Daily Lessons from 2011

At the beginning of 2011, I made a resolution to note one new thing I learned every day. I stole it from this article, which I loved: http://www.themorningnews.org/article/the-year-of-practical-thinking.

I kept my list on tumblr here: http://thedailylesson.tumblr.com/.

It was both easier and harder than I thought it would be. Easier because when you pay attention, you’re picking up new things all day long. All it takes is writing down one of these things, and once you’re conscious of trying to find something, it comes pretty easily. Harder because it wasn’t part of my routine, and I would sometimes realize that, after a few weeks of having my head down working on something or a week away, I hadn’t updated in a while. Going back through email and Twitter and podcasts and Facebook to find something I had definitely learned that day was tedious, but I wanted to look back on the posts & know they were legit things I learned & not made up.



One thing I noticed after only three months was how much fun it was to look back already. Three months! Think about where you were in, for example, June 2009. In the absence of a life-changing event like a birth, death or marriage, it’s pretty hard to remember what was generally going on around that time. I have always kept hand-written journals but without them or my blogs or other online sources of events, pinpointing a point during that time other than “I was working at Microsoft in Ireland…I was probably giving some tech talks…?” is pretty tough, at least for me.

Some people would argue that *because* I have always kept journals I had relieved my brain of the need to recall great detail, sort of like the GTD philosophy. But I’ll leave that hypothesis alone for now.

Link to The Daily Lesson

What was most fascinating to me, however, is how vivid a memory I can get from a day with often just a line or two about what I learned. I look at April 5th & remember the tamale-making class I took with friends. Reading June 11th reminds me of my long conversation in a fishing shop when I bought my first rod probably since I was 14. November 3rd places me vividly in the place where I decided to go fulltime with Idea and Woopie and felt scared but more excited than I ever have about something I’ve worked on.



I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to do it again. While it’s not really time-consuming, my schedule is going to be much busier this year than last and I don’t want to half-ass it. However if you’re looking for a fun and different new year’s resolution, this is a good one.

Tuesday Newsday: Data News Sites

Data journalism, news apps, open government data. In this age of Anonymous, Wikileaks, and proactive sources publishing freely available data, it is becoming critical that we have journalists and developers working together to make sense of it all and understand how it affects us.

Today there are a growing number of news outlets doing a fantastic job of both publishing data and creating interactions and visualizations to make sense of it. I wanted to showcase a handful of those sites so that people can understand why this type of journalism is important and how it works. And maybe even how to get involved if it’s of interest to you.



There is no shortage of people providing data sets today, the only thing to learn is how to narrow it down to the most useful one for you.

Fingal Open Data is doing a nice job in Ireland encouraging councils to open up their data. Their site http://data.fingal.ie/ provides data in CSV, XML and KML formats, and they’re currently running a competition for people to build useful apps given the available data.

Additionally in Ireland, sites like Gavin Sheridan’s The Story and John Handelaar’s Kildare Street are excellent resources for presenting data but also learning more about the types of data available in Ireland

I mentioned The Guardian’s Data Blog in a recent post about news developer blogs as a great example of community building. But clearly it is also one of the best sources in the UK for a wide range of freely available data sets. For each set of data they post, they offer a download of the data and recommend that if you do anything with it, you post it to their Flickr group. They often have additional visualizations and comparisons as well.

Example of data provided by The Guardian Data Blog


There are loads of additional resources for finding data, the trick is knowing how to search for the information you need. Sites like ScraperWiki (https://scraperwiki.com/), DataSift (http://datasift.com/), The World Bank (http://data.worldbank.org/),   BuzzData (http://buzzdata.com/) and more sites are growing and becoming available to the public for research and data mining.



It’s no coincidence that a lot of my news app examples have shown up in prior blog posts – there are some organizations who are very seriously ahead of the pack in terms of understanding how news and technology work together. On one hand I am delighted to have bright minds like these folks paving the way! On the other hand, it makes me a little depressed when I realize that Ireland is nowhere near this level of thinking.

NPR’s StateImpact (http://stateimpact.npr.org/) is a collaboration among NPR and local public radio stations in eight pilot states to examine public policy issues in depth. They provide explanatory, data-driven stories focused on how people’s lives are affected by government decisions.

NPR's StateImpact

The New York Times definitely has a well-respected team of interactive news developers and infographic designers. However it’s not always very easy to find them on their site. The Multimedia page is the best resource I’ve found for taking a look at cool interactive apps and images they create, but Small labs Inc has also put together a nice collection here: http://www.smallmeans.com/new-york-times-infographics/

NY Times Multimedia / Photos page

The Chicago Tribune has some of the busiest & best news app builders in the United States today and they are constantly kicking out new, interesting information in nice visual formats. Check out their site which has apps in many areas including community, schools, business, politics and more.

Chicago Tribune Maps & Apps

ProPublica creates not only fantastic interactive news applications like Dollars for Docs (which I referenced in my Quantified Self talk on skin problems), they also create excellent reusable tools like DocDiver that allow readers to work with the ProPublica reporters.

ProPublica Tools & Data



To learn more about data journalism, here are a few useful sites to check out and blogs to follow:

The Data Journalism Handbook: a work-in-progress coordinated by the European Journalism Centre & the Open Knowledge Foundation launched at the Mozilla Festival in London on November 5th 2011.

Data Journalism Blog: http://www.datajournalismblog.com/

Hacks/Hackers: http://hackshackers.com A grassroots journalism organization on a mission to create a network of journalists and technologists who rethink the future of news and information.

ProPublica’s Dan Nguyen’s Scraping for Journalism: A Guide for Collecting Data http://www.propublica.org/nerds/item/doc-dollars-guides-collecting-the-data – a great introduction to how to grab data that is in maybe less-than-optimal formats.

Also from Dan Nguyen, The Bastards Book of Ruby http://ruby.bastardsbook.com/ – an introduction to programming and its practical uses for journalists, researchers, scientists, analysts and anyone else who needs to make sense of data.

At the Society of News Design conference earlier this year, I went to some excellent talks by newsroom app developers who recommended that if you are thinking of going into this area, you need to know either Ruby on Rails or Django/Python, as those seem to be the dominant requested skills for news apps. I also liked this article recently on Poynter about using Backbone to create data news apps: http://www.poynter.org/how-tos/digital-strategies/147605/how-journalists-can-use-backbone-to-create-data-driven-projects/. You don’t need to know everything, just pick one and start creating projects.


And lastly, from the perfect timing department, here’s Matt Stiles, who is a data journalist from NPR, talking very recently about best practices in building news apps:

Data Best Practices from StateImpact on Vimeo.

Just in time for Last-Minute Gift Givers: Subscriptions to Idea!

Since Idea went live almost two weeks ago, the biggest complaint we heard was, “Why can’t I give you money?” We’ve gone back and forth on what’s the right thing to do for the community and how best to make sure what we’re doing is reasonably priced but sustainable too.


Subscribe to Idea Magazine


So today we’re answering your calls & opening up for subscriptions!  Subscriptions will begin with our next issue in February. And we have two reasons why you should get your subscription sooner rather than later:

1) Prices for annual subscriptions will go up shortly before the next issue (February 15th) launches, so make sure you get your subscription now to lock in a fantastic deal.

2) We have a special Christmas gift this week: one lucky subscriber will win a gorgeous DODOcase from our friends at http://clickcase.ie! If you haven’t taken a look at the DODOcase, it is stunning, constructed from black Moroccan cloth and bamboo, and was even chosen by Barack Obama for the presidential iPad. You’ll be the envy of everyone for your superb taste and quality.

DODOcase - iPad 2

Anyone who purchases a subscription for themselves or a friend between now and 12:00am December 25th (for the really last-minute gift givers) is entered to win the DODOcase, and we’ll post it on our site and email the winner on Christmas day.


I was surprised by the number of people who have honestly asked me, “Can you just put up a donation thing so we can make sure this keeps going?” It seems so unbelievable that today, in the middle of a tough recession, while governments and corporations are terrified of piracy, that there are people who are actually looking for ways to not get things for free. But along those lines we’ve also seen a lot of great websites and services go out of business because they never had a business model. This excellent blog post from Maciej at Pinboard describes exactly that phenomenon: http://blog.pinboard.in/2011/12/don_t_be_a_free_user/.

So while we have a lot of creative plans in store for Idea, we’re also focusing on making sure it’s a sustainable effort and sticks around for a while. We’re committed to making this work and appreciate the kind words and support from everyone who liked what they saw and read so far. I won’t promise the business model will be the same this time next year, but I do promise that the magazine will still be here and hopefully by then fully supporting itself.

Thanks again for your enthusiasm!

And hey, the next issue is already kicking off! For those of you thinking about a change of pace to a startup or other small, fast-paced project and trying to run the numbers to see if it might work, we think we can help.

What’s in an Idea?

What all goes into an idea?

Well, our Idea consisted of:

  • 3 core team members
  • Over 30 contributors
  • 21 logos
  • 24 interviews
  • 20MB of production files
  • 6 digital formats
  • Over 150 images, icons, logos, illustrations and photos
  • Upwards of 15 frameworks evaluated
  • Hundreds of emails, Twitter DMs, text messages and phone call
  • Less than 20 in-person meetings
  • Some Macs, a couple of PCs, some iPhones, a few iPads and a Windows Phone 7
  • A handful of messy, convoluted platforms & workflows

And I’m not going to try to think about the collective hours. There are only so many hours in a day, and we all have full-time jobs and families. It was definitely a labour of love.

Cover Issue1

Cover Issue 1

Launching Idea Magazine was tough. I’ve been dreaming of creating Idea for years. On one hand, I just wanted to kick it out the door. On the other hand, I would have killed for another couple of weeks to make more fixes, edits, changes, revisions. But at some point you have to ship.

In the last year, I’ve learned a lot about digital publishing and creating an environment that both accommodates and enhances reading experiences. I’ve learned there are a lot of religious wars about reading formats, but that there isn’t “The One Best Way.” Mostly, though, I’ve learned how difficult it is to build, reformat and distribute these publications. I’ve watched as people struggle with CMS after CMS, built to publish but not built FOR the people who are publishing.

This can be better.

Stewart Curry, the incredibly talented designer that I somehow convinced to work on Idea with me, saw these same problems. As we worked together on building the platform for Idea, we realized we were going to need a system and that the method we were using was unsustainable. We decided to take some time to build a platform not just for Idea, but for other publications who are struggling with similar issues of usability, functionality and sustainability. We’re calling it WOOPIE, for Write Only Once, Publish It Everywhere. I’m going to take a much-needed break between now and the new year, and when I come back I’ll be focusing on that.

Making Idea come to life after thinking about it and believing in it for the last few years is honestly a dream come true. Building a platform to enable other people create something like this for their own communities is an amazing opportunity, and I can’t wait to get started.

[Oh, and yes, Tuesday Newsday will resume next week.]

Quantified Self Europe Review

Quantified SelfOne of the first things I discovered this past weekend in Amsterdam at the first ever Quantified Self Europe conference is that I clearly do a bad job explaining what QS is. When asked why I obsessively track things in my life like sleep patterns, exercise habits, food intake, skin condition, and others, I usually give a rambling answer about measuring things to make life better and improve myself and make changes and I like numbers.

Then I’m met with a blank stare which reads, “Freakshow.”

However I spoke with a lot of people this weekend (many of them wearing tracking devices like fitbit & jawbone) who mentioned that when they talk about using RunKeeper or a Withings scale, the response is often “Wow cool, I want to do that too!”

So I’m obviously not a great spokesperson for the movement. However measuring and tracking data about myself is something I’ve been doing ever since I was a little kid, tracking what I spent my babysitting money on and my pet rabbit’s snack intake. I once made a chart extrapolating out all of the possible outfit combinations in my closet (this wasn’t as hard as it might sound, I wore a school uniform during the school year & a camp uniform during the summer, and my mom made the rest of my clothes – it was slim pickings). I was born a data nerd.



I’ve already disqualified myself from answering that question, so I’m stealing the definition from the Quantified Self site: “Quantified Self is a collaboration of users and tool makers who share an interest in self knowledge through self-tracking. We exchange information about our personal projects, the tools we use, tips we’ve gleaned, lessons we’ve learned.”  There. Make sense?

I discovered QS through two of my heroes:  1) a researcher named Seth Roberts, who has been blogging for years about his attempts to improve his lifestyle through self-experimentation and 2) Nicholas Felton, creator of the annual Feltron Report, a collection of beautiful graphics illustrating achievements and quantified activities of Felton throughout the year. Both of these individuals inspired me to begin tracking data to find correlations and improve my life.



Quantified Self meetups happen all over the world (and just started in Dublin!). People use them to share what they’ve learned, ask questions and grow together. It’s a community movement of people who want to make their lives and the world around them better.

Show & Tell meetups allow people to discuss things they’re trying, problems they’ve had, get suggestions and then report back on their successes or issues.  The conference is an annual event for both users and those building apps and tools for self-trackers to meet and discuss the needs of the community.


Quantified Self EuropeQS EUROPE

You know you’re at a Quantified Self meetup when people show up in the morning with kinks in their hair where their Zeo band was. I can’t tell you how much I learned from the insightful and forward-thinking people at QS Europe. I am very glad I went. I learned about personal data visualization integration, building tools for others, objective versus subjective tracking, and lots in between. I met many inspiring people and returned to Dublin quite energized and enthusiastic (and with some ideas for my Christmas list this year like the jawbone bracelet tracker!).



The talk I gave was one of the hardest I’ve ever given because it was so personal. I’m very comfortable giving tech talks, discussing APIs and doing programming demonstrations, but I don’t usually talk about personal things.

One’s face is very personal. When I moved to Ireland in 2007, I began to have skin problems. It began gradually and I attributed it to the move, to stress, to late nights drinking with developers and clients, to travel, to whatever excuses I could think of. The stress was multiplied by the anxiety of being embarrassed about how my face looked, but also because my new job in Ireland involved me being on stage in front of large audiences constantly, often several times a week. A year later my skin was perpetually inflamed, red, full of sores and very painful. When one spot would go away, two more would spring up in its place. It was a tough time. I cried a lot.

Frustrated, I went to see my hometown dermatologist while I was home for holidays. He told me that a) this was completely normal and b) there was nothing I could do but go on antibiotics for a year (in addition to spending a fortune on creams and pills). I didn’t believe either of those things.

I was not interested in being on an antibiotic for a year, nor was I interested in Accutane (my best friend has had it multiple times and it hasn’t had long term results, plus it can be risky). What I was interested in was figuring out why this was happening and changing my life to make it stop. I refused to accept my dermatologist’s insistence that what you put in your body has no effect on how you look and feel.

I began systematically cutting things out of my diet to see how I reacted. First chicken and soy, based on a recommendation from a food allergist. Over the course of a year I cut out sugar, gluten, carbs, starches, caffeine, meat, fish until finally the magical month of December 2010 when I cut out dairy. My skin was my own again by New Year’s day this year.

It took a year to figure it out. It was completely worth it. There’s nothing wrong with Irish dairy, it just doesn’t work for me. I drink Americanos instead of lattes now, I don’t eat cereal; none of that is a huge deal. For what it’s worth, I can drink goat’s milk.

It was worth it but it was still tough. So I spoke at QS Europe about my journey in the hopes that it can help and inspire others who are embarrassed about their skin condition or scared of long stints of antibiotics or potentially risky treatments like Accutane. My slides, while not very exciting since it was a lot more storytelling than slide showing, are below. If you are going through something similar I encourage you to find a group of kind and helpful people like QS-ers, or use a community forum like http://curetogether.com/ to help get support and suggestions.


Quantified Self isn’t for everyone, but everyone should feel they have the power to change things in their body and their life for the better.

Exciting Idea Magazine Addition: Help with Hiring

idea-logo-whiteIf you’ve tried hiring people in the tech industry lately, you know what a tough and competitive market it is right now.

Idea Magazine wants to help.

Today we’re opening up a limited amount of job listings for our inaugural issue launching December 8th. We’re not interested in posting bulk ads with hidden company names. We’re not interested in posting vague descriptions of what someone might be doing. We’re not interested in posting ads for interns to work for free. We’re not interested in posting ads for companies hiring you so they can outsource your skills.

Here’s what we ARE interested in: we want to connect great people to great startups & tech companies. And we think the best way to do that is by being transparent and helping you find each other.

Our job listings cost only 35 Euros each and are featured in both the website and the magazine itself. This is a great deal as it delivers your ad to a very targeted audience of people interested and working in technology in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

We will be selective about which job listings we post so that a) they’re not overwhelming for the readers and b) your job has a chance to stand out.

You have the chance to make your position stand out – jobs will contain the below information so that the candidates contacting you will understand the requirements and be excited about joining your team.

To get your startup job posted in the first issue of Idea Magazine, launching December 8th, fill in the form here: http://readidea.wufoo.com/forms/idea-magazine-startup-job-ads 

Feedback on our job listings? Let us know! Email martha [at] readidea.com.



Blue Pony Media

Graphic Designer, Advanced

Skills required:

Strong graphic design and logo design skills, Photoshop & Illustrator

What you’ll be working on:

You’ll be working with our publishing and media clients to help them design beautiful and appropriate designs and logos for their interactive applications. Understanding an organisation’s vision and helping them to realise that is a big part of this role.

Why our company rocks:

Blue Pony Media is an award-winning media agency, creating interactive applications which delight people everywhere. We are very picky about which customers we take on to make sure to make sure we are proud of the work we do. Blue Pony Media values talented designers and developers and our extremely low turnover rate is proof of that. We’re located in Wicklow, but for the right designer, we’re open to a remote work option.

Blue Pony Media is a mature company with 10-20 employees.
To apply or for more information see: http://omgponies.com/jobs

SuperCrazy Games

XNA Developer, Beginner/Intermediate

Skills required:

C#, XNA, Physics libraries such as Farseer would be a nice-to-have

What you’ll be working on:

You’ll be taking our concepts and turning them into interactive, playable mobile games. Building on top of our internally created animation foundation, you have the tools you need to iterate quickly and be creative. Our games run on PCs and Windows Phone 7 but we’re also building an environment to distribute our games through Xbox Live very soon.

Why our company rocks:

As a small but busy games studio, we’re turning the mobile games industry on its head. We’re agile and creative, so this is your chance to get in early and impact the future of mobile games by helping us create unique, viral concepts. We take fun very seriously, and our office is located in a developer hub in Galway so there’s plenty of excitement around. We believe in working flexible hours and doing anything we can (like bringing in lunch and providing you with the latest mobile devices) to help you focus on exciting projects.

SuperCrazy Games is a Startup company with 1-10 employees.
To apply or for more information see: http://wearesupercrazygames.com/jobs

Tuesday Newsday: Audio News Apps

When talking about digital news apps, we often don’t think outside the walls of written content. However radio and audio applications also deliver news, stories and entertainment to large audiences. There are excellent podcasts in almost every category and their popularity is growing constantly.Audio News Apps

Why would someone choose to listen to audio news instead of reading the same thing, especially when you can probably read faster than most speakers can deliver the same amount of information? Audio news apps are convenient, especially for the increasing number of long-haul commuters. Audio apps let you multi-task (which is arguably a good thing). Listening to a discussion on a topic may be more insightful than an article with one person’s point of view. Maybe our eyes get tired of looking at screens all day. And sometimes it’s nice to listen to well-spoken people with pleasant voices.

I fell in love with Audible a couple of years ago. They have a great selection of books and reasonably priced membership. But two things really sold me: 1) the convenience of being able to drop them onto my mp3 player and listen during commutes and travel and 2) the wonderful readers.  Reading a David Sedaris book is always entertaining. Listening to David Sedaris read you his book, while doing impressions of his sisters and his father, is like stand-up comedy. Malcolm Gladwell’s books become somehow more insightful when read by his calm and thoughtful voice.

So I have a thing for voices. Anyway, back to the apps and their popularity. Today we’ll be covering iPad audio news apps Stitcher, NPR, and RTÉ Radio News.


STITCHERStitcher Radio

I learned about Stitcher a while back when I first found the TechCrunch Headlines podcast (which Stitcher produces).  Stitcher is an app for streaming podcasts, radio and news to mobile devices including iPhone, Android, iPad, BlackBerry and Palm. The app has a catalogue of various podcasts and channels both on demand and live which users can subscribe to for free.

Opening Stitcher shows a nice, simple layout with some of the top news stories, popular channels and new additions on the right and basic navigation on the left.  Clicking into a podcast or channel starts it playing immediately.  Stitcher Front Page

For navigation, the user can choose between OnDemand or Live Stations. Once the user has found a podcast he likes, he can click the star icon to add it to the list of Favorites. Favorites stitches together playlists so users can simply click on Favorites and hear a stream of interesting content.Stitcher Favorites View

Individual episodes can also be bookmarked, to save or listen later. The Favorites list refreshes the podcasts every so often to make sure the episodes are the most recent ones.Stitcher Favorites View

Stitcher has done three things very, very well. First of all, they have tons of content. By region, by interest, by source, they have created a very good directory of much of the top audio content available. Next they created native apps for multiple platforms. So you can listen on many devices and get the same great experience. Lastly they have kept the interface very clean and simple. There aren’t any instruction pages here, no one needs them. The audio controls are always at the top, the navigation always on the left, and the playlist or podcast detail always on the right. Very easy-to-use.



NPR, or National Public Radio, is a familiar enough name to most radio fans. They have built a large audience for their popular shows like Radiolab, All Things Considered, Planet Money, On The Media and many more. NPR’s programming reaches a weekly audience of 26+ million listeners, so they’re clearly creating desirable and interesting content.NPR Front Page

NPR has done a fantastic thing by creating their COPE (Create Once, Publish Everywhere) system which allows other people to build on top of them and access their content. This means that there are many different people and organizations pushing NPR’s content out for them, spreading the audio and podcasts to various devices and platforms.  They’re a very creative organization when it comes to their technology, and their iPad app, which was recently updated for iOS 5, is no exception.NPR Article View

When you launch the NPR iPad app, you have a lovely, easy-to-use interface showing you a selection of recordings and news with a radio player/navigation control section at the bottom. To move between the different channels, there is a sort-of Flud-like, horizontal scroll with thumbnails and short descriptions. For each item, you can choose to listen now or add it to your playlist.

If there are particular programs you regularly enjoy from NPR, you can find them by clicking on the “Programs” button at the bottom and search by title or topic. Clicking the heart icon adds it to your favorites on the left-hand column.NPR Catalogue

Clicking on an individual podcast starts it playing in the radio player at the bottom of the app. You can alternately add it to your playlist & queue up several podcasts. Some of the news stories have written content you can read and share, some only audio and no metadata. But the navigation controls are relatively easy to use to find the programs you want and listen live or on-demand.NPR Audio Ad

NPR has an interesting advertising model as well – they intersperse occasional audio ads in between programs or before certain programs.NPR No Geolocation

The only thing that doesn’t work outside the US is the station finder. As it uses zip code look up, it can’t find anything near you if you’re outside of the US. I’ve seen this as a problem in many US-centric apps; for a long time trying to use geolocation on The Daily would simply crash the app.



It is difficult to find a general “audio news” app that isn’t either full of content specific to the producer (like NPR) or more of an aggregator (like Stitcher). The RTÉ Radio Player is an example of a “local news channel” app. Wherever you live, it’s possible that a local media outlet is doing something similar and providing streaming, podcast feeds or an app for you to listen live or catch up on local news.RTE Front Page

Upon opening the RTÉ Radio Player (which is landscape view only), the live radio begins playing immediately. It starts in RTÉ Radio 1 streaming the live radio station.  Underneath a small summary of the current playing program is a tabbed interface where users can select the schedule, website or podcasts. There’s currently an ad to the left which, if you click it, takes you to Safari and then immediately the App Store to download the same application again for some reason.  But maybe it’s a rotating ad and I just caught it on a bug.RTE Schedule Listing

The schedule link is a bit off-putting as it appears as though you could click on one of the programs and start listening to it, but it’s just a static listing of the programs for that channel. Clicking back from the current day takes you to next week’s programs, so there’s no way to look at the schedule from the previous day.  RTE Website View

The website tab simply embeds the RTE website into a small view. You can increase the area by clicking the up arrow icon on the right and navigate around the website, but as it’s full-sized and contains flash ads, it’s a little bit shoe-horned in. It would be much more useful if it were streamlined content or maybe a mobile device-friendly version of the site.RTE Podcast Listing

On the podcasts tab, you can select from things like most popular, most recent or recommended and you can also search. While you’re presented with only the last day or two worth of podcasts, you can search and find much older recordings if you’re looking for a specific broadcast. I did find it strange that while the podcasts on most popular and most recent seemed to play correctly, clicking on recommended podcasts didn’t always play the podcast I clicked on. I am wondering if it has to do with them being listed but not yet uploaded for that day maybe?RTE Channel Selection

To get back to live radio you can click the “Back to Live Radio” button in the top right, which turns into a “Change Station” option when you’re listening to the live radio channel. So you can select that and switch from RTÉ Radio 1 to RTÉ 2fm, RTE Choice, etc. When you change channels, the schedule and website tabs will update but the Podcasts always contain a variety from RTÉ Radio 1, RTÉ 2fm & RTÉ Raidió Na Gaeltachta.



If you travel a lot or spend a lot of time already in front of bright screens, audio news may be a great option for you. Alternately it’s an excellent source of entertainment and education. Whether you decide to go with an aggregator or a local news outlet application depends a lot on the type of content you prefer to hear. Think about your preferences and give one of the audio news apps a shot.



As a podcast enthusiast, I listen to quite a few different podcasts (mostly technology). These days I primarily use Stitcher on my iPad, but I also use Zune software (yes, still) to sync my mp3 player and listen on my desktop computer. Anything to keep me away from trying to use iTunes for podcasts, which I think is a miserable piece of software.

The 5by5 Podcast network has a few different shows I listen to regularly including:

and several others I listen to occasionally such as:

Other podcasts I like are:

And of course I have to mention Tech Radio, where I occasionally join Dusty Rhodes and Niall Kitson to talk about everything tech-related in Ireland: http://techcentral.ie/pod_casts.aspx

A New Idea

Idea Magazine

For a place with such an amazing tech community of developers, designers, startups, entrepreneurs and just plain “do-ers”, it’s shockingly hard to know what’s going on all the time with the Irish technology scene. The most effective way to find out about interesting startups, new technologies, cool design studios, great places to work, upcoming events, testing techniques, great new fonts, etc. is usually an impromptu meetup with a fellow geek.

When I moved to Dublin four-and-a-half years ago I spent a lot of money on technology magazines, from Ireland and abroad, to find out what was going on (still do – I am a magazine junkie). Foreign magazines always had cool profiles of interesting people, tutorials on things that are new and might be useful techniques, list of stuff that was going on and things to get involved with.

I rarely read about anything interesting happening in Ireland. <sadFace/>

But at the same time, I was constantly blown away by unique companies being created here. Things like Build (happening this week in Belfast for the third year!), Coder Dojo (happening every weekend now!), 24theWeb (2nd annual event happened a couple of weeks ago!), that are all creative and beautifully executed initiatives. Studios that turn out gorgeous websites and mobile applications. People turning industries on their heads.


But there’s no platform for talking about it yet. Existing publications write about global gadgets & popular “apps you need now!” They cover huge sales deals. They publish bland PR for big brands. It’s time for something new.




I’d like to introduce Idea Magazine. Idea Magazine is a brand new, bi-monthly digital magazine by and for the tech scene of Ireland and Northern Ireland. We’ll be launching on December 8th with our first issue available online for free.

Idea Magazine aims to highlight startups and technology created in Ireland and Northern Ireland, along with excellent design, educational programs and training, investment and business-related information of interest to the tech community. Things like “Which accelerator program has the best terms”, “What should you know about patenting your software”, “Tips for increasing customer engagement in web apps”, “Which tech events are happening next month”, and much more will be covered in Idea Magazine.

Together with the incredibly talented Stewart Curry as Design Director, we have an excellent team working together to make sure we are covering interesting, relevant and useful topics for you, the tech community. If you have suggestions or things you’d like to see in future issues of Idea Magazine, please feel free to contact me at martha [at] readidea.com.



If you’re interested in learning more, you can go to (the very lovely and responsive) http://readidea.com & sign up for our newsletter today or follow us on Twitter at @readidea. Our launch is only a month away, so we’re busy getting our content and new platform ready for you.

I’d love your feedback and suggestions any time & look forward to creating an outstanding magazine for an outstanding community.

Tuesday Newsday: Newspaper Developer Blogs

A common trait of successful online news and magazine sites is, surprisingly, a developer blog. Think of a developer blog as a look into the minds of the people building the site: what limitations they have, what they’re working on, what they believe their readers want or need, success stories of how they built interesting things, and even day-to-day tidbits that remind readers that the site is built by thinking, feeling people instead of a faceless entity.

  • I’ve heard many excuses for not wanting to have a developer blog:
    “Who would update the thing? Our team is busy!”
    No one wants to read stuff like this, they want to read the news.”
    We absolutely cannot publish this information, it’s secret. What if someone were to copy us?!”
    We’re developers, not writers. We wouldn’t know what to say.”
    Taking the time to write blog posts takes us away from being able to build the technology our team needs.”
    The list goes on and on.

But for teams who do make the effort to create and update developer blogs, the rewards are great. I’m going to walk through some of the benefits of creating a developer blog for your site, using excellent existing blogs as examples of how to do this well.



I believe very strongly that the best way to learn something yourself is to teach others and share your knowledge. This has become apparent to me from many directions including mentoring, teaching, writing tutorials, giving talks and training others. I always learn more each time I share with others.

This industry moves so quickly. Suggestions on things that work and things that don’t as well as best practices and “how to” articles are invaluable for people. A solid “why we did it this way” or “the fastest way to do x” type of article can save other developers a great deal of time and make them eternally grateful to you.  Google recently changed their Maps API Terms of Service, causing a lot of confusion. Chris Keller from Madison.com wrote about the changes and narrowed down the important bits for others affected by the change.

Madison.com Labs

At The Chicago Tribune, the team is not just interested in educating itself and its blog readers, but also the community. Joe Germuska blogs about his presentation to Hacks/Hackers Chicago in October, posting his slides and sites he referenced throughout his talk.

Chicago Tribune News Apps



It might not happen all the time, but occasionally your team may create new applications or methods of doing things which are so valuable they’re worth selling or licensing. In 2005, The Lawrence Journal-World newspaper from Kansas released an open source tool called the Django web framework, and they ended up spinning out a software division to sell their customized CMS now called Ellington CMS. A CMS coming from a media organization is a huge deal, since every media team I talk to vehemently hates their CMS.

Ellington CMS

The ProPublica News Apps team released a new feature earlier this month called DocDiver, and they announced this on their “ProPublica Nerd Blog.” The blog post included how it works, why they built it, and nerdy details on how it works. The project was built on top of the NYT DocumentViewer app and expands on that open source project.

ProPublica Nerd Blog



Recognition and respect are two of the most important things you can help your team members achieve. Developers and technologists who feel appreciated are more likely to stick around, work harder and be more loyal employees. Industry recognition for your team circles back to help your organization improve its image as well.

The Chicago Tribune has built a large collection of applications on Github which are available for others to view & fork: https://github.com/newsapps.

Chicago Tribune News Apps

Last week, Poynter.org published an article by Matt Thompson on why journalists should be ‘showing their work’ while they create and learn. He mentions paying it forward, building data literacy, increasing the impact of your work and more.




The worst thing that can happen to an industry is that it stagnates and no innovation occurs. Developer blogs are the perfect way to share your disruptive ideas with others who might be interested in doing something similar or building off of your idea.

My favourite example of this this year is from a Maine newspaper, The Bangor Daily News. Tired of a typically clunky workflow which involved a lot of cutting-and-pasting, the team built a new workflow out of Google Docs and WordPress. The Bangor Daily News dev blog is here: http://dev.bangordailynews.com/.  You can read more about their new workflow here: http://www.mediabistro.com/10000words/how-to-run-a-news-site-and-newspaper-using-wordpress-and-google-docs_b4781.  And here’s a short video showing the process:




What if you had a whole community of individuals you could get to give you input, suggestions, or even build things with your data and resources? Think of how much more you could achieve.

The Guardian’s Data Blog has done exactly that. A very active blog, The Guardian Data Blog releases new sets of data constantly in raw form. Sometimes they’ve been able to build charts or interactions to tell a story with it, and sometimes they simply provide the data. At the end of each article, they ask “Can you do something with this data?” and ask people to contact them or post visualizations on their Flickr page. 

The Guardian Data Blog

The result is a fascinating body of work, which is much more diverse having community input, and is definitely larger than what The Guardian could have produced on its own. That kind of interaction and dedication by a community makes your site and publication much more interesting and valuable.

The Guardian Data Blog Flickr Pool



My dad used to tell me, “It ain’t bragging if you’ve done it.” If your team has built something amazing, solved a really tough problem, or tried something crazy (even if it was a colossal failure!), why not tell the world? The New York Times launched its “beta620” labs project this year, and the site is specifically for trying out wacky ideas and experimenting. So far they have created some projects which are simply experiments they’ve learned from. But they’ve also created products like the Times Skimmer, which end up as full-fledged products in the main site or in their mobile apps.

The New York Times beta620



We all know hiring good developers, designers, UX designers, content strategists and other technology positions is tough and getting tougher. People want to work for respected organizations doing interesting things. Advertising for free on your developer blog that you’re using new technology or being creative is a wonderful way to help the right people find their way to you.

At The Guardian, they have been hosting “Guardian Hack Days” and “Developer drop-ins” this year, both of which help expose their team and technology to potentially excellent candidates for future hiring. A developer looking for his or her next role would find articles like these very telling about office culture, priorities and work ethic, all things which are near impossible to discover in an interview.

The Guardian Dev Blog



If you’re considering creating a developer blog for your news or magazine application, be sure to keep an eye on the following blogs which are great examples of how to write, teach, influence and share well:

ProPublica Nerd Blog :: http://www.propublica.org/nerds 
Bangor Daily News Dev Blog :: http://dev.bangordailynews.com/
Data Journalism Blog :: http://www.datajournalismblog.com/blog/
LA Times Data Desk :: http://projects.latimes.com/index/ 
Madison.com Labs Blog :: http://labs.madison.com/blog/
beta620 from The New York Times :: http://beta620.nytimes.com/ 
The Guardian Data Blog :: http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog
Guardian Developer Blog :: http://www.guardian.co.uk/info/developer-blog
Chicago Tribune News Apps :: http://blog.apps.chicagotribune.com/


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.



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 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 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 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.



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.



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.



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.