Tag Archives: search box

Newspapers: Turn off your RSS feeds

This is a cross-post from Malcolm Coles’ personal website:

The latest subscriber figures (see table below) show that, apart from a couple of exceptions, it’s time for newspapers to turn off their RSS feeds – and hand over the server space, technical support and webpage real estate to their Twitter accounts.

The table below shows that only three of the nine national newspapers have an RSS feed with more than 10,000 subscribers in Google Reader. And most newspaper RSS feeds have readerships in the 00s, if that.

Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips has 11 subscribers to her RSS feed (maybe there’s hope for the UK population yet …).

Despite having virtually no users, the Mail churns out 160 RSS feeds and the Mirror 280. All so a couple of thousand people can look at them in total.

The other papers are just as bad. And while the Guardian has a couple of RSS readers with decent numbers (partly because Google recommends it in its news bundle), it has more feeds than there are people in the UK…

Top three RSS feeds at each newspaper
They didn’t all have three that showed up:

Table of UK newspapers' RSS feeds

Switch to Twitter instead
I suggest newspapers switch to Twitter instead. Twitter’s advantages over RSS include:

  • Wheat vs chaff – As a reader, you can see which stories other people are RTing and are therefore popular.
  • Context – There’s space in 140 characters for newspapers to give some background to stories as well as the headline (well, there is for those that don’t just stick the first few words of the standfirst after the headline).
  • Promotion – Followers can RT newspaper stories, promoting the paper – they can’t do this with elements of an RSS feed.
  • Tracking – Stories’ development can be tracked on Twitter – you can’t usually tell what’s changed in an RSS feed.
  • Conversation You can take part in a conversation on Twitter. People only talk to their RSS feed when they swear at it. The journalists behind the story can tweet, too.

Newspapers agree with me
As I say, despite poor subscriptions for many feeds, papers pump out RSS feeds as if there’s no tomorrow – the second column in the table below shows how many feeds (rounded) that each paper has.

But despite this, it’s clear some papers agree with me – and have already given up on RSS feeds and no longer actively promote them.

No visibility
The Mail, despite its 160-odd feeds, only mentions them in its footer.

The same is true of the Sun.

On the page but hardly visible
The FT’s RSS link does at least have a logo – but its buried at the bottom of the right-hand column on each page.

The Telegraph shows relevant RSS feeds on pages – but they’re buried in a different way: above a banner ad that no one will ever look at.

Even the Guardian, which lets you mash up your own RSS feeds (hence the 000,000s in the table), hides details of its feeds under an unusual term ‘webfeed’ in the far right of its header.

The Times still has an RSS link in its main header menu on its news page. On other pages it’s at the bottom. And it mentions Twitter on its pages much more than RSS.

Visible – but not doing them any good
The Independent is alone in listing RSS feeds on its main category pages – although that doesn’t seem to get it many subscribers.

The Mirror has an RSS link next to its search box, although it took me ages to find it. Does this count as visible – it’s not exactly intuitive…

And the Express has a link and a logo prominently in its header. But as the Express doesn’t update its website often (or at all on Sunday), I guess that’s why no one subscribes. And some of its RSS feeds appear to be garbage – check out its theatre one…

Caveats about the data
After you’ve started writing something about newspapers, you’ll eventually discover that Martin Belam has already written about it. Having just noticed his Top 75 British newspaper RSS feeds as I was researching Google Reader’s market share, I figured I’d just repeat his caveats about his own data as they apply to mine too:

  • Subscribers don’t necessarily ever read anything.
  • Numbers quoted by Google vary wildly.
  • Newspapers have problem with the same feed on different URLs. To quote Martin: “If the papers themselves can’t work out how to set one canonical URL for their content, why should I?”
  • Google Reader search is not great. There may be missing feeds.

#DataJourn part 2: Q&A with ‘data juggler’ Tony Hirst

As explained in part one of today’s #datajourn conversation, Tony Hirst is the ‘data juggler’ (as titled by Guardian tech editor Charles Arthur) behind some of the most interesting uses of the Guardian’s Open Platform (unless swear words are your thing – in which case check out Tom Hume’s work)

Journalism.co.uk sent OU academic, mashup artist and Isle of Wight resident, Tony Hirst, some questions over. Here are his very comprehensive answers.

What’s your primary interest in – and motivation for – playing with the Guardian’s Open Platform?
TH: Open Platform is a combination of two things – the Guardian API, and the Guardian Data store. My interest in the API is twofold: first, at the technical level, does it play nicely with ‘mashup tools’ such as yahoo pipes, Google spreadsheet’s =importXML formula, and so on; secondly, what sort of content does it expose that might support a ‘news and learning’ mashup site where we can automatically pull in related open educational resources around a news story to help people learn more about the issues involved with that story?

One of the things I’ve been idling about lately is what a ‘university API’ might look at, so the architecture of the Guardian API, and in particular the way the URIs that call on the API, are structured is of interest in that regard (along with other APIs, such as the New York Times’ APIs, the BBC programmes’ API, and so on).

The data blog resources – which are currently being posted on Google spreadsheets – are a handy source of data in a convenient form that I can use to try out various ‘mashup recipes’. I’m not so interested in the data as is, more in the ways in which it can be combined with other data sets (for example, in Dabble DB) and or displayed using third party visualisation tools. What inspires me is trying to find ‘mashup patterns’ that other people can use with other data sets. I’ve written several blog posts showing how to pull data from Google spreadsheets in IBM’s Many Eyes Wikified visualisation tool: it’d be great if other people realised they could use a similar approach to visualise sets of data I haven’t looked at.

Playing with the actual data also turns up practical ‘issues’ about how easy it is to create mashups with public data. For example, one silly niggle I had with the MPs’ expenses data was that pound signs appeared in many of the data cells, which meant that Many Eyes Wikified, for example, couldn’t read the amounts as numbers, and so couldn’t chart them. (In fact, I don’t think it likes pound signs at all because of the character encoding!) Which meant I had to clean the data, which introduced another step in the chain where errors could be introduced, and which also raised the barrier to entry for people wanting to use the data directly from the data store spreadsheet. If I can help find some of the obstacles to effective data reuse, then maybe I can help people publish their data in way that makes it easier for other people to reuse (including myself!).

Do you feel content with the way journalists present data in news stories, or could we learn from developers and designers?
TH: There’s a problem here in that journalists have to present stories that are: a) subject to space and layout considerations beyond their control; and b) suited to their audience. Just publishing tabulated data is good in the sense that it provides the reader with evidence for claims made in a story (as well as potentially allowing other people to interrogate the data and maybe look for other interpretations of it), but I suspect is meaningless, or at least of no real interest, to most people. For large data sets, you wouldn’t want to publish them within a story anyway.

An important thing to remember about data is that it can be used to tell stories, and that it may hide a great many patterns. Some of these patterns are self-evident if the data is visualised appropriately. ‘Geo-data’ is a fine example of this. It’s natural home is on a map (as long as the geo-coding works properly, that is (i.e. the mapping from location names, for example, to latitude/longitude co-ordinates than can be plotted on a map).

Finding ways of visualising and interacting data is getting easier all the time. I try to find mashup patterns that don’t require much, if any, writing of computer programme code, and so in theory should be accessible to many non-developers. But it’s a confidence thing: and at the moment, I suspect that it is the developers who are more likely to feel confident taking data from one source, putting it into an application, and then providing the user with a simple user interface that they can ‘just use’.

You mentioned about ‘lowering barriers to entry’ – what do you mean by that, and how is it useful?

TH: Do you write SQL code to query databases? Do you write PHP code parse RSS feeds and filter out items of interest? Are you happy writing Javascript to parse a JSON feed, or would rather use XMLHTTPRequest and a server side proxy to pull in an XML feed into a web page and get around the domain security model?

Probably none of the above.

On the other hand, could you copy and paste a URL to a data set into a ‘fetch’ block in a Yahoo pipe, identify which data element related to a place name so that you could geocode the data, and then take the URL of the data coming out from the pipe and paste it into the Google maps search box to get a map based view of your data? Possibly…

Or how about taking a spreadsheet URL, pasting it into Many Eyes Wikified, choosing the chart type you wanted based on icons depicting those chart types, and then selecting the data elements you wanted to plot on each axis from a drop down menu? Probably…

What kind of recognition/reward would you like for helping a journalist produce a news story?
TH: A mention for my employer, The Open University, and a link to my personal blog, OUseful.info. If I’d written a ‘How To’ explanation describing how a mashup or visualisation was put together, a link to that would be nice too. And if I ever met the journalist concerned, a coffee would be appreciated! I also find it valuable knowing what sorts of things journalists would like to be able to do with the technology that they can’t work out how to do. This can feed into our course development process, identifying the skills requirements that are out there, and then potentially servicing those needs through our course provision. There’s also the potential for us to offer consultancy services to journalists too, producing tools and visualisations as part of a commercial agreement.

One of the things my department is looking at at the moment is a revamped website. it’s a possibility that I’ll start posting stories there about any news related mashups I put together, and if that is the case, then links to that content would be appropriate. This isn’t too unlike the relationship we have with the BBC, where we co-produce televlsion and radio programmes and get links back to supporting content on OU websites from BBC website, as well as programme credits. For example, I help pull together the website around the BBC World Service programme Digital Planet, which we co-produce every so often. which gets a link from the World Service website (as well as the programme’s Facebook group!), and the OU gets a mention in the closing credits. The rationale behind this approach is getting traffic to OU sites, of course, where we can then start to try to persuade people to sign up for related courses!

10 magazine – free in your Guardian today, but £8.86 online

A funny little magazine fell out of the Guardian onto Journalism.co.uk’s lap this morning: a ‘special mini-edition’ of 10 magazine. So un-Guardian like that Journalism.co.uk had to pop into WH Smith to check another copy, to clarify that it hadn’t in fact dropped out of the sky.

No, it was in the Guardian. One end of the mini-magazine is men’s content, turn it the other way and the other end is women’s, with a feature on ‘Ten looks from the old and wiser’ that tells us ‘all of these handsome folk are 100 years old or more. There are some nice great-grandmas and lovely great-grandpas. With age comes wisdom…’

Is this a new promotion from the Guardian or has it been done before?

Apparently, there have been 15 issues of the men’s and 28 issues of the women’s mag that have been purchased by consumers at £4.95 a pop. We’d like to hear from people who have read it in full.

The magazine’s website is minimalist, but you can subscribe over at the magazine cafe.

Journalism.co.uk is putting an early birthday request in for a single copy: online, the women’s magazine is priced £10.96, and the men’s is £8.86. Type ‘Ten’ in the search box, under the category men’s and women’s interest to find it.

Innovations in Journalism: Flock’s social web browser

We give developers the opportunity to tell us journalists why we should sit up and pay attention to the sites and devices they are working on. Today, it’s the evolution of the browser with social browsing software from Flock.

image of Flock logo

1) Who are you and what’s it all about?
Hi I’m Evan Hamilton, community ambassador for Flock.

Flock is a software company that is building a unique, social browser off of the technology that powers the Mozilla Firefox.

It takes browsing to the next level by integrating a number of social networking and media services.

While you can still surf the web normally we also bring in updates. Photos and videos from your friends show up in the media bar at the top of the browser, your friends appear and update within the people sidebar, and myworld collects all your online information (feeds, favorites, media and friend updates) in one place.

Additionally, we make sharing great online content easier by allowing you to drag and drop photos, text, and links from any website (or your media bar) to friends in the people sidebar, web-mail, blog posts, and comments.

Flock will automatically embed or link to this content. It also integrates with services like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and Gmail.

2) Why would this be useful to a journalist?
Journalists spend most of their time collecting research and then compiling it into stories. Flock makes it incredibly easy to have the latest news at your fingertips for consumption and collection.

Its feed reader will pull in updates from whichever websites you wish (assuming they have an RSS feed set up).

Found a piece of content you want to file away for a later story? Flock comes with a “web clipboard” to which you can add photos, videos, text and links to use later. Grab whatever you find compelling on a page and drop it into a folder for the article you’re working on, then access it later.

It’s all contained within the sidebar, not on your hard drive, so you can collect whatever you need before posting your blog or using it in your article.

3) Is this it, or is there more to come?
There’s much more to come. Flock 1.2 will be coming out shortly, which introduces more integrated services.

Later in the year, Flock will be updating to the codebase powering the yet-to-be-released Firefox3. Beyond that, Flock has many plans to innovatively improve upon your web browsing experience.

4) Why are you doing this?
The web has dramatically evolved in the last few years, but the web browser has not. Web pages are no longer the only destination on the web; now we have photo and video objects, friends, and pieces of information.

Traditional web browsers require you to view this content within the context of a web page, but Flock provides a unique view of this content that makes it easier and faster to consume and share the things you love.

We felt that nobody else was stepping up to really support the next generation of the web, and so we decided to build on the fundamentally sound Firefox technology and build a browser that supported our activities on the new web.

5) What does it cost to use it?
Totally, 100 per cent free. Flock does not and will not cost you any money.

6) How will you make it pay?
It makes money the way all web browsers do: through the search box. Flock has a deal with Yahoo! in which any search that leads to a user clicking a sponsored link generates revenue.

This is unobtrusive and established, and is only the first of many opportunities for Flock to share revenue with partners.