Tools & Guides
This is a round-up of some of the apps I’ve seen news & other orgs using online to help people understand and engage with the mid-term elections in the US. It’s not an exhaustive list, just things that passed in front of my eyeballs on election day. The images are all linked.
First up, Mashable was reporting at 11am November 3 NZ time that interest in the mid-terms is breaking web traffic records:
It will still be at least a few hours before we know all of the results of today’s mid-term elections in the United States, but interest in the proceedings is apparently so high that a long-standing (in Internet time) Web traffic record has already been broken.
According to Akamai’s Net Usage Index for News, traffic to 100 top news sites (powered by Akamai’s content delivery network) has already peaked at a higher level than Barack Obama’s 2008 Presidential election victory – 4.6 million to 4.2 million page views per minute, respectively.
Google meanwhile was tracking search terms:
On Hot Trends at 1pm PT today, 13 of the top 20 searches were election-related, most of which had to do with figuring out where to vote. Terms like [polling place locator], [voting locations by zip code] and [where do i vote] have been popular all day, as well as state-specific searches like [nc board of elections] and [where to vote in minnesota]. Others are turning to the Internet to ask how long they have to vote, with searches like [what time do the polls close]. And earlier today, we even saw a handful of hot searches like [am i registered to vote in texas] and [voter registration]—apparently some well-meaning citizens have left one important part of the process until the last minute!
Of course, many people are also looking to make decisions about how to vote. The terms [vote smart] and [voters guide] have been popular today, indicating that people are trying to squeeze in some research before heading to the polls. Naturally, searches for various candidates, from [bill white] of Texas to [charlie baker] of Massachusetts, have increased today as well. Other searches like [massachusetts ballot questions 2010], [oklahoma state questions] and [amendment 4 florida] spiked this morning as people look for information about statewide measures. And at 1pm PT, three of the top 20 terms on Hot Trends had to do with California’s proposition 19.
The WashPo provided previews of each state and used an interactive map to let readers drill down to the state and county they were interested in. The map and tabs made it a tidy viewing experience.
And it had an interactive map keeping track of vote counts as they came in.
The New York Times also had a results map, which let you switch between the House, Senate, Governors and Caucus.
The New York Times built a dynamic app that showed how many tweets were mentioning various candidates names at any given time.
And it curated its own tweets.
Reuters embedded in its election page a feed of tweets from influential Twitter accounts in each state.
LifeHacker made it easy to find your polling station by typing in your address.
Facebook built an app for finding polling locations.
Project Vote Smart made a really slick app that showed which candidates in each state were most aligned with your views on key issues such as healthcare, gun control, immigration and the economy. (You can turn off the sound once you click through the first screen. Mute button is bottom right of page.)
Good magazine ran a competition to design an infographic about the election, a story about a McDonald’s store owner who advised staff to ‘vote for the right people’, and this infographic showing the issues Americans have been hot on in past elections back to 2001.
Talking Points Memo ran a poll tracker.
Politifact rated the claims made in election advertising ‘barely true’.
After rating hundreds of claims in the 2010 election — from TV ads, debates, interviews and mailings — we’re giving an overall Truth-O-Meter rating to the campaign.
We rate it Barely True.
In a majority of claims checked this fall by PolitiFact and our eight state partners, we found a grain of truth, but it was exaggerated, twisted or distorted. (We define Barely True as a statement containing some element of truth, but it “ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.”)
The Sunlight Foundation used Coveritlive to keep track of election tweets.
The Washington Post offered up election night bingo as a bit of light relief.
Lauren Kirchner did a round-up of election graphics run by smaller-circulation news orgs on Columbia Journalism Review:
Earlier this week I did a quick rundown of some eye-catching interactive graphics that newsrooms at papers like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal rolled out for Election Day. It would be unfair, though, to only focus on heavy-hitting sites that have dedicated interactive staff for such time-consuming projects. Across the country, smaller-circulation newspapers had to make the same decisions about how to visualize the data coming in on Election Night, but they had to make those decisions with far fewer resources.
10,000 words wrote about:
Cable and broadcast anchors weren’t the only ones giving on-camera commentary on the 2010 midterm elections on Tuesday night. You can add Politico and The New York Times to the list of traditionally non-broadcast news outlets providing live commentary and updates.
Other sites worth looking at:
I’d quite like to develop this post into a reference site for election coverage apps and ideas, so please add any links you have in a comment and I’ll add them to the post. Thanks!
I enjoyed this post from Lauren Rabaino on 10,000 Words about the use of kinetic type in video storytelling and how it can be used in journalism.
There’s huge value in being able to tell a story that people will read all the way through– from start to finish– and then share with all their friends and family. Kinetic type lends itself to exactly that kind of attentiveness and shareability.
I’m not alone in watching those videos all the way through, every time. We’re of a visual era. We like seeing content in a way that engages us, a way that attracts our full attention. These videos are addicting — but not just because they’re fun. You walk away from them with a new wealth of knowledge that is easily digestible and thus easily retainable.
She provides a few examples including the well-known Did You Know videos and this one from Good magazine about the cost of war to the US.
As an aside, while I was checking into the numbers used in the video I came across costofwar.com, a running (and rather sobering) counter of the cost of the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan (based on funds allocated by Congress).
Lauren finishes her post with a how-to list. Here are the first three suggestions on her list:
1. Before you get started, fully flesh out the exact copy you want to use. It’s a pain to go back and change even one word, especially if you’re going to narrate.
2. Keep the text simple. Short sentences. Think about which words and phrases are important from the start so you can later highlight them with a different color or motion.
3. Watch a few tutorials to get a feel for how it will all come together in the end. There are kinetic type tutorials all over the web.
You can read the rest of the list and Lauren’s post here.
And I like this one on Malaria (also by Good magazine):
A documentary on data journalism by Geoff McGhee via Flowing Data, who name-check some of the people interviewed:
Martin Wattenberg and Fernanda Viègas kick things off with some of the work they did with IBM. Then it’s Ben Fry from Fathom, then Jeffrey Heer from Stanford, and then Steve Duenes, Matt Ericson, and Amanda Cox of The New York Times. Later on, there’s some Nicholas Felton on his Feltron Reportand Eric Rodenbeck of Stamen, with several others.
You can watch it below, but I recommend viewing the annotated version which adds links and references as you go. It’s really nicely done.
I grabbed a few links provided in the tools section:
- Knight Foundation Tutorials on Data Visualisation
- Uuorld.com : Explain the world with maps
- Google Charts
The Register of Pecuniary Interests of Members of Parliament is an interesting read. It does what it says on the tin – lists New Zealand MPs’ properties, assets, business interests, involvement in community groups seeking Government funding and more. It gets updated annually and is published on parliament.govt.nz.
The good folks at TVNZ Media7 have kindly shared this cheery video tutorial on what the Official Information Act allows in New Zealand and how to use it.
Thrown in for extra value is a panel discussion between host Russell Brown, investigative journalist Nicky Hager, DomPost chief reporter Haydon Dewes, and PSA national secretary Brenda Pilott.
Some notes from a Webstock ’09 workshop about managing and sustaining communities online.
These are heavily paraphrased notes from workshop leaders and participants and any mistakes or misrepresentations are mine alone.
1. A definition
“Web communities happen when people are given tools to use their voice in a public and immediate way, forming intimate relationships over time.” – Derek Powazek’s definition of communities written for his book, Design for Community: the art of connecting real people in virtual places.
Don’t call what you do a community. Just give people these tools and over time the people who use it will call it a community.
2. Ask yourself these questions:
Who do you think the site is for?
What is it they are going to be able to do? (individuals, collaborative, sharing information?)
Why will they want to do it? What will they get out of it?
If you can’t answer these questions, don’t build the site.
3. The paperwork
Let people see this stuff before they sign up.
People pay close attention to this stuff.
Report and takedown process is important. Easier you can make it, the better.
Ownership – need clear information on who owns content.
Terms of Service
Read Flickr terms of service as a starting point.
Flickr Community Guidelines a list of dos and don’ts (not just don’ts).
Members probably refer to this more than the terms of service.
Doesn’t have to be perfect at the beginning, guidelines grow as the site grows.
Think about ways people might abuse your site.
Think about what you will not tolerate.
Decide what you will do if it happens. Write it down.
Be prepared, know who’s going to deal with it and how.
Need multiple people in the business who can manage this, so it doesn’t matter if you’re away.
User friendly is important but every community excludes someone.
Think about where to put the barrier to entry (do you want everyone posting or only highly motivated folk?).
Wisdom of Crowds. Value is in the aggregate of thoughts, guesses, estimates. Value is not identifying the smart individuals to listen to but averaging out the voice.
Give people small, simple tasks. If not getting feedback you hope for, ask for something smaller.
Give them to a large, diverse group.
Design for selfishness. Flickr tags are selfish (I want to find image later) but selfishness of tags becomes usfeul to all. What are selfish reasons for someone to participate? If you can’t name one, you have a problem.
Aggregate the answers. Be aware of:
Popular tags – a behemoth, doesn’t move, hard to use.
Hot tags add dimension of time.
Have to continuously change algorithms. If creating leaderboard, say, some people will game it.
Scores create games. First post – game in which you win by being a dork and writing ‘first post’ – adds nothing.
How do you observe without changing the outcome? Don’t show tally during vote, don’t show outcome of poll until vote is cast.
Randomness – instead of a top 10 list, take a top 20 per cent and show nine randomly.
It’s okay to build in an editorial, human step at the end. Even if you can figure out algorithm and game it, you can’t game the editor.
5. Keeping things ticking over
Eventually you will need a community manager.
Manager = shepherd, editor, cheerleader, advocate, judge, executioner.
You only hear from unhappy people. Be prepared to deal with that.
Best place to look for a manager is in your own community.
Learn when to respond, don’t have to respond to everything.
Have to set tone in the beginning then members start to take on roles, become champions, start moderating.
Don’t keep all moderation tools at top level, have tools for members eg flag this photo, ability to block people, report abuse (simple process).
Reward good behaviour
Use blog to turn spotlight on good behaviour, content.
Behaviour speaks louder than pages of rules.
Your ambassadors can help hugely in forums.
Tell people what’s going on, keep it updated.
Own it when you’re wrong: ‘Sometimes we suck’.
Don’t wait. If going to introduce change, explain it, give people time to learn about it, give them an option to pull out, then make the change.
Repeated disruptions, steering conversation, server logs
They’re not the freakout comment, but the one before it. They goad.
Sometimes people use two identities to fight with themselves – can see it’s the same IP address. Puppet accounts.
Sometimes they do it to back up the first comment. “You may not create puppet accounts and talk to yourself”.
Silent treatment. Set it so only the troll can see their posts.
Timeouts. Slow down server response time – takes ages to log in, they need instant gratification.
7. Final nugget of wisdom
Observe the ‘ask for forgiveness rule’: act first, then tell the boss.