Megan Taylor

front-end dev, volunteacher, news & data junkie, bibliophile, Flyers fan, sci-fi geek and kitteh servant

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SNDBoston: The Future is Now

with Nick Bilton and Michael Rogers from the New York Times R&D team.
R&D: Engineers look ahead (18 months to 5 years) for new technological advances. R&D is a state of mind and a commitment of resources.
“I always wear a tie because with a title like ‘futurist’ you need all the credibility you can get.”

How will content be delivered?
– Paper is hard to compete with as a display device.
– E-Ink: flexible, long battery life, no energy to display page, can hold 180 books, only black and white
– Polymer vision: about the size of a cell phone, updates wirelessly
– OLED: OLED screen is vibrant, great with color
– Google vision

The next audience: Millennials
Fears: a) no interest in news, b) no interest in paper
Were you seriously following the news at age 17? College students read campus news on paper: its still convenient.
Millennials have no habits that revolve around news. They have mobile phones!

Wireless everywhere!
– WIFI: laptops shipped with it
– 3G
– WIMAX: wifi on steroids, global standard

Devices?
Laptops will get smaller, smartphones get better, until they merge. Times Reader: Windows-only right now. Navigate, resize, edit and annotate text, send annotations to others. Lays itself out to fit size of screen.

Print to Mobile
– Reefers
– Interact with paper via text messages
– 2d barcodes for cellphones to Web site
– shifd.com: communication between phone and TV, phone and computer

Devices are becoming more aware of our location and the content we seek. More and more data comes in automagically tagged with extra info (Geotagging).
How do we create new value out of existing content without expending human effort? (Algorithms, Google Earth!)

Virtual News Delivery: SecondLife

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Student Sessions: Your Online Publication

Jared Novack and Mike Swartz talking about taking a print publication online.

“How to make an extra $10,000 at your first job and not get laid off 3 years later” is the title of their presentation.

First step is to establish a Web identity. Look at the flags from established, important newspapers and then check out their online representations. Ew. You already have a print identity. Use the same logo, carry your brand over isntead of creating a new one.

WEB DESIGN IS NOT PRINT DESIGN ON A COMPUTER. amen.

Remember:
hierarchy content placement
teasers and reefers more important
columns and grids
design fundamentals
ads are content too
scannability (provide a buffet of info..I’m hungry!)

Forget:
large amounts of real-estate
large amounts of copy
overdesigned logos

Design it once: modular design

Online typography: Only a few typefaces to work with. Make the best of it with CSS. Check out A List Apart. Typography is what users interact with most on your Web site.

Three tips:
Play with letter-spacing
Play with line-height (approx 130% of font size)
Use font size for hierarchy

Newspaper Sins:
Flashturbation: Hell to make and update, hell to link. But, Flash can do the work for templated packages.
Blog Jammin’: Why are so many newspaper Web sites inundated with blogs? Rife with: non-information, uninteresting and mundane, not current or neglected, leftover stories. When they are extremely targeted, have organized information and are used as an easy portal to content, they can be good. Good idea: crime blog.
Podcasts: enhance content by providing a primary source, don’t just read the headlines.
Video: YOU ARE NOT TV and that’s a good thing.

Use Google Analytics. Use SEO.

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Typography in music videos

One of the most important elements of Web design is typography. It’s hard to read any long block of text off a computer screen, so the text must be made as easy to read as possible. On the other hand, you want to have a little individuality and make the text attractive as well.

My favorite way to explain the importance of typography is through a few videos I’ve found in the past (and posted here) that use typography to convey emotions.

Today, via Information Aesthetics, I found a slew of such videos.

My favorite is the Bob Dylan video. Which is yours?

I love lists. They give me direction, options, and when completed, a sense of accomplishment.

Bryan Murley recently reposted his checklist of things college media sites should consider. Of course my first thought was to see how my own college media outlet is doing:

* Have you got your news org. online?

The Alligator has been online for a while, although until recently the site left much to be desired.

* Do you have a content management system?

We just launched the new Alligator site with a content management system and a new design. Yay!

* Have you posted any videos online?

Yes we have. In fact, on Thursday two reporters handed me video – a first!

* Have you included any audio soundbites in a story?

I have the soundbites on my computer…they just haven’t made it to the correct format for the Web site yet.

* Have you done a photo slideshow?

Yes, several.

* Have you put up an audio slideshow (perhaps using Soundslides)?

Yes.

* Have you done a map?

Yes.

* Have you used weblogs on your site?

Like the soundbites, this is in the works.

* Have you uploaded source documents (PDFs, excel spreadsheets, etc.) to accompany a big story?

YES! Even on the old site, documents were often uploaded when provided by the reporters.

* Have you used social media (Facebook, MySpace, YouTube) to market your stories?

There is an Alligator Facebook group, and individual articles on the new site now feature sharing tools.

* Have you tracked what others are saying about you via Technorati or Google Blogsearch?

Nope.

* Have you used the web site to post breaking news online FIRST?

Still trying to figure this one out. We have put a couple f breaking sports stories up before they went to print though.

* Have you moved the online editor out of the back office and into a position of authority?

Well, I guess we kind of moved ourselves out of the back office.

* Have you allowed comments on your stories?

Yes. I have been pleasantly surprised with the intelligence of many of the comments posted to the site. We decided not to review comments and to remove them only if a complaint was lodged, or if we saw a “flame war” starting up.

* Have you encouraged writers to write for the Web and include hyperlinks in their stories?

I’m hoping this will go hand-in-hand with blogging. Right now, when we are putting up new stories, if we see an opportunity for a link, it goes in.

* Have you tried something experimental?

We’ve got a few projects in the works, but right now energy is tied up in making the workflow efficient and working the kinks out of the new site.

So far, I think we’re doing pretty good! Of course, in this case, the “checklist” is never really completed. But I’ll be happy if I can get out of the office by 1:30 a.m. every night instead of 3 a.m.

Applied Fact Finding was a great class for me.

In class we reviewed news stories that were seeded or based entirely on analysis of public records. I learned how to find local and state records on all topics: “campaigns and elections, property, business, health care, court procedures, environment, education, online and library research, FOIA requests, computer-assisted reporting, and Excel.” (from her description of the class)

I was amazed and a little perturbed by how many parts of people’s lives are available through public records and how easy they are to find once you know where and how to look. I’m all for open access, but not to my life.

I love nothing more than to think of a question and use the Internet to find an answer. For this class, my questions were more specific, and limited to the life of one person (who despite numerous marriage licenses was extremely boring). And occasionally, we had to use actual books.

I was further intrigued by the possibilities for journalism that can come from analyzing and tracking public records.

But my favorite segment of the class focused on Web search. Of the two choices available for a book review assignment, I read John Battelle’s “The Search”. I now recommend it to my friends along with “Atlas Shrugged” and “Stranger in a Strange Land”.

This is a class I would take over again if I could. In my mad rush to learn everything, sometimes I’m unable to slow down and pay attention to something that needs and deserves a little patience. Because of this class, there are randomly scattered CAR (Computer Assisted Reporting) -related Web sites among my del.icio.us bookmarks and Google Reader. I only wish there was as much emphasis on CAR in journalism education as there is on multimedia.

Here’s the resource Web site from the class.

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CAR/Multimedia package: Forgotten Soldiers

Al Tompkins posted this great interview with David Simon, assistant city editor at The Frederick News-Post, about the Forgotten Soldiers project.

The project tells the stories of soldiers who have been unaccounted for in 5 wars.

The project began with a simple press release about an American Legion dinner to honor the county’s sole Vietnam War veteran who remains unaccounted for. He’s been featured in our paper a number of times, but we began wondering if veterans of other wars might be unaccounted for.

The interview is inspiring, and the project is very comprehensive, if a little disorganized.

The entire project includes maps, databases, articles, timelines, individual stories, a guestbook, AND a pretty big multimedia package.

Like most huge projects, there’s an organization problem. What do I click on first? Where do I start, where do I finish? How do I know if I’ve already read this part? Etc.

It makes me want to go digging around in public records and databases. I just need a topic to start with.

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(J)journalist/(P)programmer

Two recent events set off a discussion among the journalists whose blogs I read to the effect of: Do journalists need to be programmers?

Adrian Holovaty got a grant to go off and spend his days working on EveryBlock, and Northwestern University got a grant to provide scholarships to computer programmers who want to learn journalism.

Of course, this discussion has occurred in classrooms and newsrooms already, but this was the first explosion on the subject online. At the root, the problem is that in order to create great online content, SOMEONE in the newsroom needs to be able to work with databases (PHP), ActionScript (Flash), and CSS. But newspapers aren’t hiring, or programmers don’t get involved in journalism, or something occurs that prevents the newsroom from having access to someone who can write some code.

Here are some of the opinions that have appeared:

(A lot of people are differentiating between Programmers and programmers, Writers and writers. That’s why I use upper- and lower-cases differently.)

Matt Waite: In 2 separate posts, Matt explains the reasons newsrooms need programmers and who should/shouldn’t be learning it. His position is not that all journalists should learn to code, but that the people who have an interest in both writing and programming can bring more to the table. Ultimately, “Journalism needs all the innovators it can get.”

David Cohn: David, clearly on the side of journalists learning to code, asks where the scholarships are to teach journalists to program, and points out that the hot players in geek journalism are journalists turned coders, not the other way around.

Dan Gilmor: Journalists don’t need to learn to program, they need to learn how to work with programmers.

William Hartnett: “Journalists need to know programming. Not all of us, but some.” He differentiates between Programming and programming, and argues that some programming can be considered journalistic tasks, “clean up dirty personnel records from the school district or parse some messy addresses in crime data from the sheriff’s office.”

Scott Rosenberg: Scott supports the idea of journalists learning programming, but they don’t need to Program. More important, they need to understand the technology available for storytelling online.

Howard Owens: Howard is a journalist/programmer himself. But he recommends that journalists learn new skills that compliment their talents and individual situations. And these new skills should be applicable online. In a later update, Howard says the instead of all running off to learn to code, journalists should “figure out the niche your employer needs filled, and fill it.”

To me, online journalism encompasses all of the aspects of the Internet, be it code or multimedia. I’m not sure you can call yourself an Online Journalist if your Web page is all HTML tables and a few lines of PHP make you quiver like Jell-o. If you don’t feel comfortable writing code from scratch, you should at least be able to edit it.

I’m definitely in favor of a scholarship for journalist/programmers and programmer/journalists. I feel like some journalism students are afraid to learn code because it is associated with, or feels like, math. I’m no math genius, I never got past statistics, and the only math I’ve come across so far is adding up margins and padding in CSS and adding seconds for audio in ActionScript.

I may never be able to build anything as cool as chicagocrime.org. But I enjoy coding, in the same way that I enjoy writing. So scholarship or not, I’ll learn how to manipulate database information, build time lines and maps in Flash, and anything else that looks like a great way to spread information online.

Edit: Matt can’t seem to keep his site up and running, so you’ll have to search archives.org for his post.

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(i)Google Gadgets

Last year, productivity blog Lifehacker declared that MSN Autos had the best gas price comparison.

So what makes MSN so great? First, they use the Oil Price Information system which contains more data in almost real time compared to volunteer “spotter” based sites like GasBuddy.com. Second the gas prices at MSN were listed in order from least to most expensive, were the most expansive (in personal tests), and included an interactive map, as well.

I just got my driver’s license and a car, so now I care about finding the cheapest gas in town. I haven’t seen any further comparisons or analysis, so I’ll let that stand.

Which brings me to Local Gas Prices, a gadget for your Google homepage that uses MSN Autos to find the cheapest gas in your area. Granted, I still have to plug the addresses into Google Maps, but at least I can get an at-a-glance idea at how many hours I need to work this week.

This is definitely not the most exciting thing to come my way this week. But I stuck around for a while because I love finding ways to use information that’s already online. Why should I have to build a whole new database when I can yank from someone else’s? (Let’s not get started on the legal aspects of this, that’s a whole different blog post.) I’d love to see a newspaper Web site build something like this (maybe even a Facebook app?) and do it well: on a map.

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Making Twitter Useful

As far as web geeks go, I may be a little anti-social. I visit Facebook once a week, at most. I don’t even bother with Myspace anymore unless someone else calls my attention there. I don’t have many photos to post to Flickr, I don’t usually recommend links via Del.icio.us (mostly because the people I’m networked with usually beat me to the link), Digg is no longer even an RSS feed and I post to Twitter only once every few days.

But I maintain these connections, cause you just never know.

For example, I’m a “twitter-follower” of the NYT. I get instant messages with links to new stories. I’ve found that this means I actually read them, instead of skipping over the headline and lede in Google Reader.

Last week, the Orlando Sentinel made an account with Twitter, and used it to track and update the launching of Atlantis. The best part is, they didn’t just “tweet” shuttle-related updates.

“Fours hours until launch and all anyone is talking about is Paris Hilton’s meltdown in court and her return to jail. Sigh.”

So having resisted Twitter, finally given in, and being a lukewarm user at best, why does this rock my socks?

Because I wasn’t within reach of TV or computer on Friday. I got those updates as text messages on my phone. And being addicted to being in the know, that just made my day.

The lesson here is that some weird and funky things take off in the online world. News outlets should join in the fun.

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Edit video on Linux

So after my post last week, I decided to look up some tutorials on editing video on Linux.

I found this one via Lifehacker.

Alex Roitman discusses capturing video with Kino, editing, tracking, transitions and effect with Cinelerra, and putting the finished product on a dvd with DVDStyler. This is by no means comprehensive, or even step-by-step, but it is a good introduction to the idea of editing video on a Linux box.