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10 Incredible interactive audio experiences

Audio isn’t just for podcasts and slideshows. The following sites are using audio in new and creative ways to make create unique interactive experiences.

BBC: Save Our Sounds

The BBC map is indicative of the latest trend in audio: collecting user-generated audio and displaying it on a map. For this ambitious project, visitors are invited to upload sounds from all over the world, which anyone can listen to by navigating around the interactive map. This means you can hear the purr of a cheetah in South Africa or listen to a wrestling match in Mongolia without ever leaving your couch.

Tracks on a Map

Tracks on a Map takes the user-generated audio concept in a different direction and lets users from all over the world upload music to the site, which allows the viewer to hear great music and how it differs from country to country. Local Music Map

The aforementioned maps are powered by complex databases, but the Local Music Map shows that audio and maps don’t have to be grand productions to be good. The map mashup catalogs the music scene of the Lake Michigan area and provides photos and links to some of the area’s local artists, venues and other music-related landmarks.


This series of maps takes audio to a new and innovative level by taking the viewer or an audio tour of various locales. As the audio plays, the adjacent dynamic map moves to indicate where the audio was recorded. The technology is a combination of Google Maps, Quicktime and Javascript and is reminiscent of Vidmap which combines maps and video in the same way.

Cold War Kids: I’ve Seen Enough

Indie rock band Cold War Kids used the web to create an interactive music video where fans can toggle on and off each member of the band as they play the song “I’ve Seen Enough.” The effect is sort of like a mixing board where the viewer can listen to one or all of the band members play at the same time.

Interactive Band

The Flash-animated band is a lot like the Cold War Kids experience, only with more instruments and a groovy samba beat. Users can again toggle between the different band members and, if neither French or Spanish is your first language, learn a few bits of the languages as well.

Buckle Drum Set

This virtual drum set is proof that interactive audio experiences don’t have to be all fun and games. If you want to learn the basics of how to play the drums but aren’t yet willing to drop the cash on a whole set, you can use this Flash-based interactive to learn the various parts and sounds of a drum set.

If electronic music is more your thing, The Daft Punk Console allows users to recreate and remix the Daft Punk hits “Technologic” and “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” (famously sampled by Kanye West) using an interactive interface.

in Bb 2.0

This online collection of YouTube videos combines both user-generated content, an interactive audio experience and just plain fun into one cool project. A variety of musicians recorded themselves playing individual instruments and uploaded the video to YouTube to create one big collaborative song. You can play any combination of the embedded videos to create a unique harmony that sounds pretty great no matter which video you choose.

Economía musical

This last project is proof that news infographics don’t have to be boring. This series of charts from takes what would otherwise be another sad bar chart about the failing economy and turns it into a fun interactive, musical experience.

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7 Essential multimedia tools and their free alternatives

Why spend money on expensive multimedia tools when you can use comparable alternatives for free? They may not be an exact replacement, but how can you argue with the price?

Free: Splashup

Photoshop may be the industry leader when it comes to photo editing and graphic design, but Splashup, a free online tool, has many of the same capabilities at a much cheaper price. Splashup has lots of the tools you’d expect to find in Photoshop and has a similar layout, which is a bonus for those looking to get started right away. Splashup isn’t the only free online photo editing program, check out this list of 20 more.

WEB DESIGN: Dreamweaver
Free: KompoZer

Looking to create your next web site without paying big money for programs like Dreamweaver? KompoZer, a free web design program available for immediate download, is great for both novice web designers and professional webheads who need more advanced editing features.

VIDEO: Final Cut, Adobe Premiere
Free: iMovie, JayCut

Many video editors, both novice and professional, use iMovie to create professional-looking videos and an amateur price. The program is included on modern Macs as part of the iLife package and has the basic features editors need as well as few advanced extras such as detachable audio and image stabilization. JayCut is an online video editor that lets registered users upload and edit their video for free. You can even add photos, audio and effects to your project. The final edited video can be shared on the web or downloaded directly to a computer.

AUDIO: ProTools, Adobe Audition
Free: Audacity, GarageBand

Audacity is a comprehensive audio editor with many of the capabilities of its costly competitors. The program, which is available for a free download lets users record and edit everything from simple audio tracks to complex professional work. GarageBand, which is included on modern Macs along with iMovie and iPhoto, takes a simple approach to audio editing and has the added capability of creating enhanced podcasts with photos, chapter markers and more. Find even more free audio editing programs here.

SLIDESHOWS: Soundslides
Free: PhotoPeach

Until recently there was no other slideshow tool that could compete upload Soundslides’ flexibility and easy-to-use interface…until now. PhotoPeach lets users upload and order photos using a drag and drop interface, upload an MP3 audio file from a computer, add captions for individual photos and embed the final slideshow anywhere on the net. All this is familiar to anyone who has ever used Soundslides, but PhotoPeach offers all this and more for free, making it a strong substitute for Soundslides.

Free: Effect Generator

Effect Generator, a free online tool, lets anyone create common Flash elements such as slideshows, graphics, and embedded videos. Once you’ve created your effect the generator emails a link where you can access the Flash file you created. The layout differs from Flash and takes some getting used to but is a great alternative, especially for those just starting to learn Flash.

WORD PROCESSING: Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint)
Free: Google Docs

Many of the programs and tools on this list are substitutions for existing program. With Google Docs, you’ll never want to touch Microsoft Office again. The free online tool lets anyone with a Google account create documents, spreadsheets and presentations as well as share the document for collaborative editing or viewing. Google Docs is accessible from any computer with an internet connection or you can work offline or download your finished work directly to your computer. You can even upload your existing documents into Google Docs.

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5 Creative uses of Flash and interactive storytelling

Flash is capable of more than just audio slideshows. Some of the most innovative uses of the animation software are happening outside of journalism and are challenging the traditional notions of storytelling through interactivity and innovation.

Jordan: History of Flight

The storied career of basketball legend Michael Jordan is told through this interactive timeline that uses eye-catching and interactive graphics to make Jordan’s story even more powerful.

HBO Imagine: The Affair

Cable channel HBO knows what makes a good story and has a whole rack of awards to prove it. It’s latest foray into interactive online storytelling is this narrative that tells a single story from four different perspectives.


To showcase its 2009 collection, clothing retailer UNIQLO created an interactive runway where users can select a model and read more about the clothes they are wearing. It’s unique interface creates a more dynamic shopping experience.

What’s the Real Cost?

This interactive Flash game developed by health insurance non-profit Regence seeks to educate users on the hidden fees and bureaucracy often associated with American health care system. Like most Flash games, it is fun but subliminally educational.

A Journey Beyond

Sure it’s a clever way to sell more monogram bags, but Louis Vuitton’s interactive conversation between astronauts Jim Lovell, Sally Ride and Buzz Aldrin is nevertheless brilliant. It is clever not only in its use of Flash, but in creating an immersive experience that draws the viewer in to the stories of the three history makers.

The aforementioned sites took a lot of time and exceptional talent to create, but it doesn’t mean novice or intermediate Flash users can’t take some of the basic storytelling and interaction techniques and apply them to their own stories. Flash has a wide range of capabilities and it takes just a little imagination and effort to create something new and unique.

Haven’t yet mastered the basics of Flash? Check out the Flash tutorials available at, and

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5 Online tools for following US government officials

The 2008 U.S. election season may be over, but the real work has only just begun. The following tools are tracking the every move of President Barack Obama and Congress in easy to use online tools that can turn any user into a political watchdog.

Congress Speaks

It’s safe to say that the members of Congress talk a great deal while in session. In total, more than 14.5 million words were spoken in the 110th Congress. Congress Speaks is a fun, interactive guide to who was speaking those words and how often. From the site we know that California Congressman Joe Baca spoke more than 24,000 words during the session and, from the small word cloud that accompanies each Congressperson, his focus was on families, children and food.

Capitol Words

A more timely and serious approach to tracking Congress, Capitol Words, a project of the Sunlight Foundation, tracks the most frequently spoken words said on the Hill. The data can be viewed a number of ways, including a bar chart that highlights the most commonly spoken words, a heat map that visualizes the most vocal states, and few other bar charts that highlight the most and least vocal Congresspeople. The words are also sortable by day, week, month, session, Congressperson and are searchable by topic.

The Washington Post: POTUS Tracker

The Post has made it easier to find out where the president has been at any given time with its POTUS Tracker, an interactive database that uses a tree map to visualize where the president has been and what issues he discussed. The database can be sorted by issues, the type of meeting or venue, and by those in attendance. Clicking further into the project reveals a tailored list of the president’s actions in relation to the selected category. The database also has an accompanying RSS feed for keeping track of President Obama 24/7.


After the 2008 election, the now Pulitzer-prize winning site PolitiFact shifted its focus to President Obama and the rest of Washington. The site’s Obameter tracks the campaign promises the president made during his campaign on categorizes them as Kept, Unkept, No Action, and a few other categories. The tool is remarkable in that traditional media have long been passive about holding candidates accountable for the promises made to voters.

The site still features its Truth-O-Meter, a holdover from the campaign season that analyzes the statements of key political figures and rates them on a scale from True to “Pants on Fire.”

USA Today: Presidential Approval Tracker

There are obviously a lot of words flowing from lawmakers’ mouths, but what does the American public actually think of its current and past Commanders in Chief? USA Today has created an insightful interactive chart that compares past presidents’ approval ratings — from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. Users can select and two or more presidents and compare their standings while in office and adjust the graph by date.

For more online political tools and visualizations, including perspctv and FiveThirtyEight, check out the previous post 15 Ways to follow the 2008 election online.

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Where to find the best in Flash journalism

3 reasons journalists shouldn't use Flash

When Flash, the animation authoring software distributed by Adobe, first made its way into the hands of journalists, newsrooms everywhere seized the opportunity to create interactive stories that combined text, photos, audio, and video into one neat package. The novelty of the program led to the use of Flash for everything — even for stories that could be told successfully with just text and pictures — and sometimes requiring staff with no previous experience in design or computer programming to begin learning the program.

That said as wonderful a program as Flash is and despite its limitless possibilities there are several reasons why newsrooms should just say no.

1. Flash projects take a long time to create

When brainstorming how to incorporate Flash into upcoming multimedia projects, many journalists and editors don’t take into account how time-consuming it is to build even the most basic Flash project. Whereas with a print story, the writer can simply stop writing at any moment and not include further points or ideas, the process of creating keyframes, tweens, and coding a project takes a significant time to create complete. Flash is only done when it’s done.

2. Many projects don’t need to be animated

Journalists get excited when they see Flash projects with eye-catching animation and thus are tempted to make everything move, swish, zoom or fly across the screen in their own projects. Journalists should first decide if the multimedia project even needs to be built in the program and that Flash isn’t being used just because it’s cool. If it is decided that Flash is a great fit for a particular story, the producer should restrain his or herself and not go overboard with animation. At its foundation, a Flash project is still about telling a story.

3. Most journalists are not designers

Flash is okay to use as long as the conventional rules of web design are not ignored. Those who interact with Flash projects expect the layout and navigation to mirror traditional websites with the added bonus of interactivity. Because the average journalist isn’t schooled in the fundamentals of design or user interaction, a Flash project should first be sketched or storyboarded by professional designer who is well-versed on how readers interact with visual stories or graphics.

Of course there are many reasons why journalists should use Flash, among them its versatility and its power to draw in the passive user. The following are three multimedia journalism stories that are proof of the power Flash has to bring stories to life.

1. National Geographic: Kingdom of the Blue Whale

2. Las Vegas Sun: Construction Deaths

3. Día de la Música

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