What's a beatblog? Pushing the Practice of Beat Reporting
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What I’m reading

Friday, September 25, 2009 11:51 - by

This is a new feature on BeatBlogging.Org where I share the links of the stories that I’m reading. This will be different than The Dose of social media, as these stories aren’t just social media related. Also, I’m thinking about doing a once-a-week social media roundup too.

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News orgs should look to government for innovation

Tuesday, September 22, 2009 17:06 - by

I never thought I’d say this, but we need to look at some of the innovative things that government is doing.

In a recent post for Poynter.org, I looked at NASA’s internal employee social network, Spacebook. The core behind the idea is to create a more collaborative culture at NASA. And why not?

The Web has made collaboration easier than ever before and that’s what Spacebook is hoping to tap into:

The network allows NASA’s estimated 18,000 employees, regardless of where they’re stationed in the world, to interact and collaborate.

The site gives employees the ability to change their status on their profile pages, share files, friend other NASA employees, follow their friends’ activities a la the Facebook news feed, join groups that interest them and more.

Spacebook asks users to list their areas of expertise, which NASA is hoping will make it easier for employees to find colleagues when they need to collaborate or ask questions. Linda Cureton, chief information officer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, told the blog Space Marauder that Spacebook is an asset to NASA in this down economy:

” ‘With the constraints we’ve had in hiring and our workforce issues, you want to know who knows what, such as experts on batteries or encryption,’ Cureton said. ‘There may be certain skills, abilities and talents that exist throughout the center, and you want to be able to tap into that knowledge to know areas of expertise of people.’ “

So while, yes, as a former government employee, I’m a bit stunned to say that news organizations should be looking to government for innovation, I’d dare say there is more innovation going on in government right now than at traditional media outlets.

Now a site like Spacebook may be overkill for smaller news organizations, but I can see it helping out larger companies that have multiple offices and bureaus. What about a company like Tribune? Couldn’t an internal social network help get people from different newspapers together on company-wide innovation efforts?

Why not? Tribune needs it.

Rethinking commenting system

Friday, September 11, 2009 11:29 - by

Most newspapers have virtually identical commenting system to one another, but why is that? Shouldn’t there be more variety? The Washington Post developed a new commenting system, WebCom, that is radically different from what other news organizations are doing.

The Post is hoping this new Flash-based commenting system will help spur better discussions. Take a look at the new system and let me know if you think it will foster better conversations. I have a feeling that some people will really like it, while others will be completely disoriented by it.

I did an in-depth write up of WebCom over at Poynter, but here are some key take home points about the new commenting system:

  • WebCom is very visual, and the system is built around giving users a visual way to see how many comments there are, which comments are the most popular (by rating), which comments are spurring the most follow up questions and so on. It looks a lot different than any other commenting system I have seen. From a visual perspective, it works.
  • The Post offers a standard threaded comment view, because some people are a bit thrown off by the new look. WebCom presents comments in a giant Web, which can be disorienting to some people.
  • It’s Flash based, which is both good and bad. Flash allows the Post to create a beautiful and fluid way to display user comments. But Flash has issues: It’s a system resource hog, it doesn’t play well with screen readers and it has other accessibility issues. Those are all serious concerns.

Watch the video below for a walkthrough of WebCom:

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Bit.ly and Ow.ly best URL shorteners

Wednesday, August 19, 2009 11:19 - by

Not all URL shorteners are created equal, especially if you’re shortening URLs for work.

What good is it to shorten a link if it doesn’t work for end users? That will deprive you of page views and frustrate users (potentially losing customers). Speed and reliability matter.

Twitter and social media users know how important URL shorteners have become. Without URL shortening, Twitter and other microblogging services would be much less functional. Many journalists and news organizations are sharing links via Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and others. For these people and companies, URL shortening reliability is very important.

Royal Pingdom did a great study comparing the speed and reliability of URL shorntening services. Key findings:

  • Ow.ly had 0 downtime between July 16 and August 16 of 2009. That’s amazing. Bit.ly was close with 99.98 percent uptime. Tr.im came in last with a 99.10 percent uptime, which translates into almost 80 hours of downtime a year.
  • Is.gd is the fastest URL shortening service, followed by Bit.ly and Ow.ly. Snipurl was the slowest.
  • “Five out of nine services had a 99.9% uptime or better, which we have to consider acceptable.” There is a big difference in 99 and 99.9 percent uptime, especially when you’re trying to share links at peak times of day.
  • When speed and reliability are combined, Bit.ly and Ow.ly tied for first. Tr.im came in last.

BeatBlogging.Org is out of funding

Tuesday, August 11, 2009 10:57 - by

Our funding has officially run out, which is why things have been quiet on here lately.

I still have some more content coming and some house keeping to take care of. We are looking for new partners (particularly academic institutions), and are working on some things behind the scenes. It could be awhile before we have funding or backers again, but in the meantime, I’ll try to keep the light on here.

The site itself and all its content will remain up indefinitely, and there will be new content appearing here, just on a slower time frame.

Thanks for everyone who read the site and helped us report. BeatBlogging.Org has been a great success because of you.

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Bringing engagement to an old, one-way medium

Friday, August 7, 2009 11:28 - by

I want to share with you a project I’ve been working on, and why I think it illustrates how engagement and interaction are coming to all old medium platforms.

Since earlier this year I have been helping best-selling thriller author Joseph Finder with his social media strategy for his new book Vanished and the book’s main character, Nick Heller. Heller is on Twitter and Facebook (Facebook is an experiment that we just launched this week, while we have been using Twitter for months). But he’s not just tweeting lines from the book or providing a Twitter novelization, but rather Heller’s Twitter account is a complimentary experience to the book that is centered around engagement.

I believe that within a generation it will be expected that characters like Heller will interact with users. The days of one-way experiences are coming to an end. Think of the generation after mine that has grown up with both the Internet and social networks. Do you really think they content with the same products that my grand parents loved? Doubtful.

We really wanted to create an experience for people:

  • We interact on social media — If you tweet something worthwhile at Heller, he’ll tweet back at you, in character. Want to know some back story about him? Just ask. Want to ask questions about the case he is working on right now? Just ask. Heller responds to DMs and @replies. He also retweets interesting tweets. There was no point in putting Heller on Twitter if we were going to treat Twitter like it was a book.
  • Blurring the lines between reality and fiction — We wanted to create a social media experience that made people believe that Heller was a real person, even if they already knew he was a character (and that the stories of corruption that he discusses could be real). First, Heller is always in character, but he acts like a character in the real world, not a character in a distant novel. Heller might be tweeting about a current investigation that he is working on about an AIG-style firm that involves some misplaced funds and possible corruption. Heller will then tweet links to real news stories about companies that did the same thing. Or if Heller is talking about looking over CCTV footage to find out what happened to someone, he’ll then tweet about how many CCTVs there are in DC, American, the world, etc.
  • Additional content — Heller has additional fictional narratives that aren’t in the book that he tweets and talks about. We decided early on that we had to offer additional fictional content on Twitter. We always try to tie these side narratives to either current events or events in the past. This way we can link to news stories and provide facts and figures that help us blur the lines between reality and fiction.
  • Creating a great experience even if you’re not a fan — You don’t have to be a fan of Joseph Finder, Nick Heller or Vanished to get value out of Heller’s Twitter feed (or know of any of those). We link to and discuss interesting stories involving politics, political corruption, espionage, corporate espionage, information technology and general stupidity. If you just want awesome links and witty takes on the news and world, Heller is an account worth following.
  • Photos, why not? — We have a treasure trove of research photos for this book that we’ll be incorporating into the Twitter feed. Vanished takes place mostly in DC and the surrounding suburbs. All the events in the book either take place at real DC locations or are modeled after real locations. In addition, we’ve used smartphone pics and TwitPic for side narratives too. It’s all about creating an immersive experience.
  • It’s an experiment — We would be the first to admit that sticking a fictional character on Twitter is an experiment, and it may not be a success (although it is low risk). The book isn’t out yet, so it’s hard to determine the success (Nick Heller will be appearing in a four book series over the next four years). Our goal is to provide a complimentary product that serves fans of the book, while also keeping interest up in between books.
  • Social media is here to stay — I don’t know if Twitter and Facebook or any of the other current social networks will be around in 10 years, but I do know that the idea that media should be social is here to stay. People like interactivity and smart journalists, musicians, movie stars, book authors, characters in books and movies, etc will grok that.
  • If Heller can do it, so can journalists — Journalism and social media go together so well. If people on Twitter are enjoying Heller on Twitter, I certainly think people will enjoy journalists on Twitter. Our research at BeatBlogging.Org indicates that journalists can get a lot of value out of social media. The best advice is to go where your audience is, and people are flocking to social media.

Here are some sample tweets of Nick’s that show the range of what he tweets about:

A response to a question about Heller’s life:

I’m a private spy, @Battleborne. No kids or wife. Not sure if I’ll ever settle down. Too busy with work, investigating firms, politicians…

Book based

Got a phone call from my Nephew Gabe. My brother is missing. His wife is in the hospital with a concussion.

Political corruption

Non-shocker of the day: Louisiana ex-congressman William Jefferson convicted of bribery in freezer cash case:http://bit.ly/creOQ

Helping out servicemembers (Heller is ex-military, so he’ll tweet military-related tweets and links for people)

Crafty? @OpGratitude needs #handmade scarves for holiday care packages–sent with LOVE to deployed #military#knit#crochet #fleece #SOT

ATM news (Heller requently tweets about the lack of safety at ATMs)

Apparenty arming an ATM with pepper spray is a really bad idea: http://bit.ly/bhB58

The WTF?

High Fructose Corn Syrup, just like sugar, with an extra bit of Mercury thrown in for extra goodness: http://bit.ly/J1Sah

I encourage you to follow Nick Heller on Twitter (@NickHeller) and give me feedback. I’d love to hear what you think.

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Friday Dose of social media: Curate the real-time Web

Friday, July 31, 2009 11:26 - by

Best Practices for Businesses on Twitter — Twitter has released a blog post detailing best practices for business on Twitter. It’s well worth your time to check out. Some take home points:

  • Think about Twitter as a place to build relationships
  • Understand the real-time nature of Twitter
  • Before you set up measurement tools, focus on the quality of your engagement, and use your gut to check how things are going. How’s the feedback and interaction with your followers? Are you responding to most or your @messages?

TwitViewer is a scam. DO NOT use the serviceTwitter, on its Spam update account, said this, “If you gave your login and password info to TwitViewer, we strongly suggest you change your password now.” Let me repeat, do not use TwitViewer and be very cautious of any site that wants your username and password from Twitter.

69 percent of adults don’t know what Twitter is — From my experience, most people have heard of Twitter, but that don’t really get what it is at all or why it is useful. Some think it’s just like the Facebook status update (it’s not), while others think it’s a way to talk about what you eat (could be).

This problem is compounded by the fact that many of the big name, celebrity users are very poor Twitter users. Sure they have lots of followers, but they are very poor role models for new users.

One of the most interesting tidbits of this study is this: “20% felt Twitter was only for young people.” It’s funny because Twitter is not popular with tweens and teens and is doing so-so with college students. Twitter is popular with professionals in their 20s, 30s and 40s. I’m not sure why this misconception exists, but Twitter is one of the least ageist social networks out there, and there are plenty of successful older Twitters.

Jon Gruber on paywalls — When one of the smartest Web writers and technologists around writes about a topic, it’s well worth reading. Some key parts:

The consumer psychology of web subscriptions for news just doesn’t work out. It’s right there in the language we use to talk about newsstand prices for print periodicals: per copy. A dollar for a newspaper or a few bucks for a glossy magazine feels like a fair price for a copy. Trees have been cut, presses have been rolled, trucks have been driven to get that copy into your hands. Even subscription pricing for printed newspapers and magazines is always stated in the context of how much you can save compared to per-copy prices at the newsstand.

What feels like a fair price for a copy of a web page, on the other hand, is nothing. They’re just ones and zeroes.

Newsstand and subscription prices have never been the main source of revenue for newspapers anyway — advertising is. But they can’t make as much money from web advertising as from print for several reasons. Pre-Internet, newspapers had inordinate control over the supply of news, and therefore over the supply of advertising, and they grew fat on the profits.

Read the full post. Trust me, it’s well worth your time.

Social Journalism: Curate the Real-Time Web — Publish2 released new tools to allow users to curate the real-time Web:

What’s Social Journalism?  It’s what you do when you gather information in social media channels and then report it to your readers.  Watching a Twitter #hashtag for posts related to a critical local issue or big event, then publishing them in a roundup or sidebar on your news site?  That’s Social Journalism.  Scanning YouTube for the latest video from a protest, county fair, or city council meeting?  That’s Social Journalism.

About BeatBlogging.org

BeatBlogging.org was a grant-funded journalism project that studied how journalists used social media and other Web tools to improve beat reporting. It ran for about two years, ending in the fall of 2009.

New content is occasionally produced here by the this project's former editor Patrick Thornton. The site is still up and will remain so because many journalists and professors still use and link to the content. BeatBlogging.org offers a fascinating glimpse into the former stages of journalism and social media. Today it's expected that journalists and journalism organization use social media, but just a few years ago that wasn't the case.