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August 08 2012

13:00

How do you navigate a liveblog? The Guardian’s Second Screen solution

I’ve been using The Guardian’s clever Second Screen webpage-slash-app during much of the Olympics. It is, frankly, a little too clever for its own good, requiring a certain learning curve to understand its full functionality.

But one particular element has really caught my eye: the Twitter activity histogram.

In the diagram below – presented to users before they use Second Screen – this histogram is highlighted in the upper left corner.

Guardian's Second Screen Olympics interactive

What the histogram provides is an instant visual cue to help in hunting down key events.

If you missed Jessica Ennis’s gold, it’s a pretty safe bet you’ll find it where the big Twitter spike is. Indeed, if you missed something interesting – whether you know it happened or not – you should be able to find it by hitting the peaks in that Twitter histogram.

That’s useful whether you’re looking at the Olympics or any other ongoing event which would normally see news websites reaching for a liveblog. What’s more, it requires no human intervention or editorial decision making.

Of course, in this form it relies on people using Twitter – but you can adapt the principle to other sources of activity data: traffic volume to your site, for instance (compared to typical traffic for that time of day, if you want to avoid it being skewed by lunchtime rushes).

Indeed, that’s what the Guardian Zeitgeist does across the site as a whole.

Horizontal navigation, adopted by Second Screen as a whole, is a further innovation which bears closer scrutiny. The histogram lends itself to it, so how do you adapt from a vertically-navigated scrolling liveblog? Would you run the histogram up the side, kept static while the page scrolls? Or would you run the liveblog horizontally?

Either way, it’s a creative solution to a common liveblogging problem that’s worth noting.

13:00

How do you navigate a liveblog? The Guardian’s Second Screen solution

I’ve been using The Guardian’s clever Second Screen webpage-slash-app during much of the Olympics. It is, frankly, a little too clever for its own good, requiring a certain learning curve to understand its full functionality.

But one particular element has really caught my eye: the Twitter activity histogram.

In the diagram below – presented to users before they use Second Screen – this histogram is highlighted in the upper left corner.

Guardian's Second Screen Olympics interactive

What the histogram provides is an instant visual cue to help in hunting down key events.

If you missed Jessica Ennis’s gold, it’s a pretty safe bet you’ll find it where the big Twitter spike is. Indeed, if you missed something interesting – whether you know it happened or not – you should be able to find it by hitting the peaks in that Twitter histogram.

That’s useful whether you’re looking at the Olympics or any other ongoing event which would normally see news websites reaching for a liveblog. What’s more, it requires no human intervention or editorial decision making.

Of course, in this form it relies on people using Twitter – but you can adapt the principle to other sources of activity data: traffic volume to your site, for instance (compared to typical traffic for that time of day, if you want to avoid it being skewed by lunchtime rushes).

Indeed, that’s what the Guardian Zeitgeist does across the site as a whole.

Horizontal navigation, adopted by Second Screen as a whole, is a further innovation which bears closer scrutiny. The histogram lends itself to it, so how do you adapt from a vertically-navigated scrolling liveblog? Would you run the histogram up the side, kept static while the page scrolls? Or would you run the liveblog horizontally?

Either way, it’s a creative solution to a common liveblogging problem that’s worth noting.

September 17 2010

17:00

Yeah, but what does it mean for journalism? A visual rhetoric guide

It’s become something of a Twitter joke. A new gadget appears, or a dramatic development takes place on the world stage, and the cry goes up: But what does it mean for journalism? I’m guilty of it myself. And a lot of the time, it’s a meaningful question to ask; we are in the future-of-journalism business, after all. What would we spend our day doing if not inquiring about what it — all of it– means for journalism.

That said, I wanted to try a little experiment. And so using Wordle, some time-delimited Google searches, and quick-and-dirty cutting and pasting, I decided to take a look at how the conversation about “what it means for journalism” might have changed, or not changed, since 2008.

The results are below. But first, a little bit about what I did. I plugged a few searches into Google, namely “what” AND “future of journalism.” I time-delimited the search, looking only for results from 2008, then only from 2009, then only 2010. I scraped the text from all my results, and dropped them into OpenOffice. I then deleted all mentions of “journalism,” “media,” and “news,” figuring they’d be the most common and least interesting answers, and wanting to weigh the words without them included in Wordle. And here’s what I got.

2008 [full-size version here]: Words that jump out: “public,” “interest,” “material,” “interactivity,” “information.” The combination of “public” and “interest” are the most interesting to me here. It was an election, after all, perhaps there was a bit more discussion of that amorphous body we call “the public,” and how it relates to changes in journalism. There’s a little about journalists, though not as much as we’ll see in 2009.

2009 [full size]: “Public” has disappeared, as has “information.” It’s been replaced by “people,” “journalist,” “online,” “world,” “web,” “paper,” and “think.” There’s some question about medium at play here; this was the year of “what comes after newspapers die,” after all. I have to admit I was a little surprised there weren’t more words having to do with “morbidity” here, stuff like “death,” “dying,” “disappearing, or “crisis.” But I think the focus on “journalist” here reflects the industry crisis in its own way — as in, what about all those people losing their jobs?

2010 [full size]: Now here’s the “what does it mean for journalism” conversation I remember — iPad and WikiLeaks. Will either of them save journalism? We’ll see what the rest of the year brings, but for now, it looks to me like a fairly abstract conversation about journalism and the public has been replaced by a debate over particular types of mediums (paper and web), which has itself been supplanted by a focus on particular organizations and devices.

Now, all of this is incredibly crude measurement, and there’s a ton wrong with it. (Let’s just say my methodology wouldn’t pass peer review.) Time-limited Google searching is imperfect, and of course I’ve totally left out stuff like Twitter and Facebook. But I think there’s a germ of potential here for mapping particular forms of dialog around particular key phrases. I’d love to work with any data-happy, data-mining Twitter scholars or smart Google engineers to pursue this line of work further. Drop me a line if you’re interested.

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