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Tuesday Newsday: Facebook News Apps

Facebook News AppsIn the last month we’ve had some news sources trying an unconventional method of reaching new audiences: Facebook. “Go where your readers live” is the message of news applications within Facebook, and there is certainly no shortage of people who spend a significant amount of time checking in on Facebook throughout the day, whether it is to update their own account or to see what’s going on with their friends and other businesses/events they follow.  Today we’re looking at a few of these Facebook-integrated news apps, including WSJ Social by the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post Social Reader, and The Guardian on Facebook.

 

WHY INSIDE OF FACEBOOK?

For companies who need advertising revenue and care deeply about page impressions, length-of-time-on-site and other metrics to share with their advertisers, going to an external site and creating a [free] presence there seems like an odd strategy. But there are a few things Facebook offers companies who want to build a reader on top of their platform. First of all, regarding ad revenue, all is not lost. Facebook can sell ad positions around the app just like any of their other content or pages. However any ads appearing inside the app itself are revenue for the app creators. Secondly, the sharing and social nature of Facebook allows extra, free publicity. Readers can easily share and recommend articles to their friends who may not be regular readers of the publication and may take an interest, check out the article, subscribe, etc. Basically Facebook provides a large population of actively sharing, potential readers.

And news sites need to care about where their readers are. Nielsen published a report in September showing where Americans spend their time online. While social network sites like Facebook checked in at 22.5%, reading current events and global news was a paltry 2.6% of overall Internet time.

Subscription costs and pay walls are still important revenue concepts for news sites. While all of the apps discussed below are free, it remains to be seen if they all stay that way. The WSJ Social indicates on their site that content is currently free for an undisclosed limited time, courtesy of their launch sponsor (Dell).  As all three apps have links on each article to view it on the original site, I’m not sure what happens if you do that and run into a pay wall.

 

WSJ Social on Facebook

WSJ SOCIAL

WSJ Social launched about a month ago, right before Facebook’s developer conference F8. Unlike other Facebook news apps like The Washington Post Social Reader, The WSJ Social was a Wall Street Journal-only project, not initiated or otherwise influenced by Facebook itself. The Wall Street Journal have made all content from wsj.com available on WSJ Social, which is surprising to some, considering their pay wall and subscription charges.

Clicking on the WSJ Social app takes you to a Flipboard-style grid layout of articles, showing titles, images, icons of friends who may have read the article, and comment / like counts. On the left you have a column of your “Top Editors.” Clicking on the Help & Information Center tells you that in WSJ Social, you and your friends are editors, and your top editors can be anyone you have chosen to add to your editor list, whether or not they are your Facebook friends. Clicking the plus and minus buttons adds and removes editors, respectively.

WSJ Social : Article View

The article view is quite similar to the regular web view, albeit a little less cluttered. It’s a cleaner feel, and a distinct lack of “What’s popular today” and “Most discussed articles” type of content blocks. You’ll see comments left by other Facebook users, and have the opportunity to post comments to both the article and your own Facebook feed.

 

 

 

Washington Post Social Reader on Facebook

THE WASHINGTON POST SOCIAL READER

The Washington Post Social Reader pulls its stories both from its  http://www.washingtonpost.com front page as well as its content partners including The Associated Press, Reuters, Mashable, GlobalPost, etc. Every person will see something different on the front page of the app, as the stories shown reflect a user’s profile and likes as well as stories read and liked by friends.

The top of the app is comfortable to read, showing a headline story and two other top stories. What follows are two columns of article headlines, images and short descriptions, along with the article source and timestamp. They show a small box on the right of trending stories, and on the left they show a column featuring what friends are reading or have read. This column, powered by Trove, feels redundant, because at the same time you have Facebook’s column on the far right telling you what your friends are doing with apps right at this moment.

Washington Post Social Reader : Article View

Viewing articles is a similar experience to reading articles with the WSJ Social. The article is generally a cleaner version of the one on their site and has less distractions, advertisements and unrelated content boxes. You can leave comments on the article and your own Facebook wall.

 

The Guardian on Facebook

THE GUARDIAN ON FACEBOOK

The Guardian is no stranger to new and interesting approaches to sharing their content. Their app, which has the most users of the three, is a very different style and looks more like it is actually part of Facebook, possibly due to the colours and fonts used.

The Guardian on Facebook features an activity stream like the Washington Post Social Reader, showing what your friends have read recently. It has a 3-column box showing popular content right now, and a grid below of larger images showing articles people are commenting on most recently. Underneath that is an additional grid of latest features and links to other Guardian Facebook pages.

The Guardian on Facebook : Article View

Article views are again cleaner. They show links to other stories in the same category, followed by options to comment, recommend or alternately post your comment on The Guardian’s external site.

 

SIMILAR TO MOBILE FIRST APPROACH

All three of these sites were able to reduce the amount of content shown to improve the usability of their Facebook app. Which leads me to believe they did some examining of what people are actually clicking and reading and what people value on the external sites. This is the same thing that Luke W talks about in his excellent “Mobile First” talk, this idea that if we take out all of these things that aren’t the priority and are left with something great, doesn’t that tell us something? Constraints force people to prioritize, and prioritizing your users means making a smaller set of more popular features better to use.

If you haven’t seen Luke’s presentation, you should both buy his book which just came out and take a look at his Mobile First presentation slides, specifically the section about “Constraints = Focus.”

Interestingly enough, I was able to view the apps fine from the browser on my iPad (not iPhone or Windows Phone 7  though), but none of them show up in the “Apps” view on the Facebook mobile apps for iPhone or iPad.

 

ARE PEOPLE USING THEM?

WSJ Social Users

Washington Post Social Users

The Guardian on Facebook Users

The Guardian reported their millionth Facebook app sign up over the last week and seems to be growing steadily. The Washington Post Social Reader and the WSJ Social, on the other hand, have a bit of a ways to go.

Michael Donohoe :: WP Social

Not every Facebook user is happy with the idea of sharing every article he or she reads, nor do friends necessarily want to see your detailing each story read. Privacy and tedium are both concerns here. Michael Donohoe has a great post here about what happens when your friends notice you are reading certain things.

Facebook App SettingsAs with many Facebook-related things, there are privacy controls so that users can block their friends seeing certain activities or stop an app from posting to their timeline, but they may not be incredibly obvious or easy to locate/use. It might be hours after your profile has shown that you’ve read a controversial article that you realize it was there, as it’s not always obvious what gets posted to your profile and what doesn’t. By that time, conservative colleagues will have already seen it. It depends how careful you are about locking down your Facebook profile and whether you care about others knowing what you’re reading.

 

SUMMARY

Facebook’s huge push at F8 of both their Social Graph and news apps using Facebook mean we will see more and more of these types of apps, especially from media and news companies looking for new audiences. It will be interesting to see statistics on whether the “likes” and application users convert into subscriptions and/or traffic for the sites themselves. In the meantime I’d like to ask the news sites to consider that if the apps are in fact working well, maybe it’s worth taking some of the minimized design from the apps back to their own sites to see if it makes a difference.

Visualizing Áras Election, Part Two

I received some good feedback on additional things people thought might be interesting to look investigate regarding next week’s election. So today I’ve done two things: 1) Taken a brief look at media outlet perception of candidates based on published articles and 2) Re-examined the Irish twitter stream with a new sentiment engine to see how the individual candidates stack up against each other.

 

NEWS SOURCE PERCEPTIONS

Once again using ScraperWiki, I picked two different news sites to scrape for their election coverage. RTÉ and The Irish Times both make it a bit awkward to find all of their Áras election coverage in one place. On RTÉ, the best source was http://www.rte.ie/news/presidential-special-reports.html, but I’m not positive it’s comprehensive as it was a link I stumbled on to while digging around their site.  For The Irish Times, I used a search function to pull up 100 articles containing the word “Aras.”

The best site, which I ran out of time today to include but will add it later, is unsurprisingly TheJournal.ie as they have a nice tagging system. You can simply visit http://www.thejournal.ie/topic/race-for-the-aras/ for all of their great election coverage.

Back to The Irish Times and RTÉ: using scrapers to comb through their HTML I pulled out article titles and descriptions to get a brief understanding of what tone comes through and who is talked about most. With more time, one could easily walk through all of the articles and grab and parse that text as well, but this is a basic exercise. Another tough thing about RTÉ’s coverage and what may limit me digging deeper there is that they have so much video coverage and I couldn’t seem to find any transcripts of video reports. Parsing audio into text from video reports is a whole other project!

The Irish Times:

The Irish Times election article word cloud

RTÉ

RTE election article word cloud

The data sets and visualizations are all linked on my Many Eyes page here in case you’d like to do your own visualization of the data.

 

IMPROVED TWITTER SENTIMENT

In my last related post, I used twitrratr to do a very simple analysis of how people in Ireland were feeling about the election. However it is a very simple application and I wanted to expand on it, using a better sentiment algorithm. 

R is a statistical computing and graphics generation language and tool. R allows very interesting and complex analysis of language and data. I used two R tools to help source and evaluate the Tweets.  First I used Jeff Gentry’s twitteR package which has some very easy methods for searching twitter timelines. A search for tweets related to David Norris, for example, might look something like this:

norris.tweets = searchTwitter(‘aras11 AND norris OR david OR SenDavidNorris’, n=1500)

where the words in quotes are my search terms and the n=1500 refers to how many tweets it should return. So I built queries like these to search for tweets related to the individual candidates.

The next tool I used was an “opinion lexicon” by Hu & Liu. If you’re not familiar with processing language, the easiest way to explain this is it’s a big dictionary with almost 7,000 words which are categorized as positive or negative. Words like “love” or “amazing” would be categorized as positive, and words like “hate” or “sucks” would be considered negative. Of course this doesn’t allow for sarcasm, so we have to assume that most people mean what they say. In the future maybe we’ll have to also search for a “sarcasm” hash tag and then reverse the word values!

With the opinion lexicon, we can go through all of the tweets and score them depending on whether the words in the tweet are more positive or negative.

Finally, we can plot the answers on a histogram as shown below. The diagram is a bar chart showing for each candidate, how many tweets were considered positive versus negative. We can see that Dana Scallon has relatively more negative tweets than the others, and that Michael Higgins has relatively more positive tweets than the others. Higgins also seems to have the widest variety, with tweets going up to a score of six and down to a negative five.

Histogram of Irish Candidate Sentiment on Twitter

*many thanks to Jeffrey Breen for his excellent slides on Twitter text mining and for publishing the code – very helpful!*

 

WHAT ELSE?

I’d like to go deeper into the actual published articles, which will take a bit more time but could provide some interesting results.  I would also love to look at additional sources such as TheJournal.ie and The Irish Independent.  As I have with the previous charts, I’ll continue to update these daily until the election and see if Twitter is able to make a good prediction about the final result. 

After the election I’ll also do a blog post on how to create your own data visualizations from public sources with easy tools that you don’t have to be a programmer to use.

Newsstand on an iPad

Tuesday Newsday: The iOS5 Newsstand

Apple NewsstandWhen iOS5 features were shown earlier this year at Apple’s WWDC, Newsstand was one of the most interesting and talked about ideas. Now that iOS5 is live, it’s time to give it a test drive and see if it meets publishers’ expectations.

Apple describes Newsstand as “A custom newsstand for all your subscriptions.” Newsstand is more of a wood panel folder than an app on your device. Opening Newsstand on your device will reveal any magazine or newspaper apps you have downloaded. Alerts should tell you when new issues arrive, and a blue banner should go across issues you haven’t yet read. New covers should automatically update in the background. This hasn’t been the case for me, however, my covers only seem to update when I launch the title, prompting a new download and a cover update.Newsstand on iPad

 

UPDATED COVERS

As I mention above, my covers aren’t updating in the background by themselves (maybe it’s a first-gen iPad thing?). But there is something very nice about giving publishers the freedom to not be restricted to a square icon for their cover. Magazines and newspapers each have a very different feel for their cover pages, so I love how, for example, Once Magazine’s cover shows up in landscape mode, The New York Times looks like a NYT cover, and National Geographic has its own familiar branding.Newsstand on iPad

It feels a little weird that tapping that cover, for many magazines (not for news apps like The Daily and The New York Times), takes you not directly into the issue you just clicked, but rather into the magazine’s app where you can purchase or download more titles. I ran into a lot of crashing bugs as I was reviewing and problems where every time I opened the app I had to re-download the current issue. I’m hoping these will get sorted out soon.Inside a magazine's app

 

HOW DO I ADD NEW MAGAZINES OR NEWSPAPERS?

Newsstand in the App StoreDon’t yet have anything in your newsstand? You can get new magazines and newspapers by clicking the small “Store” button when you open the Newsstand folder, or you can visit the App Store. You can click on Categories->Newsstand or click the giant Newsstand banner on the front page to see all of your choices.  Selection isn’t amazing just yet, but it’s new so I imagine a lot of publishers are still finalizing and testing their apps. You can get the bigger, hyped apps like The Daily, The New York Times, The Guardian, Reader’s Digest and other titles. More will trickle in every week.Newsstand in the App Store

 

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Newsstand strikes me as an odd name for this. Newsstands in airports and train stations are always bad news for my wallet. I constantly find new titles, spot an eye-catching headline and buy magazines I haven’t heard of. My iPad Newsstand, however, is a small collection of stuff I already have spent money on. There isn’t any serendipitous finding of exciting new authors or insights. It’s subtle, but this is more like my bedside table or magazine rack in my office. A newsstand, to me, is an exciting place with opportunities for discovery (and, as I mentioned, dropping lots of cash).Genius for Newsstand? Why Not?

What would be more interesting for me (and cause me to spend more money) would be if there were an element of “You liked reading The New York Times recently, why not try The Guardian for iPad?”, ala Amazon recommendations. Maybe each time I open up the Newsstand there are suggestions or notices about new titles or new issues. Right now it’s cumbersome and when I do make the effort, there just really isn’t that much I want to read.  So perhaps as new titles are added to the collection it will improve. I will wait and see. I do think they’re missing a trick by making it a good five or six clicks to find something new to buy, though.

 

SHOW ME THE NUMBERS

It’s barely a week old, so it seems a bit early to expect that Newsstand presence would make a dent in anyone’s numbers. At the same time, I mentioned there aren’t many folks there so early adopters always have an advantage of more eyeballs sooner.

Strangely enough, I notice I see barely anything in the Newsstand Store on my iPad and iPhone, maybe 20 titles max. But if I look at Newsstand on iTunes on my desktop, it lists many more titles. Perhaps there’s some admin work happening to make more things visible in the device stores soon.

Future Publishing seems to be happy with the numbers so far anyway. They launched more than 50 titles last week and have seen more than two million downloads in the four days they’ve been live.

There are plenty of app store analytics services you can use to track opens, downloads, subscriptions. I don’t know if any of these have been enhanced (or shut down) with the launch of Newsstand, so I will take a look and find out. A huge downside to publishers using the App Store is the lack of information about subscribers and customers. If Apple doesn’t assist with this problem, there will likely be more publishers going the way of the Financial Times and building web apps to maintain better relationships with their audience.

 

HOW TO GET MORE READERS

One of the toughest things for consumers reading magazines on an iPad is knowing whether they’re actually going to enjoy reading it or whether they’ll look at it once, find it awkward or unusable, and never open it again. A great editorial team also requires a great tech team to make it work. An excellent idea which many successful titles do is a free sample download so you can understand their app and content. Wired does, National Geographic does, Project does, and hopefully most news and magazine apps will move in this direction soon.Once Magazine Sample Issue

Another thing to consider is offering less choices. In a project I worked on recently, we had a lot of discussions about price points. We ended up with two options, a monthly and an annual subscription. A surprisingly high number of people opted immediately for the cheaper-in-the-long-run annual subscription. The more choices you offer the more you will confuse your customer, so pick one or two good value options and stick with them.

 

SUMMARY

The best thing about Newsstand for publishers is that it puts a reminder on the screen of every iOS device to read, subscribe, check out news and magazines. There are a lot more optimizations Apple can and should make to help publishers sell more subscriptions such as recommendations and a “genius” type of search tool in the Newsstand section of the App Store. With numbers like Future has reported, good things are in store for publishers using Newsstand.

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Visualizing Áras Election

(image from Wikipedia)The Irish presidential election is just about a week away. As a non-citizen resident of Ireland, I can’t vote in this election (only local elections). But I still find it interesting so I took a look at some social media data on the topic to make some visualizations. These are not meant to be predictions, it’s just a bit of fun to see what people are thinking today in Ireland.

I am using a tool called ScraperWiki that I learned earlier this year at a Hacks and Hackers Day in Dublin. ScraperWiki lets you scrape data from various sources such as a PDF or in this case, Twitter. My scraper grabs any tweet mentioning aras, aras11 or president originating from Ireland.

 

JUST THE WORDS

We can use a tool like IBM’s Many Eyes to visualize the most frequently referenced words in these tweets. The visualization below, embedded from Many Eyes, shows that Norris and Gallagher are probably the two most discussed politicians on Twitter.  You can right click on the visualization to alter it, remove certain words (I removed things like “RT” and “QUOT” and “ARAS11” as they weren’t relevant), change colours, etc.

*NOTE: Many Eyes is a Java tool, so you will need Java to interact with the data. If you can’t view the visualizations, please scroll to the bottom where I have screenshots of the data instead*

 

WHAT ABOUT ASSOCIATIONS?

More interesting than the individual words themselves, to me, are the associations they have. In other words, is one candidate’s name mentioned frequently in the context of other certain words or phrases?

The Customized Word Tree, another tool from Many Eyes, allows you to upload a text and then enter specific words to find other terms associated with it. To use this interactive tool, simply type in a name like “Gallagher”, “Norris”, “Dana”, etc. into the Search textbox & hit return. You’ll see a visualization of words and phrases most frequently associated with that candidate.

*NOTE: Many Eyes is a Java tool, so you will need Java to interact with the data. If you can’t view the visualizations, please scroll to the bottom where I have screenshots of the data instead*

 

SENTIMENT

Does anyone care about sentiment analysis anymore? Sentiment analysis is trying to understand the general feeling, positive or negative, from a group given a topic. So if you did sentiment analysis on Twitter for the term “taxes”, you’d probably find most people associate that with negative feelings, frown emoticons, and an overall negative sentiment. Unless of course the government had announced huge tax refunds for everyone, in which case it would likely be overwhelmingly positive.

twitrratr is an example of a tool that does sentiment analysis given a topic. It’s as simple to use as Twitter search, but the results in this case aren’t incredibly useful.  You can check the sentiment yourself easily by clicking here: http://twitrratr.com/search/aras11.

twitrratr

 

HOW TO CREATE YOUR OWN

ScraperWiki is great because you can use a variety of programming languages and it has support for lots of different sources including PDFs which are notoriously hard to parse.

I forked a basic Twitter scraper that looks for tweets containing keywords. You can see my scraper here: https://scraperwiki.com/scrapers/aras_election_data/.  The Twitter search API lets you use regular expressions, so I edited the keyword to be ‘aras OR aras11 OR president’.  Searching for president could definitely bring up irrelevant tweets for this purpose, so I also added a geolocation query. The Twitter search API lets you use a latitude & longitude followed by a radius to find tweets in a particular area. I added some very simple Python code to the scraper to allow it to handle geolocation queries.

As you’re developing your scraper, you can run it every time you change something to make sure you are getting the results you expect. Once you’ve finished, you can schedule it to run daily, weekly, etc.  If you get stuck, the ScraperWiki community is a great group of people, they have a very active Google Group and growing documentation.

Once you have the data you need, you can export it as a SQLite database or a CSV file. There are plenty of tools you can use with this data. Many Eyes is a good one to start with as it’s very user friendly. If you’re into programming, there are many good JavaScript libraries and other tools you can use to manipulate the data.  Just search online for things like “data visualization tools.”

 

MORE ON THIS

My scraper runs once a day, so I’ll be updating the interactive charts daily from now until October 26th when the election is held. If there’s other information you think would be useful or interesting to look at, related to the candidates or the upcoming election, please leave a comment and I’ll take a look.

 

SCREENSHOTS FOR THOSE WHO CAN’T VIEW MANY EYES

Word Analysis:

Many Eyes Word Cloud

 

Candidate Association Examples:

Many Eyes Word Tree

Many Eyes Word Tree

Many Eyes Word Tree

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Tuesday Newsday: Digital-only News

We’ve looked at a lot of digital versions of their newspaper counterparts. Today instead we’re looking at news sources providing their content only online and not through any print formats.  I’m examining digital-only news sources The Daily, Newsy and New360.

 

The Daily Splash ScreenTHE DAILY

I was very excited for The Daily when it was announced. The first iPad-only news source, backed by Rupert Murdoch, the first Apple-endorsed app to use the new App Store subscription model – it seemed like this was going to change the way that people viewed digital news and open the door for paid subscriptions to news and magazine apps which at the time were struggling to find consumers willing to purchase digital subscriptions. And they needed paying subscribers (500,000 to be more precise): they have a large team and their own reporters/journalists so the content is original.

The Daily: Welcome Back ScreenBut the app was very heavy. The early versions crashed frequently and took a long time to download each day’s edition. There were bugs. It was slow. It crashed when it tried to detect my location (since I am outside the US). Every few days, the app would forget that I had a paid subscription & require me to sign up again, causing me to fear I was being charged multiple times. Eventually that annoyance and the focus on US news (there is still very little world news coverage except for very big stories) caused me to cancel my subscription.

The Daily: Front PageAt SND last week, I learned that The Daily has a team of 50 designers to help lay out each day’s issue by hand, 100 pages in total. And then they do it again in landscape mode. They have no automatic templates. They use Adobe tools the whole way through up until they need to put it into the CMS and then rebuild it there. To me, this whole process sounds like a nightmare. An unsustainable one at that.

The Daily: Interactive PageBut the pro of this painful process is that The Daily has absolute freedom to design however they want, something most publishers can’t do from either a financial or labour perspective. They can use things like Jamie Beck’s cinemagraphs. They can hand-code HTML5 animations and transitions when they run into CMS limitations. They have freedom to design and customize everything each day. That’s pretty amazing, and something I think a lot of publishers would appreciate, especially given that at every event I’ve been to this year, CMSs have been cited as painful and limiting software.

The Daily: Carousel View

With their creativity and design freedom, The Daily designers have experimented with many interesting ideas. They have a carousel of image pages to use for navigation, or you can use the navigation links at the bottom. They now do a brief video report for each edition describing the day’s stories. They have cool interactive features in certain articles allowing the user to play or respond to a survey or guess trivia. There’s a scroll bar at the top to move quickly around the issue and see thumbnails of stories.

The Daily Page Navigation ViewThe Daily reported last week that they have 80,000 paying subscribers. Although it’s not even 20% of what they will need to eventually break even, it’s still an impressive number, especially given that they launched only back in February. Perhaps they will streamline design to save money or perhaps the increase in iPad sales will spur further growth for them. For me, it’s an impressive design but not content I’m interested in. Plus it still crashes a lot for me.

The Daily: Article View

Someone at SND (I think Josh Clark?) that there could be room for a model where people select and pay for the news they want. If this were the case, I might opt to pay for the arts, tech and news sections. At least let me save the room on my iPad memory? After all, why force users to wait for the celebrity gossip section and sports section to download when they never intend to read those? It could be an interesting model to consider.

 

Newsy Splash ScreenNEWSY

The novel idea about Newsy is that it is video-only news. I couldn’t verify with certainty that it is the first video-only news site or app, but it’s the first one I have heard about. Newsy is multi-source and multi-platform, and it claims it is the only video news service that allows users to compare bias by highlighting nuances in reporting.

Newsy app versionsNewsy currently works on iPhone, iPad, Android, and Blackberry. Plus their website has all of their content as well.

Newsy Website Front Page

How does Newsy work? Newsy takes various reports on the same subject, from sources like MSNBC, ABC, The Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, etc., and produces short, professional video clips highlighting common and disparate views from the various channels. They provide additional context and conveniently merged video clips. Sources for each story are noted at the top of each video page.

Newsy Video ReportStories featured on Newsy come from their rotating editorial team, who research blogs, news sites, magazines, television and many other sources. They have their own technology which can record as they do their research to help them put together the whole story when they feel they have a comprehensive, bias-free view.  Viewers are invited to comment on stories and contribute as well.

Newsy iPad App Main PageNewsy is a refreshing look at world, US, political, business, tech, entertainment, science and sports news without a bias or an agenda. There are ads on their apps and website, but other than that I’m not sure what their revenue model is. They have been winning awards and getting great reviews, so I’m sure we’ll continue to see them do interesting things.

 

news360 Splash ScreenNEWS360

If The Daily is the first iPad-only news and Newsy is the first video-only news, News360 has to be the first semantic analysis news. While it sounds similar, it is actually quite different to something like Zite or News.me. It’s hard to explain without using it. news360 Account Creation

News360 takes information from your social profiles, generates what it thinks are your interests (although you have a lot of granular control over this & can edit it further), and then provides you with a giant feed of stories it thinks are interesting for you. The difference between this and something like Zite is that it collects various sources for the same story and lets you read the version you want (or all of them).

news360 Article View   news360 Original Article View

For example, if I am reading about Steve Yegge’s Google+ post, I get options to read the version from the International Business Times, The Register, Forbes.com, Wired News and 38 additional sources for this story. Whew! Also interesting is that I get the abbreviated text in a nice, easy-to-read format, but I can see the original as well by pulling up the source page below. I also get buttons for sharing the article on any of seven social networks as well as highlighting the common text for this article.

news360 Sharing OptionsThere’s some weirdness in News360. Why do I need a URL to access my stories? Why does it need permission to post to my Twitter feed? Does it actually get value from analysing my Evernote account? Does this process really “save hours of my life?”

news360 Account Options    news360 Personalize Options

But despite the long set-up time and confusing options, New360 provides a lot of news sources and a lot of articles relevant to a user’s interests. If you’re a news nut and find yourself visiting lots of sites over the course of a day and re-reading the same articles, this app may help you focus on the unique stories and then read the version that suits you (or all of them, if you need more info), ignoring a lot of duplication.

 

SUMMARY

The doom and gloom we keep hearing from the print media industry is definitely depressing. I recently went to see Page One: Inside the New York Times and found the idea that people might stop paying for investigative journalism very scary. At the same time it is wonderful to see creative minds building apps like these to try to find new models of generating revenue for news and information.  I also love that there is a focus on getting the story from several angles so as to remove bias and get the most correct version. I realize this cannot happen without either exclusive contracts or lack of pay wall, however, so that is a challenge. It will definitely be interesting to see these apps continue to grow.

SND STL Review, Part Two

SND STL Logo

 

CONFERENCE DAY 2

The second day of SND STL had me overwhelmed. I listened to so many great speakers the previous day, learned so much, saw so many excellent demos. And now here I was with another great line-up of sessions to choose from.

 

TweetCross-Platform Editing – Teresa Schmedding is the president of the American Copy Editors Society and also an assistant managing editor at the Daily Herald in Chicago. Teresa talked about trying to hold the line between editorial quality and actually getting stuff out the door. Her stories of pet peeves of writers and editors she’s dealt with were highly entertaining. It’s hard to know what’s worth fighting for. You will have readers who will write and complain about certain edits so you have to know what your standards are.

As someone who finds it near impossible to read blogs, websites, even Twitter feeds, and of course books and print media, with bad grammar and spelling, I sympathize with these tough calls. I know carelessness can lose you readers.

Teresa’s top recommendations were three things:
1) Focus on grammar, it’s the most important
2) Details: make sure you’ve got ‘em and they’re consistent
and
3) Structure: make sure it’s not confusing for the reader

Teresa recommended not to spend time on some of your old and time-consuming style rules, certain old “newspaper” rules, and your boss’s pet peeves. Ask people, your readers, what they value so you can ensure you’re spending time on what’s most important to your readers.  And if you’re thinking about a pay wall, people will not pay for error-filled copy whether they are grammatical, spelling, or fact errors.

 

TweetDesigning a Responsive News Website – Everyone working on the web at this point has to have seen the Boston Globe redesign at http://bostonglobe.com.  Miranda Mulligan and Mat Marquis are two of the main folks behind the redesign. They talked very honestly about what went into the redesign, what was hard, what was valuable and what pieces they’re still working on. They described HTML5 & Responsive Design and which pieces they wanted to incorporate in their new site. They also showed us the grids they ended up using and how they worked with things like Scott Jehl’s Responsive Images script, media queries and other technology to make it work right.

Challenges they came across included the Boston Globe masthead (very complicated & went through many revisions), third party integration for things like video and advertising, making HTML5 crossword puzzles (this piece is currently in beta), saving offline stories, and interactive information graphics in responsive sites.

Also interesting to me was that they chose a new CMS and went with http://www.eidosmedia.com which is also used by the Denver Post, the New York Post and the Washington Post.  It will take two years to implement and customize, print products will launch on it next year.

Lastly they covered the importance of using analytics and allowing them to inform future decisions such as grid widths.  Excellent and candid talk about the real pain and equally real rewards of going through this process.

 

Tweet

Gamestorming with Dave Gray – I read Gamestorming earlier this year and found it to be a very useful book for developing ideas and working on teams. Dave gave some examples from his book and how companies like Starbucks are listening to customers and changing their strategies for the better.

Dave pointed out that the question is no longer “What’s in tomorrow’s paper”, it’s now “What IS tomorrow’s paper?” Companies who approach it this way will get it right faster than those who are clinging tightly to old models that are going to slowly fade away.

The paradox of discovery is that you might not find what you’re looking for, but if you’re not looking for something then you won’t find anything.  If you’re looking for the ROI before you start anything, you’ll never build anything. You don’t have to be smart, you just have to do things

Dave mentioned if you think you have a problem with overthinking it, you should go to http://overthinkingit.com.  For his book and more on Gamestorming, go to http://gogamestorm.com.

 

TweetHow to Make News Apps in your Newsroom – Several times on this blog I’ve mentioned the fact that trying lots of different things and being able to work news, magazines and media more like an agile start-up is a great way to get ahead of the competition. Brian Boyer from The Chicago Tribune and Scott Klein from ProPublica talked about news apps which are software. This is a new area, so these aren’t people in your company who can fix your computer or get the server back online, they’re people who can build newly capable applications to visualize stories or interact with users.

Apps that fall into this category include things like “Dollars for Docs” from ProPublica, which points out doctors who have taken money or other compensation from pharmaceutical companies.  The speakers pointed out we need “Demos not memos.” In other words, we need more people in the field who can help to visualize and display and build these applications.

If you’re interested in working in this area, good places to start are things like Hacks & Hackers, NICAR-L mailing list, a language like Python or Ruby, a database like MySQL or PostgreSQL, and informational, how-to sites for web designers/developers like http://developer.mozilla.com and http://alistapart.com.  Lots of other helpful links are here on Brian’s pinboard site: http://bit.ly/sndnerd.

 

TweetFinding the Web Designer Within – These two guys from Upstatement had amazing slides that they published ahead of time so you could follow along. The slides are great because they point out that a lot of what news designers have been trained to do are very useful skills for web design. Things like grids, typography and being able to organize volumes of information are all skills that can transfer to web design.

As with the previous speakers, they mention that it’s important to teach yourself to code and recommended Coda. They design in the browser but still use InDesign occasionally.

You can find the Upstatement slides from this talk here: http://upstatement.com/sndstl/

 

TweetAdios, Arial! New Tools for Taking Beautiful Typography from Print to Digital – Typography is so important for readability on the web, and Alan Tam, Sam Berlow and Danny DeBelius gave a great talk and examples on why you need to test every scenario, why the results can change and some technology to use to help. Sam recommended tools like the web font preview on http://www.fonts.com, the fontswapper on http://www.webtype.com and http://fontfonter.com to try web fonts on any website.

Great fonts can render totally differently on different operating systems, different devices, different browsers, so it’s important to test the fonts you’ve selected everywhere. It’s also important to make sure you’re using complementary fonts, which is probably hard to eyeball unless you’re a very seasoned web font user.

 

TweetClosing Keynote with Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson – This presentation was definitely one you did not want to be late for.  The session was live-streamed, and below is the video. Robin and Matt are amazing speakers and it’s definitely worth watching their take on what the future of reporting a natural disaster might be like with their video called The Storm Collection and the brilliant talk that follows:

You can view the slides from Robin and Matt’s talk here: http://snarkmarket.com/storm/

 

END OF DAY 2

I’m very used to attending technology conferences with topics I’m more or less familiar with. It’s been a long time since I have been to an event where I felt that every talk I walked away from had new ideas and new things for me to learn. As I said in the beginning of this post, it’s overwhelming. Although I’ve always been a newspapers and magazine junkie, that’s not what I studied in school. Without a journalism background, I felt out of my element. It’s uncomfortable to be in that position, but I realize we probably don’t do that enough to ourselves.

SND STL was incredibly well put together and I am so grateful to the organizers for all their hard work and effort.  I will definitely be attending SND again in the future, hope to see everyone next year in Cleveland.

SND STL Review, Part One

SND STL LogoWhen your hometown is in the Midwest, you generally don’t expect to get the opportunity to fly there often for amazing, cutting-edge, technology and designy events.  I was surprised that SND, the Society for News Design, was having their annual event in St. Louis, but even more surprised when I looked at the line-up and saw that it was quite a visionary event, with speakers from Zite, Font Bureau and The Boston Globe and incredible folks like Josh Clark, Charles Apple, Dave Gray, and Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson giving talks and speaking on panels. Every time I looked at the schedule I got excited. Plus the SND STL website was one of the best conference sites I’ve ever seen.

SND STL website

So here’s a brief overview of the event:

TweetDATA VISUALIZATION WORKSHOP

I had signed up for a pre-conference workshop on data visualization. Having done a graduate course last year in designing and creating data visualizations, I wasn’t sure how much of it would be duplicate, but I figured I could use a refresher. Plus the workshop speakers were from The New York Times, Duke University and Investigative Reporters and Editors, so these were people with some unbelievable backgrounds and experiences.  The workshop was really good, and I walked away with some very useful resources.  We spent time in Excel of course, but also Google Fusion Tables & Google Refine.  We took a look at several open source tools I hadn’t heard of to better parse and massage data.  Lastly we looked at some public projects from US news websites and their blog entries or overviews of how they built their solution. 

Here is a list of some of the resources we walked through, I hadn’t heard of several of them so it was really helpful for me.

http://sparklines-bitworking.appspot.com – Sparkline graphic generator
http://addressextract.appspot.com/ – Tool for fixing addresses
http://pinboard.in/u:dwillis – pinboard site of Derek Willis (one of the instructors, works at NYT), lots of useful links
http://mapbox.com/tilemill – Open source map design software
http://foolabs.com/xpdf – cool tool for extracting from PDFs
http://raphaeljs.com/ — raphael.js — nice small charting svg library in js, used to make the NYT voting result maps
http://elections.nytimes.com/2012/campaign-finance#canda=barack-obama&candb=barack-obama-2007 – slick example of using some svg charts live on NYT site
http://documentcloud.github.com/backbone/  — backbone.js – allows you to persist data & update it in real time based on user interaction
http://shancarter.com/data_converter/ — Mr. Data converter: csv or tab-delimited data & export as various formats
http://github.com/FlowingMedia/TimeFlow/wiki – comes with some nice examples to show you how to use it
http://propublica.github.com/timeline-setter/doc/twitter-demo.html – Cool Twitter timeline setter demo
http://pinboard.in/u:dwillis/t:snd11/ – List from Instructor Derek Willis of links used in class
http://freevisualtools.wikispaces.com/Some+FAVES+(shown+at+SND+STL.) – Links used in another conference session which are relevant here too

 

Some awesome data & tools blogs to follow from news sites are:
Propublica Nerds Blog – http://www.propublica.org/nerds
The Guardian Data Blog – http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog 
NY Times’ new beta620 labs site – http://beta620.nytimes.com/
Madison.com Labs blog: http://labs.madison.com/blog
LA Times Data Desk: http://projects.latimes.com/index/
The Texas Tribune Data: http://www.texastribune.org/library/data/
Data Journalism blog: http://www.datajournalismblog.com/blog/

(note: these links all work & are correct as of October 6, 2011)

 

TweetCONFERENCE DAY 1

The first day of the conference started with a latte and pumpkin gooey butter cake (a St. Louis specialty) from Park Avenue Coffee around the corner from the venue. One thing I learned: journalism conferences do not have the abundance of coffee and baristas that I’m used to with tech conferences!

TweetMobile & Tablet Research Roundup – This was an overview of tablet and mobile research by Roger Fidler & Regina McCombs. Some interesting stats from thinkMobile & Google research on how people are using smart phones

89% use it to stay connected
82% use it to read news and research
75% use it to navigate
65% use it to keep entertained
45% use it for management and planning

Their research also showed that GPS is one of the most important features for smart phone users, and good apps should incorporate it appropriately. Social media comes in second in terms of feature importance.

For news sites, having usable mobile capability typically adds 10-20% to traffic. However the number is greatly affected in disaster or breaking news scenarios. As an example, CNN.com had 13.9 million mobile page views during the Japanese tsunami this year.

Tablet sessions are long, 58% of people use it for an hour at a time, 30% use it for > 2 hours at a time. Daily.

What are they doing on the tablets? Using engaging, longer form, higher production value applications like games, magazines and video. Newspapers like the Daily Telegraph found tablet owners are not generally interested in breaking news, more interested in more detail and interactive pieces.

Regina posted notes from the research & sources here: http://delicious.com/reginajmc/sndstl

TweetFun101 — A strange title for a talk at a news design conference, but Fun101 with Tim Harrower was one of the best sessions I went to. Tim had amazing ideas on how to engage readers, keep them interested and get them to have fun. Which is especially relevant today with so much depressing news. Ideas Tim mentioned included things like predicting awards shows ahead of time, fun quizzes, games to tell news stories, using comics to explain difficult or complex stories, and a lot more. I’m not seeing his slides online, but you should definitely check out his website for excellent and thought-provoking ideas and content: http://www.timharrower.com/

TweetDesigning Personalized Tablet News – This was a panel with Bobby Ghoshal from Flud, Mark Johnson from Zite & Joey Marburger from Trove. It was a good panel where each aggregator talked about their decisions on multiple platforms, how much setup to give the user (i.e., do you seed them with feeds, let them choose, etc.), how they allow users to share, revenue streams and more. My takeaway from this was that these are in a dangerous spot as they rely a great deal on the lack of pay walls or a system to integrate with news sites. The aggregators don’t want to do a ton of work for each site they allow their users to access so the tougher a news site’s pay wall, the more likely the aggregators won’t include it. Having just seen the fantastic film Page One: Inside the New York Times, I fear what could happen if everyone stops paying for news or thinks they’re entitled to quality reporting for free forever. So while the aggregators do provide eyeballs, it seems there needs to be money changing hands somewhere for people to be able to use these apps. All three apps are currently free, but it doesn’t seem to be a sustainable model.

TweetKeynote Speaker: Rob King – Rob King, VP & Editor-in-Chief of ESPN Digital Media gave a fantastic talk on dealing with change in your personal and professional life. My favourite quote: “It’s going to work out, you just don’t know how yet.” Brilliant.

TweetDesigning the Magazine and Issue-based Tablet Experience – This talk was given by Mike Schmidt from The Daily, Claus Enevoldsen from Next Issue Media and Robert Newman from Reader’s Digest. Very good session on the tools they use, how they spend their time and production flow. I was terrified to learn that at The Daily, there are 50 people on just the design team, and that they have no automatic templates so every day they handcraft over 100 pages. Then they do it again in portrait mode. Yikes.

TweetTouching News: The New Rules of Tablet Media – This session was one of the ones that made me sign up for this conference. I read Josh Clark’s book Tapworthy earlier this year and loved it. Josh had some of the best slides of the event, but he also automated his Twitter account to tweet additional interesting blurbs about his talk as he was speaking. Magic! Josh had excellent UI tips, usability and interaction examples, and was basically all around brilliant. Excellent speaker – go listen to him if he’s speaking near you any time soon. His beautiful slides are here: http://globalmoxie.com/jhc/prez/touching-news.pdf

TweetBuilding in HTML5 & Bypassing Native Apps – I loved this session, not just a little because one of the developers from The Onion was speaking. Alan Herzberger from The Oklahoman & Michael Wnuk from The Onion gave very honest overviews of why they chose to build with HTML5 instead of iOS and their internal processes that happened for design, development, CMS modification, etc. Very interesting and candid discussion about the pain they went through, what works and what doesn’t. 

TweetVisual Conceit: The Secret Ingredient of the Secret Ingredient – Adonis Durado has a tough job. As Design Director of two newspapers in Oman, he works with designs and layouts in both English and Arabic and has to deal with a very reserved audience where showing skin to get more readers is not an option. Adonis talked about creating pages and layouts that make people think and surprise them. He showed a lot of examples of his papers’ compelling designs and “Wow factor” creations. He cited hiring a diverse team with different backgrounds and voices as one of the defining factors of his successful transformation of the papers from unknown to award-winning. His hand-out from the talk is here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/66821299/Visual-Conceit-Handout

 

END OF DAY 1

There were so many great talks, every session was a tough decision but I was quite happy with how much I learned.  Links to other speakers plus slides and blogs can be found here: http://sndstl.com/2011/09/snd-stl-take-aways/

StoryfulFrontPage.png

Tuesday Newsday: More Irish News Online

Last week’s look at Irish Newspaper websites and applications was a bit depressing.  So this week, I’m looking at some of the newer and more tech-friendly alternatives: TheJournal.ie and Storyful.  Neither of these news sources have alternative print formats, they are both digital-only.

 

TheJournalLogoTHEJOURNAL.IE

TheJournal.ie is an Irish news website which invites users to “shape the news agenda.”  Produced and owned by Distilled Media, TheJournal.ie has partner sites for business, sports and entertainment news as well (all linked in the top navigation bar).  While it’s been around since early 2010, TheJournal.ie is currently in public beta. This means the site is visible to the general public, although it may continue to test and trial new features so there may be glitches or new bits and pieces from time to time.

TheJournal.ie Front Page

TheJournal.ie’s front page is a modern and less formal site powered by WordPress. It is attractive and easy to navigate.  The tagged thumbnails and summaries are great and make it easy to browse headlines and stories. My only complaint is that some of the animated advertisements on the front page, like the Fine Gael one above are quite jittery and take away from the ability to pay attention to the headlines & summaries. Other advertisements I’ve seen on the site are much nicer, notably the ones produced by other Distilled Media sites like boards.ie.

Tagged Articles

The “Trending tags” link at the top of the front page (and also waaaayyyy at the bottom) shows off TheJournal.ie’s ability to do something most other Irish newspaper sites can’t/don’t: tagging articles.* Clicking one of the trending tags shows a list of articles relevant to that tag, when the article was posted, how many views & comments it has had, a brief summary and quick links to share via Facebook and Twitter.

 

Link to Mobile Site

TheJournal.ie has a mobile version of their website which can be accessed at http://m.thejournal.ie or by clicking the link at the bottom of the main page as shown above.

TheJournal.ie iPhone app main page     TheJournal.ie iPhone app article view

The mobile website is excellent and streamlined, focusing on the top main story and the most recent stories with a small downward arrow icon to allow the user to switch to one of the different online properties. As the list of articles is long, it can take a bit of scrolling to get to things like trending tags or most commented articles.  The articles themselves are fantastic, very easy to read with nice typography and images.  I tried the mobile site on both an iPhone and a Windows Phone 7 and both looked great.

    TheJournal.ie iPad app splash screen    TheJournal.ie iPad app in the App Store

As far as apps go, TheJournal hardly needs any because the mobile site works so well. However the iOS apps add a nice navigation bar at the bottom for Latest, Most Popular, Opinion, More and timely events like the Rugby World Cup.  But the best part about the iOS app, which they should definitely advertise more loudly, is the offline capability. The app allows a user to download between 30-120 articles and their images so that you can read while offline.  I tried this while in airplane mode on my flight today and it was great, the only things inaccessible are of course online videos.

TheJournal iPhone Offline Options      Reading TheJournal.ie offline

Navigation in the iOS app takes a little bit of getting used to, you can scroll through the articles and swipe or tap the sides to move to the previous or next article. The Search function is hidden in the “More” section. It might be more useful on the main navigation or if the tags are sufficient for most users, it could probably be removed.

Navigation of TheJournal.ie iPad app      Swiping between TheJournal.ie iPad app articles

 

Although TheJournal.ie is still relatively new, it boasts over 800,000 monthly visitors, 60,000 readers on the Android & iOS apps, and an additional 80,000 Facebook & 20,000 Twitter followers.  Very impressive stats for a group that has to compete with more established and familiar Irish news sources. I am confident that TheJournal.ie will continue to grow and increase its presence and influence in the Irish news space. I would definitely not be surprised if this was a model they could abstract out and license to other areas similar to Ireland where the main news sites are more old school and less adaptive.

 

Storyful LogoSTORYFUL.COM

Storyful, now a little over one year old, uses a different approach to TheJournal.ie and most other news websites by taking the perspective that there is always someone closer to the story.  Sources might be local news professionals or amateurs, but they’re often simply regular people who are in the right place at the right time.

Storyful website

Storyful has a “storybuilding tool” on their site which allows users to publish directly to the website.  Users can post to community pages and share stories with friends on Facebook and Twitter to reach an audience all around the world.  It’s a unique model which allows Storyful to share the stories it collects with news sources and major global news organizations all over the world.  Storyful Storybuilding tool

Navigating Storyful’s website is not incredibly obvious if you’re looking for a more standard style of news website. Storyful’s front page presents a few thumbnails of what’s happening now along with things like Around the World in 18 Tweets and real-time Twitter updates.  Towards the bottom it has regular spots like Curator’s Choice and Community Stories which highlight specifically chosen stories.  However if you’re looking for a story that happened yesterday or some general news headlines for European financial stories, it’s not really built for that style of navigation. You can use the search bar to search by topic, but Storyful is not “the daily newspaper.”  Storyful is latest news, worldwide news, told by courageous people affected by the story.  If you want great storytelling and fascinating insights and the most up-to-date developments, this is the place. If you want stock closing prices and the sports scores from yesterday, you’re probably better off on a more traditional news website.

Storyful main page     Storyful Article View

Storyful has a vibrant community of contributors, and their contributions are in various languages, accompanied with photos, videos, tweets and comments, often from people at the scene of unfolding breaking news.  There is no other way to feel closer to a brand new story than by watching these posts get put together and reading what develops.  I know the feeling of continually refreshing Twitter searches for breaking news like the Arab Spring events and London Riots because no news site is going to have the latest turn of events, and feeling thrown into the moment while reading quotes from people who are witnessing it happen. Reading a great Storyful item is a bit like that, but much better organized and with supporting media.

Storyful "Around the World in 18 Tweets"    Storyful Article Contributions

There is no http://m.storyful.com, and unfortunately it doesn’t adapt much for smaller screen sizes, so if you are using it on a phone you will have to do some panning and zooming.  However it looks decent on an iPad, better in landscape mode than in portrait mode, which leaves a lot of unused whitespace at the bottom.  There are definitely some optimizations Storyful could do for mobile devices and smaller screens, a responsive layout being one.  Another thing that might be useful is be a “snap-and-upload” instant story creation tool.  With Storyful’s audience being worldwide, they’ve done the right thing by avoiding mobile apps and just focusing on the website to reach the most people. Many poorer and rural areas use very barebones phones but can still access the web with them; allowing these would-be reporters to maintain access to the story building tool is key. It would also be interesting to see geolocation functionality here, something like a “Breaking news near me” type of option.

Storyful Blog

Something Storyful got right that no one else has yet in Ireland is the personal, behind-the-scenes connection from their blog at http://blog.storyful.com/. This is a great way to show upcoming developments, share what’s new and how it works if relevant, showcase insights gained from analytics and user feedback and just generally let users understand the folks behind the creation of the site a little better.  Storyful’s blog has bits and pieces about recent stories they’ve posted, but it also has some very insightful posts on how and why it works the way it does.  I look forward to seeing more Irish news sites follow their lead and be more transparent about their inner workings.

 

SUMMARY

This area is so fascinating to watch because without the baggage of an existing brand, new news sources can do some very interesting things.  Things like Facebook and Twitter integration are not mere add-ons for these sites, they’re integral to how the sites work.  Embracing new ways of communicating and sharing helps these sites to grow their audience, and in a time where ad spend is vital to survival, audience statistics will go a long way to building and keeping advertiser revenue.

Looking at Google Trends is one way to see general traffic over time, and you can see below that for 2011, traffic is decreasing slightly to bigger sites while jumping around but still slowly increasing over time for TheJournal.ie (Storyful stats were unavailable so they’re not on the chart). These are very forward-thinking organizations and I applaud their hard work and determination to break the status quo.

Google Trends screenshot for 2011

 

*Unless you’re talking about The Independent’s random highlighting of words inside articles, which is very bizarre and certainly not helpful. I was reading a food article recently which had two hyperlinks in it: path and tricky. Clicking either word took you to a page where any other articles containing the word path or tricky were listed. Why would that ever be useful? The Independent needs to lose that automatic linking, whatever it is.