The Coral Project’s Sydette Harry: ‘People feel that journalism doesn’t seem to listen’

We love the Internet because it’s a treasure chest of information, and a place where we can join groups to communicate with people who share our interests, no matter how niche the subject or how scattered about the world we might be.

As journalists, social media and online communities are places to discover new stories and trends, find experts and learn more about our readers.

But in the age of political division, trolling and fake news, we can also get frustrated on the Internet sometimes because open platforms — like Facebook and Twitter when left on public settings — can leave us vulnerable to abuse and hatred that which we never signed up for.

With this dichotomy in mind, what should be the relationship between journalism and community? Interhacktives’ Alexandra Ma chatted with Sydette Harry, community lead at the Coral Project, a joint collaboration by Mozilla, the Washington Post and New York Times to provide open source tools for newsrooms to engage with their readers.

Why do you think communities that allow comments are important for journalism?

Our focus isn’t that every community allows comments, but that some sort of feedback, some sort of interaction is necessary for good journalism. That can be comments. That’s important because it gives you a way to get a more complete and continuous relationship with your readers.

What we are constantly thinking about is how journalism now, more than ever, needs everyone, and good journalism needs to be open and transparent to people, and needs to be verified. The way you do that is by having a continuous dialogue and discourse.

Now that can be comments — we would like it if it were comments — but most importantly, we would like people to really consider what it means to have a community and to plan on it. Because too often people say, “we will let social do it” but they don’t also say, “what does ‘let social do it’ mean?”

What can these other interactions between journalists and readers be, and how can journalists learn from that?

Some of the great research fun that I have is talking to people about the different ways they connect. There is one website I love called Bitter Southerner, which publishes content dedicated to the South [of the US]. They don’t have comments, but you can become a card-carrying “Bitter Southerner”. You can pay to support their journalism and have meetups, get discounts with southern artisanal makers and concerts, and get books — and they have no comments. But it makes being part of the community a tactile thing that focuses on your interests. So if you were concerned enough to be a Bitter Southerner, you get to participate in southern crafts and southern concerts.

It’s not always in comments, but the journalism is supported. The community is created. And with that, people tell them things. People think about things and go, “I’m going to go here first because even if it’s not comments, I know that these people have invested in making connections with me. When I have a story, I talk to people because it’s obvious in the way they have set up the connection to their business. They care about what I think.”

Also, comments aren’t always the best way to get information from people. Marginalised populations, specifically women and people of colour, don’t like comments because comments have historically been so awful and racist. But they will respond more directly to direct solicitations: “Tell me about an experience of racism you’ve had.” “Tell me about your mother’s favourite recipe.” “Tell me about your immigrant stories.” “Tell me about what you are excited about college.”

People will notice suddenly they have so many more comments, so many more interactions. They will even get people to say: “I don’t comment but I don’t mind talking to you.” It’s about opening up the ways and letting people know that you are open to the ways you want to talk to them.

“Why are there so many layers between you [journalists] and your readers?”

Why don’t you think journalists can rely on social media to get feedback and interact more with their readers?

Think about the way we do social media, even as journalists. Sometimes we’re thinking out loud, sometimes we’re super directed, sometimes we might be angry. A lot of that is on social, where we may not always be in our most linear of thoughts and focused. And that’s fine — that’s what people use social for.

But how do you start connecting your readers to each other around similar topics? A lot of that on social now has been things that readers have modified social for, like hashtags. Hashtags were something readers developed to be able to follow conversation and this is all information that lives on social. These important things aren’t on your site. They’re not a relationship you’re building with your community — they are things that you are going to a third party to see and then bringing it back to your platform because your readers are commenting on things that they found on your platform.

Why are there so many layers between you and your readers? Is that what you actually want? Your data is also on a third-party platform — it should be your data. It’s your content. And even though it’s on a third-party platform — Twitter or Facebook or whatever the third-party platform is — readers’ opinions of their experiences on these platforms is transferred to journalism. It’s transferred to the newspaper or the website or the network that they are talking and interacting with. And that’s the kind of relationship we think you [journalists] should own.

The Coral Project’s products, as outlined on its website. (Credit: Coral Project)


The tools of Coral are “Trust”, “Ask” and “Talk”. They handle what we think are three very important sections of community building.

[Editor’s note: Check out the Coral Project’s website and public Trello board for more information about its tools and goals.

Not everybody should have comments. But we want to improve tools that will allow you to get to the core of it, which is: how do you honestly and transparently represent and provide good journalism, and get good feedback and integrate that into journalism as part of a growing and continued relationship with the community you claim or with the audience you are searching for?


What is the relationship between journalists and readers like now?  What would you want to change?

I think it depends on the site, it depends on who you are, it depends on what you feel. I know a lot of people feel that sometimes journalism only shows up when they’re having the worst moment of their lives.

I’m an immigrant from a very tiny South American country, Guyana. People don’t often talk about it, and when they talk about it, it’s usually, “Hey, it’s flooding.” Or that there are lots of deportations, or corruption, or something like that, rather than “oh it’s a beautiful, we have a nearly-1,000-year history and it’s geographically biodiverse, and we have had communities in New York, Philly and Canada for quite some time.”

Journalism doesn’t show up for those things — it shows up for the horror. And people often feel that journalism doesn’t seem to listen. Journalists will say, “I never ever read the comments,” and some of them have perfectly good reasons. Comments have been terrible to them. If you are a person of colour or a woman journalist, comments in some places are horrific for you. They’re utterly horrific and not reading them does you a form of self-preservation.

“A lot of people feel that sometimes journalism only shows up when they’re having the worst moment of their lives.”

On the other hand, there are people who have fallen under fantastic communities from their comments, who have gotten book deals, who have been able to help people with healthcare, who have been able to help people with legal aid, who have supported funerals from the comments.

I remember that a friend introduced me to Bitter Southerner. She’s from Atlanta, I am not Southern in any way, shape or form. I am a first-generation American, so a lot of the South is not personally [related] to me, but I like the way the community [writes], and when they said “hey, you have to pay or we may not survive,” I paid. It was worth it to me to sustain the model.

The community, monetarily, can sustain you. It can also allow — when members are interested and willing to contribute — for different types of fascinating journalism. Bitter Southerner did a wonderful piece about coal refuse that I don’t think I’ve seen anywhere else. They did pieces about the origin of hot fried chicken or music streets that were mostly supported by their community.

One of the big things that we’ve been talking about post-election is the creation of echo chambers and filter bubbles. Is that a risk that comes with building communities?

A filter bubble isn’t a community.

When you think of communities, and when you think of them outside of journalism, we think of them in our own lives. They don’t consist of like-minded people: they’re bonded people, they’re people who have chosen or have, by circumstance, are together, but that doesn’t necessarily make them all the same. One of the big jokes I always make about communities is: think of your last big family dinner.

How well did that go? You’ve got maybe 30 minutes before the lifelong battle between Auntie M and Auntie G came up again because both of them had a glass of wine at decided they wanted to have that fight again. You would prefer that they not have the fight. Somebody will separate them before dishes go flying, and everyone’s doing their job. But it’s reality.

We don’t have to sit here and have discussions where everyone agrees. We do have to have discussions where people’s humanity is respected. We read everything here at Coral. How horribly people talk about each other! Depending on what side of the spectrum you’re on, [the reaction] goes from, “well that was really mean,” to “that is some of the most dehumanising, racist, homophobic language I have ever seen.” And communities, I think, should be for the expression of views where humanity is respected.

“One of the big jokes I always make about communities is: think of your last big family dinner.”

I have my political views. If anyone Googles me for more than two seconds, you can pretty much figure out my political views. But when I step into a journalistic community, I know what is expected of me to behave or how I’m supposed to behave, and I know that the person, even if we are diametrically opposed, is being held to the same expectations. That will be enforced, and the person who has to do that [the moderator] has the tools to do that without harming themselves. And we can present and interact with, at our own will and desire, the sections of our community that best represent that.

Too often, when people talk about the Internet or making a better Internet, they talk about making a “nicer” or “more civil” Internet. I think it’s a good position to have. There are some amazing civil comments doing some really good work with comments.

But I always feel that, for certain spaces, it’s not about whether or not we are civil to each other, or [whether we] necessarily agree on everything. It’s that we know what we expect and can control our experiences.

“A person has a right to be racist. A person has a right to be awful. They do not have a right to make me listen to it.”

The problems with harassment, when it tips over, is that I can no longer control my experiences. I don’t want to talk to this person, but your platform won’t let me not talk to this person. I don’t want this person to see me, but you’re preventing me from saying that. I don’t think this is a real person, I think this is a bot, and I’m doing more work in finding that out than you are.

A person has a right to be racist. A person has a right to be awful. They do not have a right to make me listen to it. And a platform has a right to be racist. They have the right to be for one group only. But they have to be clear about that, and they have to be direct with that. No person should go into a platform expecting one thing and being promised one thing, and getting something completely different, often to the terms of abuse, and not have a way to address that and not have the platform stand by that.

So if I tell you, “we’re not going to have this language,” even if it’s just a social contract and not legally binding, I’ve made you a promise. I should keep that promise. And if I don’t keep that promise, there should be a way for us to talk about why it didn’t happen. That, I think is community — less than “we all have the same filter bubbles.”

Filter bubbles come from the place where we stop trying to develop ways to talk to each other at all. Nobody has figured out who’s supposed to step into that void of “we’re gonna have to talk to each other at some point or we have to at least come to agree on basic facts.”

The Coral Project’s end goal users, as outlined on its website. (Credit: Coral Project)

I have also received pretty bad and scarring comments, so I appreciate the Coral Project’s aims.

I’m a Twitter veteran and some of my harassment has made it into national and international news. It’s really trippy and it’s not fun. I think it’s a thing that we could do better at protecting against. I’m a very large free speech advocate.

I don’t like it when people are banned for speaking what they believe, or saying what they say. I will spend the rest of my life at the top of my lungs, and possibly throw hands if necessary, to fight them about it — but they have a right.

Too often, the idea of “we’re going to push it onto Facebook” or “we’re going to push it onto social” is less about protecting or developing good spaces for conversations, but more about being “I’m not the one responsible for this one. Good luck.”

We are responsible. We are the people who have said: “This is what we want to do: we want to tell the world about itself.” So we have to tell the world about itself truthfully. But we can do that without causing random [access] harm to everyone, and usually to the most marginalised. I believe we can. But I also am very famous for being overly hopeful.

“We are the people who have said: ‘We want to tell the world about itself.'”

What is the journalist’s role in online communities? Are they community members, are they also contributing, are they asking the questions? What’s their role?

Journalists are all sorts of things. People are using our tools, which is very exciting. In one of our tools, created with Bocoup, you can choose an emoticon and one thing you want the president-elect to concentrate on. And they have been getting good with that.

We [Coral Project] have a community online, we make newsletters, we go to conferences and we talk to people. We also counsel. In trying to build around a community, we also hope to form a community of people who are like, “you know what, we want to talk about this. Usually people don’t think it’s important but we’re going to think it’s important.”

There are some journalists who look at us and say, “you are very sweet, I’m never going to use this.” And that’s fine. That is OK. But we want that to be a discussion we’re having, and not just a quiet thing where we’re going, “comments are terrible, we’re not going to do anything about it” or “comments are terrible, we’re not going to talk about how they got that way.”

Journalism is so important, now more than ever. We want to work toward bringing people back to interacting and trusting journalism, because they know that this is part of their lives.

The Coral Project outlines its goals and needs on its public Trello board. (Credit: Coral Project/Trello)

Do you think journalists are losing trust in their readers?

I think readers are losing trust in us [journalists]. We have numbers on it. They don’t trust us. And part of that is because they don’t know us, or they don’t know what we do.

There are ways for us to be connected to our readers and inform our readers and do the intelligent and vital work of journalism without being so disconnected. People are like, “once I give people what they want, I’ll have to give them simple, bad journalism.” I don’t think that’s true. I think you can give people a connection so that they trust the journalism you give without having to dumb it down.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

TOP IMAGE: The Coral Project distributed this sticker at their workshop at MozFest 2016.

Social Media for Journalists: Making a case for Facebook

There is one clear fact about journalism and social media, i.e. Twitter is the ‘Holy Grail’ for journalists.
The 140 characters in a tweet are used by a majority of journalists for breaking news and microblogging. Almost every journalist has a twitter account.

Facebook on the other hand is what I call a ‘potential’ which is waiting to be discovered by journalists. Facebook is a larger platform than that of Twitter and much more varied. In the following points I will make a case for Facebook and why it should be used more by journalists.

Here we go.

1. Number of users

This is the modus operandi and source of pride for any social media site. More users will generate more content. In the second quarter of 2016, Facebook had 1.71 billion monthly users while Twitter had just 313 million in the same time period.

This is a massive difference. More importantly, a difference which can have major consequences on what is being shared and created. Facebook has already become a source of news, with almost every major news agency sharing content on their official Facebook pages.

Contrastingly, individual journalists are not that active on Facebook. Click on a journalist’s profile, and you get a Wikipedia-esque introduction, with few irregular posts.

To reach a bigger audience, journalists who already have a Facebook profile can use their profiles professionally or even make a separate page if they want to keep their professional and personal profiles separate.

Journalists will get a much larger audience to cater to on Facebook.

2. Extensive engagement with audience

Facebook’s comments section is a platform for opinions, frustrations, and friendly banter. Activity over Facebook has become so relevant in recent times, that governments in certain countries (India and Pakistan) track such activities and curb them. Like the press, Facebook provides a platform for public opinion, forming and shaping it.

Granted that Twitter is good source for breaking news, but if a story is broken on Facebook, the public can actively engage in debate through the comments section.

Facebook’s reactions is a great tool for journalists. It can help them to understand what shared content resonates with the public’s emotions. Before reactions, it was impossible to tell from a “like” whether the reader was angry, sad, or happy about what they had seen.

On Twitter, although you can engage with audiences through replies, the scope of debate is limited to 140 characters.

Engaging with Facebook comments may seem like a daunting task. Twitter is more favoured because journalists are short on time and sending a tweet is easier than commenting on Facebook.

But, if they can spare time to engage with their audience on Facebook, they will be be able to understand public opinion.

3. The multi-platform format on Facebook facebooklive_marquee3
Facebook can influence public opinion because it provides a wide range of platforms on its site through which users can share content.

News agencies are making extensive use of Facebook live to break news and report on stories. If you compare breaking a story on Twitter with just a one line tweet and breaking the same news with a live video, you can understand the huge differences between the two. Video always has a more lasting effect on the viewer than words have on the reader. 

Facebook Live video has revolutionised reporting: where anyone can record live videos of any event through their mobile phone cameras.

Twitter is not so accessible when it comes to multimedia reporting. Short videos, GIFs and pictures are about all there is on offer.

Data day: The rise of fake news on Facebook

Did Pope Francis endorse Donald Trump? Did Hillary Clinton sell weapons to Isis? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you may have been the victim of fake news. In the first episode of a new podcast from Interhacktives – Data Day – Ella Wilks-Harper and Luke Barratt discuss the rise of fake news, question whether the crisis has been overstated, and examine some possible solutions to the problem.

Fake news on Facebook has been the subject of a frenzied debate recently, especially around a US election that has seen a country divided bitterly. As Americans – and Brits – retreat into online echo chambers of their own making, filling their Facebook feeds with people who agree with them, is it any wonder that ideology might start to trump fact? Some consider fake news the logical conclusion of the filter bubble. Will it be a wake-up call for Facebook to recognise editorial responsibility and abandon the utopian dream of its impersonal, all-ruling algorithm?

Mark Zuckerburg’s initial response to the fake news scandal:

Buzzfeed’s story about Macedonian teenagers using fake news to garner ad revenue:

A letter from the editor of Aftenposten attacking Zuckerburg over the censoring of a picture from the Vietnam War:

Buzzfeed’s analysis of engagement with fake news on Facebook in the last few months before the US election:

What WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption means for journalism and how to use app

The last time I checked, WhatsApp was not one of the most popular social media apps among journalists.

It was trailing Twitter, Facebook, Messenger, and Line by far.


Many a journalist have written off this chat app with a disputed 800 million monthly active users after efforts to broadcast through it proved to be a herculean task— adding phone numbers to chat groups and broadcast lists.

Yes, pushing out information through hard-to-make and limited WhatsApp broadcast lists is neither efficient nor economical but this world’s most popular messaging application is still useful in journalism.

It unleashes its power when you reverse the newsroom-audience information flow— from broadcasting to newsgathering.


What’s more, WhatsApp’s latest addition of end-to-end encryption (above) has made it safe for internal newsroom communication— including managers’ top-secret chats, planning, story assignment to reporters and content filing, including scoops.

“When you and your contacts use the latest version of the app, every call you make, and every message, photo, video, file and voice message you send, is end-to-end encrypted by default, including group chats,” WhatsApp co-founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton said in their announcement of the new privacy features.

Unlike Telegram where users have to start a secret chat to enable encryption, WhatsApp’s new security feature, Signal Protocol designed by Open Whisper Systems,  is enabled by default in the app’s latest version.


“Once the session is established, clients do not need to rebuild a new session with each other until the existing session state is lost through an external event such as an app reinstall or device change,” Koum and Acton said.

However, there are concerns that the encryption fails in chats between Android and iPhone phones. It should also be noted that the Big Brother may be able to snoop on encrypted messages if the security  of your gadget is compromised.


So, how can you effectively use WhatsApp for internal newsroom communication, content-generation and newsgathering?

The app that was acquired by Facebook at $16 billion (£10.6 billion) in 2014 uses standard cellular mobile numbers to send information— photos, texts, audio, videos and user location — over the internet, across platforms.

Its web feature, WhatsApp Web, which is installed by scanning a QR reader, makes it easier to type and download information onto a computer for processing.


Once this system is set up, WhatsApp is not only fast in breaking news but also more reliable in receiving and verifying eyewitness media and User Generated Content (UGC).

To begin, it is advisable to set up a WhatsApp group for your reporters and correspondents, with editors as admins who issue instructions and plan day-to-day business

As the newsgatherers post content on the platform, editors have to monitor updates, download, process, package and publish the information.

El Taller del Bit

The app’s chat function allows conversations between the senders and receivers, including clarifications and requests for more information in real time.

Kenya’s Daily Nation has successfully used WhatsApp to receive breaking stories from its reporters and correspondents around the world in the last two years.

It runs a closed group where newsgatherers, online subs and editors are ever conversing— gathering and publishing information as part of the newspaper’s digital strategy.


The BBC has expanded beyond closed newsroom groups and now uses WhatsApp to receive eyewitness media and general UGC, according to

Its Have Your Say programme has been particularly successful at this— breaking the Alton Towers rollercoaster crash, covering Nepal earthquake, India and South Africa elections.

The Wall Street Journal and the Guardian, reports also run successful crowd-sourcing projects using WhatsApp.


While Facebook, Twitter, Line, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, WeChat and Viber are equally reliable in delivering UGC, verification of content delivered via WhatsApp is quicker, courtesy of country phone codes.

For instance, if a user claims to be a resident of Garissa in Kenya where Al-Shabaab killed 148 students last year and their phone number’s country code reads +27, you have every reason to be skeptical because +27 is the country code for South Africa. Kenya’s is +254.

Mark you, it is not impossible for people to download content from the internet and pass it as their own on this ‘dark end’ of the internet.

Syed Ikhwan_edited

As such, content delivered via WhatsApp should treated with the scepticism all UGC deserves and passed through the normal verification process.

The success of WhatsApp in delivering UGC is solely dependent on the popularity of the app in the targeted region.

It can work wonders in a country such as  India that has over 65 million active users but may not be as successful in the United States where WhatsApp is still struggling to get users’ attention.

Photo credits: — Harry Misiko, El Taller del Bit, iphonedigital, Microsiervos and Syed Ikhwan | Creative Commons.

Sociotope brings your online identity to life

A mass of multi-coloured tentacles against a grey-blue backdrop

While browsing data visualisations on Pinterest the other day, I came across an interesting-looking tool: Sociotope, a social media experiment which takes the data people leave behind in social networks and turns it into an interactive data visualisation.

The free-to-use web app works with Twitter, Facebook and soon Google Plus. It uses your data to build a “virus”-like creature with one tentacle for every post you’ve made, or post that someone else has involved you in, up to a maximum of 150 (though you can choose to load more). The colour scheme is taken from your profile picture, and the length of each tentacle varies depending on the length of the post. The more the tentacles move around, the more people have interacted with that post – providing a slightly bizarre but effective overview of your social media presence.

 A screen capture of me exploring Sociotope and using it to visualise my Twitter activity

Sociotope is functional, but also fun and interesting – you can use your cursor to spin it around in the three-dimensional space, and watch as the tentacles flop about. You can click on each one to see details about that post, although with so many tentacles in the way, it can be difficult to hit the exact one you’re aiming for.

Sociotope also provides a few options for analysing your social media presence, including sorting posts by time and by author. Its design is geared more towards visual impact than straight-forward analysis; but it’s effective as a visualisation and fun to play with, and could serve as an entry point for more casual users into analysing their social media presence, rather than only appealing to professionals, like most analytical tools.

A visual metaphor

Stefan Wagner, the designer who created Sociotope, says he wanted people to gain an understanding of what they leave behind online:

If you browse websites, data is collected about you – lots of data. I think the average user doesn’t ever glimpse how much data that is actually collected … these kind of exceptional visualisations, they gain people’s interest, and they will be interested in this viewing this data and what lies behind it.

Stefan describes Sociotope as a “metaphor” that represents people’s social media activity and their social relevance. “I always liked connecting data visualisation to some sort of metaphor – I like working with metaphors to convey information about something. The idea was created to make a data visualisation of social media and put it in some sort of other form, to shape it differently, so that the viewer would learn something else from it.

“I really hope that people are using it to analyse their own presence and maybe the identity of others. Because social networks, they’re all about social interaction, and I think it’s really important for people to realise how they use this kind of social media, how they interact with their friends, and how deep this interaction goes.”

Does he think that this is a role that data should be playing – in helping people realise these things about themselves? “For me, it’s the only way data should be used. Of course big data is used to do advertisements and stuff but for me, the interesting thing lies in analysing behaviour and getting into how people use this kind of media.”

A colourful Sociotope visualisation with a few tendrils extending out towards the words "tweet", "reply", "tweet with media" and "link"
Sociotope can break your online presence down by type of post and whether or not it contains media | Stefan Wagner / andsynchrony

Sociotope also provides an unexpected insight into how the internet has developed over time and how users’ social media presences have changed with it. By loading posts back far enough, you can play them as a time-lapse which shows the evolution of a person’s social media presence over the years.

“When I started to build the project,” says Stefan, “I saw that in 2009 or 2010, people were writing a lot more text, but now they restrict themselves to posting photos or one-liners – just a few words. People tend to not write so many things any more; they more tend to post photos or videos.

“You can read it out of the visualisation. [Similarly], when you look at websites, how they are structured and how they try to gain attention, photographs or images get a lot more space these days than they did two or three years ago.”

Generating Utopia

Sociotope isn’t Stefan’s only project which uses data visualisation to give insight into how people use social media. In 2013, he created ‘Generating Utopia’, a real-time visualisation of social location data using the social platform Foursquare.

It takes a map of an existing city and alters the topography based on a person’s Foursquare check-ins, elevating the areas where a person checks in the most, to emphasise their importance. The locations are connected by a web of neon lines in primary colours: red for work, blue for recreation and yellow for transport. The overall effect is a dramatic, futuristic cityscape.

“People like to represent themselves from their best side, in social networks,” Stefan explains. “So when they check in somewhere, it’s not like the doctor’s office or something; it’s some awesome place. So people will build up a utopic vision for themselves, and I wanted to build utopian landscapes from the data.”

A bird's-eye view of a cityscape with several buildings perched on top of high mountains, with lines of red, blue and yellow light winding their way around the topography
A still from Generating Utopia | Stefan Wagner / andsynchrony

“I really love provoking people by showing them data in a different way. I like using metaphors and images, strong images, which provoke people’s imagination to make them build up a sensibility towards what data means and how much data they produce. I think it’s really important.”

Stefan says that he would like to see more people creating images and ideas from the data that lies behind a person’s online presence. “Every image which is created helps shape this future idea of how data should be, or how social networks should work. I can only motivate people to try to visualise data.”

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, and you can also find Rebecca Findley on Twitter.

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


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.


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 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.


Use a URL shortener such as – it looks much better. Install the 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 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.


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 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.


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…


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

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.



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 -


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



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.


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.

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”

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.


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.

6 sites that show why data is beta

New to data journalism and keen to learn but unsure about the kind of stories you could uncover with numbers? Well worry not because the Interhacktives have collected the examples of experts in action so you don’t have to.

Here’s a roundup in no particular order of the best news sites that use data journalism and data visualisation in the UK.


Guardian Datablog Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 13.46.07


Guardian Data Blog

Data journalism is by no means a new trend. The Guardian is cited as the first major publication to bring data journalism into digital era, with Simon Rogers launching the Datablog in 2009.

The blog covers everything from topics  currently on the news agenda to general interest.

This week saw a report on the record levels of opium harvested in Afghanistan and a visualisation about the lives and reigns of Game of Thrones Targaryen kings.

The Guardian’s Datablog is good for beginners as there tends to be a link to the source of their data on each article, enabling you to access the data and to use it for your own stories.

Amp3d graph - We're eating more chocolate than there is in the world, "Predicted world chocolate deficit"


This arm of the The Mirror is what its creator Martin Belam calls “socially shareable data journalism”, the successor to his Buzzfeed -esque site UsVSTh3m. Launched last Christmas, after only eight weeks of building, Ampp3d is the tabloid perspective of data journalism.

Stories this week included what makes the Downton Abbey’s perfect episode and the British city where people are most likely to have affairs.

Most importantly, perhaps, is that it’s a site specifically designed for viewing and sharing on a mobile device. As Belam writes on his blog,  80+ per cent of traffic at peak commuting times comes from mobile, which the project aims to capitalise on this attention.

i100 "The list" Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 14.30.30


i100 is The Independent’s venture into shareable data journalism. It takes stories from The Independent and transforms them into visual, interactive pieces of often data journalism. It also incorporates an upvote system to put the reader in charge of the site’s top stories.

The articles are easily shareable since social media integration is a core part of the reader’s experience.

To upvote an article, you have to log in with one of your social networks (currently Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Linkedin, Instagram or Yahoo).

Bureau of Investigative Journalism homepage

Bureau of Investigative Journalism

Championing journalism of a philanthropic kind, the data journalism of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism differs from most of the other publications on this list.

Based at City University London, its focus is not on the visual presentation of data, but the producing of “indepth journalism” and investigations that aim to “educate the public about the abuses of power and the undermining of democratic processes as a result of failures by those in power”. As a result, there is little visualisation and mostly straight reporting.

For data journalists, though, its ‘Get the Data’ pieces are indispensable resources as they allow you to download the relevant Google spreadsheets that you could then turn into data visualisations.

FT Datawatch: the world's stateless people screenshot

The FT

The Financial Times’  Data blog is one of the leading international news sources for data journalism and one of the UK’s leading innovators in data visualisation. It creates pieces of interactive and data-driven journalism based on issues and stories around the world, which include everything from an interactive map showing Isis’ advances in Iraq to UK armed forces’ deaths since World War II.

It describes itself as a “collaborative effort” from journalists from inside the FT, occasionally accepting guest blogs.

Bloomberg screenshot of homepage


Bloomberg  has perhaps some of the most impressive-looking data visualisations out of all the news sources mentioned. The emphasis on the aesthetic is immediately apparent since a zoomed-in version of each visualisation functions to draw a reader in on the homepage as opposed to a traditional headline/photo set up.

Interactivity is the most defining feature of Bloomberg’s data journalism. Many of its pieces rely on the reader to actively click on parts of the visualisation in order to reveal specific data. For example, its World Cup Predictions and Results article requires the reader to select a game in order to see statistics and information about it.

PMQs liveblog

Westminster Parliament PMQs live blog liveblog

See how our live blog of PMQs on 30 April 2014 went by scrolling through the feed from CoverItLive below.

P.S. I was posting under the username of ‘Sarita Pija’, apart from for the first post (which contains the typo that some people are still making, 6 months after we started using the InterhacKtives site). Why I was posting under that name, only Billy Ehrenberg knows.


The News Hub: a bridge between social media and journalism?

The News Hub logo

With the grand ambition of “making news better” in a digital age, The News Hub aims to right some of the wrongs of the online publishing world. Delivering a powerful, democratic and free market news platform, as its founder William Stolerman hopes to do, sounds easy enough. However in an industry wrestling with oversaturation, paywalls and revenue models, can this new project make it? We talk to William Stolerman about his plans for The News Hub, expected to launch in the next couple of weeks.

Like many of his professional counterparts, William Stolerman has watched on as his industry has struggled to come to terms with change.

Continue reading “The News Hub: a bridge between social media and journalism?”

Two hours of Interhacktivity: #hackshangout

Interhacktivity tutorial #hackshangout

Interhacktivity tutorial #hackshangout

Our tutorial on data journalism will start at 6pm today (Monday 24th March) – click here for the link.


To see last week’s tutorial on social media verification, click here.


The time for our first hour of Interhacktivity is almost upon us.

The tutorials will be held via a Google Hangout on Air. The exact link to the Hangouts will be posted at the top of this article when they go live, on Monday and Thursday (at 6pm).

Throughout the tutorials, non-presenting Interhacktives will be monitoring Twitter. We’re hoping to keep matters as informal as possible, so, if you have any questions during the event, please tweet using the hashtag #hackshangout. And, of course, if you have any questions, suggestions or comments before or after the event, please do the same, or tweet us directly.

Two hours of Interhacktivity #hackshangout


After taking into account the results of our poll, the topics were decided as follows:

Data tutorial (Monday 24th March, 6pm)

– Data cleaning and mapping with Daniele Palumbo

– Data visualisations (Datawrapper and Raw) with Laura Cantadori

Social media tutorial (Thursday 20th March, 6pm)

– Social media verification with Rachel Banning-Lover and Chris Sutcliffe

If you are curious and feel in need of some guidance on how to fit into a modern newsroom, join us on Monday and Thursday.

For more details of the thinking behind the event, click here.

Analysis: How this running & cycling app creates a community of competitors

Strava app

You may have seen members of the Strava community bombing down your street on a bike or dashing, fleet-footed, through your local park. The users are many. As an application that pits runners and cyclists against each other using GPS to turn streets into racetracks, it is showing how smart phones can blur the lines between online and offline communities.

In a conversation on Quora, Strava developer Leo Romanovsky indicated that Strava athletes log two million activities a week, which, if we estimate 3 activities per user, would mean Strava has around 666,666 active users.

It works like this: you strap a phone to your bicep or strap up to a GPS device and hit the road. Users nominate different “segments” of tarmac and each has a leaderboard. It’s a race to the top.

In 2013 athletes logged activities in every country on Earth, (a total of 905,408,836 miles), and although Strava remains most popular in the US and UK, it has recently garnered support from other countries.

There is a major competitive element to Strava. Many people look to move up the results page either against the community in general or against friends. It can be quite intimate: you can view a person’s run in detail, and even look at their heart rate.

Strava is different to similar services such as Map my Run and Nike+ because it plays perfectly on the border between an online community and an offline one. It encourages people to interact in both arenas and pushes both bonhomie and hard competition.

One of its biggest triumphs is its use of an open API. This allows third party apps and tools to grow around the community, such as sites to analyse activities in greater detail. One developer was even hired after he created an app. This shows a good understanding of social media: it is better to build a tool and let the users decide how to use it.

Strava On Twitter

Strava interacts interact strongly with users: 71% of tweets contain a user mention and the most mentioned users are athletes, not staff.

Twitter is used by the community to share rides, runs and photos, and Strava retweets activities with inspiring images, encouraging athletes looking for validation from the community. These images are usually linked to Instagram.

Strava Twitter

Strava On Facebook

Strava uses Facebook to promote its features and challenges, and encourages sharing with requests like “share your indoor torture chamber”. Users respond very positively when asked to share activities or photos, and this is encouraged by Strava’s highlighting of certain users’ activities.

Strava Facebook

Strava On Instagram

Strava has recently allowed athletes to update their activities by posting images to Instagram during runs or rides. Strava staff also post photos here, and choose the best ones to showcase on Facebook.

Strava’s popularity has even spread to some professional athletes; Laurens Ten Dam used Strava to record his ride to 13th place in the 2013 Tour de France.

Strava Instagram

5th Hackney Debate: Social media – a blessing or a curse?

George Alagiah - chair of 5th Hackney debate

Social media – is it a blessing or a curse? This was the topic of Friday’s 5th Hackney Debate which saw the BBC’s George Alagiah chair a discussion of how social media is shaping society, and in some cases how society is shaping social media.

5th Hackney Debate
The panel at the 5th Hackney debate

With Olivia Solon, Associate Editor at Wired UK, Paulo Gerbaudo, author of Tweets and Streets, Stephen Foster, headteacher of Hackney’s Bridge Academy, and Caroline Criado-Perez,  famous for campaigning for women to appear on banknotes, the panelists came at the key issues from a wide range of approaches – from the activist’s to the educator’s.

However, it was debate chair George Alagiah who really hit the nail on the head when describing how endemic social media has become to society – apparently a whopping five million children under five are on Facebook.

Here are the top 5 thoughts to come out of the debate

1. Social media has given disabled activists a voice.

Caroline Criado-Perez received death threats on Twitter after campaigning on the social media site for women to appear on banknotes, yet she enthuses about the scope of social media and the wider internet for activists. “Activists can now reach out to people they never could have before, and we’ve seen a huge expansion in disabled activism over social media.”

For her, the advent of online petitions and lobbying over Twitter has changed the face of activism, with the success of online petition sites like meaning that petitions no longer stay static, as people can keep on adding their support to campaigns.

2.  Twitter’s actually a rather democratic place: it’s not whom you know or how many people follow you that matters, it is that everyone from world leaders to celebrities to the man on the street is essentially in reach.

Olivia Solon of Wired UK
Olivia Solon, Editor of Wired UK – Image: Pierre Metivier

“One of the great things about social media is whether you’ve got 100 followers or 10 million, those two people CAN communicate to [sic] each other,” said Olivia Solon.

3. What’s wrong with social media is not the tools themselves, but how people use them.

“If we don’t like what social media is presenting us [with], we should look at society instead, not just the tool they communicate with,” said Caroline Criado-Perez.

Another panelist added that if you got a nasty letter in the post, you wouldn’t blame the postman or Royal Mail.

Cyber bullying, which Stephen Foster, the headmaster, said 60% of 15-year-olds had experienced, was another case in point – bullies have always existed, just the methods they’ve used have changed.

4. Removing anonymity would not solve social media’s problems; in fact, it would would be detrimental.

“Most of the people who tweeted me threats were easily identifiable – they used their real names, had pictures of them with their kids and didn’t care at all about anonymity,” Criado-Perez replied when an audience member asked about whether removing anonymity on social media sites would make them safer for users.

Several of the panelists added that removing anonymity from sites like Twitter could actually be detrimental to human rights activists and people living under dictatorships but who wanted to speak out, and who need the cover of anonymity to continue their work.

5. Social media is a huge organising tool – for bad and for good.

Politicians blamed social media for making it easier for rioters to organise in the 2011 London riots.

However, Solon argued: “It’s wrong to describe the 2011 riots as ‘the social media riots’ as politicians did, when social media was used just as much by people against the riots to organise clean-ups and to get home safely.”