Can old media get agile?

Signal vs. Noise sez:

We stalled launching our Job Board for a while because we felt we had bigger fish to fry. Once we got around to it, we couldn’t believe we had waited so long. It was easy to set up, a great resource for our community, and has generated lots of cash for the company.

There’s more than one way to skin the revenue cat.

They go on to suggest that this is a virtue of being a small, agile company.

This is something new and webby. In the before times, diversification took gobs of capital, either for R&D or aquisitions. Now you can just code up a job board, and bang! Your software company is a recruiting company.

Form, by carlosluis
Form, by carlosluis

Are old media too big to use the web like this? Maybe not.

The New York Times is getting into the game (quoting Matter/Anti-Matter):

In essence, this means the Times is turning into a software company, applying the same business model philosophy “as many start-ups in Silicon Valley:” “Build neat tools, get traction, and then figure out how to make money off them later,” as the Silicon Alley Insider describes it.

Whaddya think?

The SVN post also gives props to Apple – not a small company, but one with killer leadership. Do media execs even *want* to be agile? Or have they got too much mass?

Tell your story with data, without writing a line of code

I’ve been on the hunt for quick and dirty ways to show off data: visualization tools that are free, pretty, and easy to embed in a story.  Here are my finds so far.

Kick-ass embeddable visualizations

Upload your data set to ManyEyes, and you can turn it into all kinds of neat charts and wacky interactive stuff like word trees. They make it really easy to share. Click on the “share this” link below any visualization to get a snippet of HTML to paste into a story.

Amy Gahran loves word trees too:

You specify a word or phrase, and ManyEyes shows you all the different contexts in which that string appears in a tree-like branching structure. This helps reveal recurring themes in the document, and shows how topics and subtopics are related.

The other hot ManyEyes demo is the government expenses visualization. Use the menu on the left to drill down into spending categories. (Can you find the S&L bailout?)

There are so many kick-ass things you can make with ManyEyes: tree maps, tag clouds, and bubble charts, to name just a few. Here’s a map!

Timelines get sexy

It’s easy to make sweet, interactive timelines with circaVie. Like, really easy. Sign up, click “start a timeline” and add events. Like ManyEyes, they also make it simple to embed a widget, just paste in the provided snippet.
Text message scandal timeline by DFP Graphics

Words are pretty

Wordle makes pretty text visualizations by shuffling words from a file, web page, etc., and sizing the words based on how frequently they occur. Much simpler than a word tree, but sometimes simple is just what you need.

Sixth W on Wordle

Need a map, fast?

Google’s Charts API is suuuper cool.  It can make you bar charts, maps, venn diagrams, even sparklines.  But it’s a tool for web developers, so it’s a bit chewy to use if you’re not familiar with a few things.

Lucky for us, lots of folks have built tools to make it easier. The Google Chart Creator is one of the better ones.  I made this map in under a minute.

Google chart map of the Middle East

What else?

It feels like I give the NYT props every day for their data viz skillz. Their stuff is pretty and awesome, but they’ve got a team of developers, designers and whiz-bang specialists.

What other tools are out there that make it simple to create embeddable news visuals, sans a staff of flash savants?

Flash just got better, but it’s still (usually) very, very bad

From Slashdot:

Adobe systems made an announcement that it has provided technology and information to Google and Yahoo! to help the two search engine rivals index Shockwave Flash (SWF) file formats. …this will provide more relevant search rankings of the millions pieces of flash content.

This is good news

Flash is a terribly popular platform for interactive news, and it’s opacity to search engines was a serious problem. Content in Flash applications was not findable in the same way that regular web content is, effectively hiding large areas of the web from searches.

But it ain’t great news

Ace of Cake\'s has a terrible web site
The navigation at Ace of Cakes is so mysterious, it has its own guided tutorial.  Let’s consider this: You need to study a tutorial. To read about a television program. About cakes.

Eight years ago, usability guru Jakob Nielsen called Flash “99% bad.” Everything he said then is still true now. But there are waaay more Flash apps now.

The problem is that it’s frequently used to present text in a prettier fashion. Add music and some magical menus, and paragraphs get better, right? Wrong. Adobe says that the text will now be searchable, but that fixes only one of Flash’s many problems.

Among many other reasons, Flash sucks because:

  1. You can’t link to content within a Flash app.
  2. Flash apps usually don’t work like the web, so a reader has to learn how to use it.
  3. It usually stinks for people with disabilities.

The above aren’t always true, but the exceptions are few and far between.

When it works

When Flash is at its hottest, it presents information to the user in a way that text never could. The New York Times has been putting out excellent apps that do this, like their Obama-Clinton support visualizer, and their map of the impact of the cyclone that hit Myanmar.

The Spiderman analogy applies: With great power comes great responsibility. Flash lets you jam practically anything into a web site, but the temptation to do so must be resisted.

What makes a news API tasty? NYT: Gimme some sweet metadata!

Amy Gahran did a great write up on the upcoming NYT API over at E-Media Tidbits:

I think it would be great if more news organizations and journalists could learn a different approach to presenting news — one that provides structure to information that supports both conventional storytelling and remixing, analysis, or alternate representations.

JD Lasica’s take on why it’s important is spot on:

The salvation of the news industry — if there is to be one — will come not from corporate board rooms but in unleashing the pent-up power of the citizenry as part of a multipronged social media/participatory media strategy.

Let’s just hope the folks over at the Times write a good one. APIs are not guaranteed to be useful. If they quit at movie listings, they’ll have given us little. But if they coat their stories in layers of delicious metadata, the web will eat them up. (Personally, I’d prefer a Microformat for news metadata, but I’ll take what I can get.)

What do you want to know about a news story?

There are obvious useful bits: date, headline, author, location, etc., but what else would be neat? How about translated headlines? Or full translations? Related news? Related videos? Related links on other sites?



Target demographics!

Krishna Bharat told me after his talk at Journalism 3G that the Google News bots would love to know if a particular story was from a wire service.

What uber-mash-upable goodies would you want from the NYT?

Links: NYT catching on, Tribune so far behind it makes my webs weep

“The WWW world consists of documents, and links.” — Tim Berners-Lee, in alt.hypertext, 1991.

red light district, by SMN
red light district, by SMN

Why do newspapers publish AP articles online? Why not just link to them? David Cohen says “Stop buying Associated Press articles.”

They are called hyperlinks. They are blue. They are useful. Look Ma’ – here’s an AP story. And it didn’t cost me a thing to link to it!

Money spent on the AP could be money saved and then used for… Innovation!

But, there’s hope! Scott Karp wrote on the Publish2 blog:

The New York Times has certainly embraced blogging, but it was striking to see… just how much they’ve embraced link journalism.

In a traditional newspaper article, all of these facts and analysis would have been synthesized, but the reader wouldn’t have had the opportunity to read for themselves the source material. This post does what journalism is supposed to do — empower people with facts, understanding, and perspective about important issues.

My local paper, the Chicago Tribune, doesn’t just suck at linking, they suck at being a web site. Their documents die. I don’t link to Trib articles because within weeks, they almost certainly vanish.

Ben Estes, editor of, spoke to our class last week. When I asked why the links died, he said that it was because they (I don’t know exactly who “they” is… I’m supposing the Trib brass.) don’t want to spend the money on, get this, disk space.

Disk space. Cheap-ass disk space.