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Archives: January 2009

How to analyze your Twitter followers and friends

Site analytics and subscriber counters can give a good idea of how many people are reading your content, but every good blogger knows that readers are more than just numbers.

In order to get a better picture of the diverse people and personalities that read 10,000 Words, I turned to Twitter where the hundreds of people who follow @10000Words provide bios that give more insight into each person’s unique personality. After some thorough analysis, I now know more about everyone and can tailor the blog to cater to each persons interest.

Before we get into who is following 10,000 Words on Twitter, I first wanted to analyze what I’ve been tweeting. And here it is, presented in a word cloud:

Every tweet ever posted by @10000Words was copied at one time using the Greasemonkey script Endless Tweets, which automatically loads older tweets when scrolling on the Twitter timeline (Find out more about the Greasemonkey extension here). The word cloud was created using Wordle; click the image to view a larger version.

Because I also tweet a lot of links, I wanted to visualize the type of content I have been linking to:

The text from this word cloud comes from the link names and descriptions listed by Twitturly, an online service that tracks Twitter users’ outgoing links. The site can also be used for tracking what everyone is talking about on Twitter in real time.

Now on to analyzing Twitter followers. I was especially curious about where everyone was from, especially because of those pesky time zone problems. According to this map, many are from the US, but many more are from Canada and Europe. The map was created using Yahoo Pipes and was amended from this existing Pipe. The original version required a Twitter username and password, but it was changed to pull from a single self-created XML file. Also, because the Twitter-generated XML file only lists about 100 followers per page, it was necessary to view each page and merge the XML files using simple copy and paste.

By extracting from the combined XML file the “description” tag that Twitter appends to each user, I was also able to gather the text of each person’s bio. That text was run through Wordle and here are the results:

If XML isn’t your cup of tea, TwitterSheep produces a similar word cloud of your followers’ bios (Twitter username and password required). Greasemonkey fans can use Twitter Friends’ Bio at a Glance to display each follower or friend’s bio and link when viewing them as a list. Also, check out the Twitter Mosaic creator for viewing your followers’ avatars all in one place.

A big thank you to everyone following 10,000 Words on Twitter! If you aren’t doing so already, check out @10000Words for useful tips and links you won’t see on the blog. Also, be sure to subscribe to the 10,000 Words RSS feed so you never miss a post.

Also on 10,000 Words:

10 Journalists you should follow on Twitter
25 Tools for getting more out of Twitter
How to design for a computer other than your own
10,000 Words Year-end wrap-up and word cloud

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10 Reasons why online news sites suck

It may be wrong to beat a man (or a newspaper) when he’s down, but some of the unconscionable and downright annoying features and practices of news sites warrant a little attention. Here are some of the worst offenders:

1. 50 million-word stories

The reason why so many people use the internet to get their news is because they can do so fairly quickly. So that Pulitzer Prize candidate that takes two years to scroll through and resembles an endless sea of text? Either break it up or kick it down a notch.

2. Multi-page “slideshows”

On the flip side, there are the popular online “slideshows” — one news story spread over several pages, usually with a single image and a paragraph of text on each page. While the practice may be good for page views, no one wants to click through 27 different pages to read a single story.

3. Expanding/ “Rich media” ads

You’re going about your business, reading a news article when suddenly that innocuous ad in the corner expands across the page and some cute animation demands your attention. You panic and search for the “close” button, but because it’s tucked away in the last spot you’ll ever look, you can’t finish reading the news article and leave the site in disgust. Sound familiar?

4. No links whatsoever

Often a news story will refer to some cool, hip, happening site, but because there is no link to said site, readers are left to Google it themselves. Sometimes, this is the fault of the reporter for not including the link or at minimum a note to do so. Yet many news sites just don’t have a practice of linking out or even worse, don’t include links in fear that their readers may be taken away from their site.

5. Registration

Thankfully many news organizations have seen the error of their ways and stopped requiring visitors to register just to view a single story. There are a few holdouts who insist on the practice and who fail to realize that many visitors would rather not read the story at all than to endure a five-minute registration process for a site they may never return to anyway.

6. Poor design

The average front page of a major news site looks like the HTML fairies threw up on it: endless columns of text and links with no real differentiation between the content. If you’re going to do the column thing, check out Alltop to see how it’s supposed to be done.

7. Full-screen ads

Upon visiting a news site, readers are greeted with a full-screen ad for something or the other instead of the story they were expecting to read. Again, done to generate advertising revenue, but it doesn’t make the practice any less annoying.

8. The never-ending hunt

As seen on TV? Not really. Many television newscasters at the end of a report will say something along the lines of “For more information, check out our website” and give the station’s web address. However, when the viewer actually visits the site, the link to the story is nowhere to be found and doesn’t show up in the site’s search.

9. Pop-up ads

Are we really still doing these? Really?

10. Comment trolls and flamers

These guys are the bane of many sites’ existence (and not just news ones). Because of the sometimes controversial nature of whats being reported, people use news sites as a forum for their bitter, inflammatory, racist or insulting remarks. Frustrated site managers try to dissuade or delete said comments, but are mostly crying on the inside and clinging to the notion that everyone has the right to free speech.

Also on 10,000 Words:

25 Things I’ve Learned About Journalism
Eyetrack studies: What we’ve learned and how to conduct your own
The difference between print and online design

Quotes from the pros: Famous photographers speak

“Every other artist begins with a blank canvas, a piece of paper… the photographer begins with the finished product.” — Edward Steichen

“One should really use the camera as though tomorrow you’d be stricken blind. To live a visual life is an enormous undertaking, practically unattainable. I have only touched it, just touched it.” — Dorothea Lange

“The best images are the ones that retain their strength and impact over the years, regardless of the number of times they are viewed.” — Anne Geddes

“Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again.” — Henri Cartier-Bresson

“I am not interested in rules or conventions. Photography is not a sport.” — Bill Brandt

“Sometimes I think all my pictures are just pictures of me. My concern is… the human predicament; only what I consider the human predicament may simply be my own.” — Richard Avedon

“There is a job to be done…to record the truth. I want to wake people up!” — James Nachtwey

“Let us first say what photography is not. A photograph is not a painting, a poem, a symphony, a dance. It is not just a pretty picture, not an exercise in contortionist techniques and sheer print quality. It is or should be a significant document, a penetrating statement, which can be described in a very simple term – selectivity.” — Berenice Abbott

“My job as a portrait photographer is to seduce, amuse and entertain.” — Helmut Newton

“The photographer begins to feel big and bloated and so big he can’t walk through one of these doors because he gets a good byline. He gets notices all over the world and so forth… but they’re really… the important people are the people he photographs. They are what make him.” — Gordon Parks

“If I am at a party, I want to be at the party. Too many photographers use the camera to avoid participating in things. They become professional observers.” — Robert Mapplethorpe

“You don’t have to sort of enhance reality. There is nothing stranger than truth.” — Annie Leibovitz

“Look and think before opening the shutter. The heart and mind are the true lens of the camera.” — Yousuf Karsh

“When I have a camera in my hand, I know no fear.” — Alfred Eisenstaedt

Also on 10,000 Words:

30 Amazing photoblogs (and a few tips for creating one)
Better Days: The Golden Age of Newspapers
Photojournalism: Where to find the best in news photography

How news media covered the 2008 presidential inauguration


By now you’ve probably already seen CNN’s mind-numbingly detailed photograph created from thousands of user-submitted photos and blended using Photosynth technology. But have you seen the following interactive image created by photographer David Bergman?

Bergman created the high-resolution image by combining over 200 images using Gigapan’s stitching software (more on Gigapan here). The Associated Press also has an interactive, high-res image for users to play around with.

Leave it to the New York Times to take an already incredible technology one step further. In its interactive inauguration photo, users can click a name or hover over a person in the photo to identify who they are. The usual suspects, including senators and dignitaries, can be easily spotted.

The Washington Post takes a different approach by composing a mosaic created from thousands of photos shot by citizen journalists and staff photographers from both the Post and the Associated Press.

Sometimes a good photo is just a photo, no interactive whizbang required. The Big Picture has a great collection of inauguration day photos, including the now instantly recognizable satellite photo of crowds gathered to hear Barack Obama’s inauguration speech (Click here for an explanation of how the estimated 1 million people in attendance were counted).

Speech/Word Analysis

After the inauguration, 50 million word clouds emerged, most created using Wordle, that analyzed Barack Obama’s now historic speech. Once again, the New York Times took the word analysis concept to another level with “Inaugural Words: 1789 to the Present,” a historical analysis of commonly recurring words used in presidential speeches, beginning with George Washington.

The real innovation, however, came from sites like ManyEyes, which visualized the speech as an interactive word tree, and Delve Networks which applied its audio search technology to extract not only the words that were spoken, but where they can be found in the address. Give the technology a spin by searching the video below for words like “America” or “hope.”

Citizen Journalism

The Washington Post made use of its TimeSpace technology (previously covered here) to create a mapped record of inauguration photos and video. TimeSpace: Inauguration allows anyone to search through the geotagged coverage in a multi-layered interactive environment.

Twitter was a hotbed of exchanges about the excitement surrounding the inauguration and no one knows this better than FlowingData. To visualize the Twitter buzz surrounding the event, the site tracked positive responses to the inauguration all over the world in what, as it progresses, looks like fireworks. (Click image to view project)

To make sure now President Obama sticks to his more than 500 campaign promises, PolitiFact will be keeping tabs on his administration with the Obameter, a digital counter that lists each and every one and whether it has been fulfilled or not. So far Obama has kept seven and 14 more are still in the works.

And finally, proof that print ain’t dead (yet). Click the image below to view the hundreds of newspapers around the world on which the inauguration of President Obama is front page news.

Also on 10,000 Words:

15 Ways to follow the 2008 election online

Essential resources for panoramic photography

7 Eye-popping interactive timelines (and 3 ways to create one)

Word cloud analysis of 2008 DNC Speeches

9 Telltale signs of amateur video

It’s easy to take good video for granted until you’ve seen bad video: the poorly shot, poorly lit, shaky kind that makes any viewer cringe. Here are some of the worst offenses in videography:

1. Everything looks blue or orange

Video shot outdoors looks blue, while video shot indoors is a puke-colored orange.

Solution: Off-color video is often a result of unbalanced color temperature (see an example here). Use the camera’s white balance feature — usually a single button or found in the features menu — to counteract the offending color.

2. Zooming back and forth during shots

Many video newbies have a trigger finger when it comes to the zoom button: static action is happening but the videographer repeatedly zooms in and out.

Solution: Let go of that zoom button! The temptation exists to do something with the camera if, for example, a person is talking for an extended period of time. But using the zoom too often can be distracting and result in mismatched edits.

3. Video alternates between clear and blurry

You’ve seen it before. There’s some action happening in the video and as the subject moves the video becomes blurry and out of focus.

Solution: Most consumer-level cameras come with the autofocus feature turned on, which means anytime something moves in the video, the camera will try to regain focus, resulting in a blurred image. If you anticipate any sort of quick movements, turn off the autofocus which is usually found in the camera menu.

4. Jumpcuts

He’s over here, now he’s over there! If video begins to resemble stop-motion animation, something has gone incredibly wrong.

Solution: Zoom out and keep the action in frame. Refrain from stopping and starting the camera between continuous shots.

5. Subject of video is off-kilter, unbalanced or cut off

Something is weird about the video. It’s tough to pinpoint, but it has to do with the framing of the subject.

Solution: One of the biggest mistakes when shooting video is ignoring the rule of thirds and the concepts lead room and headroom. Learn the basics of video composition from any book or online resource.

6. Excessive ascending or descending shots

The subject in the video is sitting down, but the camera is towering over him/her/it. Or the camera is at a low angle, making the subject look like a frightening giant.

Solution: Good video — especially the kind of video used in a journalistic context — should be shot at eye level. This means raising or lowering the tripod so that it is at the same level of the subject being shot.

7. Video looks like it was shot during an earthquake

The video won’t stop shaking and is making the viewer nauseous.

Solution: Unless you’re going for the Cloverfield style of videography, use a tripod whenever possible. If you don’t have one, try low-budget tricks like placing the camera on a stack of books or leaning against a wall while holding the camera.

8. Video is dark and grainy

Nothing makes video more unwatchable than not being able to actually see anything.

Solution: Video shouldn’t be a Rorschach test. Videographers should make use of a light kit or at the very least turn on a nearby lamp.

9. Audio is drowned out by ambient noise

The main character or interviewee is saying something deeply profound…but the sound of passing cars, honking horns or violent wind is drowning them out.

Solution: Get thee a microphone! The built-in microphones that come with most video cameras will pick up every sound in the area, but using a cardioid or unidirectional microphone will pick up only the sound you want to hear.

Once you’ve mastered the basics of online video, check out blogs like Video 2 Zero and MultimediaShooter to learn even more about what makes great video.

Also on 10,000 Words:

How to edit your video online for free or cheap
Tips for shooting better video for the web
Newspapers on YouTube: Dos and Don’ts