Author Archives: Paul Bradshaw

Yes, yes, yes. Newspapers didn’t let the ‘genie out of the bottle': they just lost their bottle

genie in a bottle

Genie in a bottle image by Herval

Steve Yelvington has a great phrase for the oft-repeated claim that newspapers ‘sowed the seeds of their own demise’ by putting their content online for free many years ago:

He calls it the ‘original sin’ myth:

“The most charitable thing I can say about it is: This is bullshit.”

I’ll let you read his post to get the full background, but as someone else who was there at the time I can only say: He’s right. What choice did publishers have? Let AOL or MSN steal an emerging fast-growing market as theirs declined?

The thing about this myth is that it relies upon some sort of ‘genie in the bottle': the idea that news organisations had something special that they ‘let out’. That’s a nice story, but it’s only half the story. Continue reading

The drawn out death of Yahoo! Pipes and the steady rise of IFTTT

Yahoo logo

So Yahoo! Pipes will be ‘retired’ in a couple of months. It was a seminal tool for its time, helping people like me demonstrate and explore the potential of RSS, APIs and automation without having to become programmers first.

But times move on. I’d stopped using Pipes years ago: I’d caught the programming bug and wanted to do more; and while Pipes fell into disrepair dozens of other tools were springing up showing how similar things could be done.

And top of the crop has been IFTTT.

IFTTT (If This Then That) was Pipes without the pipes. And although it lacked some of the functionality and control of Pipes (searching multiple sites all at once was a particular favourite), it more than made up for that with simplicity of interface and an ever-growing list of services it supported.

The proposition was a clear one: if you’re having to anything more than once, get IFTTT to do it for you. Cross-posting from WordPress to Facebook? Automate it. Saving all the tweets using a particular hashtag? Automate it.

When I first started using IFTTT there were around a dozen ‘channels’ you could connect: mainly social media and blogging services like Twitter, Facebook and WordPress – and of course, any RSS feed.

Now there are dozens and dozens of channels: not just newer social media platforms including Instagram and Pinterest, but email and phonecall triggers, iOS reminders and notifications, wearable tech like Nike+, Android Wear and Fitbit, connected home devices like WeMo light switches and Honeywell thermostats, connected car devices like Dash and Mojio, and triggers from your mobile phone including its location and text messages.

As the world has become more connected, so IFTTT has grown in potential. It is also one of the clearest demonstrations of how ‘visible’ we are when we connect to the web: sharing everything from the temperature of our house and the speed of our car to the position of our phone, and our partner’s phone.

Like Pipes you can set all sorts of filters, and you can browse, search and adapt ‘recipes’ by other users, including ‘notify me of a zombie apocalypse‘.

Of course, it’s a gateway drug to programming. By demonstrating one of the most basic concepts in programming – the ‘if’ – and how much time you can save with just that, it makes you want to do more. And it opens you up to the world of possibilities that comes with working with developers.

You may never have used Pipes, but it’s probably a good time to play with IFTTT.

Tony Hirst has written about the announcement and how that reflects changes in the culture of web companies. Adam Tinworth has pointed out that many organisations relying on pipes created by departed staff may find that things stop working.Ghacks Technology News outlines alternatives ClickScriptQuadrigram, and Superpipes

Lessons on using WhatsApp for publishing – an election experience

whatsapp election

A screenshot of the BirminghamEastside WhatsApp channel

During this year’s general and local elections a collection of my Birmingham City University students used WhatsApp to publish regular updates throughout the two days of voting. Frankly… they nailed it. In the process they learned a lot, so I thought I’d share some of the things that came up throughout the process – as well as the experiences of the person responsible for the Mirror‘s political WhatsApp account in the week leading up to the election. Continue reading

UPDATED: Ampp3d and UsVsTh3m: 9 of their best moments

Zuckerberg dance

Trinity Mirror are closing Ampp3d and UsVsTh3m. Here are just 7 9 of their best moments, in reverse order. Are there any you think should be here too?

9. More people may have died building venues for Qatar 2022 than will play in the 2014 World Cup

Qatar worker deaths graphicMary Hamilton describes this as “the single best interactive I have ever seen for mobile.” At the time I wrote a whole post about it: This simple piece of visualisation will have you rethinking what you know about impact and mobile: Continue reading

The legacy of Ampp3d, UsVsTh3m and Row Zed

It is perhaps a sign of the success of Trinity Mirror’s web-savvy projects Ampp3d, UsVsTh3m and Row Zed that reports of their closure have generated such strong reactions from journalists across a range of titles.

UsVsTh3m launched in early 2013; Ampp3d towards the end of the same year. The launches themselves represented a fresh approach to mainstream publishing online: standalone teams free to innovate without the baggage of print costs, systems and cultures.

The projects were initially given 3 months to prove their worth as separate projects but ended up becoming part of the Mirror site and sticking around for 2 years.

On those grounds alone UsVsTh3m, Ampp3d – and Row Zed in 2014 – have been a success. They achieved what they set out to do, and more.

But they have also had a massive influence on the wider industry – an influence which may have contributed to their closure. Continue reading

Data journalism at the 2015 UK General Election: geeks bearing gifts

bbc election quizThis has been the election when the geeks came in from the cold. There may be no Nate Silver-style poster boy for the genre this side of the pond – but instead, I believe we’ve finally seen the culmination of a decade of civic hacking outside the newsroom. And if anyone deserves credit for that, it is not the Guardian or the Telegraph, but MySociety, Tweetminster, and Democracy Club.

Looking back at my review of online election reporting in 2010 it’s striking how much has changed. Back then data journalism’s contribution was all about interactive presentation of results, but little else.

In the time between that election and this one, however, two things have changed within the news industry: firstly, a more code-literate workforce, including dedicated data project teams; and secondly, the rise of mobile, social media-driven consumption and, as part of that, visual journalism. Continue reading