Interview: Capioca’s Rebecca Findley on meaningful social networks

A black and white portrait of Capioca co-founder Rebecca Findley

If you’re someone who loves ideas, projects and discovery, you’ll be right at home in the new social network that’s currently creating buzz online. Capioca (Cap-ee-oh-kuh) is a website designed for people to collect things that fascinate them, and to find and discuss new ideas. It was envisioned by its founders, Rebecca Findley and Byron Wong, as an online version of a coffee house in Samuel Pepys’ London: a thriving hub of learning, discovery and discussion.

Discovering niche ideas

“We didn’t set out to create a social media site,” Rebecca Findley tells Interhacktives. “Capioca was a side project that developed over time. As well as a place for people to find their interests and post what they know and love, it’s for discovering new, niche ideas.” She confesses to having always had a passion for connecting people, both professionally and personally. “I even sent my mum on a date with the deputy editor of the first newspaper I worked at! They’re now happily married.”

Rebecca’s background working as a newspaper journalist influences her approach to creating a social network, especially the ‘Editor’s Picks’ section, which is a mix of content that the site’s administrators love. “Many people come to the site just to see our Picks, which we didn’t expect,” says Rebecca. “It’s great to share content with an angle that means a member can enjoy it even if they have no interest in that topic normally. That’s the ‘bringing new ideas and new perspectives to an audience’ aspect of journalism.”

She sees the site as being a great place for journalists to gather, even though it isn’t a network for breaking news like Twitter. “Journalists might find Capioca useful for making contacts, creating a portfolio of work and interests, in-depth discussions and reaching new audiences with their stories,” she says. “We are also a platform for unique ideas; for example, an aeronautical engineer posts his inventions. We have journalists on Capioca using it to share ideas and interests they may not post about on other social sites, because they use Twitter mainly for work, Facebook for friends, and so on.”

A screenshot of the 'Editor's Picks' section of Capioca, prominently showcasing articles about a toucan who is due to receive a 3D-printed beak, living in East Berlin's "death strip", a Cambodian immigrant playing chess in Manhattan and Spain's "neo-rural" generation.
Capioca’s ‘Editor’s Picks’ features a mix of great content from across the site together with specially uploaded articles

Most of the activity on Capioca revolves around Collections, which as it says on the tin, are collections of web content like articles, videos and photos, based around whatever topic or theme you fancy. You can also repost items from other people’s Collections and add them to Collections of your own. It’s a format that’s familiar to anyone who uses Pinterest, but Rebecca insists that Pinterest and Capioca aren’t about to be competing any time soon.

“Pinterest is a great platform, but we’re very different in terms of content, feel and demographic,” she says. “For example, our readers and members are 50/50 male and female.” This is opposed to Pinterest’s vastly female-dominated user base. “We focus on the arts, science and society over lifestyle content; you’re more likely to find a topic on ‘Equality’ or ‘Journalism’ than ‘Style’.”

Capioca is also more of a text-driven site; members can start Discussions, which are like self-contained comment threads, and compose articles of their own. “Our members are a mix of media, science and creative professionals, as well as students. The site is used in a variety of ways, depending on your interest or aim.”

Simple and stylish

Capioca’s words-and-visuals mix comes in part from its two founders, who have different areas of interest when it comes to web content. “Byron Wong, my co-founder and partner, tends to favour videos and pictures, while I prefer text,” Rebecca says. “We mix all types of content in together, and you can choose what you want to see.”

They were united in the overall look of the site, though. Capioca was designed to be “simple and stylish” with a warm feel to it, which resulted in the site’s sunny yellow appearance.

“We are continuously tweaking Capioca – there’s so much more we would love to do,” Rebecca concludes. “Our members tell us it’s a good start though!”

 

A candid black and white shot of Capioca co-founders, Rebecca Findley and Byron Wong, sitting at a large wooden coffee table and laughing together
Capioca co-founders Rebecca Findley and Byron Wong

What does she think of the current state of social networking as a whole? “Social networking continues to adapt and change, and it will be interesting to see what happens this year,” Rebecca says thoughtfully. “If it wasn’t for Facebook, Byron and I wouldn’t be working together now. We met at a dance group, but got chatting properly online – now we live and work together on projects 24/7.

“It expands opportunities and changes lives, but it can also be overwhelming, so I think you have to find and use the networks that work best for you at that point in time. Our members are looking for niche, meaningful content and spaces. They don’t want to come away feeling like they’ve wasted their time, but rather invested it.

“For us it’s about being authentic and listening to what our members want.”

For now, there’s no official launch date as Capioca tries out new things in closed beta and gathers feedback. However, anyone who wants to can request an invite at www.capioca.com, and you can also find Rebecca Findley on Twitter.

How to use statistical functions in Excel

Lies, damn lies, and statistics. At least that’s how the saying goes and how the wider public feel, for some reason people tend to distrust something with numbers backing it more than if it doesn’t. Well that’s just completely wrong, but the problem is that numbers can tell two different stories from the same data.

Statistics might drive people insane, scare them, or not seen relevant.

But in this post I’ll try and explain how to use Excel for some basic statistical analysis and what it can tell us.

Disclaimer: There will be outcomes I don’t explain as they are more advanced, but they may be covered in a later. I will also use very simple data sets for ease of explanation.

Why might a data journalist want to use statistical tools?
Journalists have a lets be honest earned reputation for being scared of numbers and frankly being awful at them. But data journalists and those interested in it are a different breed.

Why we should be interested in statistics is what it tells us about our data, it is a tool to spot patterns, check reliability and ask if all as it seems to be. For a basic story this is probably going a bit far, but when handling complex data sets especially if they are financial it tells us a lot.

If you perform a regression analysis for example and the results seem odd there is a lead to explore, which you would never have found unless by chance or really understanding the subject area. In essence it is a tool that allows you to tell more about stories and find exciting new leads.

So lets get started.

Firstly you need to make sure you have the right tools. For Mac this is:

  1. Download StatPlus:mac LE for free from AnalystSoft, and then use StatPlus:mac LE with Excel 2011.
  2. You can use StatPlus:mac LE to perform many of the functions that were previously available in the Analysis ToolPak, such as regressions, histograms, analysis of variance (ANOVA), and t-tests.
  3. Visit the AnalystSoft website, and then follow the instructions on the download page.
  4. After you have downloaded and installed StatPlus:mac LE, open the workbook that contains the dat that you want to analyze.
  5. Open StatPlus:mac LE. The functions are located on the StatPlus:mac LE menus.

Statistical Functions

To start with, here is a list of the majority of the statistical functions within Excel. We won’t be covering anywhere near all of these but an explanation is provided by each.

statsfunctions1

statsfunctions2

statsfunctions3

statsfunctions4

statsfunctions5

Learn about your data

One nice thing about the Data Analysis tool is that it can do several things at once. If you want a quick overview of your data, it will give you a list of descriptives that explain your data. That information can be helpful for other types of analyses.

We shall use the data below. It shall also be used for other topics in the post.

datausing

If we wanted to get a quick overview of the variables, we can use the descriptive statistics tool. Go to the basic statistics tab in StatPlus and click on descriptive statistics. Then highlight the column containing the data, if you have checked column 1 as labels make sure to includes it. This looks like a lot. But some of these variables can be helpful. This is useful for journalists because it helps us test the validity of our data and mean we don’t go too far in trying to find a story before realising it isn’t worth our while.

dataoverview

To look at Variable #1 (Quantity sold), if you do a regression, you want the Mean (average) and Median (middle value) to be relatively close together. If your results are good you should be seeing standard deviation to be less than the mean. So in the above table, our Mean and Median are close together. The standard deviation is about 1296 – which means that about 70 percent of the quantity sold was approximately between 5900 and 7100. Not too scary so far right?

Correlation

Another good overview of your data is what is called a correlation Matrix, which gives you an overview of what variables tend to go up and down together and in what way they are moving. For example say you were looking at data which showed how something changed over time, you could use the matrix to see if the progressions are what you’d expect. This might find you a great story.

It is useful as a first look at what your data is telling you before potentially delving into regression, but to work out whether the data for a story is reliable this would be useful. The correlation is measured by a variable called Pearson’s R, which ranges between -1 (indirect relationship) and 1 (perfect relationship).

Go to the data table and the data analysis tool and choose correlations. Choose the range of all the columns (less headers) that you want to compare. Then you get a table that matches each variable to all other variables. Below you see that the correlation between Column 2 and Column 3 is 0.02156. It would be the same between Column 2 and Column 3.

Correlation provides a general indicator of the what is called the linear relationship between two variables, but it crucially you cannot make progressions. To do that, you need to do what is called linear regression – this will be covered later.

correllation

What we can use it for however is checking the outcomes are logical and within a margin of error, if not ask why? If the data set your working on suddenly changes ask questions, see if there isn’t a story. It is a tool to allow you to go beyond the obvious and find interesting stories within your data.

Some characteristics help predict others. For example, people growing up in a lower-income family are more likely to score lower on standardized tests than those from higher-income families.

Regression helps us see that connection and even say about how much characteristics affect another.

Trend Analysis

Trend analysis is a mathematical technique that uses historical results to predict future outcome. This is achieved by tracking variances in cost and schedule performance.

For trend analysis there are three ways it can be done: the equation, forecast, or trend. I will go through these three methods using the simple set. One important term to understand here is R-squared, as it gives a indication of the reliability of your data. But what is R-squared?

R-squared is a statistical measure of how close the data are to the fitted regression line.

The definition of R-squared is here. Or:

R-squared = Explained variation / Total variation
R-squared is always between 0 and 100%:

0% indicates that the model explains none of the variability of the response data around its mean.
100% indicates that the model explains all the variability of the response data around its mean.

It is important to remember R-squared cannot determine whether the coefficient estimates and predictions are biased, which is why it is critical that you must assess the residual plots. R-squared also does not indicate whether a regression model is accurate beyond doubt, it can be low and right or high and wrong.

The equation

trendanalysis1

Forecast function

trendanalysis2

Trend function

trendanalysis3

Why might this be useful?

Well if you are getting large outliers or your R-squared value is out for example it can be an indicator of an unreliable data set. For a jobs data story this could suggest that the government’s claims to a smooth system is not true.

Or if you were doing a story on incidents of piracy it could lead you to exploring avenues about reporting, hotspots, or identify key periods for further investigation. Paradoxically by going deeper into the numbers it can allow you to can further beyond them and ask the really tough questions.

Statistics keeno klaxon

Here are other types of standard trends, which may be touched on in a future article:

  • Polynomial – Approximating a Polynomial function to a power
  • Power – Approximating a power function
  • Logarithmic – Approximating a Logarithmic line
  • Exponential – Approximating an Exponential line

trendtypes

Regression Analysis

Regression analysis is a statistical process for estimating the relationships among variables. It includes many techniques for modelling and analysing variables, where the focus is on the relationship between a dependent variable and one or more independent variables. Not obviously related to journalism? Think about a story about stress levels for a certain group and other factors such as wages, housing or frankly anything. If you can identify this you can then track those changes over time and tell a lot deeper data story, it gives weight to sometimes seemingly obvious answers.

So lets get started:

  1. In StatPlus click on the statistics tab.
  2. Select linear regression and click OK.
  3. Select the Y Range (A1:A8). This is the predictor variable (also called dependent variable).
  4. Select the X Range(B1:C8). These are the explanatory variables (also called independent variables).
  5. These columns must be adjacent to each other.
  6. regression1Check Labels.
  7. Select an Output Range.
  8. Check Residuals.
  9. Click OK.

Excel produces the following Summary Output:

regression2

R Square

R Square tells you how much of the change in your dependent variable can be explained by your independent variable. R Square equals 0.962, which is a very good fit. 96% of the variation in Quantity Sold is explained by the independent variables Price and Advertising. The closer to 1, the better the regression line (read on) fits the data.

Significance F and P-values

To check if your results are reliable (statistically significant), look at Significance F (0.001). If this value is less than 0.05, you’re data looks good. If Significance F is greater than 0.05, it’s probably better to stop using this set of independent variables. Delete that rerun the regression until Significance F drops below 0.05. Of course this is not guarantee of success.
Most or all P-values should be below 0.05.

Coefficients

The regression line is: y = Quantity Sold = 8536.214 -835.722 * Price + 0.592 * Advertising. In other words, for each unit increase in price, Quantity Sold decreases with 835.722 units. For each unit increase in Advertising, Quantity Sold increases with 0.592 units. This is valuable information.
You can also use these coefficients to do a forecast. For example, if price equals £4 and Advertising equals £3000, you might be able to achieve a Quantity Sold of 8536.214 -835.722 * 4 + 0.592 * 3000 = 6970.

Residuals

The residuals show you how far away the actual data points are from the predicted data points (using the equation). For example, the first data point equals 8500. Using the equation, the predicted data point equals 8536.214 -835.722 * 2 + 0.592 * 2800 = 8523.009, giving a residual of 8500 – 8523.009 = -23.009.

Why might this be useful?

See my explanation of regression analysis above! This is probably the most advanced stats covered in this post, but I would say is potentially the most useful as it can be applied to so many types of data and data sets you have created.

Conclusion:

I hope this has been a good introductory overview to statistics in Excel, I’ll do another post soon and update this one when I get round to it but I hope this has proved useful.

Video: How to use regex to scrape HTML pages

Regex how to

Ever wanted to scrape something with OutWit Hub but the data you want is tied up in ugly HTML tags that change with each new piece of information?

Regular expressions – known as regex – are often an easy way of getting around them. These are sequences of symbols and characters which express a pattern to be searched for in a piece of text.

This video will show you how to use regex sequences to scrape with OutWit Hub. It covers two individual examples for you to run through.

These will give you the basic components which you can then build on to use your own regex to help you scrape.

Interview: Ben Kreimer on drone journalism

DJI Phantom with camera

When most people think of drones, they’ll probably think of the flying machines that hail indiscriminate death down across the Middle East. But not Ben Kreimer. For him they are a way of seeing the world in a new and exciting light, and occasionally for doing a bit of accidental journalism along the way.

Even at a young age, Ben was doing things differently. He made his own toys from wood and metal, so when he was told he’d have to build his own brackets to hold cameras under drones, he leapt at the chance.

“When the drone thing came around I was getting a degree in journalism. Not because I wanted to become reporter but because I’m curious, I like exploring the world and seeing things and experiencing things.”

And he has indeed explored the world with his drones, from filming urban crocodiles in India to chasing endangered species in Tanzania and mapping landfills in Kenya. But of them all, his favourite is the Drone Safari.

“I’d never been on a safari before so being able to see the animals, to be able to film them, was really exciting.

“Doing it was fun and then people’s reactions to it afterwards. Most people have seen pictures and video of these animals, but when people see it from this perspective, flying around a giraffe’s head? They get a kick out of it. It’s the same story, but from a new perspective. That’s what I like about it.”

Drone Safari with giraffes, credit: Ben Kreimer
Drone Safari with giraffes, credit: Ben Kreimer

The challenges of drone journalism

Drone journalism is not without its own unique challenges. In 2014 the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) told the University of Nebraska they didn’t have permission to fly drones, and had to apply for it, and was just the beginning for Ben.

“In the past year I’ve spent more time in India and Kenya than the US, and now both countries have explicitly said that civilians can’t use drones without permission from the defence branch. So that makes it hard, as I don’t want to break those regulations as a foreigner. I think the issue is foreigners coming in and flying around for fun.”

The landfill

Whilst in Kenya he used a drone to map a landfill, but that could be just the beginning. The air around the landfill is full of pollutants, enough to cause respiratory problems if you’re around it long enough.

“I was thinking of building an air pollution sensor. You could fly that around the dump, and around the area around the dump and see what we’re breathing. How’s the pollution travelling out, and can we visualise that data and show a three dimensional plume of bad air that emanates from the dump? And can you do that elsewhere?”

Ben remains adamant that the laws that are currently causing him so many problems won’t be around for very long, and in the mean time he already has ambitious plans to work with UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation) and make 3D models of historical sites around the world. But, as always, his reasoning is refreshingly plain.

“It’s 2015 and why can’t we look at a three dimensional model of the Angkor Wat? I think it’s time for that. I get interested in things when I realise they’re possible. I like travelling just to go to a new place and see how things are there.

“Now’s a good time to get into the journalism part too. As far as I know there are only two universities in the US that are looking into that. But you have to go do something with it.”

Events for aspiring hacks this month

Postgraduate and job application deadlines are drawing near. Maybe you’ve already got an interview or a place at a newspaper lined up and want to be a bit more prepared. Maybe you’re embarking on a year of freelancing and want the best advice. Whatever your reason, be sure to check out some of these events happening all over the country.

In a guest lecture yesterday evening Buzzfeed’s Patrick Smith mentioned the “news culture” that exists in London “more so than anywhere else in the UK”. Although most of the events we found were based in the capital, we noticed that other cities are emerging as cultural hubs for bloggers and aspiring hacks. In this map we’ve shown you the events, meet-ups and workshops happening across the nation. The pearls of wisdom you glean from one day could make all the difference in that interview.

Check out our map to see if there’s an event near you! Tweet us @interhacktives or comment below if there are any more that you think should be included.

 

Want to know more or book a place? Look below to find the links

  1. City University Postgraduate Open Evening
  2. BlogConf 2015
  3. Shift
  4. Getting Started as a Freelance
  5. Inside “Inside the House of Commons”
  6. Journocoders: mapping with leaflet
  7. Hacks/Hackers
  8. Workshop: writing and storytelling for TV journalists
  9. Business and Practice of Journalism Seminar
  10. One Rogue Reporter Screening
  11. Pitch and Deal Training Day
  12. News Associates: monthly workshops
  13. Search Engine Optimisation for Journalists
  14. Mastering Social Media: Twitter to Instagram
  15. News Associates: sports journalism workshops (Manchester and London)
  16. Frontline Club: improving audio
  17. How to Write Effective Columns
  18. How to Write About Film with Peter Bradshaw and Catherine Shoard
  19. The Rise of Longform Journalism
  20. Meet the Press: LGBT History Month

Our favourite #AdviceForYoungJournalists

If you were on Twitter yesterday, you probably noticed the trending hashtag #AdviceForYoungJournalists, which was sparked off by a bitingly cynical blog post from financial journalist Felix Salmon. His advice to young wannabe journalists contacting him for guidance is this: don’t become journalists. At least, not if you want to get paid, or have anything that resembles an actual career.

Forty-eight hours on and the hashtag is still going strong, featuring contributions from old veteran hacks, fresh-faced newbies, bitter ex-journos, and – for some weird reason – Joss Whedon. Some of the advice has been funny, some of it obnoxious; many of the advice-givers are clearly pushing an agenda or taking the opportunity to have a sly dig at an industry they hate. But there’s also a lot of genuine, heartfelt advice to be found. And it says something about the state of journalism that a lively debate around its future prospects can spring up so easily and last for so long, with so many people eager to weigh in.

Needless to say, we Interhacktives – as young journalists – don’t buy into the idea that journalism is a doomed career path. Among the wave of bitterness and snark, we found a lot of helpful tips, so we’ve rounded up for you here our favourite #AdviceForYoungJournalists.

Common-sense advice

Some of the best advice given sounds a lot like pure common sense, but at some point every journalist will be learning these things for the first time. For more experienced journalists, it never hurts to have a reminder, either.

This one in particular has been a key point in our interview classes so far:

 

Practical advice

It’s easy to say vague things that sound sage and profound, but how about some solid advice that you can really act on?

A practical tip for students from our own Ben Jackson:

Our Social Media and Community Engagement lecturer, Ben Whitelaw, also gave some advice which almost all of the Interhacktives are happy to be practicing next month:

 

Advice for a changing field

We can’t forget that the reason Felix Salmon wrote his blog post in the first place is because the field of journalism has changed massively with the rise of the internet, and has continued to shift and change ever since. Here is some smart advice on how to stay ahead of the curve in a constantly evolving industry:

My personal favourite series of Tweets came from Randy Lilleston, editor-in-chief of business news site Industry Dive. He managed to succinctly sum up what is currently happening in the journalism industry and why, and how to succeed in the midst of it:

 

And finally, one last piece of practical advice from our Online and Data Journalism lecturer, Paul Bradshaw:

Done and done. Thanks for the tip, Paul!

Header image: Esther Vargas

A social media style guide for local newspapers

Declining print circulations, traditionalism, internal politics, a small budget. These are problems that don’t just affect local newspapers, but it hits them worse. So why have I written a social media style guide principally aimed at locals? Because, generally, they have fewer resources to invest in their social media channels.

As journalists, we’re still trying to figure out which social platforms work best for news reporting. The most recent questions have been about the journalistic potential of WhatsApp and Snapchat, closed platforms where young people are doing whatever it is young people do. For the time being though, let’s focus on the big two – Facebook and Twitter.

The Times social mediaHere’s how social media is done at The Times and The Sunday Times

I wrote this guide while on work experience last December, so it is influenced heavily by The Times and The Sunday Times‘ social media style guide. I’ve updated it so it can be applied to any local newspaper and indeed any news organisation interested in boosting their social media presence.


Welcome to your social media style guide.

Here’s how to produce the most fun, engaging and informative social content that serves the reader and drives new followers. It is a working document – the social web is always changing and so are your readers.

General points

● Be accurate and consistent
● Tailor content to the platform – Twitter and Facebook are different!
● Show off about your exclusive content
● Correctly attribute images
● Use appropriate hashtags

Twitter

The average half-life of a tweet is 2.8 hours. So ideally, you should publish one tweet an hour from 7am to 8pm, showing the range of content on the site.

Tone

Tweets should be conversational and directed at followers. Make it clear there’s a human behind the account. There’s nothing wrong with an exclamation mark every now and then. Be funny, be smart, and be engaging.

Retweeting

Retweeting followers shows you’re engaging with them on some level (reply to people too!). Retweets don’t necessarily mean endorsement. Please don’t ever manually retweet someone (“There’s a button for that”) unless you have something valuable to add as an extension of his or her tweet.

Links

Use a URL shortener such as bit.ly – it looks much better. Install the bit.ly browser plugin to speed up the process.

Embedded content

Tweets with images attached perform much better than those without. Embed images, whether they may be Twitter cards, charts or photos, wherever possible. Soon you’ll be able to embed video content on Twitter without using a third party app. Embedding short videos will boost your engagement rate.

Vines

Vines work really well on Twitter. Vines can also reach hundreds of thousands of people if they get featured on the app, so it’s certainly something to consider. A Vine account could be used to show behind-the-scenes content from the office.

Hashtags

People follow hashtags for news and topics they care about, particularly breaking news stories. We need to reach these types of people – users who are invested in something – so include trending and popular hashtags in tweets wherever possible. You can check if a hashtag is popular by searching for it on Twitter. You know it’s worth including it if tweets are coming in every couple of minutes or seconds.

Live tweeting

When covering a live event in person, embed photos and Vines as much as possible. Try to tweet differently to the crowd – don’t just report what’s happening. Here’s something I wrote about how to live tweet better. Try not to begin a tweet with a full stop and the person’s Twitter handle ‘.@bjacksonuk…’ – it looks ugly (‘full stop before @ reply’ should only be done if you’re replying to someone’s tweet and you want all your followers to see it).

Facebook

Facebook statuses should be posted sparingly if you don’t currently get much engagement – morning, noon and evening. The best performing content should be given priority here. Take a look at your Facebook page’s furniture, such as the profile picture, cover photo and ‘About’ section. Have these things been updated recently? These things need to look attractive and fresh, communicating your brand just as well as the daily front page is supposed to.

Tone

Statuses should be personal and appeal to the reader’s emotions wherever possible – Facebook users are more likely to engage with content framed in emotional terms. It’s good to ask questions, share quotes and use pithy one-liners. Don’t ever just copy and paste the headline into the status. A curiosity gap helps with engagement too…

Style

Statuses shouldn’t be any longer than three lines. Ideally, you shouldn’t use more than five words. Remove the link when the post generates a preview of the article before you hit ‘Post’. When you choose to embed an image, you need to keep the (shortened) link in the status because the image replaces the article preview. Don’t use a colon to point to the link. It’s not cool and the user knows where the link is.

Embedded content

Embed an image if it contributes to the story and makes the status look more attractive. Videos also work well and they play automatically, so they’re more likely to get the user’s attention if it’s any good!


I think that’s a good start, don’t you? If I had to sum up my social media style guide in four words, I’d go with ‘put the user first.’ Put yourself in their shoes. What do they want to see? What stirs them, what makes them tick, what will they share with their friends?

By following this guide in conjunction with studying site metrics and performing experiments, your community of readers will definitely grow in size and loyalty. Everybody wins.

Header image: Scott Jackson/Flickr

“Why I should be the Guardian’s new editor”

Since Alan Rusbridger announced on Twitter that he will be stepping down as The Guardian’s editor-in-chief, speculation about his replacement has been rife. The search for its new editor has been going on for about a month.

Admittedly the role may be quite out of our reach at the moment (and applications closed on Sunday). Yet some Interhacktives could not help but wonder – what would they do if somehow they bagged the illustrious position? Here are the cover letters of five Interhacktives on why they would be a good editor and their vision for the global news organisation. Vote at the bottom for your choice of editor.  

Ben Jackson

IMAGE OF BJACKSONUK I’m perfect for the role of The Guardian’s editor because I’m basically Alan Rusbridger 2.0. Evidence: My costume for Halloween 2013 was Rusbridger with a hammer and a laptop.

I’m not afraid to smash a few motherboards to make a point. In fact, I relish the idea. But that’s what I do for fun. What would I actually do as editor? I’ve made a handy listicle, which I think sets the tone very nicely:                      

 

 

1) De-electrify the headquarters. Currently, the building is made for giving you electric shocks. Some people say the builders were Sun readers. Others blame the cheap carpet. I’ll put the investigations team on the case.    

2) Let’s have more news conferences. The finest minds in journalism can battle it out every hour, on the hour. Who cares about producing a paper, most copies are distributed around the newsdesk anyway.

3) We need a statue of Charlie Brooker outside Kings Place. It’s about time we immortalised that scowl in bronze. Just look at him.

4) A festival where we burn a giant shed to commemorate that weird Guardian Weekend advert – “shed’s on fire.” VIP guests will include those insurance fraudster pigs from another weird (but exceptional) advert.

There you have it then, the whole picture.

Doug Bolton

image of Doug Bolton. The world of journalism, now more than ever, is in constant flux. New technologies that can revolutionise our jobs are being created every single day, and the leader of a fearless and prolific media company should be able to adapt to these innovations. Alan Rusbridger is 61 (although he doesn’t look a day over 50). He’s done a good job, but if The Guardian wants to stay relevant, they need a youngster at the helm, someone who can bring new energy to the organisation, while still safeguarding the core values of the Scott Trust. I look a little bit like a young Alan Rusbridger, and that’s why you should give me the job.

 

The unkempt hairdo that screams ‘iconoclastic liberal media dude’, the glasses that give a whiff of middle-class intellectualism – like Alan, I’ve got all the core Guardianista qualities and more. And I’m 40 years younger. What more could you ask for? At the end of the day, I can rule with an iron fist, eat 7 kilos of quinoa in an hour, and most importantly, I can destroy a laptop that contains top secret leaked documents with an angle grinder better than any of those schmucks in MI5. Please hire me.

Jonathan Frayman

Image of Jonathan Frayman I feel my appointment as editor-in-chief of the Guardian would be a left field selection, but think of the selection of Darren Pattinson or David Luiz’s innovative approach in the world cup semi-final. Different never goes wrong. As a devout Guardian reader, I understand the mindset of a Guardianista. To feel that you care and are distressed by the plight of the poor and needy, while ensuring nothing happens to threaten Tarquin’s private school and the bi-weekly Ocado delivery.

 

 

 

The Guardian’s current content is too serious. I want to change it to one shaped by memes, cats, and half rate internet humour. Who cares about Snowden when you can have a very doge, much funny approach. Business cat agrees that this is a purrfect way for the new media age.

Cat meme "Your business plan isn't purrfect, I see no balls of yarn"

As a failed BNOC in all aspects of life, my stature is somewhat lacking. So I would stamp my authority by immediately sacking Patrick Wintour and replace him with Alastair Campbell because why not? Anybody who questioned this decision would also be provided with a cardboard box and accompanied to the exit.

GIF: Can I just fire everyone?

To boost moral amongst staff there will be unlimited quinoa and chai on offer from a newly created mind expansion zone.

Sam Walsh

Image of Sam Walsh Whaddup, Alan, As a straight, educated white male, I think my appointment as editor-in-chief of The Guardian would bring some much needed diversity to the newspaper industry. As a slightly recognisable figure around the City University journalism department, I believe I could finally bring the credibility and fame that the role really deserves.

There was this one time I was an editor-in-chief before, of the Sheffield Taban online student newspaper. This was basically the same as The Guardian, only smaller, and with more banter. The banter was really popular, so I’d really like to get some of that going.

 

Of course, one of the biggest problems facing The Guardian right now is profitability. To make the publication more profitable, we must do just one thing: Change the fonts, both in print and online, to Comic Sans. I’ve been doing some research and it’s easily the most profitable of all the fonts. Ever. Finally, I don’t currently own a cute dog, but if I am chosen for the post, I hereby promise to buy one and post the most adorable snaps on Instagram to follow Rusbridger’s shining example of how to do social media.

Backseat drivers A photo posted by Alan Rusbridger (@arusbridger) on

 

Edith Hancock

Image of Edith Hancock Alfred Powell Wadsworth, Jeremiah Garnett, William Percival Crozier. These are the names of The Guardian’s editors in its first 100 years. Regal, powerful names. Each one the name of a royal (or in Garnett’s case, a precious gem). These names are hard to rival in a Hall of Fame.

Sorry guys, but Jon, Ben, Sam and Doug don’t really stand a chance against an Edith. While Jon is a strong name, it won’t stand up to The Guardian’s founding editor, John Edward Taylor. Benjamin and Samuel will slip into the background next to the other biblical names on the list. There may be no Douglas, but I don’t think yet another masculine name will stand out against the likes of Alfred and Alan.  

Edith is a strong name. Edith is a royal name. Edith is a girls’ name.

The first instance of a royal Edith dates all the way back to 1066 with Edith Swanneck, consort to Harold II of England. The name has since been connected with power and influence; from First Ladies to authors and poets. Today, Ediths work in the media, with Edith Bowman being a popular member of the BBC team.

Ediths have always flirted with power while keeping an observational distance, but now it’s time we brought our namesake back to the seat of power. No more will we be shunted to the side-lines – our name is too cool to ignore.  

 

 So who would get your vote? Have your say:

Featured image vapour trail via Compfight cc

6 tools for measuring social media success

Lies, damned lies and statistics – everyone knows this famously pithy quote often attributed to 19th century British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli. In the social media world though, it’s statistics that are king.

There are lots of free tools you can use to measure social networking success. Here is a list of some of the best out there to help you get a handle on just how other people and organisations are doing on Facebook and Twitter.

Twitter

TWBirthday

A free online service that will tell you when a Twitter profile was started. It is useful for analysing early Twitter activity and what events corresponded with your subject’s early Twitter use.

Twitter Birthday - twbirthday.com

 

Simply measured

A paid for service (it does, however, have a free trial available for demo) that allows users to measure Twitter account follower levels, interests and influence of an account that you do not control.

Simply Measured graph data

 

Twitter Counter

The free version of this service allows you to compare two different Twitter accounts to provide some valuable insights into an account’s activity in comparison to other similar accounts.

Twitter Counter graphs data social media

 

Facebook

Fanpage Karma

Fanpage Karma is a powerful analytical tool that allows you measure a number of key benchmarks for how effective a fan page is. These include the ability to easily measure the size of likes on a fan page against growth levels and ranked profile performance.

When combined with data that is available on fan pages themselves via Facebook Insights, it and the other tools on this list become fairly powerful for analysing page activities.

 

Fanpage Karma social media analytics

 

Simply Measured

Its free service allows you to compare one fan page to another, which can be very useful when comparing competitors on Facebook.

Simply Measured free social media analytics.

LikeAlyzer

This free tool lets you input a Facebook page URL and gives it a rating out of 100 based on a comparison of other pages. It also gives a series suggested improvements that can aid in-depth analysis of the social media strategy that the page is operating.


likealyzer social media analytics facebook

 

This is not a definitive list by any stretch, so if you have anymore tools you use and would recommend please share:

 


Snapchat Discover: will it work?

Snapchat user discovering Discover

Snapchat has launched its Discover platform – a new way to present stories to target its young, casual audience.

Mail Online, Vice and Yahoo! News are just some of the nine media organisations partnering up with Snapchat in this venture to tell stories in new ways to entice its users.

It announced the platform saying it’ll feature “full screen photos and videos, awesome long form layouts, and gorgeous advertising”.

So we’re getting stories on a daily channel served up mainly as looping multimedia content. If you like the taster of a particular story, you can then swipe for more longform content.

I asked the Interhacktives what they thought of the new platform – over Snapchat.

ben snapchat discover opinion

Ben‘s keen to access a new audience that has so far been hard to reach via traditional mediums.

clara snapchat discover opinion

But Clara is just skeptical.

doug snapchat discover opinion

Doug‘s annoyed about how the Mail Online – one of the brands initially partnering with Snapchat Discover – is using it to broadcast text-based content from their website, instead of utilising video.

sam snapchat discover opinion

Another Interhacktive who’s unconvinced. No reason why though – it’s six degrees and Sam‘s cold.

bex discover opinion

Is it annoying? Bex isn’t sure yet.

edie snapchat discover opinion

This is Edie‘s eye. She thinks the platform’s tucked away on the app and not something people will initially go for.

emily discover opinion

Emily took a selfie to ask if people will be too busy to take selfies.

mark snapchat discover opinion

Mark‘s handwriting translates to “it will help my journalism”. With video journalism due to get bigger in 2015, the platform could hold some potential.

keila snapchat

Slightly better handwriting from Keila. She’s unsure whether Snapchat users will engage will news in the app. Her favourite brands using Snapchat so far are National Geographic, People and Yahoo! News – with their blend of video, photo and text.

hamza nicole discover opinion

And Hamza and Nicole are just happy they’ve got a cookie.

ashley snapchat discover opinion

So there you have it – conclusive evidence that we’re undecided. While the idea could be cool if organisations can adapt their content to Snapchat’s core principle of short, informal multimedia clips, users won’t appreciate it if brands try to impose the wrong type of content on an inappropriate platform.

Vice seems like it can – unlike the Mail Online at the moment. Only time will tell if they can adapt to providing news in new, short, multimedia-based formats.

#Flashhacks: an evening on company data and corporate networks

It was over donuts and sushi that Interhacktives found out more about corporate networks and how to access company data.

Last Wednesday, a pack of 13 of us attended the meetup “Flash Hacks: Map the Banks”, an initiative by the London-based organisation Open Corporates that aims to create a more accurate picture of the financial sector. The initiative has a point: the corporate world has a huge impact on the wider world. With the financial crisis costing society over 10 trillion dollars, they argue that businesses should be held to account in the same way as public bodies and their data should be available to view freely.

The participants were divided into two groups: those who knew how to code went to write the necessary scrapers to help in the task, and those who didn’t were taken on a tour of Open Corporates’ tools and database.

Here are some of the tools, which can be useful to journalists for sourcing and verifying company data:

Open Corporates’ database

The organisation has information available for more than 84 million companies from more than 100 jurisdictions. It is possible to search for companies, directors and filter by jurisdiction.

Corporate network and Octopus

Since 2012, Open Corporates has been working on making company networks public, what the organisation calls the “Holy Grail of business information”.  The tool is great for understanding the complexity of multinationals and what ramifications they have. They create visualisations from data, for example from the Federal Reserve about banking companies in the US. In this one below, it is possible to find out that Goldman Sachs consists of more than 4,000 separate corporate entities all over the world. Open Corporates moreover has a tool called Octopus that allows anyone interested to contribute to creating new networks.

OpenCorporatesVisualization
Source: Open Corporates

Who Controls It

A recently launched tool, proof-of-concept, open source beneficial ownership register that would make it possible for anyone to check who or what controls a company. Who Controls It is still a prototype, but it sounds like a promising tool for checking possible ramifications of a business’ activities and for investigating fraud and money-laundering.

Open Corporates APIs

For those who know a bit of programming, these tools might be useful. The organisation has two APIs: the Rest API and the Open Refine Conciliation API. They allow access to the organisation’s full database on a more granular level and make it possible to match company names to external data. Rest API is for retrieving information from the Open Corporates database. The Open Refine Conciliation API allows Google Refine users to match company names to legal corporate entities. It is especially useful when you have an existing spreadsheet with many different companies and you need to reconcile yours with other datasets.

 

The Map the Banks initiative is ongoing: if you code and want to help, the organisation has a list of missions to be completed. At the moment, 10% of the missions are done.

How to get started with D3

If you’re interested in dataviz, you’ve probably been hearing a whole bunch about D3. When you stumble across a really creative-looking visualisation, chances are it’ll have been made with D3.

Yes, it’s hyped, and there are a million tutorials out there and it can all feel a little overwhelming. So where to start?

Luckily, your humble Interhacktive test bunny has taken the plunge, and tried out three ways of learning to use D3. Read on, for the pros and cons of each.

What is D3?

It’s a powerful Javascript library developed by Mike Bostock. D3 stands for “data-driven documents”, which basically means that you’re binding the data you want to visualise to DOM elements and manipulating them.

D3 Data-Driven Documents.

All of which sounds really technical, of course. The short answer is that D3 lets you make beautiful custom visualisations, entirely from scratch.

When should I learn it?

You’re getting the hang of out-of-the-box vis tools like Plotly, Datawrapper and CartoDB, and are starting to feel frustrated by their limitations. You want to have more freedom to make visualisations that look exactly the way you want.

I’ve heard it’s insanely complicated. Should I be worried?

The honest answer? Yes – D3 does have a rather steep learning curve. I felt quietly panicked the first time I read through a tutorial, and you may feel a little bit discouraged at first too, depending on your background.

A section of the 250 lines of code I wrote to make a bar chart.
A section of the 250 lines of code it took to make a bar chart.

You will be writing Javascript, and yes, you will be writing hundreds of lines of code. You’ll want to be somewhat familiar with HTML, CSS, SVG and DOM elements (if any of this sounds scary, don’t worry! Start with Codecademy’s HTML and CSS tutorial).

BUT: You hardly need to be a Javascript expert before you can start learning D3. In fact, lots of people have said that D3 is a great way to get a feel for Javascript in the first place.

Okay, I’m in. How do I get started?

There are roughly speaking a bazillion tutorials – just on Mike Bostock’s GitHub page. Where to turn? I’ve trawled through a whole bunch of them and am back to report on the three I found most useful.

Video tutorials

Ah, Youtube. Reliable source of how-to videos from how best to groom your cat to how to dance salsa. Naturally it’s also happy to instruct you on how to visualise your data. I followed user D3Vienno’s 20 video tutorials, and found his explanations of some of D3’s more bizarre functions rather good.

20 videos sounds like a lot to get through, but they’re easy to follow and he’s managed to fit in a lot of information. By the time you get to the 20th, you’ll have covered ground from very introductory principles up to advanced D3 layouts like tree maps and geomapping.

Pros

D3Vienno is a journalist, which makes his tutorials particularly useful to fellow hacks.

Cons

The tutorials get off to quite a slow start, so if you have any previous experience of Javascript, you may start to feel restless.

Book: Interactive Data Visualisation for The Web

Scott Murray’s book on D3 is a bit of a classic. It’s also surprisingly funny (probably as funny as a book on programming is likely to get).

This hefty tome is intended for absolute beginners and will hold your hand as it guides you from the very basics – like what HTML really is.

Pros 

Murray’s exercises are easy to follow. And like I said, he’ll make you giggle a bit.

Cons 

I didn’t feel afterward that I’d got a whole lot of independent skill. When working through the tutorials I thought that I’d got it all, but when I tried my hand at creating my own viz afterward, I drew a blank. I’d suggest combining the book with some video tutorials.

Go to a workshop!

I was lucky enough to attend a D3 workshop in London run by Peter Cook of AnimatedData, where attendees range from visual journalists to Python developers and Javascript beginners (yours truly).

Cook really goes through the fundamentals. If you’re coming expecting to have made some crazily advanced force network by the afternoon, you’ll be disappointed. By hometime, I had created a scatterplot that I could’ve charted in Excel. BUT: More importantly, he’s talked us through the philosophy behind D3.

My rather sad-looking scatterplot.
My rather sad-looking scatterplot.

When simply following tutorials, you’ll often find yourself typing in strange commands like enter() and exit() without really understanding why they’re doing whatever it is they’re doing.

Attending a session with a professional like Cook takes you through the steep initial learning curve with a firm understanding of the fundamentals.

We also deconstructed how breath-taking visualisations like this one by the New York Times were made.

Screenshot: New York Times
Screenshot: New York Times

“This bridges the gap between what you know now and what’s necessary to do these advanced visualisations,” Cook said.

Pros
Having a chance to ask any stupid questions really gives you a better grasp of how D3 works.

Cons
The cost…(up to £250, to be exact).

So what’s the verdict?

Going to a workshop is fantastic, but has the obvious drawback of being expensive. Still, there really is no good replacement for having someone knowledgeable taking you through it in person. If you’re broke, try to find someone who’ll be your D3 mentor so you can turn to them for questions. Why not join a Meetup?

Is there any reason not to learn D3?

If you really hate coding, maybe give it a rest for now. There are a lot of other cool tools that you can use to make visualisations without writing a line of code.

But if you learn a little bit – even if you can’t do particularly advanced things on your own – you will know enough to have an easier time cooperating with any developers or journocoders you’re working with. That’ll help you know if and when demands that you’re making are unreasonable, and give you an idea of what takes how long. It will make you popular with all the developers and the world a generally happier place.

BuzzFeed’s success: what it means for 2015

2014 buzzfeed

In a post entitled ‘2014 Was Our Favourite Year Yet’, BuzzFeed brags about its metrics. It has every right to – they’re pretty impressive.

Just look at the numbers for yourself:

  • People spent 58,655 years on BuzzFeed
  • Traffic doubled from 100m to 200m monthly UVs
  • BuzzFeed posts received over 16bn pageviews
  • BuzzFeed social accounts reached 16.5m followers
  • 1.1bn people saw BuzzFeed on TV

Yep. 58,655 years.

The rise of BuzzFeed seems unstoppable.

It launched four new bureaus in 2014 – in Berlin, Sydney, Mumbai and São Paulo – bringing the eight-year-old publication onto five continents. Its success shows us that this brand is here to stay as a driving force in how we consume information, and we should look at where it’s expanding to find out what’s going to be big in 2015.

Videos are only going to get bigger

Video journalism promises to be even bigger in 2015 – and BuzzFeed knows it.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 15.37.16 1

Jon Bernstein has talked about how BuzzFeed’s video journalism masters brevity, focus and the ability to teach viewers something new – all key for successful video journalism.

The site’s already pretty successful when it comes to videos. People spent 5,766 years watching their videos in 2014. Their “If Disney Princes Were Real” video got 22m views in four months.

As we’ll see, BuzzFeed’s role in “serious journalism” is expanding – and perhaps this skill in video journalism will expand into creating more reporting and news-y playlists on its YouTube channel.

Expect more lifestyle “hack” listicles

And now for my favourite part of  the breakdown of BuzzFeed’s metrics – its tells us how each of its different types of posts perform.

Quizzes – unsurprisingly – dominate. BuzzFeed published 7,350 of them in 2014, generating 1.2bn hits – they received an average of 163,265 views each. The most popular quiz? “What State Do You Actually Belong In?

The site’s 453 “slidey thing posts” got 256,071 views each, while lifestyle “hack posts” each enjoyed an average of 287,804. It only posted 205 of these types of lifestyle post, but the fact they got more hits each than the other two mediums the publication tells us about shows that it’ll probably be looking to capitalise on this.

Serious investigations will have their place…

As the piece emphasises, BuzzFeed’s started to cover serious news – and we’ll no doubt see more of this. Aside from the 1,200 posts they published on dogs, the team produced exclusives such as its story on the New York Times‘ internal innovation report; and it ran undercover reports such as on how ISIS smuggles oil to make it the world’s richest terrorist organisation.

With the site picking up the Times‘ Heidi Blake, who has won awards for reporting the Qatar World Cup bid scoop, to head their UK investigative team, it’s clear they’re looking to “take on stories with global reach that everyone around the world will devour”.

All of this shows how serious investigative journalism is here to stay – we just have to come up with fresh ways of presenting our findings.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 15.34.03

…But cats and dogs still have their place, of course

And we can’t have BuzzFeed without its signature content.

It has come a long way from cat lists, as Jennifer Saba writes, but there will still be room on its site for the LOL, the OMG and the WTF. It’s what it’s known for, and what generates much of its profit-making metrics.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 15.39.20

Digital innovation is the future

Just in case anyone was in any doubt, BuzzFeed and other viral media sites have shown that online media is where news publications need to invest.

BuzzFeed’s showing some of the traditional media outlets up in its continual development – its app went through 8 iOS and 12 Android versions as it continues to innovate the media.

The press wrote over 10,000 stories about BuzzFeed in 2014. It’s clear that the new media publication has got them rattled. Unsurprising, really, when 200m people are reading it every month.

BuzzFeed’s here to stay – and it’s going to continue doing new stuff and innovating the way we consume information online.

How to comment online (without being a jerk)

I recently finished a couple weeks’ worth of shifts at The Times, working on the digital team as a community manager. My duties included posting articles to social media and compiling reports on site analytics, but the job that I spent most of my time on (and found the most entertaining by far) was moderating the comments.

We’re all familiar with comments sections on the internet, for better or worse, but my time spent moderating was an interesting look into comments from the other side of the fence.

I went through slightly over 6,000 comments during my time there, and built up a pretty good understanding of how commenters behave online and what sort of comments don’t make it through the moderation process.

I’ve compiled these bits and pieces into a list that should be essential reading for anyone thinking of laying down some opinions in a comments section in the near future.

Comments like this rarely get published, weirdly.
Comments like this rarely get published, weirdly.

Bozoing is a thing

So you’ve just read an article about the latest Taliban attack in Pakistan and you feel like doing a bit of trolling. You write a lengthy diatribe in which you call Islam a ‘death cult’ and demand it be outlawed (yeah, someone actually posted this).

Expecting to get 100 recommendations in five minutes and lots of angry replies from looney lefties, you get nothing. No stars. No replies. No-one seems very bothered about your brave, incisive opinion.

You bottle up your impotent rage and save it for another comment. Either you’re not as clever as you think you are, or you’ve just been bozo’d.

The bozo is a third option for comments, after approve and delete. Basically, to the commenter it looks like their comment has been approved. In fact, no-one else can see it. It’s a way to trash comments without giving trolls the satisfaction of a warning or a ban. It’s something of a trade secret though, so keep it under your hat, yeah?

Sports fans, you’re alright

When I started (at 11PM on a Sunday night, eesh), I presumed the worst comments by far would be about football. I thought I’d have to be like an internet riot cop, clobbering hooligans with a truncheon while dodging flares and molotovs.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. The sports comments are always polite, interesting and friendly. More than any other section, commenters know each other, and chat with each other like they’re talking about last week’s conversation at the pub.

Naturally, things get heated sometimes, but everyone knows it’s just the passion that sport inflames. When even the most innocuous, inoffensive, ‘also in the news’ story can provoke a huge flame war, it’s surprising that arguments about sports are so lovely.

 

Internet trolls are usually less cute and less annoying than this lil' guy. (Pic: Valerie Everett via Flickr)
Internet trolls are usually less cute and less annoying than this lil’ guy. (Pic: Valerie Everett via Flickr)

If the sports section still isn’t friendly enough, go to the member’s area

For you plebs who don’t have a Times subscription, there’s an area on the site called the Member’s Area. It’s a place for subscribers to share feedback about the latest Times+ offers, like restaurant discounts or free cinema tickets, but it’s mostly used as a place for subscribers to chat about what they’ve been up to.

I’m fairly sure it’s the nicest place on the internet. There’s no flaming, no anger, no 100-comment argument threads. Just people sharing the details of their lovely trip to the pictures, or the tasty meal they just had with their husband.

It’s very peculiar when you see a few of these same users commenting on news stories, spouting unacceptable opinions and insulting other users. If you ever get tired of the Wild West that online political arguments can sometimes be, head to the Member’s Area to recharge your batteries.

Your comment didn’t get trashed because I disagree with you.

Yes, I may be a young, liberal, East London dwelling vegetarian, but that’s not the reason your comment got trashed. We have a list of moderation guidelines that have been tried and tested through a number of revisions and generally work at making the comments section a decent place for debate and discussion to take place.

If your comment still doesn’t appear an hour after you posted it, it’s because you broke the rules, not because the moderators want to silence you or because I’m a member of the left-wing London media elite (although I hope to be one day).

My favourite comment ever - left under a video of a man being eaten by an anaconda.
My favourite comment ever – left under an article where a man describes being eaten alive by an anaconda.

People are generally good

I’m well aware of the bile that comments sections online are often dripping with, and honestly I was expecting my two weeks of moderating to be a fairly harrowing experience.

Fortunately, you guys are alright, really. I don’t know if it’s something to do with the fact that The Times is a paywalled site, but by and large, 95% of you are respectful, rule-abiding, and most importantly, interesting in what you comment.

And even if there is a bit of a fight in a comments section, a quick reminder from me to keep things polite solves the problem pretty much every time.

Moderators are people too, and we need to be loved

I think most commeneters would be surprised to hear there’s actually a human moderator reading all the comments. The process can be automated to an extent, but to ensure the community’s managed properly, you really need a person sat at a desk.

But I’m not your enemy. I spend my time trying to make sure that you can go the comments section and have decent debates with people without getting insulted or derailed or spammed.

I put my jeans on one leg at a time. I work because I need money to pay rent and buy food and beer. My bus is sometimes late.

So please, when I give you a warning because you’ve libelled someone with your comment, relax for a minute and think of me sitting in a lonely office half way through a nightshift and a bit sweaty from my fifth cup of coffee, before you send me a furious email in which you call me a “jumped-up little c***.” Cheers.

Bloggers, site-owners or community managers of the internet, have you got anything to add? Something you wish your commenters would understand a bit better? Sound off in the comments and let us know more.

Facebook alternatives: The Smart Social Networker’s Guide

Throughout most of its ten-year history, people have been threatening to leave Facebook.

There are plenty of good reasons for doing it, from Facebook’s constantly mutating privacy policies to its decision to turn users into test subjects without their knowledge or consent. A few months ago, Facebook came under fire for its “real-names policy”, which requires users to access the site under the name that appears on their passport, credit card or driver’s license. Hundreds of drag queens, who use Facebook under their stage names, had been banned from the site along with DJs, stage performers and members of the LGBTQIA community.

The name controversy sparked off petitions, protests, polls and spoof videos, and some 600 Facebook users pledged to deactivate their accounts and find a new social network in protest of the policy. But with some strategic intervention by Facebook, the whole movement fizzled out with no real changes made, and most of the people who were so up in arms before are… still on Facebook.

It’s easy enough to complain about a site like Facebook, but no matter how valid your complaints are, it’s all so much noise in the newsfeed if at the end of the day you still use the site. If, however, you’re prepared to put your social network where your mouth is, then read on: no matter what your complaint with Facebook, our guide will match you with a social network you can turn to instead.

Continue reading “Facebook alternatives: The Smart Social Networker’s Guide”

Interview: Dr James Cheshire on the problem with “clickbait” data journalism

A graphic showing happiness by London Borough

“I think there’s a lot of infographics out there that are really a bit rubbish.”

So says Dr James Cheshire, one of the co-authors of  “London: The Information Capital”, a new book featuring data visualisations and infographics centred round the UK’s capital.

A lecturer at University College London (UCL), Dr Cheshire, 27, completed his PhD in Geographic Information Science. He mapped distributions of people’s surnames, and tried to uncover what your surname says about you based on its geographical origin. The project sparked his interest in large population datasets.

He is a keen advocate of open data, and sees London as setting the bar for other cities.

“The reason we called the book London: The Information Capital is because we think it does set a pretty high bar for other cities to open up its data.”

Available data not necessarily accessible

“The principle of open data and availability of data and all that kind of stuff is undoubtedly a good one.

“The downside is, or the challenge is, actually making something available doesn’t necessarily make it accessible.

“Making the datasets easy to find and making them easy to manipulate or to use is the next step, and one that comes along with the provision of data in the first place.”

But he doesn’t think much of what he calls “clickbait” data journalism, citing the Daily Mirror’s Ampp3d as an example.

“Clickbait” easily forgotten

“I really enjoy data stories put together and carefully thought out over several days worth of effort, rather than some of the clickbait stuff.

“The clickbait stuff is here today and then forgotten about, whereas the really good quality stuff tends to last a bit longer, people tend to think about it a bit more.”

What about the more established nationals?

“Some of the stuff that the Guardian Datablog does can be really good, some of it can be a bit dry or a bit dull or whatever.

“I think the guys that are the best are still the New York Times in terms of their graphics.”

“People don’t like uncertainty”

He says that the biggest challenge that he and his co-author Oliver Uberti have tried to communicate with the infographics in their book is that “people don’t like uncertainty.”

It is this uncertainty that can lead journalists to oversimplify and thus slightly misrepresent data stories.

“Traditionally in statistics you put error bars or something, or you say like plus/minus 5%.

“That plus/minus bit is often left off because people don’t necessarily understand it, or the journalists or whoever it is are keen to present a straightforward story.

“We often talk about that in academia – that’s one of our biggest challenges when we talk to journalists: How do we communicate that uncertainty without sounding like we’re wrong, but without sounding like there’s an absolute number for something.

“Because the world is not that simple, unfortunately.”

(Chart: “Islington has issues” from London: The Information Capital)

6 tools to help you get started with programming

So you want to get started with coding, but don’t know where to start.

It can feel like a daunting project, possibly because many of us have the idea of coding being some kind of dark art, with lots of complicated syntax to get right.

Thankfully, the internet is here to help. And here’s the first secret: It’s not all about the details. One of the biggest advantage of the tools below is that they’ll help you wrap your head around the big picture, and understand how computational thinking works.

Make it a game!

A codeacademy lesson in action

Codecademy takes you through the basics of coding languages from HTML to Python painlessly, by gamifying it.

Solve puzzles, earn badges. Get stuck? Ask for a hint!

A badge earned from Codeacademy

If this seems too technical for you, the tools on Code.org and Scratch have an even more gamified approach.

Yes, it’s technically for kids, but heck, it works for adults too.

Play the Frozen game while learning to code

Anyone who doesn’t get excited about coding after helping Anna and Elsa make a winter wonderland is just crazy.

Hit the books

Looking for a more traditional approach to learning? Books that earlier would’ve cost you a fortune are now largely available free online. Why not try Learn Python The Hard Way (which sounds horribly intimidating, but really it’s more like Learn Python By Coding Python…) and you’ll soon be a master scraper.

Do your own thing

Finished your Codecademy course and don’t know where to go next? Every developer says the same thing: The best way to learn programming is to start on your own project.

But if you’re stuck for ideas, here’s a list of 125 project ideas.

And remember: Google is your friend

Make Google, StackOverflow and Github your very best friends.

And remember: whenever you run into an error message that makes you want to ragequit and throw your laptop out the window, just try googling the error first.

Google search "d3.append() not working"

Odds are dozens have already asked and solved that very problem on StackOverflow.

What other issues have you run into when teaching yourself to code? Tweet us @Interhacktives and let us know!

I Wrote a Tweet: What Big Numbers Can Do To You

Mark's Tweet of Alex Salmond

I wrote a tweet.

I say ‘wrote’. There were no words, just four images. The first three were screenshots of the possession statistic during the 24th minute of the Scotland v England international match. The other was of Alex Salmond’s face.

The Process

It is, of course, a joke about the result of the Scottish referendum. I’d come up with the idea as I was preparing a chicken and chorizo jambalaya five minutes before kick-off.

I realised that, if it was to work, I would have to stare at the BBC Sport stats page until the numbers read how I wanted it. Also, I would have to do so from the game’s very first minute because the possession stat fluctuates a lot during the early periods.

The rice in my jambalaya hadn’t cooked yet.

I ate it anyway.

Initially, my chances of capturing the right numbers looked bleak. England’s early dominance meant that they had the overwhelming majority of the ball.

After twenty minutes, I could feel the numbers falling my way. The BBC’s statistic updated a few moments later and, finally, the share was 45%-55%. I hit print screen like it was a free bar.

Next, I searched ‘alex salmond’ on Google Images, but found too many pictures of him looking cheery and amiable.

So, instead, I tried ‘alex salmond resigns’, and found an image of him looking like he’d realised that the rest of his life would be a slow march towards death.

The Google Image results for 'alex salmond resigns'

It was perfect.

By this point, the half-time whistle had been blown. I published the tweet and went to the kitchen, leaving my phone and laptop behind. I cleaned my plate, tidied up a little and all the while, I was looking forward to modest returns.

The Madness

I had been gone all of two minutes. It had been retweeted 100 times.

As more notifications rolled in, my phone began to sound like a heart monitor. For a few minutes, it pretty much was a heart monitor. If it had stopped beeping, I think I would’ve keeled over and started foaming at the mouth.

It was exciting. It was exhilarating. It was the kind of self-validation you don’t usually get when you’ve been wearing the same t-shirt for three days. By far the most entertaining aspect of the whole experience, however, was seeing the people who shared it.

Within fifteen minutes of putting it up, there were two people flirting in my mentions.

A Rangers and a Celtic supporter with two of the most violently sectarian bio’s I’ve ever seen retweeted it within seconds of each other.

It seemed to cause one lad to have an aneurysm.

The incomprehensible reaction of one Twitter user to my tweet.

However, as my disciples amassed, they became difficult to track. Soon enough, they didn’t really matter anymore. Each one was just another number.

I started to think that this must be how rich people feel. After all, what’s a second million dollars after you’ve made your first? Once you’ve passed one milestone, it becomes all about the next one.

With this in mind, I decided I would call it a night. I vowed to put my phone down once I hit a long-term target.

About two hours in and following a helpful push from my course mates, I found what I’d been looking for.

1,000 retweets.

I went to the corner shop and bought some cans. I drank to forget and then went to bed.

The Aftermath

My tweet is still, today, picking up favourites and retweets from secondary school kids with nothing better to do in Scotland.

Every variant of the cry-laugh emoji is in my mentions ten times over.

It has, at the time of writing, 1,879 retweets and 1,292 favourites, with 233,394 impressions and 50,722 engagements at a rate of 21.7%.

A graph showing my tweet's analytics.

And yet, this is not enough. I need another hit. The dopamine receptors in my brain are now a nest of hatchlings demanding me to regurgitate shareable content down their throats.

Even though it was weirdly empty experience, even though every ‘well done’ I received only made me realise how ridiculous it all was, even though I woke up the next day with only regret and a mild hangover, I want to do it again. I want to experience that strange rush of seeing a big white number in a red box. It’s not going to be easy but I know what I need to do.

I need to write another tweet.

Here’s how to live tweet protests if you want to get all the followers

Get retweets, get paid.


Tweet differently.

Everyone else is tweeting where the march is, where it’s going, how many people there are… Zzzz. Why do you want to be like them? Find your own voice, present things a little differently and maybe you’ll get noticed.

https://twitter.com/bjacksonuk/status/535063249965051904


Vine it up.

If you get lucky and Vine decide to feature your clip on the app, your Vine could reach 100,000+ loops. Plus Vines are fun and people like seeing them on Twitter.

This Vine got 120,000 loops and it’s just people walking!

https://twitter.com/bjacksonuk/status/535059995868819456


Stick with the troublemakers.

If in doubt, follow the black bloc. If you don’t know what that is, follow the guy with the firework/flare/can of smoke/insert-illegal-item-here to get the best view of the action.

Here’s BuzzFeed’s Siraj Datoo almost getting hit by a firework.

Be funny.

Too many people on too many protests tweet serious things too much of the time. Break the trend and maybe you’ll get trending. Eh! Sorry. PS Russell Brand loved this.

https://twitter.com/bjacksonuk/status/535041981094068224


Listen.

I once overheard a student declare his opposition to free education at a free education demo. People say funny and interesting things all the time so keep your ears peeled.


Tweet fast and accurately.

Just don’t libel anyone, yeah? If there’s no way to confirm something, it’s always best to just not tweet.

It’s easy to not tweet, I’m doing it right now.

Now go tweet this article.

Cat begging photo tumblr_lllvv3wWvc1qfstdz.gif

The best places to get your data

data journalism infographic scraping Guardian

Best places to get your data

For many beginners getting into data and what are the best places to get your data , the first stumbling block is actually accessing the information you want. Before you’ve started to tell the story, and before you can even get your teeth into the visualisations, you fall at the first hurdle.

Fear not. We’ve collected some of our favourite sources of reliable and informative data, giving you some starters if you’re struggling to figure out where to find your story.

Office of National Statistics

Government releases are always a good source of up-to-date information and the ONS  is one of the best places to get your data on population changes, demography or unemployment.

The ONS is also good for getting files on the counties, constituencies and wards, giving you the information on shape and size of the areas – handy when it comes to mapping data.

The USA has a similar model with Data.gov, giving people access to their data. One warning, however: governments may not release information that makes them look bad. If you want to make sure you’re getting the full story about an institution, never just consult one source on it.

Data.police.uk

Data.police.uk is a hub of data on crime and policing in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. You can access CSVs on street-level information and explore the site’s API for data about individual police forces and neighbourhood teams.

This is a very handy site to see how the police are performing on a local basis. You can compare crimes by location and time, enabling you to find any correlations or patterns there are out there.
The Metropolitan Police also publishes their data on each crime in London on police.uk.

Nomis

Nomis is a good source for official labour market statistics – you can get detailed data based on local areas, and can search summary statistics by local authority, ward or constituency.

MyNHS

Want to see the data that the NHS and local councils use to monitor performance and shape the services you use? Well MyNHS gives you this chance, it is one of the best places to get your data on the UK’s health service.

Eurostat

If you’re looking to compare the UK against other countries, or are looking to cover a more internationally-based story, Eurostat contains a variety of publications containing statistics on EU member states. This site has information on economic output, labour markets and demographics – to name just a couple.

World Bank and World Health Organisation

For a more global story, the World Bank and World Health Organisation release data on global finances and public health and safety. Such organisations and institutions have a multitude of datasets ready for you to trawl through in an attempt to find global trends and the effect of certain events.

Freedom of Information

The old faithful. If you can’t find the data anywhere, attempt to access it yourself. Utilise the Freedom of Information Act, which gives you the right to access recorded information held by public sector organisations. Ensure the information’s not already out there, and then send your request off to the relevant institution.

Scrape it yourself

When all else fails, you can always find a site that serves the data you want and then scrape the data. If you don’t know how to use Python, Javascript or other code languages, here’s a short guide we’ve done to help you scrape data without code.

We’re always after new tips for places to find data – can you think of anything else? Tweet us @Interhacktives with your ideas.