Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Building a Yahoo Pipe

Today is a good day; I have successfully built a working Yahoo Pipe.
It's not especially pretty but it is, I think, quite clever; it filters all the latest news, photos and quality blog posts from the world of Fashion for the Girls Behaving Stylishly team to place on their blog as a widget, and to help them spot trends quickly without having to trawl the web.
Building a pipe is nowhere near as complicated as it looks and as an information-sharing tool for journalists it has myriad possibilities.

The reason I finally got around to building a pipe was that I spent a day on a training course run by Paul Bradshaw, whose post on building Yahoo Pipes mashups is here.
Paul walked the class through every step of building a pipe and successfully de-mystified the whole process to such an extent that, in addition to the Liverpool FC pipe I created in class, I logged at home and created the fashion one.

How I did it:
1. Registered with Yahoo Pipes (as with Flickr, you need a Yahoo id to use it) and clicked 'Create a Pipe on the homepage

2. Dragged a 'Fetch Feed' onto the graph area. It then looked like this:

3. Ran advanced searches through Google news for 'fashion', 'style' and 'models', narrowing the search parameters by using the search field filters

4. Once I was happy with my Google news results I right-clicked the RSS feed and scrolled to the 'Copy Link Location':

5. Returning to my pipe, I right clicked in the url space of the Fetch Feed box and pasted my Google News RSS link

6. Next step: Find some fashionista-type blogs. I went to and searched for 'fashion'. It found me some fashion blogs but also threw up related tags including one for 'fashion experts' which seemed promising; clicking that link took me to host of blogs by fashion experts. I right-clicked on Subscribe and copied the url to the Pipe feed as before.
Then I added a Flickr feed from the Pipes menu and a 'Union' from the 'Operators' section on the left, to link all my pipes into one. Finally, I took a 'Filter' and a 'Unique' from 'Operators' to screen out sweary and/or duplicate posts, and added a 'truncate' option to the fashion pipe so I only get the latest updates.

The next step is to make a widget for the pipe using (I'm thinking leopard print for the background).
Of course, the easiest thing is to share the knowledge so the rest of the team can build their own Yahoo Pipe and put it a Reader to easily follow breaking news and events in the areas they cover.
So, Yahoo Pipes may look forbidding but it's definitely worth having exploring; it is much, much easier than it looks.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

How to SEO a blog post

Honestly... sometimes I do think that I should just follow the Daily Mail and write blog posts that tell how Britney Spears is launching a new line in panties which Paris Hilton is going to model.
Yes, in the wonderful world of SEO the three above phrases picked out in bold would almost guarantee a good show on the sought-after Google front page. Which is why so many stories on the Mail's website contain phrases like "Young women of Britney Spears' age may have little naked ambition to own a car..." etc, etc...
I have experienced my own little SEO phenomenon in the past week or so, thanks to a post earlier this year about cartoon avatars on Twitter
Look at this:

It's not even as if it's a big issue - it just talks about a day when Twitter users swapped their usual avatars for cartoons (mine was Carwash the Cat, from Willo-the-Whisp).
But around 10 days ago there was a second outbreak of cartoon avatar-itis, and people were obviously using search engines to either find out why, or to find a potential avatar.
Unfortunately for them, my 'Cartoon Avatars on Twitter' blog post was unintentionally SEO-ed to fit their queries and so absolutely throngs of people ended up visiting my blog, only to find out it was of no use to them whatsover.
Still, it's an interesting example of why a 'does what it says on the tin' webhead works far better than a carefully-constructed, punny newspaper headline.
And, fox that I am, I've even SEO-ed this post's header so anyone looking to find out how SEO can help their blog could well end up here.
If you do - hello! sorry I dragged you here just to make a point; but it worked, didn't it...

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Mobile post sent by Alison using Utterzreply-count Replies.  mp3

Everton FC's stadium plan for Kirkby on Dipity

This took a couple of hours and I had hundreds of stories and photos to choose from. I've just used an intro and then linked back to the story on
I've blogged about how much I liked the idea of using Dipity to tell stories before, so I figured I ought to put my money where my mouth was...
Videos are being embedded separately - if I hadn't been doing this for the website I would have also included independent bloggers, other websites and news sources as well, but this is such an incredibly controversial issue I kept it simple, using only Post and Echo copy and images.
Still, I think it looks quite good:

Saturday, 16 August 2008

I'm really starting to like Brightkite...

I can't really contribute much to the raging debate on Twitter and UK SMS withdrawal on a personal level as I'm probably one of the few that doesn't mind paying something towards receiving update tweets on my phone.
I have only a handful of people on SMS alert updates to the phone anyway - I use Twibble for DMs and occasional updates, and I use m.twitter a lot too but SMS... not so much.

But it's a real nuisance for the Liverpool Daily Post and other regional newspapers who use Twitter to update readers on everything from football signings to business news updates, as found out when they asked some of us for views.

Anyway, the big question is: What will newspapers who use Twitter to update readers do now?
Personally, I think it's a pretty short term problem for the media, and for Twitter users in general. There is aways the Next Thing on the horizon; right now I'm using Twitter still but I love Jaiku and I only wish more people I knew were using it(I'm 'alisongow' if anyone wants to add me!). Jaiku's invites-only phase is really dragging on - get moving, please, Google...

I'm also a big fan of Plurk, which has introduced me to everything from the existance of ace website to the wonderful Plurkshops, threaded discussions about everything from moving blog platforms to building your own website. Online tutorials with conversations - just great!

But right now I'm finding Brightkite a increasingly interesting addition to the social media/microblogging/sharing platform. I've been on it for ages without really using it - but in the past couple of weeks that's changed completely.
The reason for my renewed interest is simple - more people on Merseyside are arriving.

As Brightkite is all about what contacts in your area are up to it gets a bit echo-y if there are only a couple of you signed in. And (ho hum) Brightkite is still invitation-only so growth has been slow.
But in recent weeks it's started to take off; today I was browsing in the Apple store at the same time as a fellow Brightkiter - I realised when I logged on (there's wifi at the Costa Coffee in Bold St!) and he'd posted a note, which I then replied to, and a little conversation started.

Brightkite has potential to be a really exciting social network: it's local, specific, offers microblogging, status-updates and photo-posts; offers mobile updating and allows comment conversations between users. I like it a lot and when I'm out and about in Liverpool I update my location, and share news - sometimes photos too. I like telling people that I ate lunch at Delifonseca and it was great... I also like knowing that a Brightkite mate has just run 18 miles and is taking an ice bath for his aches and pains.

I guess some regional newspapers are looking at Facebook, looking at their online forums and thinking "hmmm... mash-up time! let's get a local social network going".
The thing is, these networks already exist - from Brightkite, to Flickr groups to forums to blog networks, to area-specific websites - and many of them are extremely well established.
For newspapers to compete with these their social networks must offer something different if people are to visit, remain and then return. I think Brightkite could well be a useful pointer in setting up an area-specific network with plenty of functionality and interaction. Now, it just needs to stop being invitation-only...

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

When should newspapers break exclusive stories online?

How does a newspaper define an Exclusive? Is it a story it has to itself; a story it publishes before anyone else, or - on occasions - a story the publisher is sole owner of because, frankly, no other media outlet cares?

The Online Dictionary defines exclusive as:
* Not divided or shared with others
* Excluding much or all; especially all but a particular group or minority
* Single: not divided among or brought to bear on more than one object or objective

Interesting definitions... particularly as the words 'excellent', 'interesting' or even 'good' are conspicuous by their absence. And yet, for newspapers, that is how we regard an Exclusive; as a 'good' story - something interesting. But how often does an Exclusive story turn out to be 'this is a great story that you simply cannot afford to miss'.(On the occasions that definition might apply it can also morph into a 'World Exclusive'.)

Exclusive can also sometimes mean: 'We've got this... no one else has... um, we think... although that might change in the hours between us designing the front page and the paper being distributed..."

I was involved in some fairly lengthy discussions this week which, essentially, revolved around what was an Exclusive. And during a break I indulged in the Web 2.0 equivalent of askin' the Magic 8 Ball; I called on Twitter.

The tweet read: Debating the issue should newspapers break exclusive court cases online or wait to go to print. Twitter - your thoughts please?
Obviously those on Twitter would be more likely to be biased towards web-publish first, but the reasons posters supplied were very strong: "There is an expectation now that things go online first"; "You will get the respect of your readers for immediacy and increased followers" (a good point - build readers online, build advertiser interest); "break 'em online - how many people buy a paper to see a court story you know is exclusive"...

"How can a court case be exclusive? It's a public hearing" was another point raised.
Now, Patrick Smith from Press Gazette has considered the 'contemporaneous court reporting online' issue in an excellent post here.
I want to consider when papers should break stories online first - starting with the problems inherent in that phrase when papers should break stories online first.

For me, the continuing distinction between a newspaper's print and online products is just another extension of the 'journalist as gatekeeper' debate - when do we decide to share things with our readers and when do we let them have (some) information? This, I think, is the reason the US citizen journalist blogger industry is so strong - they get the information, push it out there and collaborate with their readers who interact through comments; through social networks blog news posts can take on a life of their own.

At the most basic level, when I posted a tweet about a serious road accident near my home on Tuesday night, I was depriving my newspaper of an exclusive. But that's social media - people who witness incidents now don't automatically tell their local paper; they update their blog, their status, share links, photos or videos online - this is what we are up against and what we have to be able to compete with. This is also a phenomenon that is only going to grow. Exclusive is an empty word unless you can prove that no other person knows about the story - that it hasn't been shared on a forum, Twitter, a MySpace page, a niche blog.

The question is, do readers prize exclusives more than they prize information? Would being a part of the conversation - through comments, related links or perhaps tracing the geographical development of a story via a map - be more valuable to them than the fact no other news outlet had that particular tale?
If the answer is yes, then where does that leave the printed page? Well, for me it leaves us with a choice: We can break the exclusive any way we can - get our multimedia brands associated with being first and best for pushing the story out there; Or we can hang on, keep promoting our print exclusives, and try to protect the print product for as long as possible.

These aren't easy choices - these just don't exist in the changing world of Newspaper Journalism. But the fact is that 'Exclusive' on a splash page won't halt the decline of our print readership.
'Exclusive' has been a word much loved by newspapers for decades but, funnily enough, it means far more to us than our readers. It's our badge of honour - our little dig at the competition. If we insist on holding back our exclusives, we may just be digging our own grave.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Breaking news with Spinvox

UPDATE 2013: SpinVox subsequently closed down

I've got another option for updating my status on various social networks now.

I've been using SpinVox as a way of turning my phone voicemail into text alerts for a long time - it's so much more convenient to read my message as a text than have endles voicemails to wade through. I also find it useful for dictating memos to my Gmail, and (sometimes) posting to this blog although I tend to use Utterz more often as I like posting the occasional podcast. But the status update is an interesting development and has, I think, real opportunities for newspapers that have social media sites.
For example, a reporter at the scene of a major fire could post a live update to a blog, instantly post a news flash via a Twitter feed, update the paper's Facebook page and even speak a text message newsflash to multiple mobile phone subscribers. It is, I think, a very cool development.
Of course, a reporter at a fire could already send alerts direct to Twitter and potentially have that Twitter feed linked to a Facebook status, but SpinVox makes it much faster... and with news, breaking or otherwise, that's what counts.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

What's Your Main Source of News?

That's the question I've been asking people on a nifty website Nath from Travel Weekly discovered and shared on Plurk today.
It's called and allows you to pose questions - multiple choice, comment-enabled, photos etc - which visitors to the site can respond to. I've not got 500 people yet and don't expect to but the site is so easy to use (and some of the questions are such good fun) that I'd anticipate a wider audience before too long.

There are multiple polls running at any time, but some appear on the Homepage (mine made it on there tonight!) in response to voters adding "Points," or up-voting questions that they like and would like to see answered by the community.
According to the website's FAQ "Questions with the most points are promoted up the the question list until, hopefully, they appear on the homepage.
"If a poll doesn't make it after 24 hours, it's removed from the lineup. All polls, however, remain available to voters and can be linked to or embedded on websites."

That's great... until you get to the final three words of the last paragraph. Because I can't embed the poll or the widget that accompanies it on this website - it simply won't happen.
And The Daily Post asked a question about Everton's stadium situation, but had exactly the same problem with embedding. So I guess there must be a coding glitch somewhere, hence the posted screenshot here to illustrate my poll.

Luckily, you can also link directly to your question using code - as I have here.
I think it's a handy tool - one of the LDP reporters has posted a poll of her own about education, which is here as part of a crowdsourcing project she's running. It shows the geographic spread of voters using a map, handy at-a-glance panels and a little results sidebar.

So a useful site and one I'd say was a good addition to a journalist's toolkit. I just wish I knew why we couldn't get the embed options to work...

I got 522 responses in under seven hours and five comments - I reckon that's pretty good for an off-the-cuff poll. You can see the results here.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Using Dipity to tell a news story

Timelines have been used by newspapers for years to help lead readers through the twists and turns of a complicated, long-running saga. This, for me, is just another way of doing the same thing.
I've used Dipity and the Daily Post's Flickr group photos of Capital of Culture events to tell the story-so-far of Liverpool's Culture Year 2008; I could also add Post & Echo videos I guess, but I liked the idea of keeping it just for the Flickr group.
Now I'm thinking of the possibilities of using Dipity to report, for example, a court case; we could load images, pdfs of the previous day's coverage, locator maps, videos, links, all updated day by day. Liverpool and Everton's football season could be charted in the same way.
There are so many exciting possibilities to use this; and it can be made more interactive by giving readers the opportunity to upload their own content.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Plurk, interaction and my morning commute

Just a quick example of why I like Plurk.
I took this photo when I was trapped in stationary traffic on my morning commute. The whole package - rain, cones and queues - summed up what a great start to the day I was having.

The Shozu app on my N95 automatically sent the photo to my Flickr site and this blog and I also shared the image on Plurk. Within minutes, this was the response I got:

I think that's pretty impressive - information-sharing and conversation parcelled up in about seven comments. So that's why, when people keep saying "I don't get Plurk" I think they're missing out. It's different to Twitter but it's definitely worth sticking with. Some threads attract 70-plus comments within less than an hour; I read over a hundred posts, plus uploaded photos, from an athlete plurking from the middle of a fairly large earthquake in Japan recently. It's yet another way to source news and views online - and that can't be bad.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Learning social media on YouTube

This is one of the most amazing videos I've found on YouTube, created by Professor Mike Wesch, assistant professor of Cultural Anthropology and Kansas State University, I stumbled across it a while ago, saved it to and then, well, it filed it away in the back of my brain.
But happily I rediscovered it at the weekend and realised it was still utterly amazing and compelling. It's a fantastic piece of work and perfectly sums up the possibilities and implications of Web 2.0.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Just why are Flickr's online communities so good?

I've been agonising over how newspapers can build successful online communities in a couple recent posts, notably here. And while I don't want to drone on, I'm returning to the subject as I forgot about one flourishing website/newspaper/audience collaboration that's doing just fine, thanks very much.

The Liverpool Daily Post's Flickr 08 group was set up by the Post & Echo's digital editor, David Higgerson, before he was spirited away to do Great Things at a strategic level, and he handed the responsibility to me... which is why I've started noticing just what an amazing place it is.

The Flickr group is everything you could want from an online community: Interesting; informative; collaborative; encouraging; supportive; constructively critical; self-policing - I could go on but you get the picture. (Sorry! couldn't resist that one...)

So why does this group exist so amicably when other online spaces can be waspish, unhappy or downright mean places to visit?
Certainly shared interest is a major factor - these are people who love photography, love the photographic opportunities presented by the North West and love sharing their work with others.
Football fan networks tend to have the same sort of mutual desire to broadly get along, but footie followers seem more likely to fire off a snarling ripostes to a post they disagree with.
On Flickr the comments tend to be either praise or requests for technical information. I've noticed the same thing on interest-specific channels like this one on YouTube.

I think the fact that the Flickr community as a whole is so keen to interact with each other is something to be considered too; for example, many admins visit other groups, spotting shots they think are exceptional and requesting permission to add them. I love the fact that various awards are given out on Flickr for excellent work, and that users are generous with feedback and advice.

The discussion threads are also great opportunities for focused and supportive debates. On the Daily Post group a single post asking whether there should be an upload limit became a useful debate about the issue, culminating in a decision. I got the impression from reading the thread that members felt some users were uploading more images than strictly necessary, but it was all 'no names, no pack drill'.
If that had been a similar debate on a newspaper forum I suspect it would have been derailed by arguments by the third post.

So maybe one of the keys to running a successful newspaper general interest forum is to not run a forum... it's to run several. Most papers will already have football forums - should we now extend that niche approach to news? Poltical forums, crime forums, social issues, health - pick a topic, seed it with stories and links and see if people want to discuss it.

If debates do begin there's no reason why a moderator shouldn't post something along the lines of 'Nice point, X, I think there's more information about it through this link... what do others think?' It just shows that the debate is being monitored by someone who has half-an-eye on people's conduct, and who recognises valuable and interesting comments.

If one of the topic-specific forums doesn't flourish then maybe it's being done better by someone else, somewhere else. And I believe that with Web 2.0 it's a real case of 'if you can't beat'em, join 'em' - reporters should get involved with the debate where people are talking and link back while posting comments there.
That's when a forum starts to become a useful network. And that, I think, is why Flickr is so successful.