Tag Archives: technology

AllSides’s John Gable: from the Dark Ages of the internet to bursting bubbles

all-sides-bias-rating

AllSides uses a bias rating system

As part of a series of articles on the innovators tackling the filter bubble phenomenon, Andrew Brightwell interviews John Gable, founder and CEO of AllSides, a website that has devised its own way to present alternative perspectives on American news.

When a man who helped build the first successful web browser says there’s something wrong with the Internet, it probably pays to listen.

“The internet is broken.”

John Gable’s diagnosis has authority: he has more than 30 years in the tech business, including stints at Microsoft, AOL and as a product manager for Netscape Navigator.

Now he is founder and CEO of AllSides Inc, a news website with a distinct mission. Visit AllSides.com and it offers the news you’d expect on any US politics site, except that its lead stories include a choice of articles: one from the left, centre and right.

 “The headlines are so radically different that even reading [them together] tells you more about that topic than reading one story all the way through.”

Continue reading

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Tools or Tales?

Christmas gifts image by Michael Wyszomierski

Christmas gifts image by Michael Wyszomierski

This month’s Carnival of Journalism asks what journalists want for Christmas from programmers, and vice versa. Here’s my take.

Programmers and developers have already given journalists enough presents to last a century of Christmases. Programmers created content management systems and blogging platforms; they wrapped up networks of contacts in social networks, and parcelled up fast-moving updates on Twitter and SMS. They tied media in ribbons of metadata, making it easier to verify. They digitised content, making it possible to mix it with other content.

But I think it’s time for journalists to start giving back.

All of these gifts have made it easier for journalists to report stories. But that’s only part of publishing.

Technology’s place in journalism

Traditionally, journalism’s technology came after the story: sub-editors or designers laid the story out in the way they judged to be the most effective; printers gave it physical form; and distributors made sure it reached people.

Each stage in that process considers the next person. The inverted pyramid, for example, helps subs trim copy to fit available space. Subs talk to printers. Printers work with distributors. Processes are designed to reduce friction. The journalist’s work – whether they realise it or not – is a compromise reached over decades between different parties. An exchange of gifts, if you like.

But when it comes to publishing online, there’s been very little Christmas spirit.

Stories as a vehicle

Stories help us connect with current issues; they act as a vehicle for information that allows us to participate in society, whether that’s politically, socially, or economically.

The job of a journalist is to find stories in current events.

But those stories do not have to be told in one particular way. And if we were to try to tell them in some different ways (adding important metadata; publishing raw data; linking to supporting material; flagging false information), we could be giving a gift much desired by developers.

Here are some things that they could do with that gift – it is, if you like, my own fantasy Christmas list:

They’re just ideas – and will remain so as long as journalists assume they’re only writing for newspapers, and newspaper readers.

The newspaper is a tool: a way for groups of people to exchange information. In the 19th century those groups might have been political activists, or merchants who needed to know the latest trading conditions.

The web is a tool too – a different tool. We can use it to ask information to come to us, or to seek out supplementary information; we can use it to draw connections; and we can act on what we find in the same space. Stories need to adapt to the possibilities of the new tool they sit in.

This year, put a developer on your Christmas list. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Is Ice Cream Strawberry? Part 1

The following is the first part of my inaugural lecture at City University London, ‘Is Ice Cream Strawberry?’. The total runs to 3,000 words so I’ve split it and adapted it for online reading.

The myth of journalism and the telegraph

Samuel Morse was a portrait painter. And he invented the telegraph. The telegraph is probably one of the most mythologised technologies in journalism. The story goes that the telegraph changed journalism during the US Civil War – because telegraph operators had to get the key facts of the story in at the top in case the telegraph line failed or were cut. This in turn led to the objective, inverted pyramid style of journalism that relied on facts rather than opinion.

This story, however, is a myth. Continue reading

Online journalism student RSS reader starter pack: 50 RSS feeds

Teaching has begun in the new academic year and once again I’m handing out a list of recommended RSS feeds. Last year this came in the form of an OPML file, but this year I’m using Google Reader bundles (instructions on how to create one of your own are here). There are 50 feeds in all – 5 feeds in each of 10 categories. Like any list, this is reliant on my own circles of knowledge and arbitrary in various respects. But it’s a start. I’d welcome other suggestions.

Here is the list with links to the bundles. Each list is in alphabetical order – there is no ranking:

5 of the best: Community

A link to the bundle allowing you to add it to your Google Reader is here.

  1. Blaise Grimes-Viort
  2. Community Building & Community Management
  3. FeverBee
  4. ManagingCommunities.com
  5. Online Community Strategist

5 of the best: Data

This was a particularly difficult list to draw up – I went for a mix of visualisation (FlowingData), statistics (The Numbers Guy), local and national data (CountCulture and Datablog) and practical help on mashups (OUseful). I cheated a little by moving computer assisted reporting blog Slewfootsnoop into the 5 UK feeds and 10,000 Words into Multimedia. Bundle link here. Continue reading

Online journalism and the promises of new technology PART 2: The assets

This post is cross-published from my new journalism/new media-blog.

In the first post in this series I argued that technology may not play such an important role to the development of journalism in new media as people seem to believe. In this post I will look at the three assets of new technology that are generally portrayed as the most significant for journalism in new media: multimedia, interactivity and hypertext (see for instance this article by Mark Deuze for arguments on why these three assets have been considered the most important for online journalism).

The general assumption of the “techno-researchers” has been that an innovative approach to online journalism implies utilizing these three assets of new technology. There are, of course, lots of other technological assets and/or concept related to technology that keeps popping up in the discourse on online journalism: Continue reading

GameChanger: providing tools for citizen sports journalism

It is hard to imagine that a sports-crazed country like the US would have any dearth in sports reporting. However, while professional and major college sports get covered no end by traditional media, sports leagues and user-generated sites alike, high school and minor college sports remain largely uncovered, an issue that is being exacerbated by declining revenues.

This was one of the reasons that inspired Ted Sullivan, a former minor league baseball player and a graduate of Harvard Business School, to ease the pain of parents, coaches and fans of youth sports, literally,  by launching an application that is making the process of scoring simpler, and allowing for easier distribution of stats from the field.

“An entire category of content called real-time sports doesn’t exist for what is the enormous majority of athletic events happening everyday, whether that is organized sports from the small college level or high school and youth sports,” says Sullivan.

Having not only played the sport, but also having coached at a downtown little league in Manhattan, Sullivan understood the challenges of scoring baseball manually. Earlier this year, along with co-founder Kiril Savino, he launched GameChanger, an iPhone application that transmits data in real time from the field. Using the tool, scores and stats, as they happen, can be tapped into an iPhone by coaches, fans and parents. This is translated into a “gamestream” that appears on the Gamechanger site instantaneously so fans can access live updates, box scores, and play by plays.

Balls, strikes and hits are recorded using the tool’s menu options, and players are tracked by dragging and dropping names. In addition, a coach or scorekeeper can create a team’s schedule, roster and lineup. There is also a provision for fans to add to the stream by posting comments or uploading photos and video.

“I believe in the mobile device as a great data collector,” says Sullivan. While mobile devices are useful for content consumption, the very nature of smart phones prompts something more than passive viewing by the user. And this makes them ideal vehicles for data gathering and delivery.

So GameChanger provides an application to the community surrounding a team, which, in turn, allows the community to provide data from the field to GameChanger. In other words, it is crowdsourcing with organized content gathering.

Each team can have more than one hub based on how many people choose to use the app for scoring, but Sullivan assures me that the tedium of score-keeping restricts it to few, very avid fans or parents, thus reducing potential imposters or error-prone score keepers. Besides, GameChanger makes baseball scoring easy enough for anyone with a basic understanding of the sport, thus alleviating the need for extensive experience or in-depth knowledge.

“The key piece here that needs to be stressed is that this business doesn’t work if we aren’t providing a huge incentive to the person that is using the application and collecting the data for us for free,” says Sullivan. He explains that manual scoring takes an average of 45 minutes to an hour per game; factor in several games per week stretched over an entire season, and therein lies Gamechanger’s incentive.

Lisa Winston attests to this over at the MLB Blog, bemoaning the fact that an app “so brilliant and simple” wasn’t available when her daughter played in the little league.

All the content that is collected is available on the GameChanger site. While some content is free, more detailed information, such as play by plays, requires a subscription. Sullivan believes that the data is exclusive and time sensitive enough for people to be willing to pay for it. For a fee, a simple html code also allows local news sites to pull data from GameChanger’s database in the form of widgets. Profits are shared with news partners.

Potential other uses in journalism?

If such an application can make data gathering, analysis and distribution easier in the case of simple scoring of a little league game, could it find potential in other, more complex issues? Such as election results, exit polls or the statistics of climate change?  With the popularity of crowdsourcing, citizens are being entrusted with more and more complex tasks in areas such as citizen science and E-governance. Such a foolproof application would increase participation and minimize error.

While projects like WNYC’s crowdsourced maps have successfully used their Web sites as data collectors, the content obtained from the public in such cases has been relatively simple, such as the number of cars on a street, or the price of milk at a grocery store. In these and similar such exercises, the task of making sense of the data or painting the bigger picture has been that of a journalist, perhaps rightfully so.

But if data-specific applications could be designed to maximize contributions from the public, it would perhaps make citizen journalism more relevant and valuable while reducing the workload on news organizations. It’s debatable if it will work for areas more serious than sports or entertainment, but, if anything, such weighty topics could use applications that would make information gathering easier.

Augmenting reality through journalism

It should come as no surprise that “augmented reality” – the technology that overlays virtual layers of data upon the real world – could be useful for journalism. If Yelp’s augmented reality application downloaded to your smartphone can generate a digital screen with ratings and reviews of a restaurant even as you enter it,  it’s not hard to envision a time in the future when your handheld could offer real-time news from your surroundings, almost as it unfolds.

Not surprisingly, news organizations are jumping on the bandwagon. In the past couple of months, Esquire magazine in the US and Wallpaper in Europe unveiled fancy “augmented reality” editions. Robert Downey Jr. came to life on the cover of Esquire, and videos and animation augmented text through the pages of Wallpaper. Last summer, Popular Science used a GE-powered augmented-reality feature with 3-dimensional wind turbines on its cover.

While all of this is “cool,” allowing publications to improve reader experience and perhaps, revenue, by providing interactivity and entertainment, none of them specifically utilized the potential of augmented reality to enhance delivery of serious content, as the Guardian’s Mercedes Bunz eloquently pointed out. While these publications have provided a good prelude to how the technology can be utilized, news organizations should segue into actually doing journalism with augmented reality instead of merely offering it as dessert.

Event reporting

One of the obvious uses of the technology would be in the reporting of live events. This has particular relevance in planned or staged events, which can range anywhere from international climate summits to polling booth stats to reporting from live games, and by extension, perhaps, award shows and concerts. Similar to the superimposed first-down line on NFL football fields, which has often been used to describe how augmented reality can overlay virtual information on real objects, stats about the distance of a quarterback’s pass, the speed of a tennis player’s serve, exit poll results on election days, or data released at international summits can be virtually generated so people can view them on their smartphones even as the event transpires.

Mixed media
Another way to utilize the technology more relevantly for journalism is a method employed by the company Moving Brands for its paper, Living Identity. Holding up the print edition of a story in front of a webcam in this case generates a live feed of the latest news and updates about the content in question. Such an integration of various forms of media might indeed be one of the biggest benefits of the technology – allowing users to engage and interact online through special tags and markers in the print product would enable news organizations to not necessarily charge for online content, but offer additional features accessible only through the print version. This might be an avenue to generate profit for an otherwise dying print product.

Localizing content
Augmented reality thrives on hyperlocal content, as seen by applications like Yelp’s Monocle and Mobilizy’s Wikitude, which can offer a user facts on a restaurant or site of interest, based on his location. Such applications utilize a smartphone’s GPS coordinates in conjunction with localized data garnered from the Web in order to provide information. If you can wave a smartphone in front of the Niagara Falls to get stats about the popular destination, why not point it in the general direction of a location of interest and generate a digital screen of the latest news from the region in question? It would be nice to see publications invest in providing local, breaking news through applications downloaded on smartphones, for instance. This would also allow national publications to “localize” themselves. Some radio stations already do this by providing news and traffic updates based on the location of a user’s handheld device.

User-generated content
Another important point to note is that many augmented reality apps are based on social sites, so much of the content for data points is user-generated; Wikitude even allows users to integrate to their Facebook and Twitter accounts, thus making the application socially aware. This concept brings up a whole host of possibilities for news organizations to not only provide more local information to readers, but also to seek user-contributed content. The New York Times, rightly taking a leaf out of the books of these companies, plans to implement augmented reality for its movie and restaurant reviews. While it’s at it, what the Times might also consider is reader input. It would be cool to whip out a mobile phone and see what Sam Sifton has to say about a restaurant, but in keeping with the ways of social media and technology, it would be somewhat wanting if users aren’t allowed to offer their own views and ratings.

Explaining concepts and background
Augmented reality also allows an interactive, engaging way for publications to explain background and concepts for issues they report on. Mainstream media entities like the Times and the BBC, and independent online startups like Flyp media have effectively used multimedia to elaborate on complex principles – from climate issues to African history.  Augmented reality could add a new dimension, quite literally, to this format of content delivery, without a reader having to navigate hyperlinks or popup windows.

In addition, it can enhance charts and graphical representations of information and localize them to make them more pertinent to a reader. Layar, the first-ever augmented reality browser, has developed an application that can help users track bailout money that was given to US banks by the Obama administration, for instance. News organizations would do well to augment their reporting in similar fashion; reading about a big bank miles away from where readers live can be informative, but knowing that a local company received federal money is often more relevant to people.

Apart from content, however, augmented reality’s more important potential might be in the area of revenue generation. Despite being a brainchild of technology, one essential factor in case of both the Esquire and Wallpaper augmented-reality issues is, of course, that readers need to have a print edition of the magazine to be able to experience the features. In addition, the features are interactive and engaging, and regardless of whether they offer exclusive information, they have the potential to keep readers riveted.

Advertising and revenue generation
Much has been said about the success of rich media ads in driving purchase intent; augmented reality can and is providing more effective strategies for advertising. In addition to making advertisements fun and engaging, publications could also use the technology to provide targeted advertising, which would be less rather than more disruptive for the user.  In a simple case, only users interested in purchasing that BMW would hold up the print ad in front of their computer screens to generate a virtual car that shows off all its features, for instance (though who in their right mind wouldn’t want a digitally-generated Z4 to zip in front of their very eyes?). The great potential of this technology for advertising is already being seen, as more and more brands jump on the augmented reality bandwagon. In fact, companies have perhaps implemented it most innovatively and effectively in order to help consumers get a real sense of the values and functions of their products.

With the growing number of paid smart phone apps, news organizations are beginning to understand that the audience is more likely to pay for technology than for content. Augmented reality (and mobile phones) have a long way to go before the technology can become mainstream, but it certainly has the potential to be one of several revenue streams that the media can begin to employ.

What augmented reality can do above and beyond everything else is make information relevant and tangible to a reader or viewer. For years, media puritans have worried about the Internet causing fragmented communities, and taking citizens away from their local communities. Smartphones enabled with augmented reality might be the answer to bridge that divide, as they provide a necessary interface between the real and virtual realms, offering as they do virtual information in a very real world. Geotags and location-aware digital maps not only unleash Web 2.0 information in front of the user, but also keep him or her firmly rooted to the ground he’s standing on.