April 3, 2013
We’ve been hearing a lot about Vine lately — the app that lets you create six-second repeating videos and post them straight to Twitter. But it’s not the only game in town.
A good alternative is Tout, which has many of the same features as Vine, but allows you to shoot up to 15 seconds and still go straight to Twitter. Even 15 is not a lot of seconds, but you’d be surprised how much you can do in that time if your creative juices are flowing. Like Vine, you can shoot short clips within the allotted time.
Unlike Vine, the Tout videos don’t repeat. Depending on your preferences, that can be a good thing or a bad thing. I say it’s a good thing. Possibly the big disadvantage of Tout is that it doesn’t have the same traction as Vine, so sharing a Tout video via the Tout app won’t get as much attention as it would with Vine.
Still, I like Tout enough that I’m hoping that it becomes at least a viable alternative.
March 27, 2013
Collect your social web accounts into one place and have them display in a beautiful magazine-style format. The list of sources includes Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Tumblr, YouTube and a bunch more.
You can also add articles from special feeds created by Flipboard editors. Categories include news, business, tech & science, sports and a slew of others. New in version 2.0 is the ability to create your own magazine for other Flipboard users to enjoy.
Give it a name and add articles to it as you find them. I created one called Kamloops (just to see how it works) that you can find by performing a search within Flipboard. Try making your own magazine — you’ll easily best me.
March 20, 2013
With the demise of Google Reader, some people have suggested using Twitter lists instead. Indeed there are many news organizations that treat their Twitter account as little more than a feed of headlines and links. But since that comes close to what an RSS feed reader does, I thought I would give it a try.
If you’re interested in setting up Twitter lists yourself, I recommend this article from iMore: How to use Twitter lists to replace Google Reader. And I second their recommendation on Tweetbot.
But what about real life? How practical is it to use Twitter lists instead of RSS feeds and a great app like Reeder to follow them? I set out to try to duplicate my Reeder setup in Twitter, and here’s what I came up with.
First off all finding equivalents, or rough equivalents, wasn’t that hard. In many cases, the publisher of an RSS feed also has a Twitter account. What I found in some cases, though, was that larger news sites often have several specialized RSS feeds but not so many for Twitter. For example, I’m subscribed to the Globe and Mail feed for world news. The Globe has a variety of Twitter accounts covering various subjects, but none just for world news.
I was also surprised to find that a blog that specializes in online journalism has no Twitter account at all. And while you can find an RSS feed for CBC sports, the Twitter account by the same name seems to have been taken by a Popsicle soccer promotion of all things. (Might want to look into that, CBC.)
In any case, I was able to put together half a dozen Twitter lists that more or less approximate what I have set up in Reeder. But what a mess.
The lists are nothing like RSS feeds. They’re a jumble of tweets, retweets and irrelevant items that are constantly streaming — never really giving you the satisfaction of feeling like you’re up to date on everything important. I’m used to this sort of thing with the New Media list I’ve used for a couple of years, but I see that as more an ongoing conversation than a reliable source of news.
Tweetbot is great as a Twitter client, but it can’t beat Reeder’s ability to organize and keep track of headlines. Reeder also goes a step further by showing the first paragraph or two of an article so you can decide whether you want to commit to reading the whole thing. With Twitter, you usually only have a barebones headline to go by.
After trying out Feedly and Twitter lists, I’m more appreciative than ever of the fine workmanship that goes into Reeder. It truly is an excellent tool for keeping on top of the news. Feed readers are incredibly handy and deserve to be more popular. Now that Google Reader is dead and out of the way, I’m hoping some smart developers will find a way make RSS a household word — like Twitter.
March 17, 2013
The death of Google Reader will actually be a good thing, opening the door to innovation in RSS — something we haven’t seen in ages. And it isn’t shutting down until July 1, so there’s plenty of time for those innovations to make themselves known.
Still, that hasn’t stopped at least 500,000 people from quickly jumping to Feedly. And I can see why — this is a great alternative to Google Reader, and its developers promise to stick around and make changes based on users’ suggestions.
I’m hoping my beloved Reeder, which is based on Google Reader, will make good on its declaration that it won’t die along with Google Reader. Even so, I decided to give Feedly a try — just in case.
I’ve mostly been using the iPhone app version along with the extension for Safari, but there are other options — an app for Android, and extensions for Chrome and Firefox.
My first impression was that it is attractive, but overdone. Instead of getting a nice list of headlines that can easily be scanned, you get a magazine-style layout with pictures. In the app, you can flip through them at your leisure. With the web browser extension, you get “featured” articles.
Luckily, there are solutions. With the browser, you can change the default view in preferences to what Feedly calls “condensed.” This layout provides the source, the headline and a few words from the article in a single line for each feed. Nicely done.
The app is a little different. You can create a list view, but you have to make the change from magazine view every time you go into a category. There is no way to make it the default. Take care of this and I’ll be happy.
Another beef with the app is limited ability to organize the feeds. You can’t change the order of the categories and you can’t move a feed from one category to another. You can re-order the categories in the browser, but you have to quit the Feedly app and re-open it to make the changes show up there.
My other problem with Feedly is that you have to go to the source website in order to read an entire article. RSS feeds often give you only the first paragraph of a story and you have to take action to read the whole thing. With Feedly, that means flipping to source. With Reeder, you can use the Readability function to get the entire article within the app in a clutter-free layout. If Feedly can’t come up with something similar, it will be a deal breaker.
March 13, 2013
RSS feeds are the unsung heroes of the Internet. With an RSS feed reader you can follow the news from dozens of sites all in one place.
I use an app called Reeder on my iMac and iPhone to subscribe to feeds that I’ve arranged in categories so I can easily keep track of what’s going on in the world and in my areas of special interest. Everything between the two devices is synchronized in the background by Google Reader. Handy, to say the least.
So I was in a bit of a tizzy when I learned that Google is shutting down this service on July 1. I need my sync!
Now, I’m certain that alternatives will spring up in the meantime, and some of them will likely be better. Google, after all, was only making a half-hearted effort at keeping Reader alive. With Google gone, there is bound to be a great opportunity for eager developers to step in and create something chock full of features with constant updates.
It’s a comforting thought, but, still, the thing that really made me sigh with relief was this tweet:
Don’t worry, Reeder won’t die with Google Reader.— Reeder (@reederapp) March 14, 2013
No other details are being offered right now, but, yes, my beloved Reeder will continue to function.
If that hasn’t calmed your RSS-loving nerves, check this article from Lifehacker on alternatives.
March 6, 2013
Why would a journalist need to learn programming? Here are a few answers I’ve come across. First up is Mindy McAdams, who teaches university courses about online journalism, in an article called Get started with Web coding. Part 1: HTML and CSS.
I’m not saying everyone needs to memorize massive quantities of HTML and CSS, or master these to the extent that you could code an entire 10,000-page website. No. I am saying you need to understand how this stuff works, because all the Web uses HTML and CSS.
I’m not convinced. But in the same article she links to a couple of supporting arguments. Miranda Mulligan is the executive director of Northwestern’s Knight News Innovation Lab. The title of her article says it all: Want to produce hirable grads, journalism schools? Teach them to code:
The phrase “collections of skills” seems suspicious. Reporting and writing are already important skills.
The second reference is to Martin Belam, founder of a digital consultancy, in Do journalists need to learn to be programmers? Yes. And no:
For example, being able to spot the difference between a small technical change that has a big impact on story-telling, and what appears to be a small change but which has a hugely expensive technical impact, is an essential skill for someone setting the requirements for changes to a website or a CMS.
Top priority for a journalist has to be the ability to tell a story. This in itself can be a skill that takes a lifetime to build. It seems strange to even have to say this, but it often seems forgotten in the rush to keep up with the latest and greatest.
Other skills are only helpful if they can be used as tools for storytelling. If technology can be used to do that, then by all means use it. That’s why I get excited by something like Vine — I can see how six-second videos could be used to tell stories in a new and interesting way.
But I’m just not sure how knowing anything about the programming that went into the Vine app could in any way be helpful to a journalist. I know how to take the a snippet of code and embed it into HTML so a Vine video can be displayed on a website, but I’d hardly call that a coding skill.
If you’re a journalist with a passion for learning technology, your best bet might be to learn some HTML. This is the basic code that can be used to build a web page. It might not look great without the styling provided by CSS, but it functions.
The code shown at the top, is the HTML for the first paragraph of this article. You can probably figure out that “p” stands for paragraph and “a” stands for anchor or link. It’s not that hard.
Explore new technologies and how they can be used to augment stories, but don’t get hung up on how they work.
There’s been a double whammy here at newsonaut headquarters.
First, physical renovations have made computer access dicey with construction going on all around it.
And second, we were booted off one web hosting company and onto another one. This caused a couple of problems in the back end that were tricky to figure out but, fortunately, easy to fix.
At least I think they’re fixed. Stay tuned.
February 16, 2013
If you’re reading on mobile, you may have noticed that newsonaut is responding to your device by reshaping itself. Yes, this blog has joined the trend to responsive web design.
It’s been tested over at The Reponsinator, which includes Apple, Android and Kindle devices, and in real life on an iPad and an iPhone 5. And it looks good — to me, at least.
Unfortunately, some of the projects (listed below in the footer) are not responding well. They often involve embedded code from a third party, so I don’t have any control over how they turn out. I intend to keep poking away at them, though, and with any luck have a responsive design in every nook and cranny of newsonaut.
I’ve also noticed that the viewport border doesn’t work so well in mobile. The bottom gets momentarily “stuck” when scrolling. I still think it’s cool, so I don’t want to give up on it. There may be a solution out there.
I dispensed with drop caps because removing them for phones, where they were way to big, was more of a nuisance than it was worth. But I may bring them back. The articles seem bare without them.
February 10, 2013
Think outside the video box, and you’ll find there are other interesting ways to innovate on the web.
We recently did a story about efforts by a First Nations group trying to keep its language alive. Language is all about people talking to each other, so I recorded an elder speaking in his language and giving English translations.
I used the SoundCloud app with my iPhone, which made the recording easy to save and retrieve from the SoundCloud website. Best off all, I was able to embed it on the website along with the story. It definitely added a dimension not available in print.
Check it out:
As I’ve mentioned before, the big drawback with SoundCloud is that you can’t edit your track on the site. And so far, every one of the people I’ve interviewed have interjected a few words that needed to be edited out.
To do that, you need to download the track and open it in an audio editor such as Audacity. It’s actually pretty easy once you get the hang of it, but I can see where some people might find this to be a major stumbling block. For that reason, I’m hoping SoundCloud will soon incorporate some basic editing tools.
February 5, 2013
As a newsonaut, my dream would be to travel into the retro-future and produce an amazing news publication. Since I can’t (yet), the PULP-O-MIZER is the next best thing. Give it a try. It’s lots of fun.