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December 19 2011

15:20

What I Want for Christmas: A Frictionless Blogging Platform

For those who don't know -- the Carnival of Journalism is something I restarted in January (coming up on a year!) where a bunch of journalism-bloggers get together and write about the same topic once a month. The question is posed by the host -- who rotates.

santas.jpg

This month's host is the Guardian's developer blog, and they ask:

If you are a journalist, what would be the best present from programmers and developers that Santa Claus could leave under your Christmas tree? And, correspondingly, if you are a programmer or developer, what would be the best present from journalism that Father Christmas could deliver down your chimney?

If I had to answer the question succinctly: I want a frictionless blogging platform. Not Tumblr or Posterous (although they've done an awesome job). I think there is a way to make something even simpler -- a platform where I can save something to Delicious and create the formatting once so that from henceforth all Delicious links will be posted on my blog the way I want. (ITTF does an OK job, but it's not perfect).

I go through various phases with my personal blog. When I first started in 2005, it was called "Adventures in Freelancing," and it was about just that -- the various stories I was working on or published or other stories I was reading and found interesting.

Since Spot.Us started, my blogging has laxed (at best). I use it for occasional big thoughts or announcements. Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Google+, etc., take up a much larger space of my "online productivity" and to be honest -- I wish there were ways to streamline my efforts.

Of course, there is IFTT.com -- which is what I'm using to repost this Google+ update to my personal blog. And from my blog, it will then automatically be tweeted. So that's a start.

But there are things lost in the translation from Google+ to my personal blog and back out to Twitter.

In a strange way, I still think what I'm looking for is FriendFeed. What a brilliant site that was. Too bad they were bought (talent-scouted) by Facebook.

So I want a platform where I can post something on Google+, and format it once and forever, and my Google+ public posts will appear on my blog the way I want.

That's my holiday gift ask.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Steve Rhodes.

A version of this post first appeared here.

April 13 2011

12:33

Which blog platform should I use? A blog audit

When people start out blogging they often ask what blogging platform they should use – WordPress or Blogger? Tumblr or Posterous? It’s impossible to give an answer, because the first questions should be: who is going to use it, how, and what and who for?

To illustrate how the answers to those questions can help in choosing the best platform, I decided to go through the 35 or so blogs I have created, and why I chose the platforms that they use. As more and more publishing platforms have launched, and new features added, some blogs have changed platforms, while new ones have made different choices to older ones.

Bookmark blogs (Klogging) – Blogger and WordPress to Delicious and Tumblr

When I first began blogging it was essentially what’s called ‘klogging’ (knowledge blogging) – a way to keep a record of useful information. I started doing this with three blogs on Blogger, each of which was for a different class I taught: O-Journalism recorded reports in the field for online journalism students, Interactive Promotion and PR was created to inform students on a module of the same name (later exported to WordPress) and students on the Web and New Media module could follow useful material on that blog.

The blogs developed with the teaching, from being a place where I published supporting material, to a group blog where students themselves could publish their work in progress.

As a result, Web and New Media was moved to WordPress where it became a group blog maintained by students (now taught by someone else). The blog I created for the MA in Television and Interactive Content was first written by myself, then quickly handed over to that year’s students to maintain. When I started requiring students to publish their own blogs the original blogs were retired.

One-click klogging

By this time my ‘klogging’ had moved to Delicious. Webpages mentioned in a specific class were given a class-specific tag such as MMJ02 or CityOJ09. And students who wanted to dig further into a particular subject could use subject-specific tags such as ‘onlinevideo‘ or ‘datajournalism‘.

For the MA in Television and Interactive Content, then, I simply invented a new tag – ‘TVI’ – and set up a blog using Tumblr to pull anything I bookmarked on Delicious with that tag. (This was done in five minutes by clicking on ‘Customise‘ on the main Tumblr page, then clicking on Services and scrolling down to ‘Automatically import my…‘ and selecting RSS feed as Links. Then in the Feed URL box paste the RSS feed at the bottom of delicious.com/paulb/tvi).

(You can do something similar with WordPress – which I did here for all my bookmarks – but it requires more technical knowhow).

For klogging quotes for research purposes I also use Tumblr for Paul’s Literature Review. I’ve not used this as regularly or effectively as I could or should, but if I was embarking on a particularly large piece of research it would be particularly useful in keeping track of key passages in what I’m reading. Used in conjunction with a Kindle, it could be particularly powerful.

Back to the TVI bookmarks: another five minutes on Feedburner allowed me to set up a daily email newsletter of those bookmarks that students could subscribe to as well, and a further five minutes on Twitterfeed sent those bookmarks to a dedicated Twitter feed too (I could also have simply used Tumblr’s option to publish to a Twitter feed). ‘Blogging’ had moved beyond the blog.

Resource blogs – Tumblr and Posterous

For my Online Journalism module at City University London I use Tumblr to publish a curated, multimedia blog in addition to the Delicious bookmarks: Online Journalism Classes collects a limited number of videos, infographics, quotes and other resources for students. Tumblr was used because I knew most content would be instructional videos and I wanted a separate place to collect these.

The more general Paul Bradshaw’s Tumblelog (http://paulbradshaw.tumblr.com/) is where I maintain a collection of images, video, quotes and infographics that I look to whenever I need to liven up a presentation.

For resources based on notes or documents, however, Posterous is a better choice.

Python Notes and Notes on Spreadsheet Formulae and CAR, for example, both use Posterous as a simple way for me to blog my own notes on both (Python is a programming language) via a quick email (often drafted while on the move without internet access).

Posterous was chosen because it is very easy to publish and tag content, and I wanted to be able to access my notes based on tag (e.g. VLOOKUP) when I needed to remember how I’d used a particular formula or function.

Similarly, Edgbaston Election Campaign Exprenses and Hall Green Election Campaign Exprenses use Posterous as a quick way to publish and tag PDFs of election expense receipts from both constituencies (how this was done is explained here), allowing others to find expense details based on candidate, constituency, party or other details, and providing a space to post comments on findings or things to follow up.

Niche blogs – WordPress and Posterous

Although Online Journalism Blog began as ‘klogging’ it soon became something more, adding analysis, research, and contributions from other authors, and the number of users increased considerably. Blogger is not the most professional-looking of platforms, however (unless you’re prepared to do a lot of customisation), so I moved it to WordPress.com. And when I needed to install plugins for extra functionality I moved it again to a self-hosted WordPress site.

Finally, when the site was the victim of repeated hacking attempts I moved it to a WordPress MU (multi user) site hosted by Philip John’s Journal Local service, which provided technical support and a specialised suite of plugins.

If you want a powerful and professional-looking blogging platform it’s hard to beat WordPress.com, and if you want real control over how it works – such as installing plugins or customising themes – then a self-hosted WordPress site is, for me, your best option. I’d also recommend Journal Local if you want that combination of functionality and support.

If, however, you want to launch a niche blog quickly and functionality is not an issue then Posterous is an even better option, especially if there will be multiple contributors without technical skills. Council Coverage in Newspapers, for example, used Posterous to allow a group of people to publish the results of an investigation on my crowdsourced investigative journalism platform Help Me InvestigateThe Hospital Parking Charges Blog did the same for another investigation, but as it was only me publishing, I used WordPress.

Group blogs – Posterous and Tumblr

Posterous suits groups particularly well because members only need to send their post to a specific email address that you give them (such as post@yourblog.posterous.com) to be published on the blog.

It also handles multimedia and documents particularly well – when I was helping Podnosh‘s Nick Booth train a group of people with Flip cameras we used Posterous as an easy way for members of a group to instantly publish the video interviews they were doing by simply sending it to the relevant email address (Posterous will also cross-publish to YouTube and Twitter, simplifying those processes).

A few months ago Posterous launched a special ‘Groups’ service that publishes content in a slightly different way to make it easier for members to collaborate. I used this for another Help Me Investigate investigation - Recording Council Meetings – where each part of the investigation is a post/thread that users can contribute to.

Again, Posterous provides an easy way to do this – all people need to know is the email address to send their contribution to, or the web address where they can add comments to other posts.

If your contributors are more blog-literate and want to retain more control over their content, another option for group blogs is Tumblr. Brumblr, for example, is one group blog I belong to for Birmingham bloggers, set up by Jon Bounds. ‘We Love Michael Grimes‘ is another, set up by Pete Ashton, that uses Tumblr for people to post images of Birmingham’s nicest blogger.

Blogs for events – Tumblr, Posterous, CoverItLive

When I organised a Citizen Journalism conference in 2007, I used a WordPress blog to build up to it, write about related stories, and then link to reports on the event itself. Likewise, when later that year the NUJ asked me to manage a team of student members as they blogged that year’s ADM, I used WordPress for a group blog.

As the attendees of further events began to produce their own coverage, the platforms I chose evolved. For JEEcamp.com (no longer online), I used a self-hosted WordPress blog with an aggregation plugin that pulled in anything tagged ‘JEEcamp’ on blogs or Twitter. CoverItLive was also used to liveblog – and was then adopted successfully by attendees when they returned to their own news operations around the country (and also, interestingly, by Downing Street after they saw the tool being used for the event).

For the final JEEcamp I used Tumblr as an aggregator, importing the RSS feed from blog search engine Icerocket for any mention of ‘JEEcamp’.

In future I may experiment with the Posterous iPhone app’s new Events feature, which aggregates posts in the same location as you.

Aggregators – Tumblr

Sometimes you just want a blog to keep a record of instances of a particular trend or theme. For example, I got so sick of people asking “Is blogging journalism?” that I set up Is Ice Cream Strawberry?, a Tumblr blog that aggregates any articles that mention the phrases “Is blogging journalism”, “Are bloggers journalists” and “Is Twitter journalism” on Google News.

This was set up in the same way as detailed above, with the Feed URL box completed using the RSS feed from the relevant search on Google News or Google Blog Search (repeat for each feed).

Likewise, Online Journalism Jobs aggregates – you’ve got it – jobs in online journalism or that use online journalism skills. It pulls from the RSS feed for anything I bookmark on Delicious with the tag ‘ojjobs’ – but it can also be done manually with the Tumblr bookmark or email address, which is useful when you want to archive an entire job description that is longer than Delicious’s character limit.

Easy hyperlocal blogging – WordPress, Posterous and Tumblr

For a devoted individual hyperlocal blog WordPress seems the best option due to its power, flexibility and professionalism. For a hyperlocal blog where you’re inviting contributions from community members via email, Posterous may be better.

But if you want to publish a hyperlocal blog and have never had the time to do it justice, Tumblr provides a good way to make a start without committing yourself to regular, wordy updates. Boldmere High Street is my own token gesture – essentially a photoblog that I update from my mobile phone when I see something of interest – and take a photo – as I walk down the high street.

Personal blogs

As personal blogs tend to contain off-the-cuff observations, copies of correspondence or media, Posterous suits it well. Paul Bradshaw O/T (Off Topic) is mine: a place to publish things that don’t fit on any of the other blogs I publish. I use Posterous as it tends to be email-based, sometimes just keeping web-based copies of emails I’ve sent elsewhere.

It’s difficult to prescribe a platform for personal blogs as they are so… personal. If you talk best about your life through snatches of images and quotes, Tumblr will work well. I have a family Tumblr, for example, that pulls images and video from a family Flickr account, tweets from a family Twitter feed, video from a family YouTube account, and also allows me to publish snatches of audio or quotes.

You could use this to, for instance, create an approved-members-only Facebook page for the family so other family members can ‘follow’ their grandchildren, and publish updates from the Tumblr blog via RSS Graffiti. Facebook is, ultimately, the most popular personal blogging platform.

If it is hard to separate your personal life from your professional life, or your personal hobby involves playing with technology, WordPress may be a better choice.

And Blogger may be an easy way to bring together material from Google properties such as Picasa and Orkut.

Company blogs

Likewise, although Help Me Investigate’s blog started as two separate blogs on WordPress (one for company updates, the other for investigation tips), it now uses Posterous for both as it’s an easier way for multiple people to contribute.

This is because ease of publishing is more important than power – but for many companies WordPress is going to be the most professional and flexible option.

For some, Tumblr will best communicate their highly visual and creative nature. And for others, Posterous may provide a good place to easily publish documents and video.

Blogs – flexible enough for anything

What emerges from all the above is that blogs are just a publishing platform. There was a time when you had to customise WordPress, Typepad or Blogger to do what you wanted – from linkblogging and photoblogging to group blogs and aggregation. But those problems have since been solved by an increasing range of bespoke platforms.

Social bookmarking platforms and Twitter made it easier to linkblog; Tumblr made it easier to photoblog or aggregate RSS feeds. Posterous lowered the barrier to make group blogging as easy as sending an email. CoverItLive piggybacked on Twitter to aggregate live event coverage. And Facebook made bloggers of everyone without them realising.

A blog can now syndicate itself across multiple networks: Tumblr and Posterous make it easy to automatically cross-publish links and media to Twitter, YouTube and any other media-specific platform. RSS feeds can be pulled from Flickr, Delicious, YouTube or any of dozens of other services into a Facebook page or a WordPress widget.

What is important is not to be distracted by the technology, but focus on the people who will have to use it, and what they want to use it for.

To give a concrete example: I was once advising an organisation who wanted to publish their work online and help young people get their work out there. The young people used mobile phones (Blackberrys) and were on Facebook, but the organisation also wanted the content created by those young people to be seen by potential funders, in a professional context.

I advised them to:

  • Set up a moderated Posterous so that it would cross-publish to individuals’ Facebook pages (so there would be instant feedback for those users rather than it be published in an isolated space online that their friends had to go off and find);
  • Give the Posterous blog email address to the young people so they could use it to send in their work (making it easy to use on a device they were comfortable with);
  • Then to set up a separate ‘official’ WordPress site that pulled in the Posterous feed into a side-widget alongside the more professional, centrally placed, content (meeting the objectives of the organisation).

This sounds more technically complex than it is in practice, and the key thing is that it makes publishing as easy as possible: for the young users of the service, they only had to send images and comments to an email address. For members of the organisation they only had to write blog posts. Everything else, once set up, was automated. And free.

Many people hesitate before blogging, thinking that their effort has to be right first time. It doesn’t. Going through these blogs I counted around 35 that I’ve either created or been involved in. Many of those were retired when they ceased to be useful; some were transferred to new platforms. Some changed their names, some were deleted. Increasingly, they are intended from the start to have a limited shelf life. But every one has taught me something.

And those are just my experiences – how have you used blogs in different ways? And how has it changed?

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July 16 2010

08:00

#Tip of the day from Journalism.co.uk – use Posterous for quick and easy blogging

Blogging: First time bloggers or short-of-time pros can create a blog in minutes using Posterous. Email posts, images, videos, audio and files to be automatically uploaded. You can now also easily transfer from other platforms. Tipster: Rachel McAthy. To submit a tip to Journalism.co.uk, use this link - we will pay a fiver for the best ones published.


March 12 2010

00:12

9 Tools to Help Live-Stream Your Newsroom

"We'd like to write blog posts, but don't have time."

That's the oft-heard lament in newsrooms. More and more traditional journalists recognize the benefits of blogging and social media, but many just can't figure out how to add them to their existing workload.

I have a solution that seems to work in our newsroom. When faced with this issue, I recommend colleagues do everything they usually do, such as have brainstorming sessions, take part in editorial meetings, do research and collect web links -- except now they should do it publicly.

So now, for example, brainstorming can be done with a wiki-like tool, and notes from a meeting or background research can become a blog post. Instead of saving bookmarks as private "favorites" in a web browser, you can publish them as social bookmarks. Ideas and discussions can be expressed as blog posts or as status updates on social networks.

I call this approach "live-streaming the newsroom." It was the subject of a three-day workshop I recently gave in Moscow. I was brought there by two Russian media NGOs: Eurasia-Media, the media training department of the New Eurasia Foundation, and the Foundation for Independent Radio Broadcasting (FNR).

Below is an overview of the tools we used and discussed during the workshop. We also put them into use to cover the "end of the line" of several Moscow subway lines (an approach that was inspired by a project by The New York Times).

Tools for (Almost) Instantaneous Blogging

  • Mindmaps In preparing the project, I published a MindMeister mindmap that charted out various social media tools. The map was published as an open wiki, and, as a result, people have added useful information. My colleague and co-organizer Charles Maynes at FNR also translated some key nodes into Russian. For the Moscow subway project, we made yet another mindmap.
  • Posterous/Tumblr Between classic blogging and micro-blogging services such as Twitter, there are new possibilities that allow for rapid blogging in short or long formats that also incorporate multimedia. We used "Posterous"http://www.Posterous.com, though we also could have used Tumblr. These platforms enable bloggers to post using email. Simply attach pictures, audio files or a link to YouTube, and Posterous integrates it all into a post. Here's how we used it on our workshop blog, newsroomru.
  • RSS Reader While preparing the workshop -- and during the workshop -- I used Google Reader as a feed reader and Diigo as social bookmark platform. I like the fact that Diigo enables you to create public or private groups. Have a look at the MixedRealities group.
  • Twitter During the event, I commented on the workshop using Twitter. I used the hashtags #newsroom and #newsroomru.
  • Photo/Video Sharing Flickr is extremely useful for various reasons: You can select the appropriate Creative Commons license for re-publishing pictures, and publishing pictures on Flickr can also attract new visitors to your site or blog. For video, we used YouTube. We shot using semi-professional videocameras as well as the Flip video camera, which enables fast and easy recording, editing and publishing.
  • Audio Sharing Are your colleagues still hesitant to write their own blog posts? Talk to them and record your conversation using AudioBoo (using either a laptop or an iPhone), and publish the result instantaneously via Posterous.
  • Chats Why not discuss coverage, or even the preparation of coverage, in a moderated chat session? We tried out CoverItLive on the workshop blog (on Posterous) and it worked perfectly. Within the CoverItLive interface, you can integrate streaming video (I showed Ustream), Twitter feeds and Twitter lists.
  • Twitter I think it's essential to recontextualize services like Twitter. For example, try curating with Twitter by using lists. Posterous can also be recontextualized by easily integrating into some of the major blogging platforms. Diigo, Twitter, Flickr etc can also be aggregated in a FriendFeed stream, which one can embed easily on a site or blog. No scripting knowledge required...
  • Community We also thought about how to keep in contact after the workshop ends and the participating journalists go home. Then there's the larger question of how to set up a platform for your media community. We used Ning to create the newsroomru group. Maybe we'll also use Second Life for synchronous immersive encounters in the future. (I also briefly demonstrated Second Life, which recently made it much easier to integrate web content.)

Mindset

All the above mentioned tools only become game changers in the newsroom if journalists stop thinking that they should only publish a nearly perfect, finished product. Newsgathering is an ongoing process. It's great to publish perfectly crafted articles, videos and audio -- but this should not stop us from streaming the production process.

It will, of course, be difficult to do this for some investigative work; but I think many projects can benefit from bringing your community into the brainstorming phase. It hardly takes any time at all.

Most of the things a journalist does to cover his or her beat can be live-streamed using the above mentioned tools, among many others. The value is that the audience will give you helpful suggestions, and practicing transparency will lead to increased credibility.

*****

How do you integrate social media into the workflow of the newsroom? Which other tools would you use? And don't forget that you can still add to our social media mindmap wiki!

Roland Legrand is in charge of Internet and new media at Mediafin, the publisher of leading Belgian business newspapers De Tijd and L'Echo. He studied applied economics and philosophy. After a brief teaching experience, he became a financial journalist working for the Belgian wire service Belga and subsequently for Mediafin. He works in Brussels, and lives in Antwerp with his wife Liesbeth.

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December 14 2009

19:25

Can Posterous and Tumblr Boost Government Transparency?

If a present-day version of whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg was looking for a way to easily release important confidential information, he might find himself drawn to Posterous or its micro-blogging/lifestreaming competitor, Tumblr. These services have the potential to offer a new level of simplicity for releasing government information, and help open up the closed doors of Congress.

Beyond becoming tools for leaking information, experts also say these new platforms, which are easy to use and encourage brevity, could help change the way government communicates with citizens.

Mark-Drapeau.gif

Mark Drapeau, co-chair of the Gov 2.0 Expo and adjunct professor at the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, suggested recently that government agencies could use Posterous to open up government in significant ways.

"Good information can be hard to find...New media technologies like Posterous blogs don't directly change that, but if they become a 'gateway page' for getting people interested in a topic and then driving them to the 'hardcore stuff' on a .gov website, then that's a huge indirect value," Drapeau wrote in an email.

As an example, Drapeau suggested that when a lengthy jobs report is released on a .gov website, someone from the Bureau of Labor Statistics should blog about it in a short, casual post of roughly 500 words. That could inspire curiosity, which would cause people to follow a link to the more detailed report.

"It's a marketing tool and it's a community relations tool as well," Drapeau said.

The Promise of Posterous

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The simple email-to-blog-post functionality of Posterous is making it an increasingly popular tool for people.

"You can do more than a tweet and get out more information, and there is no delay in that happening," said Jennifer Van Grove, associate editor of the widely read social media blog Mashable.

Van Grove recently wrote a thorough comparison of Tumblr and Posterous. She suggested that while Tumblr's web interface is "killer," it is the ease of sending an email to publish on Posterous that makes the service truly innovative.

"I'll take a picture and just email it to my Posterous account, which takes literally 10 seconds and it is already up," Van Grove said in a phone interview. "And, it will auto-post out to Twitter and Facebook ... [there is] a potential for an instant mass communication."

Government IT teams have their hands full, thanks to the rapid pace of new media innovation. They can't make all of the latest, greatest tools and services available internally, which can hamper transparency efforts. But the availability of these outside services can help continue the march toward government openness and transparency, whether IT teams and policymakers like it or not.

Government Could be Educational

Clay Johnson is director of Sunlight Labs at the Sunlight Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on government transparency. He said that government IT teams aren't able to control what employees can and can't use.

"New stuff gets invented everyday," Johnson said. "It seems like things [such as the blocking of certain websites] are fairly easy to circumvent."

Johnson suggested that government agencies should take a more proactive approach if they don't want sensitive information published on blogs.

"The government would be in a better spot if it were being educational rather than being restrictive," Johnson said. "If you educate rather than restrict, I think they'll have better results."

Johnson praised Posterous and Tumblr as "cheap and easy" in comparison to websites like recovery.gov, which was designed to communicate how stimulus funds are being spent. That site cost about $9.5 million to create. Johnson said simple blogging platforms are best used to inspire participation and collaboration with government.

A Different View

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David Moore, executive director of the Participatory Politics Foundation said in a phone interview that commercial services like Tumblr offer the illusion of transparency and engagement with government, but they are not a good solution for the long term.

The Participatory Politics Foundation, with help from the Sunlight Foundation, created OpenCongress, an open-source website that aggregates government data and provides news coverage, blog posts and commenting functionality. Moore suggested that it's a good thing for government agencies to dabble in new media technologies, but it's dangerous for them to get entrenched in them because these services are not truly open.

"They look really great at first and you say, 'Okay now the government is getting involved, they are out where people are,'" Moore said. "What's necessary is that government always publishes their source data first in ways that are fully compliant with fully open principles. Then after that, they can delve into social networking tools and blogging platforms like Tumblr."

Moore views Posterous and Tumblr as "walled gardens," and is skeptical of any footprint government agencies establish in closed proprietary services.

"As a society, we don't want to have to rely on the Pentagon Papers model of keeping the government accountable," Moore said. "If you were designing a system, no one would say that having someone leak something is ideal. Rather, if you step back and redesign how government can and should work in the 21st century, people would say that all public data be released publicly and from a primary source...so that they can give their feedback throughout the process."

Steven Davy is a freelance journalist, and freelance radio reporter/producer. He regularly covers the defense industry and security related issues for UPI. Additionally he hosts a current affairs news magazine radio show called the Nonchalant Café Hour which broadcasts live in Kalamazoo, Mich. Steven is a second year graduate student at Michigan State University in the School of Journalism.

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