News on the Kindle 2: Some Glitches, Lots of Potential

kindle at breakfast

News on a Kindle 2: Part of my balanced daily breakfast.

Last week my Kindle 2 e-reader from Amazon arrived. I swore to my brother a couple of years ago I’d never buy 1.0 of anything ever again — and I’m glad I waited. I played briefly with a friend’s first-edition Kindle last year and was intrigued. The new version has a better display, better form factor, and better usability.

This device is far from perfect, but it’s impressive. It’s pricey ($359) — but I still think even the most cash-strapped newsroom should acquire one and make it available so journalists, editors, designers, and news technologists can play with it. If you can’t or won’t buy one and you’re in the online news biz, go buy a Kindle 2 owner a beer and play with theirs for an hour or two at least.

Why? Because I seriously suspect devices like this could become game-changers for online and mobile news — perhaps surprisingly fast. That is, if online news operations start taking e-reader technology seriously and work with Amazon and other e-reader makers to improve e-reader news delivery. We still have a way to go, but I see significant’s potential.

Currently Kindle is mainly intended for reading books. But Amazon has always sold newspapers and magazines (one-offs and subscriptions) since it launched the Kindle Store. Yes, that’s right: sold. As in: revenue.

This week I bought a couple of issues of Technology Review, and I even subscribed to the San Francisco Chronicle. (Yep, subscribed. Paid for it. Me. $5.99 per month. Imagine that.) Generally, I like getting news via Kindle, but there are some glitches.

My observations so far… Continue reading

What’s that Hashtag? New glossary tools for Twitter

On Twitter, hashtags are a powerful, simple tool for tracking topics, communities, live events, or breaking news. They make you findable, and they allow on-the-fly collaboration. When you insert one of these short character-string tags beginning with #, you make it easy for Twitter users who don’t already follow you (plus anyone searching Twitter) to find your public contributions to the coverage or discussion on that topic.

The catch is that hashtags are often cryptic — usually because they work best when they’re as brief as possible. So you might stumble across an interesting-sounding tweet containing a hashtag like #wci, #plurk, or #tpb and wonder about its context. Although you can follow a hashtag easily with tools like Twitter Search, Hashtags.org, Tweetdeck, or Twitterfall (which Paul Bradshaw recommended yesterday in Tidbits), those tools don’t easily tell you what a given hashtag means.

Here some promising new tools that can help you quickly put a hashtag in context — or let people easily look up the meaning of the hashtags you launch or use… Continue reading

My She’s Geeky Tweets, Part 1: Agile Methodologies

For me the session on Agile Methodologies led my Desi McAdam of Hashrocket was one of the highlights of January’s She’s Geeky unconference. It was one of those occasions when I felt several disparate pieces of context clicking into place and starting to make sense.

NOTE: This is part of a series based on my live tweets from At last weekend’s She’s Geeky unconference in Mountain View, CA.

Series index

My immediate need for understanding more about Agile development is that I’m helping to organize the new Reynolds Journalism Inst. News Collaboratory. The point of this effort, as Jason Kristufek recently wrote, is to be a “do tank,” not a think tank, for experimenting with new options for the news business.

That’s why we’re trying to engage in this community people with diverse types of “do” experience — technologists, librarians, entrepreneurs, financiers, advertising and marketing pros, etc. And, yes, journalists too. The point is to actually get people working together to try stuff and share the results, not just to talk about stuff.

The question then becomes: How do you get people to decide on which problems to solve or experiments to try, parse those out into doable chunks, move their efforts forward, and assess results? Rather than try to do this all on the fly, I thought it might be useful to borrow some ideas and practices from Agile development.

For context, here’s the Agile Manifesto, as well as an excerptWikipedia’s current article on Agile:

“Agile methodologies generally promote a project management process that encourages frequent inspection and adaptation, a leadership philosophy that encourages teamwork, self-organization and accountability, a set of engineering best practices that allow for rapid delivery of high-quality software, and a business approach that aligns development with customer needs and company goals.”

So with that context, here are my live tweets from this discussion (cleaned up a bit). Unless otherwise attributed, all points made here came from Desi McAdam…

  • Now in the Agile methodologies session, which I hope will help with RJI collaboratory.
  • There’s a difference between Agile development & utter chaos. But Agile can devolve into chaos.
  • Agile is a very rigid process. If you don’t stick to the process, things fall apart quickly.
  • Agile is an iterative process: earlier work gets outdated quickly. Cycles are smaller, iterative, to adapt to change as change happens.
  • Pair programming is more popular with females — more interactive, cooperative. Keeps you on track, out of rat holes.
  • In Agile, you have to be disciplined: Organizations and your pair partner must be disciplined. Very accountable.
  • Pair programming is a wonderful way to do knowledge transfer.
  • Pair programming improves code quality. If you’re coding and someone’s watching, you’re less likely to do something hacky.
  • Pair programming is more productive. People don’t generally like to interrupt working pairs. (Interesting!)
  • Agile also is about sustainable work pace: Don’t burn people out, get the most benefit from coders.
  • Some companies require some up-front planning, like wireframes or mockups, before throwing Agile development team on it. Do you have a good base?
  • Agile used in Spot.us development process. David Cohn came to us with wireframes. We started storycarding. Right off bat, we had to prioritize and think about what desired feature could go.
  • Storycard = definition of a chunk of work. Say what the business value is first. Get client to tell you, helps set priorities
  • Glitches with Agile: Lack of quality assurance (QA): Developers should be writing test code. Pivotal tracker (popular Agile project management tool) doesn’t address QA.
  • Rally, other tools do account for QA — but they’re bloated and slow and tedious to use. Simpler configurable tools needed.
  • Standup meetings: key part of Agile process. Can work in any organization. Very short meeting: everyone stands up, gives recent and current tasks, identifies obstacles.
  • Agile is hard to do in a distributed environment (workers not in same location). iChat, screen sharing helps. Good manager/developer communication is crucial.
  • Good Agile stories follow INVEST principles (from Extreme Programming, a related discipline): Independent (self-contained), Negotiable, Valuable, Estimable (you can guess how involved/big it might be), Small, Testable.
  • ME: I’m liking the story analogy of the Agile process. I think media people will be able to relate to that.
  • Negotiable = not defining the story in such rigid detail that it can’t be changed.
  • Desi recommends Liz Keogh as a great resource on thinking about Agile.
  • ME: The Agile session is incredibly valuable! Desi rocks!!! I needed exactly this info right now!
  • I’ll be sharing more thoughts on Agile later — but for now here are a couple of takeaways that struck me:

    Storycarding reminds me of journalistic news judgment. The process of breaking a project down into tasks that meet invest criteria reminds me how journalists and editors decide which news and information warrant development into a story. Both involve assessing a situation and needs, and matching it with criteria. Both appear to be more like art than than science or rote procedure.

    Applying Agile techniques to other fields (such as news and journalism) is itself an experiment that should be handled in clear storycard-like chunks. It may not work, and it certainly would be a culture shift. I think, for cultural reasons this is a strong reason to involve geeks, entrepreneurs, and others in this process — and to team them together with journalists to promote knowledge transfer.

    …More thoughts later. But for now, what do you think? Please comment below.

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    Windy Citizen Uses Cool Tools to Cover Blagojevich

    As the ripples spread from Chicago’s latest corruption drama, the community news site Windy Citizen is trying some innovative, fun approaches to online coverage and commentary. They did this using free online tools that anyone can use.

    Here’s what one of these tools can create:

    More about what Windy Citizen is doing on this front…
    Continue reading

    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…

    Continue reading

    Many Eyes: Turning data into pictures

    Data is a key part of many stories. IBM’s Many Eyes is a free online library of tools that give you options for visually exploring all kinds of data — even for analyzing text documents. It also lets you share and embed your visualizations.

    You can upload your dataset to Many Eyes and apply various visualization types to that data — kind of like using filters on images in Photoshop. You can customize your display.

    Many Eyes is a useful tool not just for publishing information, but also for analyzing information to see what the story might be, or where the anomalies are.

    Here’s an interactive visualization I just created:

    Earlier on Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits I wrote about how you can use some Many Eyes tools like word tree for document analysis.

    Many Eyes meet the New York Times: On Oct. 27 NYTimes.com launched its Visualization Lab, where anyone can create and share visual representations of selected datasets and information used by Times reporters.

    Many Eyes is just one of the projects from IBM’s Visual Communication Lab.

    Gigapan: Pictures you can really get into

    Gigapan fragment, DC Union Station

    Gigapan fragment, DC Union Station

    Gigapan isn’t brand new, but it’s a fascinating visual tool that allows people to deeply explore panoramic photographs — and to collaboratively tell stories through pictures.

    It’s part of Carnegie Mellon University’s Global Connection Project

    What’s so cool about Gigapan?

    • Conveys a strong sense of place — almost a 3D feel
    • People can create their own experience with snapshots
    • Provide text or link context
    • Allows examination and discussion of details
    • Plays nice with Google Earth

    I like Gigapan because it offers an experience sort of like this:

    More about Gigapan…

    Continue reading

    Beat journalists: Best online tools?

    Today, Milwaukee Sentinel art & architecture critic Mary Louise Schumacher put out this video call on Seesmic asking beat reporters to recommend their favorite online tools:

    Beat Bloggers: Lend us your tips!

    Please respond to her post!

    Here’s my response, where just off the top of my head I recommend geotagging & geodata (especially for environmental reporters), Twitter, Delicious, Flickr, and social media in general:

    Re: Beat Bloggers: Lend us your tips!I recommend geotagging, twitter, soc. media in gen., delicious, Flickr. And that’s just what I could think of quickly! Here’s my post on Twitter basics for journos: http://snurl.com/57ufw.

    And here’s David Cohn’s

    Re: Beat Bloggers: Lend us your tips!

    Future of Journalism Webcast: My Twitter Coverage

    On Oct. 28, the 100-year-old Christian Science Monitor sent shockwaves through the news business when it announced that in April 2009 it will switch from daily to weekly print publication, and invest more resources in its online operations. (Poynter coverage by Rick Edmonds.)

    This set some pretty interesting context for the Future of Journalism panel discussion that the Monitor hosted last night in Boston. This session was webcast live. (Video will be available later today.) I watched it online and covered it via Twitter.

    As I always do, I used my amylive account to provide this live coverage to over 200 people who specifically want it. That’s because my volume of live-coverage posts would tend to overwhelm the nearly 1400 people who follow me at agahran.

    Several other Twitter users were also covering or discussing this event, including the Monitor, Jeff Cutler, Wayne Sutton, and Dave Poulson. Many of used the hashtag #CSMFOJ to make all of this easier to find.

    Here’s my complete Twitter coverage of this event. I’m posting this as an experiment, to see if this kind of archiving helps me or others. What do you think? Please comment at the end — and bear in mind that posting this compilation is very different from the Twitter experience… Continue reading