reader out for Mac, still a bad idea

From Gizmodo:

Not so hot on the heels of its Microsoft-built Windows-based counterpart, the Times Reader beta has been made available for all members of NYTimes.com. Although a Silverlight install is required, it’s relatively painless and a small price to pay for Reader’s efficient news presentation and olde timey typefaces. There are no subscription fees for now, but Mac users can expect to join the $14.95 a month party when the software goes final.

New York Times reader for Mac

I’m not sold. People are going to pay fifteen bucks a month for this? Are they planning on taking away the normal web site? Also, it’s built in Silverlight??? Seriously? The only thing worse than Flash is a Microsoft clone of Flash.

NYT: please, just make the web experience better. Don’t be tempted by proprietary interfaces that give you more control over your users. You seem to understand that net neutrality is about transparency. The technologies you use should be transparent too. Support open source. Support open standards. This is a step in the wrong direction.

(Thanks to Adam for the tip.)

UPDATE: Fixed a tiny typo.

Wired Journalists: Study and share new journalism tech

Wired Journalists is a social network for journalists interested in talking about topics like blogging, video, and, well, social networks. They opened their doors to the public on January 22, and almost 2,000 wordy/nerdy types like myself have joined the site since.

I'm a member of: Wired Journalists

Co-founder Ryan Sholin told me this via email:

The key, the mission, the logic behind WJ is the goal of connecting the “wired” with the “not-so-wired-just-yet” to share stories, quell fears, and generally let newbies know that the water’s fine; they can come on in.

It’s built on Ning, a really neat site that makes building a home for an online community very simple.

Communities like this have deep roots in the free and open source software movement. They’re necessary gathering points for folks who are pushing the envelope and building their own tools. It’s great to see journalists getting into the game.

UPDATE: Swapped image in for nasty flash embedding.

Social production: why it’s important, and how it’s at risk

The Wikipedia, Creative Commons, and free and open source and software are brilliant, wonderful things. They’re examples of forms of collaboration never before possible, and are just a glimmer of what’s to come. But they’re not guaranteed.

Yochai Benkler says it far better than I could:

Social production is a real fact, not a fad. It is the critical long term shift caused by the Internet. Social relations and exchange become significantly more important than they ever were as an economic phenemon.

Yochai Benkler
Click to watch video.

So, next time you open the paper, and you see an intellectual property decision, a telecoms decision – it’s not about something small and technical. It is about the future of the freedom to be as social beings with each other and the way information, knoweldge and culture will be produced.

If you haven’t read Benkler’s book, The Wealth of Networks, I highly recommend you do so. It’s amazing, and freely available online under a creative commons license. (It’s also in print, for paper lovers like me.)

Found on DigiDave.

UPDATE: Swapped image in for nasty flash embedding.

The benefits of knowing HTML

A recent interview with the design director of NYTimes.com revealed something wonderful, they still write their HTML by hand.

It’s our preference to use a text editor, like HomeSite, TextPad or TextMate, to “hand code” everything, rather than to use a wysiwyg (what you see is what you get) HTML and CSS authoring program, like Dreamweaver. We just find it yields better and faster results.

Hell yeah, it does.

The nerds can get a bit macho about their coding skillz, as can be witnessed in the comments thread over at LifeHacker, but don’t be fooled – HTML is not just for 21st century gearheads.

Sixth W, in HTML

Why we care

It is nearly impossible to write tight code with software like Dreamweaver unless you’re already a HTML guru. But so what, as long as it looks pretty, it’s fine, right?

Wrong. A well-coded site loads much faster, is easier to maintain and will be more findable by search engines. The files will be smaller, keeping your hosting costs down because you’re using less bandwidth.

Plus you don’t have to buy all that software! The finest text editor on the market, TextMate, costs $63. Dreamweaver costs $399. I use the very simple gedit, a free and open source text editor for Linux, and Windows users have the excellent and also free Notepad++.

Finally, even if you are just writing a blog (or using any other content management system), a knowledge of some basic HTML will make an enormous difference in the visual consistency of your work.

A BMW and a Pontiac aren’t all that different – except in the details. Users notice build quality, even if they’ve got no idea what’s going on under the hood.

If I’ve sold you

Jeffrey Zeldman’s fantastic book Designing with Web Standards is the best place to start. Zeldman explains the benefits of good code in a elegant, human-friendly fashion.

Then, once you’re drinking the kool-aid, pick up Web Standards Solutions: The Markup and Style Handbook by Dan Cederholm. It’s jam-packed with clear and pragmatic examples of well-written HTML.

And once you’re swinging a mean axe, A List Apart will make you stronger, faster, and more powerful.