Locater maps are easy with Google

Ah, locater maps — useful for print, but not all that useful for online unless they’re somehow interactive (or it least easily printable, but still …).

So why not partner up with the Google Maps to add easy locaters to stories? It takes about two minutes, and it gives your readers a portal to perhaps the best mapping site on the Internet (sorry MapQuest, but I’ve changed my loyalties). From there, they can check out the street view of the place (or, better yet, show it on your site), map themselves a route to the place (very handy for events and sports stories) or even begin searching for more information on the subject they want.

Here are some cool examples of our office building in Lee Hills Hall at the University of Missouri:

Nice street view of ol’ Lee Hills. Now, here’s the map version that will help you come visit us (just in case you ever want to buy us lunch. We don’t mind).

View Larger Map

It’s easy to create. Just type your address into Google Maps, then look for the link button right above the map.

Google1

After hitting the link button, you’ll have the chance to either grab the standard HTML or customize it. Here’s the standard HTML:

Grab the HTML here

Grab the HTML here

Here’s what you get when you hit the customize button. I’ve set this one to 600 pixels wide, which is our standard media size at ColumbiaMissourian.com.

Google3

How much time will this save the average graphics staff? Better yet, a graphics staff free of locater work can work on bigger projects — like more interactive elements for the Web, for instance.

A fail in online journalism, or the start of something good?

My dear, sweet colleague Liz Brixey e-mailed out a pretty cool link to to the McClatchy Web site this morning. It’s a map that breaks down when unemployment is expected to return to pre-recession levels. Included is a database that lists the pre-recession unemployment rate, the current unemployment rate, and the projected return to the good old days.

It’s interesting eye candy, but in its current state, doesn’t exactly pack a lot of context. SCREENSHOTS!

Good use of Google Maps, but it leaves me wondering why.

Good use of Google Maps, but it leaves me wondering why.

The database page. Not much here yet.

The database page. Not much here yet.

So, why is Columbia in better shape than the rest of Missouri? That’s a good question, and that’s almost where I condemned this as a “fail.”

But then I remembered something important: I was viewing this on a computer, not on newsprint. Silly me!

This is just the beginning for this database, or at least it should be. Tony Pugh’s piece helps lend context to the national view, but what about the local view? This is where the news really is.

What I hope McClatchy plans to do is add something that explains why things are the way they are. Maybe that’s more economic data. More likely, it’s a short analysis and an annotated fact box. Or a Flash presentation, if you’re feeling particularly ambitious.

Either way, the important thing to remember is that you have an infrastructure in place that can grow, expand and change over time. Databases are kind of like plants — you have to give them a little love to keep them alive. And keep promoting them; otherwise, what’s the point?

Why Google Wave is the next big thing for journalists

Apologies for the lack of posts. With the semester starting (and a flood in our server room yesterday) I’ve been a bit distracted from what’s been going on in the rest of the world. But here are a few things that have caught my eye:

First off, the new iPhone. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this one. Yes, it rocks; it’s got a better camera that includes video; it’s got touch-to-edit video editing; it can post videos straight to the Web. That’s all really cool. But the applications are pretty clear.

My complaint about some of the coverage of the new iPhone is that there are other phones out there that also do these things. If you haven’t already noticed, Mindy McAdams’ 10 Facts about Journalism Now states what should be obvious: the cell phone is only going to increase in importance as a reporting tool.

The most interesting feature of the new iPhone, in my mind, is its ability to combine geolocation with its other functions. (The iPhone 3G did this as well, but didn’t have video.) As media organizations focus more on very local news, there’s a lot to be said for a device that knows where you are and can feed that info into a CMS. Going the other way, of course, it’s very interesting to think about the ways in which we could provide targeted news, information and advertising content to readers based on where they are. Considering that geolocation is provided for in the mobile Safari browser, it’s only a matter of time before this comes to laptops as well.

But enough about the iPhone. In my opinion, the real game-changer for journalists is likely to be Google Wave. If you haven’t seen the 90-minute developer preview, there are a host of excerpts and shorter chunks of it hanging around the Web.

So what is it? From Google’s Web site, here’s a description:

What is a wave?

A wave is equal parts conversation and document. People can communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more.

A wave is shared. Any participant can reply anywhere in the message, edit the content and add participants at any point in the process. Then playback lets anyone rewind the wave to see who said what and when.

A wave is live. With live transmission as you type, participants on a wave can have faster conversations, see edits and interact with extensions in real-time.

Sounds a little fuzzy, which is possibly why some folks aren’t getting what a big deal this is. And it is a huge freaking deal. Think about it this way with analogies to what we do in the newspaper business:

  • “Equal parts conversation and document … work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps and more:” This sounds an awful lot like the process of designing a print newspaper page, or for that matter a Web page. Think about being able to richly format text in real time with a host of collaborators, insert maps and photos into the text document, then generate a PDF of it. Or spit it out into PHP. That’s InDesign, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, Flash and Bridge, without the $1,799 asking price. (Caveat: No, I haven’t seen an export-to-PDF function yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see one.)
  • “A wave is shared.” This means that you can bring new participants into the discussion at any time. Imagine what happens if you can share a page with a colleague who’s 1,000 miles away, to check a fact or edit a story. Or give access to sources to check facts or to expand on what they said. Or play back things to find out when something went right, or wrong, or to show a student how to do something in a better/simpler way. (I’m doing this right now to figure out when we introduced bad information into a story.) Or you could add limited access for citizen journalists, or give the community a free space to create stuff with some of your assets and data as well as what they produce themselves.
  • “A wave is live.” This sounds pretty simple, but it’s the chunk that ties everything together. Witness:

Something else that’s very cool about the wave protocol is that it’s an open API, meaning anyone can build their own wave server:

Yes, that’s between wave providers: anyone can build a wave server and interoperate, much like anyone can run their own SMTP server. The wave protocol is open to contributions by the broader community with the goal to continue to improve how we share information, together.

That means two things for me: first off, that they want to distribute use of the wave protocol to take some of the strain off their own servers (which only makes sense). Second, if I have my own server, I can control access and security. Not that I suspect malfeasance, but using Google Docs for collaboration always makes me a little nervous.

That’s not a huge deal for us at the Missourian (other than the fact that we could have our own wave server) but it’s a very big deal at chains of newspapers. Let’s say that McClatchy builds a wave server at each of its newspapers (or at a central server farm, it really doesn’t matter). You could collaborate in real time on big national stories from any location across the country on your own hardware, without anyone else having the slightest bit of access to it. And then you can publish (hopefully) groundbreaking stuff with contributions from across your chain, all at once and at several different spots.

This is all very cool, and I’m sure I’ll think up more uses over time. Contextual spellecheck, though, is likely to be the blockbuster news for newspaper folks:

Link Gmail to Outlook Live

MU is shifting its e-mail accounts to Microsoft Outlook
Live by fall. You can actually register an account now (see below). So
how to you link that new account to your Gmail, you ask? Read on (and
e-mail any questions/problems):

1. Set up your new Outlook Live account. Try this site:
https://mailtools.um.umsystem.edu/outlooklive/. If you’re signing up using a Firefox-based browser at MU, you might need get a security certificate exception error, fellow Geeky Journalist Rob Weir says. In an e-mail, Rob wrote that “MU uses self-signed certificates, rather than third-party ones, which causes your browser to error out. If you click the “add an exception” link you can continue with registration just fine.”

2. Once you’ve got your new account, go into Gmail and click the
“Settings” link at the top-right corner of the page.

3. From here, click “Accounts.” Move your mouse down a bit to the
section titled “Get mail from other accounts,” and then click the link
that says “Add a mail account you own.”

4. You’ll need to enter some facts and figures about your account. Bear in mind that at least for students, there’s an
important mizzou/missouri distinction.

PAWPRINT@mail.mizzou.edu = actual account name

PAWPRINT@mail.missouri.edu = username for logging into said account

5. Here are some data items to enter when you’re linking your Outlook
account to your Gmail account:

E-mail address: should say PAWPRINT@mail.mizzou.edu
Username: should say PAWPRINT@mail.missouri.edu
Password: this is the password you use to access your university account
POP Server: outlook.com
Port: 995
Check the box that says “Always use a secure connection (SSL) when
retrieving mail”

There should be a button that says “Add this account,” or something to
that effect, and if you’ve followed these steps, I think you should be
OK. Gmail will think for a minute, the popup window will disappear,
and you’ll then be able to go back to that original Accounts page,
where you’ll see that your new account has been added, and Gmail is
scanning it regularly for mail.

You can also click “Add another email address you own,” also on the
Accounts page, to send mail under the label of your university
account. Here are the steps:

1. Basically, you enter the e-mail address
and press a few buttons to save your changes. You can also choose to
make that your default address using a link on the Accounts page.

Sleek New York Times photo blog

Check out Lens, the new photo blog from The New York Times!

Might want to grab a suit and tie, too — you’ll feel like you’re at an art gallery.

Quick and easy government page

The Oregonian has a very cool new government page using (as far as I can tell) the Congress API that the New York Times developed. Right now, you can use the page to find representatives, track a bill or search for a bill. That’s not a lot of different functionality than you might find on the regular Library of Congress site, but it’s cool that it’s right there at your local newspaper. I’d also like to see the Oregonian add some discussion or link to bills of interest in their readership area, but maybe that’s coming in a later release.