Tag Archives: digg

Magazine editing: managing information overload

In the second of three extracts from the 3rd edition of Magazine Editingpublished by Routledge, I talk about dealing with the large amount of information that magazine editors receive. 

Managing information overload

A magazine editor now has little problem finding information on a range of topics. It is likely that you will have subscribed to email newsletters, RSS feeds, Facebook groups and pages, YouTube channels and various other sources of news and information both in your field and on journalistic or management topics.

There tend to be two fears driving journalists’ information consumption: the fear that you will miss out on something because you’re not following the right sources; and the fear that you’ll miss out on something because you’re following too many sources. This leads to two broad approaches: people who follow everything of any interest (‘follow, then filter’); and people who are very strict about the number of sources of information they follow (‘filter, then follow’).

A good analogy to use here is of streams versus ponds. A pond is manageable, but predictable. A stream is different every time you step in it, but you can miss things.

As an editor you are in the business of variety: you need to be exposed to a range of different pieces of information, and cannot afford to be caught out. A good strategy for managing your information feeds then, is to follow a wide variety of sources, but to add filters to ensure you don’t miss all the best stuff.

If you are using an RSS reader one way to do this is to have specific folders for your ‘must-read’ feeds. Andrew Dubber, a music industries academic and author of the New Music Strategies blog, recommends choosing 10 subjects in your area, and choosing five ‘must-read’ feeds for each, for example.

For email newsletters and other email updates you can adopt a similar strategy: must-reads go into your Inbox; others are filtered into subfolders to be read if you have time.

To create a folder in Google Reader, add a new feed (or select an existing one) and under the heading click on Feed Settings… – then scroll to the bottom and click on New Folder… – this will also add the feed to that folder.

If you are following hundreds or thousands of people on Twitter, use Twitter lists to split them into manageable channels: ‘People I know’; ‘journalism’; ‘industry’; and so on. To add someone to a list on Twitter, visit their profile page and click on the list button, which will be around the same area as the ‘Follow’ button.

You can also use websites such as Paper.li to send you a daily email ‘newspaper’ of the most popular links shared by a particular list of friends every day, so you don’t miss out on the most interesting stories.

Social bookmarking: creating an archive and publishing at the same time

Social bookmarking tools like Delicious, Digg and Diigo can also be useful in managing web-based resources that you don’t have time to read or think might come in useful later. Bookmarking them essentially ‘files’ each webpage so you can access them quickly when you need them (you do this by giving each page a series of relevant tags, e.g. ‘dieting’, ‘research’, ‘UK’, ‘Jane Jones’).

They also include a raft of other useful features, such as RSS feeds (allowing you to automatically publish selected items to a website, blog, or Twitter or Facebook account), and the ability to see who else has bookmarked the same pages (and what else they have bookmarked, which is likely to be relevant to your interests).

Check the site’s Help or FAQ pages to find out how to use them effectively. Typically this will involve adding a button to your browser’s Links bar (under the web address box) by dragging a link (called ‘Bookmark on Delicious’ or similar) from the relevant page of the site (look for ‘bookmarklets’).

Then, whenever you come across a page you want to bookmark, click on that button. A new window will appear with the name and address of the webpage, and space for you to add comments (a typical tactic is to paste a key quote from the page here), and tags.

Useful things to add as tags include anything that will help you find this later, such as any organisations, locations or people that are mentioned, the author or publisher, and what sort of information is included, such as ‘report’, ‘statistics’, ‘research’, ‘casestudy’ and so on.

If installing a button on your browser is too complicated or impractical many of these services also allow you to bookmark a page by sending the URL to a specific email address. Alternatively, you can just copy the URL and log on to the bookmarking site to bookmark it.

Some bookmarking services double up as blogging sites: Tumblr and Stumbleupon are just two. The process is the same as described above, but these services are more intuitively connected with other services such as Twitter and Facebook, so that bookmarked pages are also automatically published on those services too. With one click your research not only forms a useful archive but also becomes an act of publishing and distribution.

Every so often you might want to have a clear out: try diverting mailings and feeds to a folder for a week without looking at them. After seven days, ask which ones, if any, you have missed. You might benefit from unsubscribing and cutting down some information clutter. In general, it may be useful to have background information, but it all occupies your time. Treat such things as you would anything sent to you on paper. If you need it, and it is likely to be difficult to find again, file it or bookmark it. If not, bin it. After a while, you’ll find it gets easier.

Do you have any other techniques for dealing with information overload?

 

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85 wordpress plugins for blogging journalists

Having reached a potential plateau in my addiction to WordPress plugins* I thought I should blog about the plugins I use, those I’ve installed in preparation for potential use, and those I may install at some point in the future. Of the 85 or so plugins installed on my blog I ‘only’ have around 30-40 that are active – the rest have either been used in the past or are ready in case I need them at some point in future. Some are one-click installs; others you need to put PHP in your templates; instructions are generally given on the plugin page. I’d love to know what plugins you find useful on your own blog.

Content plugins

Add Sig allows you to add a custom signature to the bottom of posts – particularly useful if you have a multi-author blog.

Embed iFrames allows you to do just that – useful for embedding any content that uses iFrames, e.g. maps, spreadsheets, widgets etc.

Exec PHP allows you to execute PHP in blog posts. I’ve not had to yet, but you never know…

FeedWordPress is an aggregation plugin that pulls any RSS feeds you specify and publishes them on your blog. Any user clicking on a particular post will be taken to the original. This is very useful if you blog elsewhere or want to aggregate coverage of an event for an eventblog (although there are more specific packages for that now). Previously I’ve used it to pull posts from my Posterous blog so I can blog via email.

In Series is a great plugin if you’re writing a series – this creates a new box when you start writing a post that allows you to assign it to a ‘series’. Sadly the plugin site reports “There have been reports of minor breakage in WordPress 2.6, and complete failure in WordPress 2.7.” So I’m now trying out Organize Series and Series, which claim to do something similar.

Microkid’s Related Posts allows you to manually add related posts.

Postalicious will automatically publish your bookmarks (from deliciousma.gnoliaGoogle ReaderReddit, or Yahoo Pipes) to your blog. You can specify a particular tag, frequency etc.

Star Rating for Reviews allows you to give star ratings in any blog post – ideal for reviews.

Tagaroo will suggest tags based on the content of the post you’re writing, and related Flickr images you could use.

User Photo displays an image of the author next to the post (this takes some tweaking with the template code) – particularly useful for multi-author blogs.

XML Google Maps allows you to easily insert Google Map or Google Earth Plugin Maps into your blog.

Comment plugins

Spam filter plugin Akismet is an absolute must for any blog, filtering out obvious spam and holding back the dubious stuff for moderation.

BackType Connect publishes comments about your blog on other social media sites – so if someone comments on your post on Twitter, Digg, FriendFeed, Hacker News or Reddit and links to it this will pull it onto your site. This sounds like a great solution to a modern problem, but in practice it generally means lots of tweets saying the same thing – ‘here’s a blog post’, so I’ve disabled it until that is addressed.

Capture the Conversation is a similar plugin which uses your post tags to look for related tweets. This gives you more control but means the more tags you add the less likely it is to work, which obviously has implications for search engine optimisation – although you can change the settings to only look for the first tag. It appears to be particularly useful for ‘breaking news’ posts where people are talking about the issue on Twitter and you can see this from the post itself. Presentation could be better – you can customise this a little in settings too.

cForms II allows you to create multiple and customisable contact forms across your blog, including multiple forms on the same page. I’ve never had cause to use it yet, but it’s worth having just in case.

coComment simple integration (direct download) integrates your comments system with the coComment system so users can log in, tag and share comments and keep track of them via coComment.

Intense Debate Comments does the same for the comment management service Intense Debate. I seem to remember this was created for me by Intense Debate so I don’t have a download link, but I disabled the plugin when I realised it had accessibility issues, and made comments invisible from search engines.

DoFollow is a plugin which disables the default ‘nofollow’ setting on WordPress blogs (which tells search engines to disregard any links in comments). This means that links posted in comments benefit from ‘Google juice’. You can set the plugin to only remove ‘nofollow’ after a certain period of time so you can delete spam comments before then. I found that announcing the plugin attracted too many spammers, so I disabled it.

WP-FacebookConnect allows users to login and comment with their Facebook account and publish comments into their Facebook newsfeed. There’s some fiddling required.

outbrain allows users to rank blog posts – WP-postratings did something similar, as did WP-StarRateBox.

Seesmic WordPress plugin allows people to record video comments. I seem to remember this was the plugin that forced me to move to self-hosted WordPress and, amusingly, I’ve only ever had one video comment since.

Subscribe To Comments allows users to receive email updates when an individual post receives a new comment. Simple but extremely useful, and so far used by hundreds of visitors to the blog.

Top Commentators Widget shows which users comment the most on your blog. Sadly it only starts counting once installed, and the presentation needs some attention, so I disabled it, but it’s a nice plugin which showcases the biggest contributors.

WP-Forum creates a forum on your blog – instructions on the plugin page.

Blog management plugins

BackUpWordpress allows you to easily backup your WordPress database – a useful habit to get into in case something goes wrong with your blog hosting or you want to move your blog to another host. The plugin also allows you to schedule regular backups.

Cronless Postie allows you to publish blog posts via email. There are other ways to do this – for example, emailing your post to Posterous and then pulling the RSS feed from there using a syndication plugin like FeedWordPress (see above).

mobileadmin makes it easier to manage your blog via mobile phone as it “gives a mobile-friendly admin UI to browsers by user agent. Includes support for iPhone/iPod-Touch”. However, this is currently disabled as activating it triggers a fatal error (who died?)

Ozh’ Admin Drop Down Menu changes the admin view on WordPress so that it uses drop-down menus, making it easier to manage.

Plugin Manager “lets you to view, download and install plugins from wordpress.org from an AJAX’ed interface, instead of manually downloading, extracting and uploading each plugin.” It’s really very very good.

podPress is a plugin to use WordPress for Podcasting. I’ve never particularly used this, but useful to have if I ever need it.

Post Template allows you to create templates for posts with the same structure – perfect for reviews and series, and also useful to keep a multi-author blog consistent.

Role Manager allows you to assign different levels of access to different contributors to your blog – for example, only allowing a user to contribute to a particular category.

Textplace is “a plugin to include commonly used text across multiple posts, pages and templates”.

WordPress Automatic Upgrade allows you to upgrade to the latest version of WordPress with a few clicks. Essential.

WP Security scans for security vulnerabilities in your WordPress installation.

Presentation and widgets

Bunny’s Print CSS creates a stylesheet for printing so users printing pages from your blog can avoid endless pages of widgets, comments or other page furniture (including design elements).

Easy Popular Posts shows you your most popular posts – useful to install in a sidebar (you’ll need to put a line of PHP in the sidebar template for this).

Get Recent Comments provides extra customisation of the comments widget.

Global Translator “translates a blog in 34 different languages (English, French, Italian, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Arabic, Russian, Greek, Dutch, Norwegian,…) by wrapping four different online translation engines (Google Translation Engine, Babelfish Translation Engine, FreeTranslations.com, Promt).” The results are as patchy as you’d imagine, but take a stage out for users who may use Google Translate to read your blog.

Hot Friends creates a blogroll/friends widget based on the number of comments a blog owner makes. I’ve never had the time to set this up properly and it may not suit the nature of the OJB, but it sounds interesting.

KB Advanced RSS Widget gives you additional control over the RSS widget, e.g. which fields of the feed to display and how to format them.

KB Countdown Widget counts “the years/months/days since, until, or between events. Optional bar graph for tracking progress between two dates.” Useful if you’re blogging up to an event, or setting yourself a challenge, or launching something.

Random Redirect allows users to be taken to a random post from your blog.

Related Ways to Take Action “makes it super easy to connect your readers to ways to take action based on the content of your posts. The Plugin identifies the top three keywords for each post and then searches for related campaigns from from Change.org, GlobalGiving.com, Idealist.org, DonorsChoose.org, Kiva, Care2 and over twenty other social change websites. It then automatically loads the top three campaigns for those keywords at the bottom of each of your posts.” In reality the guesses the plugin makes can be a bit hit-and-miss, but on a more campaign-based blog they may be more accurate.

Sort by Comments “Changes the order of posts so that the most recently commented posts show up first. Also displays last comment with the posts.”

Theme Switcher allows users to switch themes. You need to put a line of code in your sidebar to create the dropdown (instructions buried here) – remember you’ll have to do this in every theme you have installed so that users can switch back. You’ll also need to make sure that you’ve deleted any themes that don’t work or you don’t like, as this will pull them all up by default.

WordPress Mobile Edition shows mobile visitors a mobile version of the site. You have to install the theme as well.

WP Web Scraper is “an easy to implement web scraper for WordPress. Display realtime data from any websites directly into your posts, pages or sidebar.” I’ve not had cause to use it yet, but could be very interesting.

RSS and SMS

FeedBurner FeedSmith makes sure that users subscribing to your RSS feed are redirected to your Feedburner feed, allowing you to keep track of numbers of subscribers, etc.

RSScloud is a plugin that allows users to be more quickly updated when you post something. Only one RSS reader supports it, but the technology appears to be gathering speed.

RSS Feed Signature allows you to add a customised signature to the end of your RSS feed. Sadly, the developer link appears to be dead. This is the only alternative I can find.

SMS Text Message allows users to receive text updates from your site – presumably in the US only, where the receiver pays for texts. It creates a widget where users can enter their phone number to subscribe. I’ve just installed this so let me know if it works.

Analytics, SEO and Social Media Marketing

All In One SEO Pack is another top-of-the-list plugin that ensures your blog content is optimised for search engines. In addition to the general settings page this adds a box below your draft posts where you can customise the title, description and metatags on individual posts.

Digg This detects if the user has come from Digg and displays a Digg This badge for them to Digg the story. You’ll have to add a line of PHP in your post template.

Google Analyticator makes it easy to enable Google Analytics on your blog and measure where visitors are coming from, what terms they are searching for, etc.

Google News Sitemap creates a sitemap to help Google News better index your site.

Google XML Sitemaps does the same: generates “a sitemaps.org compatible sitemap of your WordPress blog which is supported by Ask.com, Google, MSN Search and YAHOO”

Landing Sites shows the user posts related to the search they’ve made that brought them to your site.

Permalink Redirect ensures that only one URL is used for each post and users (including search engines) arriving at others are redirected accordingly.

ShareThis creates a button at the bottom of posts for users to bookmark that post on sites like Delicious, Digg, Stumbleupon, Facebook etc. as well as email it to a friend. For me this replaced similar plugins: SociableWP-Email and wp-notable.

TweetMeme Button creates a badge at the top of each post showing how many times it has been tweeted and allowing the user to retweet it themselves.

WordPress.com Stats tells you how many people are reading, what they’re reading, and what searches brought them here.

WP Greet Box shows a different message to visitors “depending on which site they are coming from. For example, you can ask Digg visitors to Digg your post, Google visitors to subscribe to your RSS feed”

WP Super Cache makes your site faster. “If your site is struggling to cope with the daily number of visitors, or if your site appears on Digg.com, Slashdot or any other popular site then this plugin is for you.”

WP_DeliciousPost submits your posts and pages to Delicious, allowing you to include tagging and private links. WP_LinkTools does much the same.

Plugins to make money

Amazon Widgets Shortcodes adds a button to your post editor that allows you to easily insert an Amazon carousel, slideshow, or link to an Amazon product through your affiliate store – very useful if you’re reviewing products.

Buy Me A Beer places a widget at the bottom of every post and in the sidebar allowing users to donate to your PayPal account if they liked your post (there is also a ‘coffee’ option).

Paypal Widget does much the same, but without the rather more affable beer element. I’ve never had cause to enable this, but again, useful to have.

Register Plus creates an enhanced registration page for users to log on to your blog – this opens up opportunities for restricting access if that’s what you want. I never have, so I’ve never used it. The same developers have also made Donate Plus, which has similar potential. And SponsorMe is worth looking at too.

wpLicense-reloaded allows you to select a Creative Commons license for each blog post individually.

*When I started writing this post, it was 61. Some ‘plateau’. And if 85 isn’t enough for you, see my plugin bookmarks on Delicious.

Gatewatching for local news

Among the many good things about Internet news consumption is the fact that audiences can seek any sort of information to suit their interests and inclinations. No longer stifled by editorial, corporate or advertiser monopoly, readers browse everything from obscure blogs to mainstream news sites to get the information they want.

Ever since Internet media started going mainstream, however, many have raised the question of whether this vast and tolerant space is causing people to replace news that informs and educates with that which merely entertains. One has only to look at the slew of sensational Internet videos that go viral, or the latest online reiteration of Jessica Simpson’s gaffe to accept that this is a legitimate concern. In addition, people have more options than ever before to confine themselves to fragmented communities and echo chambers to get the news they want in lieu of what they need.

As Charlie Beckett points out in Supermedia, while the diversity provided by the Internet with regard to information dissemination is important, it also tends to further the divide between those looking for real, relevant information and those who merely want instant gratification through the latest celebrity gossip.

Of course, blaming new media for its endless possibilities would be sort of like blaming that decadent chocolate cake for existing. Just because it is there, doesn’t mean you need to seek it.

This has been a more major concern with regard to local news. Citizens might tend to focus on the latest iPhone application released by Apple at the expense of important news happening at home – information that would be vital to them as contributors to a democracy.

But while lack of reader interest is a problem, it is often spurred on by scarcity of engaging content from news organizations – if all a local paper can provide is a string of wire service accounts and press releases, how do they expect to keep readers motivated? This was hard enough to accept in an age where the newspaper or the evening news broadcast was the only source of information. It is simply untenable in the Web 2.0 world, where readers can get actual, eyewitness accounts from their Twitter followers and view firsthand pictures through Flickr groups. In other words, in this age of social media and online networks, local journalists seem almost out of touch with the community they live in.

The question then is, can residents of a community do well as their own gatewatchers?

The New York-based site NYC.is, which functions as a “Digg” for the city and its surrounding areas is trying to do just that. “Our goal is to connect bloggers, independent reporters and activists in different parts of the five boroughs, rewarding the best work by sending it traffic and increasing potential for impact,” reads the mission statement.

I got a chance to talk to Susannah Vila, a graduate student at Columbia University, who launched the site. “The inspiration behind the concept is [it provides] ways of democratizing the Web.  This was part of what excited me about making the site,” she says.

Readers themselves direct attention to local news that they deem important, while also channeling traffic to independent bloggers, regional Web sites and mainstream sites. Anything from New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s job approval ratings to rising prices of a pizza slice in Brooklyn can turn up on the front page.  “The point is, it is not just one type of story that gets popular. There is a lot of range,” says Vila. The common thread is relevance to people of the community. In true Digg fashion, the top contributors get a mention on the home page, as do the most popular stories.

Can this go one step further, and actually motivate people to do original reporting or garner data for a new story? “Once I get more of a community on the site with more engaged readers there is definitely a possibility to prompt them to investigate certain things or to [urge them] to go to community board meetings,” Vila says. ““It would also be cool to let people vote on ideas for stories.”

A gatewatching site at a local community level may not be sufficient to provide all the information residents need, but it certainly allows a comprehensive look at what readers are looking for, and what is important to them as residents, and as citizens: it can sometimes be an aspiring young band, or the New York Mets’ dismal season, but more often than not, it is about hard issues, such as the annual decline in household incomes, grassroots candidates for City Council, and governmental oversight of local schools.

Review: Search Engine Society by Alexander Halavais

Searching is the most popular activity online after email. It is the prism through which we experience a significant proportion of the world’s information – from news and information about our community, through to health information, commerce, and just about anything that has a presence online.

Search Engine Society takes a critical look at search engines, how they work, the techniques used to manipulate them – from gaining better rankings to censorship, and the implications for privacy and democracy. Continue reading

8% of Telegraph.co.uk traffic from social sites

Telegraph.co.uk gets an amazing 8% of its visitors from social sites like Digg, Delicious, Reddit and Stumbleupon, Julian Sambles, Head of Audience Development, has revealed.

The figure explains how the Telegraph is now the most popular UK newspaper site.

75,000 visitors a day

The Telegraph had about 28 million unique visitors in March, which means social sites are sending it almost 75,000 unique visitors a day.

Search engines are responsible for about a third of the Telegraph’s traffic Julian also revealed – or about 300,000 unique visitors a day.

This means the Telegraph gets 1 social visitor for every 4 search ones – an astonishingly high ratio.

You can read more of what Julian said about the Telegraph’s social media strategy here. The statistics were originally given for an article on social sites on FUMSI.

Lessons from Digg in news community and crowdsourcing

Mashable has a very lengthy but equally illuminating overview of social bookmarking site Digg, following the service’s decision to ban many of its biggest users. It’s essential reading for anyone involved in reader communities and user generated content. Here are some of the highlights:

Users quickly realized that one way to get diggs for their submitted stories was to make someone your Friend and consistently digg that person’s stories. Reciprocal diggs would usually follow. Continue reading

A model for the 21st century newsroom pt2: Distributed Journalism

In the first part of my model for the 21st century newsroom I looked at how a story might move through a number of stages from initial alert through to customisation. In part two I want to look at sourcing stories, and the role of journalism in a new media world.

The last century has seen three important changes for the news industry. It has moved… Continue reading