Making Twitter Lists more useful with filtering

Sometimes you don’t want EVERYTHING, just what you want. (Image by ervega via Flickr)

Today Twitter has begin a broad rollout of a new feature, Twitter Lists. The feature had been available only to a select group of beta users, but product manager Nick Kallen tweeted yesterday,Currently, 25% of all users have Lists.” I don’t have access to Lists yet, but I expect it’s coming soon.

The point of Twitter lists is relevant discovery: It’s an easy way to find and follow Twitter users you might not otherwise know about, but would be interested in. However, you might not be interested in everything (or even most things) a given Twitter user in a list has to say. This is more likely if you’re more interest in topics than people. In this case, Twitter lists might deliver more noise than signal.

But I think if you use a good tool like Tweetdeck for accessing Twitter (rather than just the Twitter site, which has always sucked for usability), you can combine Twitter Lists with filtering to end up with something very useful indeed, especially for staying abreast of news or topics… Continue reading

Google Earth and News: Make Your Own Street Views (and More)

A render of the Flatirons in Boulder, Colorado...
The Flatirons of Boulder, CO, as rendered by Google Earth. (Image via Wikipedia)

Recently Frank Taylor blogged about a cool Google Earth trick that could be an intriguing visual online news tool: homemade street views.

The example he cites is from Taiwan, where developer Steven Ho lives. Taylor wrote:

“[Ho] has been waiting for signs Google would bring Street View to Taiwan, but finally couldn’t wait any longer. So, he spent a few days making his own Street View panoramas for National Taiwan University campus. It turns out March is the month when the Indian azalea bloom, so he decided to take his street view photos along the famous Royal Palm boulevard. Steven took the time to not only take 150 panoramas, but also process his KML [Keyhole markup language, which is to Google Earth what HTML is to Web browsers] so it looks and acts just like Google Earth’s Street View imagery. He also added in some 3D buildings for the campus and the palm trees.”

The result is impressive. If you have Google Earth installed (and I recommend upgrading to Google Earth 5.0, which was released in February), then download Ho’s Taiwan street view and open that file in Google Earth. After it zooms in on Taiwan, click on any of the camera icons to start your visual wandering of the campus.

If you don’t have Google Earth, here’s a video screencast of what the experience looks like:

This made me think: What if a news organization offered this kind of immersive experience related to a news story or ongoing topic?…

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Kindle Text-to-Speech: “Robotic NPR”

Photography imported on the site by...
NPR’s next hire? (Image via Wikipedia)

I’ve made a discovery about Amazon’s Kindle e-reader: It’s a pretty good “news radio.” That is, its text-to-speech function does a surprisingly decent job of reading news content aloud.

I currently subscribe to the Wall St. Journal on my Kindle, and I’ve gotten in the habit of letting it read me some interesting articles as I go through my morning routine. I like it. The automated text-to-speech reader is a bit flat for fiction, narrative, and essays that require significant emotional or rhetorical inflection — but it’s great for news. I’ve starting considering it my “robotic NPR.”

(Ducking the reflexive outcry from all my friends at NPR…)

Of course, my point isn’t only about the Kindle. It’s about how any text-to-speech service or tool can interact with text-based news and information content — and why creators of text-based news content should start to take that into consideration. Because you never know exactly how people will experience your content…

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New iPhone Software: Copy & Paste (Finally!), Intriguing APIs

:Image:IPhone_Release_-_Seattle_(keyboard) cro...
Image via Wikipedia

The iPhone is due for a major operating system update, and this week Apple revealed what the iPhone OS 3.0 software (due to be distributed summer 2009) will allow users and developers to do.

In a nutshell: Plenty.

The biggest splash: iPhone 3.0 will support copy and paste. Seems like a no-brainer, but so far iPhone users have not been able to employ this basic user interface tool which has been available since long before Apple even started making computers. The iPhone’s lack of copy and paste has led to considerable user frustration and some clumsy work-arounds involving javascript bookmarklets for mobile Safari. I’ve heard several people say they’d get an iPhone if only it did copy and paste. So it’s possible that this key bit of usability catch-up could broaden the iPhone market base.

But even more importantly: New iPhone APIs offer exciting opportunities — especially for news orgs and other online publishers… Continue reading

Google News Archive Search: Old News is Good News

Space Shuttle Challenger
Old news still has value, and can draw traffic. (Image via Wikipedia)

News is never just about what’s happening today — it’s also about context, including what led up to this moment. That’s why lately I’ve been intrigued by the Google News archive search. This feature, introduced September 2008, its worth a look — and maybe worth including in order to make more money off your historical archives, or to augment current coverage.

The Official Google Blog explains in Bringing history online, one newspaper at a time that this service presents archived news articles online — either as they were printed, preserving original format/context (including, in some cases, surrounding stories); or with a link to a news org’s paid archives. It also presents a timeline, showing how popular a search term was in news from past years or decades.

For instance, a Google News archive search for “space shuttle” yields a timeline with significant spikes in 1981 (for the first shuttle mission), 1986 (when the Challenger exploded after launch), and 2003 (when the Columbia broke up on re-entry).

An example of the early shuttle coverage I found here includes this March 24, 1982 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story: NASA sees little problem with lost space shuttle tiles. That’s actually a jump from a page 1 story. Other stories also appearing on the page include: “Begin to stay on after Knesset vote,” “Will match missiles with subs, Soviets say,” and “Military coup ousts Guatemalan government” — an intriguing glimpse into the tenor of that time.

That archived story was available for free — but my search also pointed to several articles for sale from newspaper archives. For instance, the Christian Science Monitor is selling its July 21, 1975 story Space shuttle to involve Europe, too for $3.95.

Not every news org’s historical archives are available in the Google News archive. Apparently Google strikes partnerships with news orgs to scan and serve their archives, or to link to existing online archives.

Participating in this service could be a way to turn your history into traffic. The Official Google Blog noted: “Over time, as we scan more articles and our index grows, we’ll also start blending these archives into our main search results so that when you search, you’ll be searching the full text of these newspapers as well.” This means that participating news orgs could find their historic wealth increasingly findable, and thus potentially more compelling and/or lucrative.

(NOTE: I originally published this article on Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits. Thanks to Tech.Blorge for the tip.)

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Pew on Social Media: It’s Bigger than You Think

An example of a social network diagram.
Image via Wikipedia

On Jan 14., the Pew Internet and American Life project released a report on Adults and Social Networking Services. It said, “The share of adult Internet users who have a profile on an online social network site has
more than quadrupled in the past four years — from eight percent in 2005 to 35 percent now.”

Over at the Knight Digital Media Center News Leadership 3.0 blog, Michele McLellan observed: “It appears that American adults are moving into social networks more quickly than top 100 news organizations…”

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Tipsheet Approach to News: The Launching Point IS the Point

Typically news is presented in narrative story format (text, audio, or video). Often, that works well enough. But what about when people want to dig into issues on their own? What if they want to learn more about how the news connects to their lives, communities, or interests? Generally, packaged news stories don’t support that leap. It generally requires a fair amount of reading between the lines, initiative, research skills, and time — significant obstacles for most folks.

The growing number of citizen journalists (of various flavors) obviously are willing to do at least some of this work — but they don’t always know how to find what they’re seeking, or have sufficient context to even know what might be worth pursuing beyond the narrative line chosen for a packaged news story. Also, lots of people who have no desire to be citizen journalists still occasionally get interested enough in some news stories to want to check them out further first-hand. They just need encouragement, and some help getting started.

Therefore, it helps to consider that news doesn’t always have to be a finished story. In some cases, or for some people, a launching point might be even more intriguing, useful, and engaging. Here’s one option for doing that…
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Fun interactive visual tools: Why should journalists care?

Last week I wrote a lot about various interactive visual tools that can help people connect differently or more deeply with news and information. This was for a session I led at a Knight Digital Media Center seminar for the leaders of the News21 project.

Yeah, so what? Why should journalists and news organizations care about these tools? How can this help their communities, journalism, and (most critical right now) business opportunities? What’s in it for journos and news brands?

That’s what Meabh Ritchie, a reporter for the U.K. Press Gazette asked me to clarify. She’s writing a story on this, and I’ll link to it when it’s up in February 2009. The short answer is: This stuff is effective and (more importantly) FUN! — for journalists and news audiences.

But here’s the full version of my answer…

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Silobreaker: Making meaning out of news via the semantic web

From the perspective of people who need news, the real point of the news isn’t merely to discover what’s happening. Rather, it is about discerning what it all might mean — especially, to YOU!

And in an age of information overload, the challenge for journalists is no longer just to provide more news content. Rather, our value lies in supporting relevance, insight, and (ultimately) meaning.

This is why, lately, I’ve been intrigued by Silobreaker. This Europe-based news aggregator site uses semantic web technology (Including visual interfaces) to make news more relevant — and thus, more compelling and useful.

This is pretty important because, since relevance has inherent value, it can be the basis of business models…

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Bjørn Melhus: “Deadly Storms” video art nails sensational, content-free news

This weekend at the Denver Art Museum I had the opportunity to enjoy some whimsical video works by the German artist Bjørn Melhus. One installation, Deadly Storms, is a wry riff on the breathless, content-free style of breaking news so common on television.

Deadly Storms, video installation by Bjorn Melhus

Deadly Storms, video installation by Bjorn Melhus. CLICK ON IMAGE to view video clip via Rocky Mountain News

Given that Denver isn’t exactly known as a fine-art Mecca, it’s refreshing that the Denver Art Museum regularly provides an excellent selection of work — especially modern art. Plus, the new Frederic C. Hamilton building (designed by Daniel Libeskind) is trippy and fun.