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May 31 2013


Romanian Developers, with AOL Teams in New York and Tel Aviv, Re-Engineer Beet.TV

Cluj-Napoca, Romania –  From an office in this academic town, equidistant to Bucharest, Budapest and Belgrade, a team of developers has completely re-engineered Beet.TV, using the AOL video platform and a highly customized WordPress CMS.

The project, supervised by AOL executives in New York,  involved the migration and proper contextualization of some 4,000 videos and blog posts.

Since its launch in 2006, Beet.TV has been published on TypePad — and has used Blip.tv as its primary video platform for the past six years.  The transition to the new publishing platform took three months.  It went live in April.

The transition of our hundreds of Beet videos to the new player on the Huffington Post and TechCrunch,  is underway and should be concluded in 30 days.

With the new CMS, we are implementing a sophisticated advertising traffic/management system.

Greppy Systems, the Romanian company that implements a number of project for AOL, handled the Beet.TV project.

For an overview of  the project, we produced this video in Cluj-Napoca with interviews with Greppy’s Valentin Maior and Marious Jamolea.  Also in the segment, the two explain the work of Greppy — and the emergence of their Romanian town as technology center.

Many thanks to AOL in New York and Tel Aviv

Also helping on this project was the AOL/5Min developer and editorial teams based in Tel Aviv.   Beet.TV has syndicated its video on 5Min for nearly five years.   The indexing and tagging of Beet video by the Tel Aviv-based content team was essential in the transition.

Special thanks to our New York-based project manager at AOL Karolis Balciunas, technical mastermind Shay Brog and especially my friend and a  great supporter of Beet.TV, AOL video chief Ran Harnevo.








January 16 2012


SOPA: You run a WordPress site and want to join the Jan. 18 blackout?

ZDNet :: Gaining steam is the notion that sites like Facebook and Google need to black out to create ultimate awareness/impact with the general public about these two acts, but let’s not discount the smaller sites and communities around the Web! If you are one such site or community and you want to join the blackout that will occur on January 18, head on over to the main site of your Web site’s platform and search for a plugin!

Joining the Internet blackout movement on January 18th in protest of SOPA/PIPA can be as easy as downloading and installing a small plugin on your site in case you use WordPress, writes Stephen Chapman, ZDNet and publishes a howto.

Continue to read Stephen Chapman, www.zdnet.com

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June 25 2011


Corrections and change transparency - A WordPress plugin to make revisions visible

Wordyard :: Scott Rosenberg posted a manifesto. He said Web publishers should let themselves change published articles and posts whenever they need to — and make each superseded version accessible to readers, the way Wikipedians and software developers do. This one simple addition to the content-management arsenal, known as versioning, would allow everyone to use the Web as the flexible medium it ought to be, without worrying about confusing or deceiving readers.

To install the plugin search for "Post Revision Display" enter your WordPress, go to "Plugins", "All" and search for it.

Continue to read Scott Rosenberg, www.wordyard.com

WordPress Plugin: Post Revision Display Scott Carpenter, movingtofreedom.org

June 19 2011


Not The Guardian - Web-first workflow with Google Docs, WordPress and InDesign integration? ... For free

Mediabistro :: The Bangor Daily News announced this week that it completed its full transition to open source blogging software, WordPress. And get this: The workflow integrates seamlessly with InDesign, meaning the paper now has one content management system for both its web and print operations. And if you’re auspicious enough, you can do it too — he’s open-sourced all the code!

Continue to read Lauren Rabaino, www.mediabistro.com

Docs to WordPress to InDesign, video William P.D. , www.screenr.com

June 16 2011


New York Times, HuffPo, NPR - site Tumblr takes off, with now 7 million individual blogs

NPR :: In January, the 4-year-old site had more than 7 million individual blogs. In the past six months, the number has nearly tripled. Tumblr now has about the same number of bloggers as Wordpress, a blogging site that has been around for eight years. Mark Coatney, who works at Tumblr, equates using Tumblr to a daily activity many of us know pretty well. "It's more almost like, you know, an email experience in a way," he says. "You'll dash off an email or do a tweet or something like that because it's quick and easy, so it's kind of taking that thinking and applying it to blogging."

Continue to read Johan Asante, www.npr.org

April 13 2011


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?


March 31 2011


Hyperlocal Voices: Jason Cobb, Onionbagblog


As part of the Hyperlocal Voices series, Yessi Bello speaks to Jason Cobb, publisher of Wivenhoe’s Onionbagblog, which has moved with its author from town to town, and from covering local sport to an increasingly civic focus, including coverage of council meetings. Cobb describes attending his first Full Council meeting as “almost on par with this despair of watching sub-standard non-league football.” He now also publishes The Wivenhoe Forum.

Who are the people behind the blog?

My blog is essentially my own personal online home, where I can create and dump any digital content that comes my way.

My day job involves managing online communities, as well as producing online content for local schools. Sitting somewhere in-between is my blog, hopefully as a platform for local co-operation and engagement.

When did you set up the blog and how did you go about it?

I started blogging in 2003 using Blogger. It was the online equivalent of the old punk rallying call of here’s a chord, here’s another one – now go and start a band. Starting a blog was as simple as setting up an account with Blogger.

I’ve since moved platforms to a WordPress self-hosted site, which offers more flexibility and control over the design. But ultimately it really is still all about the content.

I’ve changed direction, if not focus, in the eight years that I have been blogging. This shift more or less reflects my own offline lifestyle changes from sport, to local community issues, and then my current lifestyle change having moved out of South London to the North Essex estuary wilds. Essentially I blog about what I see around me.

In Lambeth I witnessed an incredibly poor level of local accountability when it came to local council matters. The press gallery for Full Council meetings was often empty, with local journos guilty of being caught asleep on the job.

Through blogging and tweeting about some of the political twaddle that was taking place, I was able to engage the local community in how petty local politics can often appear from the outside.

It is great to now see many similar local blogs carrying on this level of political accountability, as well as the traditional media taking to tweeting from within the Town Hall.

What other blogs, bloggers or websites influenced you?

The mighty Urban 75 has always been an inspiration in terms of community passion, and what is possible to achieve collectively online.

The South East 853 blog often overlaps with similar local authority themes that I addressed in Lambeth.

Lurking About SE11 was an online neighbourhood friend, although we only ever met once by accident, despite constant accusations that we were in league together.

memespring is doing some very interesting work with data journalism in South London.

Since my move out towards North Essex, Keep Colchester Cool and the online/offline creative hub at 15 Queen Street have both offered much support and many opportunities for collaboration.

There is a tangible sense that Colchester is going through a period of positive creative growth. It is no coincidence that this move coincides with the emergence of the Cultural Quarter in the town.

By continuing to blog about hyperlocal matters in my new home of Wivenhoe, I have been able to connect with others members in the community and share ideas as to what direction our estuary town is hopefully taking.

How do you see yourself in relation to a traditional news operation?

The distinction is often one that is made by the traditional news media, and not by bloggers who are simply going about their business. We are all observers and reporters of events that happen around us. Traditional media may make money out of this process, but that is the only difference.

I personally operate best in a news patch that I know inside out. Size is all-important here – I have little interest in what is happening in a one mile radius outside of where I live and work: that is for others to look into.

Traditional media spreads itself thin by the very nature of being tied down to a financial model of covering a greater footprint.

Having moved into a new town, I am slowly, slowly finding my feet, and finding out more about the social history. Being active online in the area is a great opportunity to go about learning more about the sense of history in the place I now call home.

What have been the key moments in the blog’s development editorially?

Covering local sport was a large part of my old blog. I then began to ask more questions about how local decisions were made, and why this supposedly democratic process was often leading towards a shambles of democracy in the local town hall.

Attending my first Full Council meeting was something of a key moment, and one that was almost on par with this despair of watching sub-standard non-league football.

This has led to breaking new stories such as the Lambeth Councillor who attended only 50% of meetings yet still claimed his full allowance ; the local journo who received a police caution for the common assault of a cabinet member and the allegation that the Leader of Lambeth Council ordered an apolitical officer to hack into the email account of a fellow Councillor.

Sadly the downside to this local level of journalism is that you don’t exactly make yourself popular with the local politicians that you are holding to account. I felt some sense of justice when a Lambeth Councillor who left a completely random comment with racist connotations on my blogwas then ordered by the Council to participate in social media training.

Moving forward and I have recently set up a hyperlocal forum for the community where I now live. The Wivenhoe Forum is growing organically, and it has been great to see how locals are joining the online community and starting conversations about how we can make out town an even greater place to live and work.

What sort of traffic do you get and how has that changed over time?

To my great surprise my traffic levels have doubled since my blog took a more rural direction along with my house move.

I prefer the more qualitative approach to measurement than quantitative. Many new opportunities come my way via my blog. I am able to make offline connections in the local community, something that a daily data report of unique users is unable to compare with.

March 14 2011


Hyperlocal Voices: Darryl Chamberlain, 853 Blog

853 blog

Having worked for the BBC News Entertainment website for a decade, Darryl Chamberlain took voluntary redundancy and set up the widely successful 853 Blog. As part of the Hyperlocal Voices series he shares some of the secrets of his success.

1) Who where the people behind the blog, and what where their backgrounds?

853’s all mine. My background’s actually in showbiz news. I worked for the BBC News website’s entertainment desk for a decade in a variety of roles – mainly sub-editing and being the daily editor, but also reporting and feature writing.

I took voluntary redundancy and a career break in 2009 – standing in a council election in May 2010, and doing odd bits of freelance work. While standing in an election will probably leave me hopelessly biased in many eyes, it helped introduce me to local issues which simply weren’t being touched, and potential contacts of all political hues. After my glorious defeat, I realised I could do a bit more for my local area by sticking to what I was good at – finding things out and writing about them.

I have lived in the Greenwich area all my life, and it’s an under-reported patch, so here was my chance to do something about it. 853’s helped me keep my hand in the trade, too, which has been a nice spin-off.

More recently, I’ve set up a truly hyperlocal blog, the Charlton Champion , for the area where I live . I’m hoping to get more people involved in it, though, so it develops a different voice and its own distinctive identity. I’ve a few other people on board, but it’s very early days.

I’m also involved in a new project, The Scoop, about London news and politics.

2) When did you set up the blog and how did you go about it?

I’d blogged under a pseudonym on a couple of other sites for about five years – the usual “have a go at everyone/everything” stuff – before my impending redundancy convinced me I should try something under my own name.

I set 853 up in October 2008, using a basic WordPress template. Originally, it was going to be a showcase for my writing – I had all kinds of plans to go travelling. But the travel stuff only ended up being a small part of what the site became. Maybe I’ll pack my bags again one day and add a bit more travel.

3) What other blogs, bloggers or websites influenced you?

I’ve always thought a blog should tell you something you don’t know, instead of parroting the same old stuff. So I’ve always been in awe of Diamond Geezer , who’s looking at London’s lesser-known aspects for nearly nine years now.

Jason Cobb’s Onionbagblog was a huge influence – like me, he never set out to scrutinise his local council, but found himself doing it when nobody else was. I’m sure the leadership of Lambeth Council are breathing a sigh of relief now he’s chronicling life on the Essex coast instead.

Adam Bienkov has shown the benefits of persistence and building up good contacts in his chronicle of life at City Hall, while Brockley Central has become the model for just about anybody wanting to set up a hyperlocal blog.

My fellow Greenwich blogger The Greenwich Phantom has a distinctive take on local life which means we don’t tread on each other’s toes, Greenwich.co.uk has shown there is a demand for local news and information, while Transpontine is essential reading if you’re interested in south-east London’s music, culture and history. London SE1 is a fantastic news source which puts the big operators to shame, while Chislehurst News is a newcomer to the SE London scene which is well worth a look.

There’s a loose network of bloggers in south-east London and beyond which has been a great source of inspiration and support.

4) How did- and do you- see yourself in relation to a traditional news operation?

In south-east London, the hyperlocal blogs are partly filling a gap that’s come about because of market failure. The Greenwich area’s been largely abandoned by the big operators, leaving a couple of freesheets whose editorial is shared with neighbouring Lewisham.

The two boroughs are fairly similar socially but wildly different politically, despite both being Labour areas, and that’s where they hit problems. Combined, those freesheets are struggling to serve an area with the same population of Liverpool against a lack of interest from their proprietors – Tindle’s Mercury has great reporters but is horribly under-resourced and doesn’t even have a proper website, while Newsquest’s News Shopper is based far out in the suburbs and really doesn’t understand the area.

That said, I’d rather 853 complemented rather than competed with them – so when I deal with news I’m concentrating on council-related matters because that’s what’s getting neglected. But it still contains lots of opinion on other issues and anything else that takes my fancy.

5) What have been the key moments in the blog’s development editorially?

The turning point was going to a Greenwich Council meeting in July 2009 and watching a member of the public hectored by the mayor because he was having trouble asking a question about a housing development that affected him. It was horrifying to watch but here were no reporters there to see this – the entire meeting went unreported beyond my site.

Greenwich.co.uk’s Rob Powell asked me to cover a few meetings for him after this, and I’ve continued doing this on 853. A lot of the blog’s opinionated, but on council issues the facts usually speak for themselves.

More recently, revealing the closures of the Greenwich Foot Tunnel and the council pulling its funding from fireworks on Blackheath – claiming cuts-induced poverty despite blowing £30,000 on a mayor-making ceremony have been important moments for the blog.

Following the ongoing story of the cuts is going to become more important as time goes on – 853 was the first place to report on the initial swathe of Greenwich’s cuts and the Charlton Champion’s revealed the threat to a local petting zoo.

Covering the problems of the Southeastern train company whose press office refuses to deal with blogs – has been a boost for traffic; again, it’s an issue that’s often poorly covered elsewhere.

My background on the BBC News website’s served me well – I get frustrated if I’m not first to a story!

6) What sort of traffic do you get and how has that changed over time?

Traffic has doubled over the past year or so – it tends to go up in spurts with big stories.

March 01 2011


50+ New WordPress Themes: March 2011

A few things can be learned from this latest roundup of new WordPress themes, all released within the past five months or so.

First of all, there’s a definite trend toward more premium themes, with fewer high-quality free themes available.

Minimalist and simple, clean themes are definitely the favorite of designers at the moment, representing the vast majority of the themes in this roundup.

There’s also been an increase in jQuery integration in themes, though this has been a growing trend for awhile now.

A large percentage of themes in this list have at least some jQuery integration built-in, and some have quite a lot.

Free Themes

High quality free themes are getting rarer. Sure, there are still plenty of great options out there, but it seems like fewer free themes are being released at all, and finding the high-quality ones is even harder. Below are more than twenty high-quality free themes released in the past five months or so.


Imbalance is a minimalist, grid-based theme. It’s jQuery-powered, and is perfectly suited for a blog, magazine, or portfolio site.


Blogum is simple and minimalist, with a grid-based layout. It includes a jQuery image preloader, built-in support for social bookmarking, and clean typography.

Studio Dessign

Studio Dessign, from Dessign, is another modern, grid-based theme. It has a black and white color scheme, valid code, and simple typography.

Big Square

Big Square is a clean, minimalist theme that focuses on big images, and is perfect for any blog or site that uses a lot of images in their posts.


Placeholder, from WooThemes is a new “coming soon” style theme. It includes a countdown timer, e-mail opt-in, and social buttons to so your visitors can stay updated and share your site with their network.


Skeptical is another free WooThemes theme, with custom typography and an alternative sidebar option. It also supports Google Fonts, and has four alternative color styles, as well as options for a custom background color or image and link color.


Portfolium is a dark portfolio theme, ideal for artists, photographers, designers, and other creatives. It also includes a blog page template, for more text-based content.


Suburbia is a clean and elegant magazine-style theme, with a grid-based layout and two featured posts on the home page. It’s widget-ready and includes a logo uploader.


Sight is a more traditional magazine-style blog theme. It includes a jQuery featured post carousel, custom widgets, custom logo upload, and two pagination types.

Style Dessign

Style Dessign is a clean, black, white and gray, grid-based design. It puts the emphasis on images for each post, and has a very modern feel.


iTheme2 is a Mac OSX-styles theme. It auto-adjusts the theme layout using media queries, has a customizable feature slider, and two theme skins.


Spectacular is a great free theme released by Smashing Magazine. It’s been released in both HTML5 and HTML4.01. The design has a vintage feel, with tons of textures and a fantastic retro color scheme.


Jenzoo is a professional theme that includes a number of individual page templates (front page, portfolio page, blog page). It also includes a functional contact form, drop-down menus, Google Analytics integration, and a logo uploader.


JournalCrunch, designed by Site5 and released by Smashing Magazine, offers a grid-based layout and theme options page. It includes nine shortcodes, a built-in Latest Tweets widget, jQuery-based drop-down menus, PrettyPhoto lightbox, and forms, and a custom homepage template.


Video is a dark, clean theme aimed at video bloggers or others with a lot of video content. It includes custom taxonomy, as well as custom pages for video details, video listings, and other specialized content.

Cenutis Magazine

Cenutis Magazine is a very simple magazine theme with a content slider, six banner ad slots on the home page, and a social bookmark widget. It also includes post thumbnails, a PSD logo file, and a featured news section.

Woody Magazine

Woody Magazine is a dark magazine theme, with a built-in content slider and Mygallery, as well as featured news. It includes five banner ad slots, theme options, and a social bookmark widget.

Latest Tribune

Latest Tribune is a black, white, and red news theme, with multiple featured content sections on the home page. It has two top navigation bars, a content slider, and space for banner ads.

Numberto Magazine

Numerto Magazine is a streamlined, minimalist magazine theme, with a muted color scheme. It includes two columns and five widgetized sidebars, as well as threaded comments, and post thumbnails.

Computis Magazine

Computis Magazine is a dark magazine theme, with a built-in content slider and two columns. There are five sidebars, five banner ad slots (that can be turned off), and threaded comments.

Kalixo Magazine

Kalixo Magazine is a magazine-style theme with a woodgrain background and a grid layout. It has two columns and two sidebars, a PSD logo file, and threaded comments.

Yellow Magazine

Yellow Magazine is a clean, streamlined magazine layout with a gold color scheme. It includes a content slider, two columns, two sidebars, and social bookmarks.

Gamelison Magazine

Gameliso Magazine is a gray and red theme with a unique content slider. It includes admin page options, two columns, two sidebars, and is widget-ready.

Natolinis Mag

Natolinis Mag is a clean, black and white theme with red accents. It includes plenty of banner ad slots (all of which can be turned off), a built-in content slider, and two columns.

Premium Themes

There are dozens, maybe even hundreds, of new premium themes being released on a monthly basis now. Designers and developers are experimenting more with the capabilities of WordPress not only as a blogging platform, but also as a CMS (and even as a specialized CMS). Below are more than thirty great, quality premium themes, ranging in price from around $20 to more than $100.

Newsy – $39

Newsy is a three-column news theme, with eleven layout options and ten color variant skins. It has two sidebars, a header slider, and supports Google Fonts.

Rezo – $39

Rezo is a premium theme designed specifically for restaurants, bars, and cafes. It includes a homepage feature slider, various layouts for a menu page, a lightbox gallery, and Google Map shortcode functionality.

Photobox – $39

Photobox is a gallery theme, aimed specifically at sites with a ton of images. It includes custom header and footer menus, and multiple layout options (4-column, 3-column, and 2-column).

Edmin – $39

Edmin is an elegant, unconventional theme, with a unique layout. It includes a homepage slider, custom fields, and threaded comments, among other features.

Polar Media – $49-$69

Polar Media is a grid-based theme with an emphasis on images. It’s aimed at news sites and personal blogs, though, rather than photo blogs or similar sites.

Restaurant Pro – $49-$69

Restaurant Pro is a theme designed specifically for restaurants, with flexible options for things like your menu page, advanced design control, and fast setup.

Me’gusta $49-$69

Me’gusta is a simple, green and white theme, aimed at green businesses. It includes advanced design control, support for multiple sliders, portfolios, and blogs on a single page, and 21 advanced widgets.

Memoir – $39 (for all themes)

Memoir is a beautiful premium theme with a photo background, and four unique color schemes. It includes shortcodes, complete localization, page templates, and ePanel theme options.

Magnificent – $39 (for all themes)

Magnificent is a flexible theme with seven unique color schemes, automated thumbnail resizing, and advertising management. It also includes ePanel theme options, a shortcodes collection, page templates, and more.

Supreme – $25

Supreme is a new theme from Natty WP, designed for news, magazine, personal, or community sites. It includes 28 different jQuery staging effects for the layout, as well as six custom page templates.

Elefolio – $70-$150

Elefolio, from WooThemes, offers a custom homepage and portfolio section, as well as custom typography. It includes nine custom color styles, custom widgets, and tumblog functionality, too.

Auld – $70-$150

Auld is a tumblog theme for WordPress, from WooThemes. It includes ten alternative color styles, custom typography and widgets, and jQuery post alignment.

BrestLite – $19.50

BrestLite is a magazine-style theme with four color schemes, a featured Coin slider, and WP 3.0 custom background and menu options. It also includes some CSS3 features and a customizable layout.

Jai – $35

Jai is a clean style portfolio template, aimed at photographers. It has an extensive admin panel, a built-in color picker for unlimited color schemes, seven homepage slider styles, three header fonts, and a lot more.

Anolox – $35

Anolox is a premium portfolio theme with three homepage layout options and five color variations. It also includes five custom widgets and an ajax contact form.

Through the Lens – $30

Through the Lens is a versatile theme that’s suitable for a blog, photography site, portfolio, and more. It includes seven different color schemes, and CSS3 styling.

WikiBase – $65-$99

WikiBase is a specialized WP theme for creating a knowledgebase or wiki site. It has a customizable homepage, page templates, and a theme options page where you can change the color scheme, logo, Favicon, and more.

Events – $65-$99

Events is a special WP theme for creating event websites. It includes a customizable homepage, a featured events function, custom taxonomy, and bulk uploads.

Hand Crafted – $35

Hand Crafted is a beautiful, clean theme with three color variations. It’s 100% valid HTML5, integrates Google Fonts, and includes a Flickr widget, Twitter integration, and built-in pagination.

Clearly Modern – $35

Clearly Modern is a flexible, 12-column-grid-based theme. It includes sliders, galleries, custom shortcodes, multi-level drop down navigation, and more.

Duotive 2WO – $35

Duotive 2WO is a very versatile theme that includes 17 color schemes and 274 background images. It also has 8 portfolio styles, 5 blog styles, and 10 gallery styles, and WPML support.

Origami – $35

Origami is a highly-customizable theme, with one-click Cufon font replacement, three slider options, and more than fifty shortcodes. It’s built on the 960 Grid System, and include 12 custom widgets, 18 color pricing and other grids, and three button sizes with 18 color options.

Blogue – $29-$49

Blogue is a simple, minimalist theme that puts the focus squarely on your blog’s content. It includes a theme options page, jQuery slideshow to display featured posts, and four color schemes, among other features.

Space – $35

Space is a clean theme with nine color schemes, three slider options, and more than twenty shortcodes. It also includes four portfolio layout options, two blog layout options, and six custom widgets.


Sniper is a corporate WordPress theme with eight custom widgets and four widget areas. It also includes nine portfolio/gallery templates, and a custom blog template.

Grounded – $35

Grounded offers 24 Cufon fonts, 2 navigation style options, and 3 sliders. It also includes twelve page templates, eight image frame options, and nine widgets.

Seso – $35

Seso is a clean, minimalist theme with a widgetized front page and jQuery effects. Included are both an HTML and an HTML5 version, dynamic sidebars, and custom widgets.

Widezine – $35

Widezine is a fluid layout theme with a fully-widgetized homepage and nine custom widgets. It includes two skins (light and dark), a custom admin panel, and full documentation.

Sophis – $30

Sophis is a vintage-style theme, with five premade skins. It includes a color-picker for the background, shortcodes, and a Nivo Slider.

FreshStart – $35

FreshStart is a clean theme with multiple templates and nine custom widgets. It includes a simple slider for your portfolio, shortcodes, and five color schemes.

Child Care Creative – $40

Child Care Creative is a specialized theme aimed at child care or similar businesses. It has a kid-friendly design, two different homepage layouts, header options, and more.

Layover – $35

Layover is a minimalist theme that can be used as a foundation for a custom design, or as it is. It includes shortcodes, slider options, pricing grids, and more.

Compiled exclusively for WDD by Cameron Chapman.

Know of a great new theme released since last fall that we missed? Let us know in the comments!

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February 24 2011


How to Integrate Social Tools into the Journalism Classroom

Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by the USC Annenberg nine-month M.A. in Specialized Journalism. USC's highly customized degree programs are tailored to the experienced journalist and gifted amateur. Learn more about how USC Annenberg is immersed in tomorrow.

It's difficult to deny that social media platforms are changing the face of modern communication. Online tools are a growing part of how news is sourced, published, and consumed. The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt demonstrated the importance of social media literacy for journalists.

Yet integrating social media into university classrooms can be a daunting task for many journalism educators. Professors are typically required to use clunky online systems for grading and communicating with students. It's an unpleasant experience for everyone involved. These awkward systems don't inspire creativity, enrich collaboration, or instill a passion for experimentation -- all of which are required to survive and succeed in a rapidly changing media industry.

This post will examine a few innovative uses of social media that journalism professors are trying out in the classroom. Not every tool is appropriate for every class, but there are undoubtedly ways in which most instructors can find room for at least some of these ideas.


Yes, Facebook can play a significant, positive role in the classroom. And no, professors don't have to become "friends" with their students to make use of it.

Facebook Groups provide a place where students can post ideas, links, and even photos or videos. When one uploads content to a Facebook group, neither the action nor the information shows up on a person's wall. It remains completely within the walls of the group.

Facebook Group Interaction

The main reason to use a Facebook group is that students are already there. They don't have to remember another log-in or remember to go visit "the class forum." It fits seamlessly into their lives. It takes very little effort to click "like" or add a comment to a classmate's idea. This fact alone encourages more interaction than other platforms.

Groups come in three varieties: open, closed or secret. "Open" groups are public, "closed" groups keep content private but allow others to see its list of members, and "secret" won't show up anywhere.

I recommend "closed" groups for classes. This gives students a private space to speak and makes it easy for others to join. Simply send a link to a closed group and others can request to join. (For more on Facebook Groups, read this excellent post by Jen Lee Reeves, who teaches at the University of Missouri.)

Facebook Pages are used by news organizations to share stories and even to find sources for stories. Journalism instructor Staci Baird has her students manage San Francisco Beat as part of the Digital News Gathering class at San Francisco State University.

"I want my students to get used to trying new things, thinking outside the box," she said. Other benefits Baird cited included "real-world experience" and thinking of Facebook in professional terms.

After you create a Page, you can add students as admins by entering their email addresses. This gets around having to add students as friends in order to invite them to participate.

Group Blogs

Blogs are a great way to expose students to online writing and basic web publishing. Students can post assignments for teachers to see, and the overall blog can contribute reporting to the local community.

Tumblr Screenshot

Tumblr has been in the spotlight recently for its rising popularity. It is elegant in its simplicity, standing somewhere between a Twitter feed and a WordPress blog.

Mashable community manager and social strategist Vadim Lavrusik uses Tumblr as the primary vehicle for the Social Media Skills for Journalists class he teaches at Columbia University.

"Because Tumblr is a social platform, other members of the community are able to follow and keep up," wrote Lavrusik in a recent post.

Each student has his or her own account and can contribute to a collaborative Tumblr that combines everyone's work.

Posterous is similar to Tumblr but has a few key differences. Its signature feature is the ability to post text, photos, or video by simply sending an email. Posterous also offers moderation and group blogs.

Educator Wesley Fryer posted a detailed screencast on setting up a moderated class blog.

Staci Baird also used Posterous for a mobile reporting class. She said some students were able to use smartphone apps while others could still post via email.


WordPress is another free blogging platform. There are two ways to set up WordPress blogs. The simplest way is to create an account at WordPress.com. It's fast and free, but also limited in terms of customizing its look and features.

Through WordPress.org, the source code can be downloaded and installed on any independent web server. This opens the door to extensive customization. Because it's open source, it allows web developers to create a rich library of free plug-ins that enhance the core components. Journalism professor Robert Hernandez recommends the BuddyPress plug-in to add social and collaborative features. Plug-ins are not available for WordPress.com accounts.

Some universities may allow WordPress installations on campus servers, but others have more restrictive IT policies. In this case, teachers may need to pay for a domain name and web hosting to run an independent server. It typically costs around $10 per year to register a domain name; server space to host a blog costs around $5 a month.

Hernandez runs his class blogs from a personal web hosting account. Multimedia lecturer Jeremy Rue uses the WP Super Cache plug-in to optimize the server load for self-hosted WordPress blogs.

Social Curation

As newsmakers engage on Twitter and Facebook, it's important that students know how to collect and annotate these messages. Storify, Curated.by and Keepstream all allow users to gather and embed social media messages for use in blog posts and articles.

As I was gathering ideas for this article, I asked journalism educators on Twitter about their use of these tools in the classroom. I collected their responses using Storify.

Storify screenshotWhile Storify and Keepstream are designed around discrete collections of content, Curated.by is geared more toward ongoing curation.

For that reason, I suggest using Curated.by for student coverage of live events or for long-term collaboration. Another useful feature is that it allows multiple contributors to work together on the same collection.

Storify does allow users to share accounts as "editors," but I don't recommend this because it gives students full access to edit all content in each other's accounts. The privacy features in Curated.by allow users to limit access to specific projects.

Collaborative Writing

Google Docs allows multiple contributors to write at the same time and track revisions. This service is simple and popular.

But beyond Google Docs, a cluster of collaborative writing apps may have a more practical use in class. In addition to allowing multiple contributors, they record detailed keystrokes. This means you can replay the entire writing process.

As an example, I used iEtherPad to draft this article (you can watch me write it by pressing play). In math classes, students must show their work. Why not require students to show their writing? (For another example of collaborative writing on iEtherPad, check out this story by Mark Glaser on MediaShift.)

Mind Mapping

Mind mapping, or structured brainstorming, helps organize ideas based on their relationship to other elements. There are several free mind mapping applications, but one in particular offers a useful feature for the classroom: online collaboration. And like the collaborative writing applications, Mind Meister records all actions.

I used Mind Meister to begin a class on multimedia journalism. I asked students to define journalism, describe multimedia, and organize how each element related to the others. The mind map tracked the updates as we talked about various definitions. It was fun for them to interact with each other, and it kept them engaged from their workstations rather than watching me write on a whiteboard.


Journalism educators need to lead by example and experiment. It's OK to try something that doesn't work perfectly. No tool is perfect. In six months, the sites mentioned here will inevitably be upgraded with new features. What's important is inspiring students to apply their journalistic curiosity to exploring how new social tools can further their storytelling.

If you have experience using social services like these in the classroom, I hope you'll share your perspective in the comments.

Nathan Gibbs teaches multimedia journalism as an adjunct instructor for Point Loma Nazarene University and the SDSU Digital and Social Media Collaborative. Gibbs oversees multimedia content as web producer for KPBS, the PBS and NPR affiliate in San Diego. He played a key role in the station's groundbreaking use of social media during the 2007 Southern California wildfires and continues to drive interactive strategy. Gibbs is on Twitter as @nathangibbs and runs Modern Journalist, a blog for journalists exploring multimedia.

Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by the USC Annenberg nine-month M.A. in Specialized Journalism. USC's highly customized degree programs are tailored to the experienced journalist and gifted amateur. Learn more about how USC Annenberg is immersed in tomorrow.

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February 07 2011


Marines ask Basetrack to leave amid security concerns

A curious development over at Basetrack this afternoon. (You may remember Basetrack as Teru Kuwayama’s Knight News Challenge-winning project to use social media to tell stories about an American military unit in Afghanistan.) Word from Kuwayama is that they’re being asked to leave the Marine regiment they’ve been working with.

Posting on Basetrack’s blog, Kuwayama wrote: “It was hard to get clarification on why, how or who issued the order…but we’ll keep you posted.”

While praising Basetrack for the work they’ve done to highlight the lives of Marines serving overseas, a memo from the unit’s public affairs officer says they’re asking Basetrack to leave because of “perceived operational security violations.” From the memo:

These concerns are legitimate. Specifically the websites tie in to google maps to display friendly force locations. At this time there has been no official OpSec determination yet and therefore they are being asked to leave and NOT disembedded (disembedding is a formal process that occurs after OpSec determinations have been finalized). RCT 8 Public Affairs concerns lie in the fact that anytime too much information is aggregated in one place in a fashion tying unit disposition and manpower together we have facilitated the enemy.

The news is a surprise to say the least: Kuwayama has spent extensive time embedded with Marines. The about face by the military is more surprising, as Kuwayama told The New York Times last year that the Marines were the ones who asked him to come along to chronicle the lives of soldiers. One of the more remarkable aspects of Basetrack is the collaboration between soldiers and the project’s photographers, a melding that allowed Marines to connect with family and friends back here in the states. (A quick look at responses on Basetrack’s Facebook page shows a mix of confusion, sadness and pragmatism as troops safety is their top priority.) And the integration with mapping tools is one of the most impressive elements of Basetrack’s site.

Kuwayama was a speaker at December’s #niemanleaks conference, where he told the audience about the lengths Basetrack goes to to make sure they don’t release sensitive information. Kuwayama called it a “denial of information” system, that allowed for the military to quickly and easily redact information as needed. We’re reaching out to him to see if we can get more clarity on what exactly this means for Basetrack.

December 20 2010


NPR's Project Argo Creates National Content at the Local Level

argo_promo_sites_sm.jpg Jason and the Argonauts were the mythological Greek heroes who set off on a quest for the Golden Fleece. Like its namesake, NPR's Project Argo is off on another noble quest -- to strengthen local journalism, particularly on digital platforms. Project Argo is a partnership between NPR and member stations, funded by the Knight Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Its focus is building and launching niche, topic-focused websites for NPR member stations that can be models for the rest of the system.

We're proving the notion that a news organization can quickly build authority, engagement and traffic without large-scale increases in newsroom staff. Argo sites are piloted by one reporter-blogger (in a couple of cases, two reporters share one full-time job).

The topics we cover vary from Global Health to Higher Education and from Climate Change to Crime and the Courts. Argo stations include Oregon Public Broadcasting, KQED and KALW in San Francisco, KPCC in Pasadena, KPBS in San Diego, KPLU in Seattle, Minnesota Public Radio, WBUR and WGBH in Boston, WNYC in New York, WXPN in Philadelphia and WAMU in Washington, D.C.

Although each of the Argo sites is producing very different types of content, they're linked to one another in a network dedicated to quality journalism. We think you'll find the same serendipity that carries you from a climate change story to a health care story on NPR programs such as "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" will also inform and entertain you online in the Argo network. The organizing principle is that you will find the same high level of quality throughout the network.

Reporting, Aggregation, Community

Make no mistake; the Project Argo sites are local. But we are covering news that resonates nationally. WBUR's blog, CommonHealth, may become your new favorite site devoted to reporting on health care costs if you live in Boston. But it might also be required reading if you live anywhere, from Chicago to Corpus Christie, from Miami to Missoula, and anywhere else in between.

The Argo sites are based upon the principle that in order to bring the world to our readers, our reporters must report and write outstanding enterprise blog posts. But they must pay equal attention to curating the conversation by aggregating the best content from across the web that is relevant to his or her beat, and by fostering and participating in a robust community.

As a key deliverable for Project Argo, we were expected to build a new free-standing, web-based content management system using open source code and free software commonly available. By the end of the project's pilot phase (December 2011), we will open source that platform.


In building the platform, the questions we needed to answer were:

  • Will it allow journalists to publish quickly with minimal training?
  • Will it allow journalists to perform the role of content curator and community manager? In other words, can we empower a single person to run an entire site?
  • How can we ensure we use entirely, or as much as possible, open source software for easy and low-cost reuse throughout public media?

To achieve the goals, we needed to build a foundation for the Argo Network that could provide the structural underpinnings for any Argo site, and at the same time be flexible enough to accommodate the unique needs of individual sites.

WordPress provided the most advanced starting point of the options we evaluated in terms of basic blog publishing. We have added a good deal of customization and also integration of other open source or free technologies like Django, Delicious and TwitterTim.es to create efficiencies, promote content and create a new way of displaying aggregated headlines.

All 12 websites were live by the end of August 2010. We will check in back here at Idea Lab from time to time to talk about various features that we roll out, and overall progress. We'll also be completely transparent about our process and training for Argo bloggers at our Argo Project blog. Let us know how we're doing and what you might like to see.

December 16 2010


WordPress vs Drupal: A great discussion on CMS is unfolding

Two days ago, I wrote a post on the ICT-KM blog on choosing an open source cms and the simple and practical way I went about evaluating different CMS solutions.

What has emerged is a discussion (and even a bit of debate) via the post comments from IT managers, information and knowledge managers.

Join the discussion on WordPress vs Drupal: Choosing an Open Source CMS!

December 05 2010


December 01 2010


Visualising data with the Datapress WordPress plugin

Note: This post contains a interactive data presentation that may not show up in your feed reader. For the full experience, visit this article in your web browser.

Here’s a useful plugin for bloggers working with data: Datapress allows you to quickly visualise a dataset as a table, timeline, scatter plot, bar chart, ‘intelligent list’ (allowing you to sort by more than one value at once – see this example) or map.

Once installed, the plugin adds a new button to the ‘Upload/Insert’ row in the post edit view which you can click to link to a dataset in the same way as you would embed an image or video.

The plugin is in beta at the moment and takes a bit of getting used to. There’s a convention you have to follow in naming Google spreadsheet columns, for example – this Glasgow Vegan Guide spreadsheet has quite a few of them – but this could add some new visualisation possibilities. It seems particularly nice for lists and maps (if you have lat-long values), although Google spreadsheet’s built-in charts options will obviously be quicker for simple graphs and charts.

The plugin has a demo site with some impressive examples and the developers are happy to help with any problems. It’s also up for the Knight News Challenge if you want to support it.

November 30 2010


Hyperlocal Voices: Richard Jones, Saddleworth News

Hyperlocal voices: Saddleworth News

Richard Jones, an experienced broadcast journalist, set up Saddleworth News just nine months ago. He hoped to combine his journalistic ambitions with a demanding routine as a stay-at home-father whilst providing more online information about an area which he claims “was relatively under-served by the traditional media”. Although not an easy task, Jones has successfully used social media as well as local news stories in order to secure an expanding fan base. This post is part of the Hyperlocal Voices series of interviews.

Who were the people behind the blog,  and what were their backgrounds?

I set it up myself. I used to be a full-time professional journalist. I graduated from the Broadcast Journalism course in Leeds in 2002, then spent six years at Sky News working in TV and radio.

After we relocated to Manchester because of my wife’s career, I freelanced at various radio stations until we had our first child in September 2009 and I gave up work to become a stay-at-home dad.

What made you decide to set up the blog?

Lots of reasons really, but two main themes. I’ll admit the first was selfishness. I couldn’t really combine irregular hours as a radio journalist with being a full-time dad, but I knew that I wanted to return to full-time work one day, so I needed to do something to keep my hand in.

I was also worried about how I’d fill my days, even with a small baby to look after, so was keen to take on a project to help keep me occupied.

The other reasons were more altruistic. When we were thinking of moving to Saddleworth we realised that there wasn’t actually that much information about the place online. I also noticed that, for an area with such a distinctive character, it was relatively under-served by the traditional media. So I thought I could use my journalism skills to do something positive for the community we were about to move into.

When did you set up the blog and how did you go about it?

We moved to Saddleworth in January 2010 and I started the blog the following month. It’s a self-hosted WordPress site.

I’ve written other blogs before (and continue to write about being a stay-at-home dad at www.likefatherlikedaughter.blogspot.com) using Blogger so I had some very basic experience of running a site and tinkering with HTML a little.

I knew in my head how I felt it should look, so it was just a case of picking a free WordPress theme and after an evening playing around I had it more or less as I wanted. I’ve been very impressed with how user-friendly and reliable WordPress is.

What other blogs, bloggers or websites influenced you?

The main one was Kate Feld’s Manchizzle [interviewed previously in the Hyperlocal Voices series]. When I lived in Manchester I used to go to her blog meet-ups, then got into going to the Social Media Cafe Manchester evenings. When I had the idea of doing a hyperlocal site I got lots of encouragement and ideas from people there.

I think the first hyperlocal site I saw was Linda Preston’s Darwen Reporter, now sadly no longer running. I definitely copied the blog format from her.

I wanted to get away from the typical information-heavy newspaper websites, partly because I think they’re often a bit confusing, but mostly because I didn’t want to feel under pressure to update it more than once a day.  And if you do one story a day on a blog, there’s always something new on top of the site to keep it fresh for regular readers.

How did – and do – you see yourself in relation to a traditional news operation?

The similarities are to do with the basic skills of journalism. I still research stories, make phone calls, do interviews, write copy, take pictures, nurture contacts, take editorial decisions, just as I did when I worked in a newsroom. Although I have to compress all that into an hour or two each day during my daughter’s lunchtime nap!

There are plenty of differences, but one main one is that I don’t have to run my story ideas by an editor. So instead of hearing excuses like “I’m interested in that” or “Nobody cares” or “We did that last week/month/year” I can just do whatever I like.

For example, during the election campaign I decided to interview all the candidates standing in the general and local elections, so I went and did it. A local newspaper journalist told me he’d suggested the same thing, but his editor had said there “wasn’t space” in the paper for it. That’s the kind of public service a site like mine can provide.

What have been the key moments in the blog’s development editorially?

By far the biggest story of the year has been the local political situation. We had a bitterly-fought general election, a legal challenge, then the local MP Phil Woolas got found guilty of cheating and was thrown out of parliament.

I covered the campaign in much greater detail than anyone else at the time, and I’ve now built up a huge archive of articles about every aspect of the saga. It’s helped raise the profile and credibility of the site locally, and I’ve also given interviews and help to national journalists who have come to cover the story, which has hopefully given the site a bit of a wider reputation too.

The day of the Woolas verdict was the busiest ever for the site, with 1500 unique visits and a great amount of attention on Twitter. I have to take my daughter out with me on stories, and to their credit Oldham Council’s press team who were controlling the media let me into an ante-room so I could follow the verdict (I was doing Twitter updates with one hand, and trying to entertain her with a toy car in the other) and then into the news conference later.

I also had with me a crew of teenage media students from Oldham College who have been making some video reports for the site. I overheard someone say rather sniffily “Who are they covering it for, CBeebies?” but the fact people in this area are prepared to accept the site as legitimate journalism, no matter how unconventional some aspects of it are, I think says a lot about how far it’s come in such a short time.

What sort of traffic do you get and how has that changed over time?

I was amazed when the site got more than 6,000 unique visits in the first full month. It’s increased steadily since, and last month there were 12,000.

The Woolas verdict means there have already been more than that during November, so it’ll be another new record.

I haven’t spent anything on promotion apart from getting a few business cards printed, but Facebook has been a great way of growing awareness and building a regular audience. There are almost 700 fans on there now.

November 24 2010


A/B testing for headlines: Now available for WordPress

Audience data is the new currency in journalism. I don’t just mean the traditional Costco buy-in-bulk kind — “our readers are 52 percent male, 46 percent over $75,000 household income, 14 percent under age 35,” and so on. I mean data that looks at how individual readers interact with individual pieces of content. And beyond that shift there’s also the move from observational data — watching what your audience does — to experimental data, testing various ways of presenting or structuring content to see what works and what doesn’t.

My desire for more experimental data is one reason why I’m very happy to point you to a new resource for sites built on WordPress (like this one): a new Headline Split Tester plugin, built by Brent Halliburton and Peter Bessman, two Baltimore developers.

Not sure if you want a straight, newsy headline or something with a little more pizzazz? Something keyword-dense and SEO friendly or something more feature-y? This plugin lets you write two headlines for each post and have them presented at random to readers. The plugin records how often each version of the headline has been clicked and, once it has enough data, swaps full-time to the most effective one.

If you’re in the kind of operation that has regular debates over headline strategy, here’s a great way to test it. (Although note that this is measuring clicks on articles within your site — it doesn’t tell you anything about the SEO effectiveness of a headline. You’d have to wait for Google data for that.)

We have lots of debates over the appropriate role of audience metrics in journalism. But personally, I’d rather have those debates armed with as much data as possible. If you want your site to be filled with puns and plays on words instead of SEO-friendly nouns, fine — but it’s worth knowing how much of a traffic impact that decision has when you make it.

I’m happy to say we apparently played a small role in its creation: Halliburton writes that he was inspired by an old Lab post that described how The Huffington Post uses A/B split testing on some of its headlines:

Readers are randomly shown one of two headlines for the same story. After five minutes, which is enough time for such a high-traffic site, the version with the most clicks becomes the wood that everyone sees.

Give it a try — and if you’re a PHP coder, try to make it better, as patches are welcome. (Another, more ambitious A/B testing project for WordPress, ShrimpTest, is also in development and in preview release.)

Halliburton (who runs Cogmap and Deconstruct Media) and Bessman (who’s an engineer at marketing firm R2integrated) built the plugin in as 2010 a way as possible: at last weekend’s Baltimore Hackathon, where the plugin won a prize for best prototype. Have a good idea, bang out code in a weekend, share it with a potential audience of millions using the same platformthat’s the promise of open source and collaboration in a nutshell.

November 22 2010


With its new food blog, WordPress gets into the content-curation game

This month, the company associated with one of the world’s most popular blogging platforms took its first, quiet step into the realm of for-profit content aggregation. FoodPress, a human-curated recipe blog, is a collaboration between blogging giant WordPress.com and Federated Media, a company that provides advertising to blogs and also brokers more sophisticated sponsorship deals. Lindt chocolate is already advertising on the site.

“We have a huge pool of really motivated and awesome food bloggers,” explained Joy Victory, WordPress’ editorial czar. (Yes, that is, delightfully, her official title.) Food was a natural starting place for a content vertical.

If the FoodPress model takes off, it could be the beginning of a series of WordPress content verticals covering different topics. WordPress.com currently hosts more than 15.1 million blogs, and when the FoodPress launch was announced, excited WordPress commenters were already asking for additional themed pages on subjects like art, restaurants, and beer.

(To clarify the sometimes confusing nomenclature: WordPress the blogging software — sometimes called WordPress.org — is free, open source, and installed on your own web server; we use it under the hood here at the Lab. WordPress.com is a for-profit venture offering a hosted version of WordPress software, owned by Automattic, which was founded by WordPress developer Matt Mullenweg. FoodPress is a WordPress.com project.)

For now, though, FoodPress’ creators are keeping their focus on their first blog and seeing what kind of traffic and advertising interest it attracts — the start-small-then-scale approach. And one question that remains to be answered in this first experimental effort is how WordPress bloggers will respond to the monetization of their content, and whether featured bloggers will want compensation beyond the additional traffic they’re likely to receive.

So far, the response from users has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic, Victory said. While the familiar issue of blogger compensation has been raised in response to the new venture, “our users don’t seem concerned so far,” she said. Instead, they’re largely excited about the possibility of even more themed sites. Advertising is already a part of WordPress.com, Victory pointed out, popping up on individual WordPress blogs unless a user is signed into WordPress itself.

WordPress’ venture into the editorial realm is significant on its own merits, but it also provides a fascinating case study in how media jobs have proliferated even as the news industry suffers. Victory used to work for metro newspapers, as did Federated Media’s Neil Chase. Now the two are working on a project that brings atomized pieces of user-created content together as a singular web publication. (FoodPress’ tagline: “Serving up the hottest dishes on WordPress.com.”)

Victory is optimistic about this “new way of looking at journalism” — even though, she said, “I consider myself someone who has left traditional journalism behind.” But while some of the FoodPress content is aggregated automatically, Victory believes as well in the value of human curation in creating a good user experience — a sentiment shared among many in the burgeoning ranks of web curators. (Up to now, WordPress’ content curation has focused mainly on Freshly Pressed, a collection of featured blog posts on the site’s homepage, which Victory hand-selects daily.) And to bring more editorial oversight to FoodPress, Federated Media turned to one of its affiliated bloggers, Jane Maynard, to oversee the project — a paid, part-time position.

The blog won’t be just an experiment in curation, though; it will also be a case study in collaboration. “It’s the first step in what we think will be a critical partnership,” Chase noted — one that emerged organically from the collaboration-minded, conversational world of San Francisco-based startups. And just as Federated Media and Automattic have shared the duties of creating the site, he said, they will also share the revenue FoodPress generates.

As for the expectations for that revenue? Victory isn’t releasing traffic stats for FoodPress at this point — both she and Chase were hesitant to talk too much about a project still in beta testing — but noted that the site’s social media presence is growing, with, as of this posting, more than 1,400 Facebook “Likes” and 1,200 Twitter followers. The rest will, like a recipe itself, develop over time. “This is a little bit of an experiment for us,” Victory said. “And we’re hoping it’s wildly successful.”

October 25 2010


Building a university sandbox for news orgs: UNC’s new digital newsroom nearing Nov. 1 launch

A journalism school launching an outward-facing online news outlet is nothing new these days, as more schools are creating in-house laboratories for students to learn online skills. Next Monday, though, there will be a new and interesting entrant to the field: The University of North Carolina’s Reese Felts Digital News Project is launching a news site Nov. 1 that will cover the campus and region with a 21-student staff. What makes the project different is its secondary purpose: It wants to be an R&D lab for the news industry, using its students as testing grounds for new ideas while sharing the results with the rest of us. Essentially, the students are taking requests.

Monty Cook, the project’s executive producer who had been senior vice president and editor of The Baltimore Sun and baltimoresun.com, describes a dual imperative to both give students needed skills while pushing the industry forward. The editorial focus will be on long-form journalism, particularly investigative journalism in many formats, including documentary videos and data visualization. To create and present that content, the students will be cooperating with outside companies that need a sandbox. There’s space set aside so that a browser plug-in, news application, or emerging social media platform could test a product on the site for 30 to 60 days, using the staff in a trial run.

“We’re not here to make anyone money,” Cook said. “But if we can help provide greater understanding not only for ourselves and our students but for the companies that are working hard to make the transition, then we should do that.”

That industry-aiding focus means openness. Cook said they will open-source the WordPress theme they built for the site’s back end, and iPhone and Android apps will also be available. And unlike news organizations that play stingy with their internal metrics, Cook said they will be willing to share the site’s Omniture numbers. That could come in handy as the students experiment with alternate forms of storytelling or reporting, as those lessons would be shared through a research component of the site. Cook said students will be reflecting on their successes and failures, while other UNC faculty members will contribute their thoughts and research. Some news organizations have already asked if Reese Felts students could eventually train their journalists.

As with any startup, the initial version will lack many of the features Cook visualizes down the road. The staff — 19 undergraduates and two graduate students, all paid a stipend, plus freelancers and volunteers — still needs to learn some of the skills they’ll need to produce ambitious content, Cook said. And as of now, don’t expect any revolutionary business ideas. The site will not have advertising, and is paid for by a major gift from late UNC alumnus Reese Felts.

The largest news organizations can afford their own R&D efforts and can try fresh ideas on their own. But a radio station without the resources to build a mobile app could watch as the students fine-tune theirs, or a mid-sized newspaper can observe what Cook says are exciting ideas on how to moderate discussions. The key, Cook said, is that the program is considered an audience research lab first, news organization second. And, incidentally, the students will get to learn some new skills, too. “We’re looking to do experimental digital news, and that means getting them to think differently about their approach to both newsgathering and news dissemination,” Cook said.

October 13 2010


Behind-the-scenes innovation: How NPR’s Project Argo is making life more efficient for its bloggers

Remember the days before the roundup post existed? Neither do I. [Laura's making me feel old. —Ed.] The roundup is a longstanding staple of the blogosphere, an expected post for loyal readers who want a rundown of the best new stuff around the web on a given topic. But can a staple still have room for innovation? Over at Argo Network, the new blog network at NPR, the leadership team is giving it a shot on the back end. They’ve designed a workflow that makes it easier for their bloggers to cull through links and produce a roundup post. The result: a simpler process for the blogger, and added benefit for the reader. It’s no technological revolution, but an example of the kind of small improvement that can make it easier to share work with the audience.

“We realized the workflow inefficiency of how a blogger would create a link roundup — copying and pasting URLs from places,” Matt Thompson, Argo editorial project manager, told me. “We were thinking about workflow and how can we make this as easy as possible. How do we take an action the blogger is making regularly and make it more efficient?”

Thompson puts workflow innovation in the broader context of the Argo Project, which NPR see as an experiment in form. The Argo team sees blogging — or online serial storytelling, as Thompson put it — as a medium still in its infancy. There’s still time, they say, to think about how it can be improved, including how to do it more efficiently. And they plan to release the new tools that come out of their experimentation to the general public. The team’s developer, Marc Lavallee, said they’re trying to create tools that fit the workflow of the lone blogger. “Most of what we build will be the type of thing a person running a solo site would find useful,” Lavallee said. “When you’re thinking about a product, it’s so much easier to say: ‘One person is behind this blog. Would I do that every day? No? Then let’s not build that.’”

The roundup tool is a good example of the Argo team’s thinking. As bloggers go through their links each day, scrolling through stories and posts looking for the most interesting stuff on their beat, they tag the links using Delicious. Their Delicious accounts are synced up with the Argo’s backend (WordPress modified using Django) to match up the tags. The backend pulls in the links, letting bloggers quickly put together a nice-looking post without all the copy/pasting and formatting. Thompson made a screen-capture video of the whole process, which you can check out below. Here’s a sample of what the roundup would look like published.

Using Delicious as a link-post builder isn’t new, of course, but Argo’s version integrates specifically into their sidebar, a special WordPress post type, and Lavallee’s code.

The tagging tool also feeds into the sites’ topic pages. Those of us who spend all day on the Internet encounter great links all the time that aren’t right for a full post, or maybe even for a spot in a roundup post — but for people interested in a particular topic, it could still be valuable. The Argo process lets bloggers make use of those links with the same tagging function, making the site’s content pages a bit better than a purely automated feed. Check out the ocean acidification page over at the Argo blog Climatide (covering issues related to climate change and the ocean on Cape Cod) — in the sidebar, “Latest Ocean Acidification Links” contains (at this writing, at least) links pulled in through the Delicious tagging process. Others are drawn from Daylife or handmade Twitter lists around certain topics.

Thompson is passionate about contextual news, so I asked him if his topic pages might serve, perhaps, a more noble function than driving search traffic, which is arguably why most news organizations have topic pages at all. Thompson was quick to point out that the Argo topic pages are still new; he’s working with bloggers on their “tagging hygiene,” he says. And he admits that others at Argo is a bit “skeptical of topics pages,” which “is probably a good thing.” But the pages have potential, when built out, to let readers drill down into narrow-but-important topics in line with the goal of the blog. “These pages aren’t just sort of random machine driven pages,” Thompson said. The humanized topic pages help Argo bloggers get their sites, as Thompson puts it, to be “an extension of their mind and their thinking.”

Photo by Benny Mazur used under a Creative Commons license.

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