ProPublica have created a rather wonderful news app around education data. As Nieman reports:
“The app invites both macro and micro analysis, with an implicit focus on personal relevance: You can parse the data by state, or you can drill down to individual schools and districts — the high school you went to, or the one that’s in your neighborhood. And then, even more intriguingly, you can compare schools according to geographical proximity and/or the relative wealth and poverty of their student bodies.”
This is exactly what data journalism is great at.
What’s more, the Nieman article talks breathlessly about ProPublica aiming to make data “more social”. What they describe is basically an embedded ‘Share this’ text box (admittedly nicely seamless) and a hashtag. But the news app page actually has a lot more to it: for example, once you’ve given it permission to access your Facebook account, it tells you how many friends have used the app, and appears to try to connect you to schools in your profile. This is how that’s presented on the homepage:
This came as a refreshing relief, because the ‘share this’ strategy reminds me of organisations who say their social media strategy is to ‘get everyone on Twitter’.
Still, it made me think of the range of challenges that Facebook and other social media platforms present. For example, if you land on one of the comparison pages, the offering isn’t so compelling: the reason to install the Facebook app is just “Share this”.
As I’ve written before, technology is a tool, not a strategy, so here are some other opportunities that might be explored:
- Publish your school’s scores to Facebook graphically, not just the generic link. Images work particularly well in news feeds, and would be much better than the dry list of names that is generated by the ‘Share this’ button.
- Turn conventional news values on their head: be positive. This is a curious one: positive headlines seem to get shared more on social media, so could users celebrate their school’s ratings as much as bemoan them? Could they generate a virtual report card with a ‘Try harder!’ line? Imagine a Facebook editor who asks “Where can we put the exclamation mark?” Yes, I know, it makes me feel uncomfortable too – but I also hear Yoda’s voice saying “You must unlearn what you have learned…”
- Build on where they’ve come from: if a friend has used the app to send them to a comparison page, can you build on that in the way you invite the user to connect through Facebook? Could they add something to what the friend has done, and correspond back and forth?
- A Facebook-based quiz which sees how well you guess where your school rates on different scales. Perhaps you could compete against your current or former classmates…
- A campaigning tool that would allow people to use data on their local school to petition for more support –
- Or a collaboration tool to help parents and students raise money, or organise provision.
Competition, fun, campaigning, conversation, collaborating – those are genuinely social applications of technology. It would be interesting to start a discussion about what else might suit a news app’s integration with Facebook. Any ideas?