On hiatus …

I have been engaged in other projects, so I haven’t been updating Journalism Tech regularly. You will still find many useful tools on the site, but unfortunately you will also find broken links and tools that have been discontinued.

You can visit me on another site, Bloom’s Sixth, where I occasionally write about technology in education. — Doug Ward

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11 easy-to-use tools for creating great web content

At a presentation I gave today for the staff of The University Daily Kansan, a student asked what I thought was the the most important tool was for creating stories for the web.

My answer was simple: a smartphone.

When you start looking at your smartphone as a multimedia storytelling tool, a world of possibilities opens, helping you think beyond text-only stories.

Start by knowing how to use your camera to take still photos and videos in a wide range of settings (from dimly lit rooms to bright sunshine outside). Know how to record audio. And know how to transfer that material quickly to the web so others can find it.

Once you have the basics down, find a handful of go-to apps that allow you to add creative elements to your stories or that help you combine those elements in compelling and interactive ways. Even something as simple as a .gif (see below) can add an eye-catching element to an ordinary photo.

flickering Christmas light at Union Station in Kansas City, Mo.

Union Station, Kansas City, Mo.

Great new tools are being created all the time. Don’t be afraid to experiment and fail. That will help you find the tools that work best for you. Here are 11 I mentioned at my presentation today.

audioBoom. A great app for creating short audio clips and sharing them quickly online.

oTranscribe. A free desktop tool for helping you transcribe audio. It allows you to upload audio, giving you controls at the top of the screen and an area below for transcribing.

Photosynth. A site and a free app. Allows you to easily create interactive panoramic images. I created one last summer as work was being done on the KU campus to turn old tennis courts into the site for a new business school.

Storify. A free app and website, Storify allows you to easily combine many forms of social media, add your own text and create a shareable story.

Haiku Deck. A free app that calls itself a presentation tool, but it’s a great way to combine words and images in an embeddable slideshow.

Storehouse. A free app that allows you to easily combine photos, video and text into a dynamic multimedia story.

Explain Everything. I use this frequently on my iPad to create videos for class. It has great potential as an explanatory tool for journalists by capturing voiceover and handwriting at the same time. Works over images, PowerPoint, websites. It’s also available for Android.

Skitch. A free tool from Evernote that allows you to draw over an image, and then save and share your annotated image.

Wordle. An easy tool for creating word clouds. I recommend it for visualizing speeches.

Dipity. A tool that allows you to combine text, photos and video on an interactive timeline.

ThingLink. Allows you to upload an image and embed dots that expand into multimedia content as you roll over them. Combine it with Wordle to create an interactive story of a speech.

Posted in Apps, Audio apps, Mobile, Multimedia tools | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The basics of writing for mobile

BBC Academy offers a useful introductory guide to writing for mobile.

It includes these tips:

  • Make every word count.Cellphone on site, blurry background, Unsplash, Thom Weerd
  • Remember SEO, especially in the headline.
  • Make sure the lead gets to the point of the story.
  • Tell the story in four paragraphs. That’s a rule BBC follows for its website. Stories can go longer, but a reader should have a good grasp of the story after four paragraphs.
  • Use subheads and links.
  • Use tables to cut down on words.
  • Get the story out quickly, as people check their phones a lot.

There’s nothing revolutionary here. INMA offered similar advice earlier this year, as have others before (see below). It’s a good reminder of how we need to think differently for a mobile audience, though.

Related articles

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What do you need next? The computer knows.

I hadn’t heard the term “anticipatory computing” until a little more than a week ago at Journalism Interactive.

I certainly knew the concept: using technology to anticipate human needs and then to provide ways to meet those needs. Science fiction abounds with artificial intelligence that does just that. Think of Rosie, the robotic maid from “The Jetsons,” the 1960s cartoon, who used to anticipate the needs of George, Jane and their family, with humorous results.

Anticipatory computing today is serious business, though. Amy Webb, whose digital strategy agency helps companies look two to seven years in the future, brought up the concept at Journalism Interactive, as did Jeremy Bowers of NPR. They pointed to software and apps like Google Now, Glympse and Emu as part of a trend that journalists need to pay attention to – and take advantage of.Google Now screenshot

For instance, Webb said Google Now beeped her phone that morning after it identified heavy traffic in the area where she would be traveling in the Washington suburbs. Emu uses its text messaging service to anticipate users’ interests, offering suggestions for things like movies and restaurants. It will also add events to your calendar automatically based on those texts. Journalists need to start thinking in terms of these contextual applications for reporting and for producing content, she said.

The rise of robo-journalism

As part of discussions about the growing role of computers, algorithms and robots in journalism, Webb and Bowers both brought up the 4th Down Bot, which The New York Times provided during the last NFL season. Based on 10 years’ worth of game data, it analyzed whether NFL teams should try to make a first down or punt on fourth down. It worked well with Twitter because it helped generate audience conversation on a back channel during games.

Webb and Bowers also brought up an earthquake story written by a bot that was monitoring seismic activity for the Los Angeles Times. Ken Schwencke, a Times reporter, created an algorithm that drew on data from the National Geological Survey and fashioned a story in a matter of seconds.

Webb said journalists needed to embrace that idea. Rather than fearing that computers will take over their jobs, they need to put those computers to use to do the grunt work. That allows journalists to focus on the more difficult analytic information – the what does this mean? aspects – that audiences yearn for. Other examples:

  • WikiSeer, an add-on for Firefox and Chrome, summarizes complex stories, pulling out key information into a few relevant paragraphs.WikiSeer screenshot
  • Quill by NarrativeScience looks through complicated data sets and pulls out relevant details quickly. She says it’s a great tool for helping journalists prepare for interviews.
  • WolframAlpha (pro version) provides quick contextual information. For instance, she searched for “flights overhead” and got a list of all flights that were over the area at the time, along with a map. A search for “Hamlet” gave such statistics as the number of words, most frequent words, characters, dialogues and acts. WolframAlpha allows uploading of data, and she suggested using it to analyze transcripts of hearings and meetings.

OK, MindMeld

Two of the most interesting things Webb explained were an iOS app called MindMeld and a programmable Bluetooth device called Estimote Beacon.

MindMeld, which she said the most exciting digital tool she had seen in the last year, is like Google’s listening to what you say and spitting out answers before you can ask questions, she said. She urged journalists to have it at their desks and make it a part of their routine.MindMeld screenshot

For instance, imagine doing a phone interview and saying, “I didn’t realize that David Tennant was a candidate for prime minister.” MindMeld would record your words and post them in a box on the screen. You touch the box and MindMeld immediately pulls up articles about David Tennant and prime ministers.

I’ve been testing MindMeld over the last few days and have found it amazingly accurate, even without a headset (which the company recommends using). The app records only when you turn on the microphone or say, “OK, MindMeld.” It uses the iPad location tracker to further enhance its focus, often bringing up maps and photos of nearby places.

I see immense potential not just for journalists but for anyone who is willing to talk to an iPad. (I use a lot of voice notes already, to my wife’s chagrin, so I’m hoping MindMeld won’t be banned from my house.)

A Bluetooth informational valet

Estimote Beacon is another digital device I plan to experiment with. It’s a low-power, programmable Bluetooth device that sends signals to nearby smartphones. The beacons are being used in retail stores to send messages to customers about various products.Estimote Beacons screenshot

For instance, the beacons will send signals to customers and tell them of discounts on products, show them different styles or colors, or provide options for buying. I’ve ordered some for an app project aimed at reaching out to prospective students, and I see potential in museums, libraries and anywhere else that needs to provide information to people.

I’m still getting used to the idea of computers anticipating what I need or what I might do. Using these devices and apps means giving up a certain amount of privacy, and I’m not always comfortable with that. And having a computer “know” me still seems creepy at times.

Digital first, yes, but now technology first

I long ago realized that resisting technology is futile, though. Webb even raised the idea of technology-first journalism.

The idea of digital first should be a given for journalists, she said, but digital first describes only workflow. If journalists don’t start developing technology that works for them, they will perpetually follow rather than lead the information business. That’s because journalists have no control over the people who are making new technology products or how people are using those products. News organizations must evolve into tech organizations or start to acquire tech companies, she argued.

To help explain this idea, she pointed to newspapers at the turn of the 20th century. By owning printing presses and controlling newsprint companies, they controlled the flow of information. By working closely with companies like Linotype, they shaped key technological components of information production.

She offered another example: Search bars on news websites generally produce poor results because news organizations have paid little attention to them. As a result, even if people are hooked on a story on a particular news website, they will go elsewhere to search for more information.

Companies that are using a tech first strategy today include Vox, Quartz, Circa, Huffington Post, ProPublica and to some extent the New York Times (though she said the Times’ software projects took a lot of time to trickle down into use).

If all this makes you feel overwhelmed, you are in good company. Technology is changing faster than any of us can keep up with. Just remember that you don’t have to become an expert at all of it. As I tell my students, the best approach is to keep an open mind while pushing yourself to experiment.

If you think about it, journalists have always had to anticipate the needs and wants of audiences. In this new age of anticpatory computing, they are just using technology to help.




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The banana phone gets a gloved makeover

glove-phoneI thought this was a joke when I saw it on Daily Steals.

Alas, it’s real.

This glove is wired, with a microphone in the pinkie and a speaker in the thumb. Just pair the glove with the Bluetooth on your phone and – ring, ring – you can walk around town looking like a dork. The description doesn’t say anything about what happens if you try to make snowballs.

Not since Raffi’s banana phone has anyone created something so wholly impractical. Raffi, at least, had lyrics and melody. And, of course, he wasn’t actually trying to get anyone to buy a banana phone. He just wanted to amuse children with the absurdity of the idea.

Before that, there was Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone. What it lacked in practicality it made up for in slapstick humor.

But the glove phone?

I have no answer for that.

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Dear, Microsoft: This is a joke, right?

It’s sometimes hard to tell when Microsoft is joking.

On April Fool’s Day 2012, the company published a tongue-in-cheek post saying that it would return to its “monochromatic roots” with an updated interface for SkyDrive, its online storage service. SkyDrive, the post said, would avoid pesky clicks or finger flicks and use DOS command prompts instead.

Microsoft april fools 2012

Sad thing was, I believed the post when I first saw it.

I was reminded of that this week when I looked up information about a power drain on my Surface tablet.

Sure enough, Microsoft had a fix for the problem. All I had to do was open a command prompt and enter this:

powercfg -setdcvalueindex SCHEME_CURRENT 19cbb8fa-5279-450e-9fac-8a3d5fedd0c1 12bbebe6-58d6-4636-95bb-3217ef867c1a 3

And then this:

powercfg -setactive scheme_current

I’m still hoping that Microsoft will announce that it either delayed its April Fool’s post for 2013 or jumped the gun on 2014.

Unfortunately, I’m afraid my command prompt will be blinking for a long time before that happens.

Microsoft surface command prompt


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Three digital tools offer free trials

Scapple imageIf you’d like to give some new software a free whirl, here are three great opportunities.

Scapple for Windows

Literature and Latte, the maker of Scrivener, has released a beta version of a Windows program called Scapple.

Scapple is desktop software that is sort of a cross between a mind-mapping program and an idea board. It’s easy to use and ties into Scrivener, software that provides a structured environment for writing. Amy Cavender reviewed the Mac version of Scapple for ProfHacker earlier this year, and I agree with her positive assessment.

Scapple for Windows is free to download and use until Sept. 15 or until the company decides the software is ready to sell. The Mac version sells for $14.99, so presumably the Windows version will sell for the same price.

Evernote tie-ins

Evernote recently released a list of six finalists in its annual developer competition. The one I found most intriguing is Context Booster, a tool that promises to provide lists of related links to the notes you keep in Evernote.

Context Booster is in alpha testing, and you can sign up on the company’s website.

Among the other finalists are Lightly, an Evernote highlighter for iPhone; Postach.io, an app that turns Evernote into a blog tool; and SmartTM, an iOS task manager that ties in to Evernote. You can buy those programs in the App Store.


Powtoon is an online tool that allows you to create cool animated videos. I’d suggest watching a demo to see what it can do.Powtoon

A classroom account for Powtoon usually costs $96 a year, but the company is offering educators a chance to sign up for free accounts for a year. Each account allows an instructor and 30 students to create videos on Powtoon.

You can sign up a class, a school or a department. The offer is good until Saturday, so you’ll have to move quickly.

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Narrable: A new service for creating audio slideshows


A new website called Narrable offers some interesting possibilities for storytelling. Narrable is an online service that allows you to load photographs into a horizontal slider and then add voice narration to each photo. Viewers can scroll through the photos alone, or they can play the entire presentation and let the audio begin automatically as Narrable moves from photo to photo.


The Narrable interface for adding photos and creating a project.

I spent some time working with the Narrable interface and exploring projects on the site. I like what I see. The interface is clean and easy to use. You can upload photos from your computer or from Facebook and then add audio by recording from your computer or uploading an audio file. You can also enter a phone number and have Narrable call you so you can narrate over your phone.  Projects can be shared on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. They can also be emailed or embedded. Narrable also has an iPhone app that allows you to create projects or add to existing ones.

I found a couple of weaknesses in Narrable. First, photos stay within the Narrable frame. That’s fine most of the time, but I found myself wanting to enlarge small photos so I could see more detail. I couldn’t. Narrable also lacks the ability to add captions to photos. You create a title of up to 50 characters, but that’s it.

The service is free for up to five projects, and the company will give you an additional free project for each one you share on Facebook. For $5 a month, you can get an unlimited number of projects. For $25, you can open a project to a group so that several people can add material.

There are many web services for creating slideshows and timelines, but Narrable seems to have found a useful niche. As I said, I like what I see. See what you think about it.

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Two experiments in using a tablet as a laptop

Laptops and tablets have started to merge, though there are still significant differences. Laptops offer more memory, hard drive, processing power and screen than tablets, and only a Windows tablet runs full-fledged PC software. If you use an iPad or an Android tablet, you’ll need to buy apps to duplicate your laptop software (if you can find them). Some apps are quite good, but they lack the full capabilities of laptop software.

Two recent experiments offer a glimpse into the world of tablets as laptops.  I’m most intrigued by Next Web’s trial of a Windows Surface tablet. I’m about to give a Windows tablet a trial, and I’m toying with the idea of using it as a laptop. I like my iPad, but I also feel constrained by weak or nonexistent versions of some of my favorite programs: Evernote, SnagIt, Scrivener and Articulate Storyline to name a few. Digital Trends expressed similar frustration in its attempt to replace a laptop with an iPad.

Both articles suggest that boundaries between tablets and laptops are are diminishing, but the verdict is that tablets aren’t ready to replace laptops yet. That’s not surprising. Those of us looking to cut down on hardware without compromising processing power and functionality will have to wait. Question is, for how long?

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Creating podcasts: Tools and advice

Podcasts are easy to create, and some of the best tools for creating them are free. Here are some of the resources I recommend.

For recording on mobile devices


audioboom logoAn easy-to-use mobile app for devices running Android, iOS, Windows and other operating systems. The app and an AudioBoo account are free. This combination allows you to record in segments of up to three minutes. You upload the recordings directly to your AudioBoo account and link them to other platforms. You can also download them using iTunes.

Audio editing


A powerful program for recording and editing audio. It’s not complicated, but it will take some time to learn. Audacity allows you to import audio or record your own, and gives you multiple tracks to help keep tabs on the various pieces of audio. It’s a free download for Windows and Mac.


Here’s an excellent tutorial from Wesley Fryer on using Audacity to create a podcast.


Royalty-free music

Background music can help your podcasts sound more professional. It can also help you create a standard format, giving your audience audio cues for the beginning and end, as well as transitions. Here are some sites for finding royalty-free music. As always, read the restrictions on each file.

Free Music Archive


Sound effects

Too many sound effects in a podcast can be distracting, but they can also help keep your audience’s attention.




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Handout: Tools for Enhancing Stories Visually

A handout for a session at the Kansas Collegiate Media conference in Wichita. You’ll find most of these tools elsewhere on this site.

Ward Online Tools, 2013

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St. Louis Fed creates a nifty data visualization tool

Tech gurus from the St. Louis Federal Reserve demonstrated their new data visualization tool last week at the national convention of the American Copy Editors Society.

The tool, called FRED, for Federal Reserve Economic Data, provides access to a wide variety of economic information. It allows you to create charts and graphs from that data but doesn’t allow the visualizations to be embedded. All the data can be downloaded, though. The site also allows you to save a data set so that it automatically updates whenever new information is available.

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Notes from Journalism Interactive 2013


This year’s Journalism Interactive conference offered an interesting mix of professionals and professors who spoke about everything from mobile trends to data analysis to trends in news presentation. (I made a presentation about using an iPad to give voice feedback to students.) Here’s what has stuck with me.

Two start-ups showed how mobile is changing journalism. Both companies take an app-only approach to news, and their leaders hope to make money by interspersing sponsored content (advertorial) among the news. Both say that running video ads before news doesn’t work on mobile. It just annoys people. Interestingly, both rely on information created by traditional news organizations. They aggregate, synthesize and personalize that information with small staffs. Here’s a bit more about each company.

NowThis News presents video news with an early MTV approach, using hip veejays to tell stories, introduce video clips, and offer commentary. I’d describe it as Martha Quinn, Nina Blackwood and J.J. Jackson (MTV, c. 1981) meet Jon Stewart, with a dose of Monty Python. The company shoots some of its own video (all of its 30 staff members are in New York) but mostly aggregates, using material from Reuters, CBS and other sources. It has been getting some income from syndicating its feed.

Circa is a news app premised on the idea that traditional news is too verbose for mobile. It “atomizes” stories, eliminating narrative and presenting only key facts, photos, maps and quotes. The app, available only on iOS, keeps track of what people have read and allows them to pick up where they left off on a breaking story. The company is based in San Francisco but has 13 editorial staff members around the world. At least one person is on duty around the clock. It, too, aggregates content, and sees opportunities in the database of factoids it is gathering and in the data about what people read.

Matt Boggie of the New York Times Research and Development Lab spoke about the rapid change in the web and the slow change in journalism. He says the web has evolved from static to social to responsive to a new form that he calls “atmospheric networking.” In previous iterations of the web, information was available for people to find. Now we have personal area networks, with devices constantly talking to one another even when we don’t realize it: gesture sensors, roads that communicate with cars, buildings that sense the weather, webcams that sense heart rates. Google Goggles is part of this. These ubiquitous sensors are making information even more personal and could radically change the way journalists provide information, he said. The question is, he said, how do we do that?

One of the challenges of mobile, he said, is that Google, Facebook, Pandora, Apple and Twitter receive the vast majority of mobile ad dollars, leaving a sliver for everyone else. Rather than thinking in terms of advertising, he said, we need to create things that people are willing to pay for.

He mentioned a new online tool called Compendium, which allows people to create a compilation of articles, quotes and clips from Times articles, mark them up and share them.

Mobile video. Ron Yaros of the University of Maryland cited statistics from Cisco saying that by 2017, 66 percent of mobile traffic will be video. Students need to learn basic video skills, he said, but learn to shoot and prepare video with mobile phones. That is how many stations are creating much of their video.

Nebraska’s hack-a-thon. Gary Kebbel of the University of Nebraska talked about organizing an interdisciplinary hack-a-thon to try to inspire students to create a working digital project in 24 hours. Only four students showed up, despite $3,000 in prize money. He plans to try it again and has been analyzing the problems. One of the biggest was that it was held on a Friday night before a football game. He said calling it “hack-a-thon” also seemed to be a problem and sent the signal that the event was only for coders. The next event will be held over four weekends, each with a different theme: entrepreneurial thinking, creative ideas, coding, and pulling it all together. The last session will coincide with a meeting of the state press association so that students can present their work to professionals.

One of the best lines from the conference was advice for what professors need to tell students: If you don’t do interesting work, you won’t get interesting jobs.


For more on the conference, see 100 Things I’m Learning at Journalism Interactive 2013, by Dan Reimold of Associated Collegiate Press.

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Plugins to spice up WordPress

Digital Trends put together this interesting year-end list of some of the best plugins of 2012. Most of them cost $15 or so, but some are free, including a few I’ve used for some time: All in One SEO Pack, Akismet and WPtouch. Most of the others on the list look interesting. Among them are FontPress, which allows you to customize text on a WordPress site; Sexy Bookmarks, which is part of Shareaholic; and Visual Composer, which allows you to create custom pages.

Here are others I highly recommend. They are all free.

Ozh’ Admin Drop Down Menu. I can’t live without this one. It puts all of the dashboard functions into a drop-down menu at the top of the page. I find that it makes working with WordPress much easier and more intuitive.

Ultimate TinyMCE. This plugin allows you to add functions to the posts toolbar. It also allows you to organize the toolbar in ways that suit your style of working. I especially like the ability to increase point size and change fonts. Also check out TinyMCE Advanced.

Broken Link Checker. This plugin monitors links you’ve added to posts and lets you know when they’ve gone dead.

JetPack by WordPress.com. This is really several plugins and widgets in one package. Those include a mobile theme, a CSS editor, and a good statistics package.

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What’s All the Fuss About Evernote?

I started using Evernote earlier this year, and it has quickly turned into an essential tool for my research and teaching. It’s an easy way to take notes, and it allows you to clip web articles and store them in folders online. I’ve used it to create an online research archive. This article from LifeHacker, one of my favorite tech sites, explains some of the uses of and options for Evernote.

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TheWebList gets a makeover

TheWebList.net got an updated look last week. The site is a one-man project that aggregates headlines from popular tech-heavy sites like Digg, Lifehacker, Mashable and CNET, along with broader sites like the New York Times and Google News. I’ve used it for several years, finding it a convenient way to keep up on new posts from several places. My visits to the site had fallen off, though, in part because some of its feeds had become outdated or unreliable. The sites creator promises additional changes, including customization, and I hope he follows through. Of course, my own site needs a makeover, something I hope to provide soon.



Posted in Online tools, Research tools | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Tech finds of the week: Tools for search, Twitter, presentation, analytics



Allows you to search blogs, Facebook, Twitter and images. You can also search for trending topics for up to three months. You can narrow your search by limiting it to tags that people have used on blog posts. The home page contains a list of trending topics that users are searching. The tool was created by the software services company Meltwater. Via KissMetrics blog.


Social media / Twitter


A tool that analyzes the reach of your tweets. A free search provides a snapshot of the most recent 50 tweets on any term. If you sign up for a free account, you can save the reports you generate, share them and download them. For $20, you can get a more extensive search that analyzes up to 1,500 tweets over several days. That report shows how many accounts received a tweet and who was most influential in spreading a tweet. Via @NeilPatel and Entrepreneur magazine.


Presentation / Mind-mapping


This new tool looks and works much like Prezi, though without the zoom capabilities. You start by creating boxes on a  whiteboard-like palette. You can then add text, pictures and video, or you can draw freehand (though the drawing function didn’t work in my test). You can group the boxes or link them with lines, as with a mind map. Popplet allows you to choose background and text colors, add comment boxes and align elements. You can export as a PDF or a .jpeg. A record function allows you to order the elements of your Popplet for presentation. You move through it by clicking, much like Prezi. It also has a collaboration function and a downloadable presenter. Via Edudemic.



Stat My Web

Allows you to type in a domain name and find a wealth of information about any website, including average number of daily visitors, estimated advertising revenue, location of the server, and history of the site. Stat My Web’s suite of tools also includes a broken link checker, a domain look-up and a website speed test. From my limited testing, I can see many uses for this site. It is aimed at information about your own site and those of competitors. It could easily be a useful fact-checking or reporting tool, too. The service is free. Via Paratus Communications.

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Tech finds of the week: Tools for tweets, apps, graphics, curation

Social media / productivity


Allows an unlimited number of people to tweet from the same account. I haven’t tried this, but I like what I see. The service seems to solve a problem that many organizations have: how to allow access to a Twitter account to more than one person. GroupTweet allows group members to tweet from computers or mobile devices, though the mobile tweeting will take some set-up. There’s no app – yet, the company says. A premium account intended for businesses allows message moderation and a custom template. Via Paratus Communications.


Mobile sites / apps


This website allows you to assemble information about an event in a mobile-friendly format. Twoppy calls the creation an app, but you don’t truly create an app. Rather, you load information onto the Twoppy website, which users then access through Twoppy’s mobile app. The app is a free download for iOS, Android, Blackberry and Symbian. A basic plan for creating an event is also free and allows you to include such things as program information, bios and event maps. (Paid accounts have more options.) Creating an event will take some time, but the site has a good video tutorial. Once you’ve loaded all the information, you get a URL for accessing the site, and a downloadable QR code. Twoppy also has options for promoting your app information through Twitter or Facebook. Via ScoutReport.


Online tools / printing

Print What You Like

A site that allows you to choose which parts of a web page you want to print. You load a URL into the site, which then isolates the components of the web page. Using Print What You Like’s tools, you then delete elements you don’t want to print, from pictures to blocks of text to individual sentences. It was created by two developers in Des Moines, Iowa. Via Life’s Early Adapter.


Charts and graphs


A site for creating infographics and visual presentations. You choose a pre-designed theme and build your information into it. The site uses drag and drop shapes and graphics, and allows you to create color schemes and change typefaces. Presentations can be exported as HTML or in a static form. A basic account (with three themes) is free. Paid accounts provide additional tools and functions, and cost $9.95 a month or $400 a month (for brands and agencies).


Curation / social media


Richard Byrne of Free Technology for Teachers describes Chill as “like Pinterest for videos.” You create an account by signing in through Facebook, put a Chill button on your browser and start collecting interesting video. Chill allows you to curate video from YouTube, Vimeo, Hulu and VEVO. It also supports live-streamed events through other sources. It has social functions that allow you to follow others, re-post video from someone else’s Chill account, and find friends. You can also post comments with words or emoticons.

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Tech finds of the week: Tools for charts, curation, presentation, bookmarking

Charts and graphs


This start-up from Latvia says it wants to make creating graphics simple. Its beta version allows creation of pie charts, bar graphs, line graphs or matrices. The site allows you to enter or upload data into a spreadsheet and use that data to create web graphics that can be embedded on a website. It promises that it will soon provide a way to make infographics. To create a free account, you log in through Facebook or Twitter. The site is still very new, lacking even a basic help file. It is fairly intuitive but will take time to figure out. It’s worth a look, though.




This site is sort of a commercial version of Pinterest. It is aimed at women who want to create online stores, curate clothing from around the web, and market it through social media. Store curators get a 10 percent commission on sales. Via Paratus Communications.


Social bookmarking


This is another site that has a Pinterest-like approach. It’s a social bookmarking site that allows you to use a special bookmark button or a Firefox add-on to mark and share interesting visuals you find from around the web. By tagging them, you allow others to find those images on the site. The service is free.



Hello Slide

An online tool that allows you to upload a PDF of a presentation and type in narration you would like to include. The site provides the voice for the slides. The site says it will make the presentation available in 20 languages. A free account lets you create up to 50 slideshows. Paid accounts allow more shows, along with video creation of your presentations. Via @rmbyrne. (Apparently now defunct.)

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Tech finds of the week: Tools for maps, timelines, curation

Maps and mapping


TileMill is an open source platform for creating maps using a CSS-like coding system. The site includes a support area for learning how to use the software and how to export maps. The TileMill suite of tools is distributed by MapBox, which sells hosting and analytics for maps. Via PBS IdeaLab.




An online tool for creating interactive timelines with text, image and video components. An account is free, but that free account allows you to create only a single timeline with basic functionality. To create more timelines and to unlock functions like embeddable timelines, you’ll have to pay $5 to $20 a month. There’s also an educational account for $100 a year.




A web-based system that allows users to create electronic pages for displaying messages on screens via text, Twitter or web. The service was created to allow interaction at bars, restaurants and other public locations. Teachers have also used it in the classroom. Via @shellterrell.


I’ve seen others use this tool but hadn’t looked into until this week. It’s a curation system that allows you to aggregate content in moveable boxes. Scoop.It calls itself a magazine, though I’d describe it as more of a bulletin board look, much like Pinterest. Even so, a free account allows you to curate five topics and share information on various forms of social media. Paid accounts have additional features, including analytics.

Update: I recently found this guide to using Scoop.It for curation. It not only has good information about using Scoop.It, but provides good tips on curation and web development.

Posted in Curation, Maps and mapping, New and cool, Online tools, Social media, Social media tools, Timeline tools | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on Tech finds of the week: Tools for maps, timelines, curation

Tech finds of the week: Articles on SEO; tools for search, research


Search Engine Tools: Some of the Best SEO Tools Are Free

A useful list from the SEO blog Coconut Headphones.




A search engine that returns results in the form of screen shots from homepages. Hover over one of the screenshots and it becomes larger. The idea is to make results visual. I like the concept, but I found my initial use frustrating. The results are displayed in groups of four, making it difficult to sort through many pages of results quickly. Via Free Technology for Teachers.


Online tools

Web 2.0’s Top 1,000 List

The search engine Web 2.0 created this interesting list of next-generation tools and websites. Via @lingsc.


Research (trademarks)


An online database for searching trademarks. If you sign up, the site offers a notification service when it finds a trademark similar to yours. The service is free for one trademark. Via Techstore.ie.


Another trademark database. It also has the ability to search domain names, logos and disputes over names. Via Techstore.ie.

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Tech finds of the week: Advice on SEO; tools for research and data viz


No one truly has a secret formula for search engine optimization. There are some logical things you can do to make sure a site gets noticed and indexed properly, though. These three articles provide checklists for things to think about with SEO. Via a larger list from Smashing Magazine, “45 Incredibly Useful Web Design Checklists and Questionnaires.”

Common Sense SEO Checklist

The Ultimate SEO Checklist

Google Ranking Factors — SEO Checklist




An experimental project from the New York Times that allows users of NYTimes.com to delve deeper into the subject of a story, helping them find related articles from the Times.


Charts and graphs


A new data visualization tool that describes itself as a “browser-based platform for exploring data and creating charts.” It promises to help you create graphs and charts by dragging and dropping labeled boxes representing data. It’s still under development and is available by invitation only. You can request an invitation and, the site says, “we’ll let you know as soon as we’re ready.” Via @visualisingdata.

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Tech finds of the week: Tools for WordPress, maps, charts, curation

Interesting technology tools and posts I came across this week.


Project Argo

Interesting and valuable information about a project that allowed a dozen NPR stations to create local-interest sites. The “Learn” section is especially useful, with sections on using social media, blogging, strategy, and philosophy of site design. Argo themes for WordPress are available for download and adaptation, as are the WordPress plug-ins. Via @NiemanLabs.


Maps and mapping


An online database of place names that can be easily placed on a map using the accompanying mapping tool. Once you’ve mapped a location, you can click to Google Maps, MapQuest or Tagzania. The database of place names is licensed under Creative Commons and can be downloaded. Data from the site helped create the interesting ZIPScribble Map. Via MobileMediaToolkit.

The Map Database

A useful reference collection of nearly 800 historical maps. Browse by continent or search for subject matter.




Allows you to create motion charts based on preinstalled data. A desktop tool for PC or Mac allows you to display the charts from your own screen. You are limited to the data included in the site and tool, though. You can’t add your own. Via @rmbyrne at Free Technology for Teachers.




A site that combines curation, social networking and publishing. You can create short online magazines, tutorials or subject collections that incorporate material you write, upload or find on the Web. You then create a design for your publication and post it to the site. Via the Scout Report.

Posted in Chart and graph tools, Curation, Data visualization, Maps and mapping, New and cool, Plug-ins, Social media, WordPress | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Tech finds of the week: Tools for WordPress, maps, charts, curation

Tech finds of the week: Tools for Twitter, WordPress, storage

Interesting technology tools and posts I came across this week.



A site that shows trending hashtags and allows searches to see how frequently hashtags you are interested in have appeared in the Twitter stream over the previous week.


Enter a hashtag on this this site and you can see recent tweets that contain that hashtag. It also gives a list of related hashtags. The service is broader than that, offering a social bookmarking service that the site says will automatically bookmark any site you send in your tweets. I found that service lacking, though.

A Beginner’s Guide to Twitter

A good primer from ReadWriteWeb. Thanks to @rikkiends for pointing it out.



Storify Plugin

Storify has been gaining popularity as a way to combine elements from social media posts into a story format. It just released an update to its WordPress plug-in, which allows creation of Storify stories from the dashboard.


Online storage


A DropBox-like site with 5 gigabytes of free storage. Via the Scout Report.

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Tech finds of the week

Screenshot from LinkWithinAmong the interesting technology tools and posts I came across this week are these related to WordPress, Twitter searches and audio for journalists.



Creates a series of related posts, with images, at the bottom of a WordPress post. One caveat: If you are using Yet Another Related Posts Plug-in, make sure you turn that one off. The two will conflict.

WordPress Mobile Pack

I’ve been using OnSwipe and WPtouch, both of which I like, but this looks promising.




A site that allows you to search a Twitter feed, including your own, beyond the 10 days that posts stay active on Twitter.



How online audio tools can help journalists

A good post in Poynter’s Hacks/Hackers series. It provides information about useful audio tools like Audioboom and SoundCloud.

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Top social media tools of 2011

See this useful and interesting list created by Adam Vincenzini. He calls this the “nominations edition.” He plans to narrow the list to 20 early next year. The tools are broken into these categories:

  • Content curation / management tools
  • Social media analytics / measurement
  • Content exchange tools / platforms
  • Bookmarking and organizational tools
  • Facebook-specific tools
  • Search / SEO / domain tools
  • User experience / website analysis tools
  • Online video tools
  • Online photo tools
  • Content management tools / dashboards
  • Influencer identification tools

See the full list here.

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How to use QR codes

From Clikr.com: www.clker.com/cliparts/2/i/D/B/u/v/mobile-scan-barcode-hi.png

The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to QR Codes

A primer from Just Creative Design.

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New AOL site provides free video content

The site, Editors Room, offers free news video that can be embedded on a site. If you sign up as a partner, you can also get a share of revenue from ads that accompany the videos.

Read more at 10,000 Words.

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How to create a basic pie chart in Illustrator

Click below to start slideshow.

How to create a basic pie chart in Illustrator

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German journalists add a visual twist to cellphone data

By Christoph Rosenthal

The German journalist Lorenz Matzat sees great prospects in the future of data-driven journalism.

“Data are the new oil,” he said.

Huge amounts of data are waiting to be discovered. Matzat and his colleagues found that out when they turned a cyptic geolocation spreadsheet in an interactive map: Parliamentarian Malte Spitz (Green party) wanted to know what telecommunication data were stored about him. He sued his provider, Deutsche Telekom, for this information. In January 2011 he forwarded it to the weekly newspaper Die Zeit. Their journalists cooperated with freelance data experts to visualized the table to demonstrate the wealth of private information one can extract.

The data journalists told Christoph Rosenthal how they did this.


What story does the graphic tell?

In 2008, a German federal law instructed telecommunications providers to save records of all their customers for six months: data about phone calls, text messages and Internet access. These records contained none of the specific content of the messages and calls, but they did save metadata like the time, duration and numbers called. The German parliament had to implement this law to fit European standards by enabling investigators to fight crimes and terrorism. The police were supposed to not only be able to track a few suspects, but to screen every owner of a phone. The graphic demonstrates what data they were able to use.

A screenshot of the database provided by Deutsche Telekom

What sources did they use?

Deutsche Telekom had provided a cryptic spreadsheet of 35,830 records containing 30 bits of information per stored connection. At first glance these columns of figures look worthless. “Seen individually, the pieces of data are mostly inconsequential and harmless. But taken together, they provide what investigators call a profile – a clear picture of a person’s habits and preferences, and indeed, of his or her life,” wrote Kai Biermann, an editor at Zeit Online. To explain the data, the journalists had to combine them with other sources.

Every time Spitz’ cellphone connected to the Internet (as a smart phone, it did at least every 10 minutes), it was registered by the nearest antenna. Its coordinates and a so called “cell ID” were stored. The exact position of the poles could be found on an official public map.

To fill the tracked movements with content, the journalists combined many kinds of public information with the corresponding data sets: Tweets, Facebook posts and news releases on Spitz’ website.

What did they do with the data?

To analyse their data, the journalists first tried to get an overview: The Zeit editor asked a freelance data journalism team called OpenDataCity to visualize this. “It was not easy to visualize this kind of information,” said Michael Kreil, programmer at OpenDataCity. A static map would not tell the whole story: If they marked all the mentioned places in one map, the highly frequented spots like the German parliament would be clustered with hundreds of markers. An additional time slider was needed to show the tracked movements.

Kreil and his teammates could not find a template: “I knew we had to build the fitting tool on our own,” Kreil said. “The only good way for us to dig into the data was to create our own analysis tool specifically for this kind of data.”

Here’s what they did:

√  Prepared spreadsheets in Microsoft Excel and Google Fusion Tables.

√  Matched the geolocation data with the official map of cellphone antennas.

√  Kreil wrote his own code in JavaScript. Google Maps allowed him to combine this script with its maps by using its application programming interface, or API. Zeit Online appreciates JavaScript layouts like that. In contrast to a Flash graphic, the code runs on the Zeit iPad edition without problems.

As an experienced coder, Kreil managed to finish the first version of the tool within one extended weekend. “At this time, the application was not planned to be published, but to enable the journalists themselves to analyze the overwhelming wealth of data,” he said. The visualization showed patterns that were not obvious in the spreadsheet: The speed of the tracked movement gave hints about whether Malte Spitz was traveling by foot, by train or by plane – interesting information about a Green politician. The graphic showed his favorite places and regularities in his appointment calendar.

How did they present the results?

Initially the graphic was only a tool for the journalists. A map of one characteristic day in the politician’s life was supposed to illustrate the article. But when they saw how usable and interesting the tool was, they decided to give users access to the entire database. They could browse though the data collected from August 2009 to February 2010. Malte Spitz gave his permission to do that. “In my view that’s what data journalism is about: giving the readers/users an environment to do their own research, follow their own interests and finally make up their own minds on an issue,” said Matzat, who conceptualized and designed the graphic. To make the user’s own investigations even more convenient, they added the raw data as a Google spreadsheet as well. In Kreil’s opinion, this transparency “is a very powerful idea for the future of journalism.”

The time slider allows users to sort the data by date

How long did they work on the project?

Matzat and Kreil estimated that they spent 80 to 100 hours on the project. They started at the end of January 2011 and finished it on Feb. 20. They published a German edition first, and followed with an English translation 20 days later. The translated version attracted international attention.

What can be learned?

The journalists credit the project’s success to the teamwork of a group of specialists. That teamwork opened up different perspectives on the task. Biermann, of Zeit Online and freelancer Lorenz Matzat of OpenDataCity presented the results in a classic journalistic article and designed the graphic. Coder Michael Kreil focused on the technology. Sascha Venohr, developing editor of Zeit Online, and Tibor Bogun, head of the design department, contributed their expertise.

Was the project successful?

Directly after its publication, the application created a vivid discussion in social media as well as print and broadcast media.

In June, the team received two well-respected awards: the Lead Award in Gold as Germany’s Webmagazine of the Year and a Grimme Online Award. The Grimme jury said, “Data journalism is still an underdeveloped genre in Germany. Zeit Online has made a first and important contribution to its cultivation. This developing journalistic field has its very own home in the web.”

This post is published under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 3.0 License; some quotes are translated from an interview on Philip Banse’s Medienradio.org. Photo of the Grimme Online Award by Elke Wetzig. Photo of the German Bundestag by Christoph Rosenthal.

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Stanford project makes data come to life

This is a marvelous example of data visualization from the Rural West Initiative at Stanford University. (Click on the image to go to the interactive map.)

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Fluid type: It’s virtual, of course

The letter "a" made from virtual exploding ink

From fastcodesign.com

Two brothers experiment with a project called “Type Fluid.” See the videos for the project at Fast Company and Skyrill.com.


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L.A. Times slider of the Oslo bombing

From www.latimes.com

The Los Angeles Times created an excellent slider showing the before and after scene of the Oslo bombing.



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The Periodic Table of SEO Ranking Factors

An excellent article along with the full table here, at Search Engine Land.

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Chart and graph tools


A free download. Available for Windows, Mac and Linux.


Chart Gizmo

Create charts and place them on a website.


Chart Tool

Allows creation of several types of graphs and charts, which can be downloaded in .png, .jpg, .pdf  or .csv format. Fairly intuitive with several options for changing the look of the chart. One drawback: It doesn’t allow creation of summaries or drawing of arrows or other boxes on the chart canvas.



An online tool for creating diagrams. It allow several people to work on the same document at once. Once a diagram is complete, it can be embedded, linked or saved as a .png file. Requires registration, but it’s free.



A free download, but not for commercial use.




An open creative commons that allows users to share data.



A free download.



Allows creation of diagrams, flow charts and technical drawings.


Google Public Data Explorer

Most useful for the data Google already has loaded. You can upload your own data, but it must be formatted in dataset publishing language. Google has a forum to help if you want to give it a go.



An easy online chart builder.


Lovely charts

Allows creation of diagrams, flow charts, organizational charts and the like. Saves files in .jpg or .png format. Requires registration, but it’s free.


Many Eyes

Part of IBM, Many Eyes offers tools for creating maps, charts and diagrams, and for analyzing text (word clouds and tag clouds, for example). It offers many examples of how to turn data into visual information. You can input data or upload it, but you will have to register first. (It’s free.)


Open Flash Chart

A free download.



Create interactive maps and charts. Free downloads of map-making software and graph-making software. Also has a free download of software with statistical data about countries. The tools are powerful (and will require time to learn), but the charts can also become overly complicated if you aren’t careful.


Tableau Public

A free download. Allows creation of interactive graphs and charts. ____________________________________________________________


Open-source desktop publishing software roughly equivalent to InDesign or Quark. Works with Windows, Mac, Linux and other operating systems.


Other resources

Data for dummies: 6 data analysis tools anyone can use

A useful list from GigaOM.

The 20 best tools for data visualization

A good list, but you’ll need some programming or web development skills to use most of these tools.

The top 20 data visualization tools

This includes many tools for those seriously interested in data visualization. Many require some coding ability.


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Music, Sounds, and Sound Effects

Here is a list of available sites for downloadable music, sounds, and sound effects.

Partners in Rhyme | This website has music to download for Film, TV, Video, and Websites in addition to free sound effects, music loops, midi files, and audio software. All music is free and comes with a generous license agreement. They have a blog with tutorials and explanations of how to use the site here.

Free Music Archive | Free Music Archive is an interactive library with legal audio downloads directed by a freeform public radio station WFMU. Browse by curator or genre to download free music. Availability to set up an account, make a profile, become friends with other listeners, create and share mixes, and write posts on their personal blogs.

Royalty Free Music | This is a royalty free stock music library. It offers over 10,000 high-quality and royalty free stock music tracks in a variety of genres. The range of free items includes stock footage, and sound effects.

Jamendo | “World’s biggest free music library” with 418,000 tracks, 2 billion listens, and 154.8 downloads. It has free and unlimited listening and downloads. Uses reliable creative commons licenses for non-commercial use.

SoundBible | Offers free sound clips for download in either .wav or .mp3 formats. Includes sound clips, sound bites, and sound effects.

WolframTones | Create your own unique music for art, ringtones, and alerts. Generate your own personal composition by choosing a genre and then generating new sounds through pitch mapping and time controls.

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Sources for Web Curating/Storytelling/Blogging

A couple of sources for web curating, storytelling, and blogging. 


This site allows you to piece together elements from Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and other social media sites to tell a story. Basically, you are collecting media from across the web, publishing on Storify, and then embedding anywhere to share.



Tumblr is a blogging platform that allows you to post many forms of media and to easily customize the look of your site. It has become increasingly popular because of its graphical capabilities. Users update by posting text, photo, quotes, links, chats, audio, or video. There is also availability to share other’s posts and comment on them.

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Suites of Tools

1. Aviary 

An online suite that includes an image editor, a screen capture function, a vector editor, an effects editor, an audio editor, a music creator and a color editor.


2. Creaza 

An online suite of tools that includes a movie editor, an audio editor, a cartoon creator and a mind-map creator. Allows you to edit HD video.

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Screen Capture

Here are three useful tools for capturing ‘screen shots’ on your computer. While it is easy to take region screen shots on your desktop by pressing a few keystrokes, these applications can help you capture entire scrolling webpages.


Duck Capture | This has three capture modes: Capturing a window on your screen, region of your screen, or the contents of a tall web page that scrolls. On this you can easily edit and share a screenshot. Share the link through email, embed in your blog, or post to community.


Bounce This website allows you to capture screen shots with a few additions. It allows you to click and drag to make notes as well as having the option to upload an image. This also lets you capture full-length web pages. Afterward you can share on various websites.


 Paparazzi | This is a small utility for Mac OS X that makes screenshots of webpages. It is written in Objective-C using the Cocoa API and the WebKit framework. This also has full screen capabilities.

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