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Archives: June 2009

How to keep tabs on local traffic using maps and social media

In the pre-internet era of television and radio, news stations could get away with 5-minute traffic reports that may or may not have covered the area the viewer was concerned about. Nowadays, no one has the patience to sit through a broadcast; they want to log on to the web, find the traffic alerts that affect them and be on their way.

Map mashups have made spotting local vehicular traffic as easy as pressing the zoom button. Google Maps itself added traffic information to its site last year, but it is the Maps API that is making traffic maps even more interactive.

iMove, which focuses on the traffic of the Vancouver area, has mashed a Google map with construction and traffic alerts, as well as traffic camera locations, weather alerts and local transit information. Users can select what they’d like to see from a series of drop down menus. The selected data is also viewable in a table below the map.

Similar maps based on various technologies are available for many parts of the world, including France, Colorado, Ottawa and England.

History is the best teacher and there is no better lesson than analyzing the roads where fatal accidents have occurred. Risky Roads, previously featured in this post, uses color-coded markers to illustrate dangerous roads across the United States. The site uses readily available data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and has breakdowns for all 50 states.

Triptop NYC is another handy map that, instead of plotting real-time traffic patterns, estimated the commute between any two points in New York City. The map is not only visually stunning, it is also extremely helpful.

Of course, traffic is not limited to cars and trucks traveling on land. MarineTraffic.com maps the real-time movement of ships as they travel around the globe. As one can imagine there can be many ships traveling in any one area, so the site uses quadrants to indicate how many nautical navigators are traveling in a given area. The type of ship can be narrowed down using the checkbox system in the left rail.

The following visualization of Twitter users who have just landed from their airline flights shows that maps don’t have to be static to be informative. Find out more about how this video was created here.

Web 2.0 technology means users can share traffic information with each other, creating citizen-fueled traffic reports that rival mainstream media sources. Trapster uses mobile technology to let its users plot speed traps and avoid traffic tickets. Users can submit a speed trap via their cell phone or by calling a toll-free number. By downloading the Trapster application, anyone can be alerted of speed traps in the immediate area.

Commuter Feed harnesses the power of Twitter to get traffic updates for cities around the world. Recent accidents and traffic delays can also be found by searching Twitter for location-based tweets (e.g. “traffic accident near:90018″) or from from any of the Twitter accounts dedicated to area traffic reports, including @nyctraffic and @lasvegasweather

Hat tip to Google Maps Mania for the links and inspiration.


Also on 10,000 Words:

10 Mind-blowing maps (and 3 ways to create them)
Weather 2.0: Interactive online tools for keeping tabs on Mother Nature
How to quickly track natural disasters online
8 Ways of visualizing the news
5 Ways to create a Google Map in minutes

6 Unique cameras and audio recorders

Sure your fancy video camera cost $2,000, but can it record underwater? No? Well if you’re feeling extravagant or just have some extra funds left in the budget check out these gadgets that will take your work to new heights.

ContourHD Wearable Camera

Other helmet cameras have been featured here before, none of which captured such sweet-looking high definition video. The ContourHD records in a 1280 x 720 pixel, widescreen format at 30 or 60 frames per second and records up to 8 hours of video and audio. Be sure to check out some of the video captured by satisfied customers.

($299.99 | B&H Photo)


ProTrack Handheld Audio Recorder for iPod

Turn your iPod or iPod Touch into a powerful recording machine with this cool add-on. The ProTrack has a built-in stereo microphone and requires no cords, but also has an XLR input for connecting external mics. The recorder also comes with a headphone jack and — for 20 bucks more — a nifty tripod.

($159 | B&H Photo)


GardenWatchCam

Perfect for the horticulturally-minded photojournalist, the GardenWatchCam is a time-lapse camera that can be placed anywhere to capture nature’s beauty over time. The small camera is weather-resistant and can capture photos at seven different time settings. The 1.3-megapixel camera runs on AA batteries and connects to the computer’s USB port.

($139.95 | Amazon)

SRV-1 Blackfin Mobile Surveillance Robot

Let this pint-sized robot camera do all your dangerous shooting for you. The tank-like camera operates wirelessly, shoots at up to 1280 x 1024 resolution and fits in the palm of your hand. The little guy moves a foot a second and can run for 4 hours on a single charge. The SRV-1 requires some knowledge of computer programming to operate, but because it can tread where no human dare go, it is worth the effort.

($474.99 | ThinkGeek)

Infrared Flashlight Video Recorder


Sometimes journalism takes you to some dark and mysterious places. You can use your regular camera’s onboard light or just use this handheld flashlight that doubles as a video camera. The flashlight records up to 15 seconds of video at 30 frames per second or 500 photos at 640 x 480 resolution with its 128MB of built-in memory. All the footage shot is downloadable via your computer’s USB port.

($399.95 | Hammacher Schlemmer)


Pet’s Eye View Digital Camera

Entertain Fido’s ambition to become a photographer with this compact camera that fits securely on your pet’s collar. The digital camera can be set at 1, 5, or 15 minute-intervals and is perfect for gaining insight on the daily lives of animals. Note: expect lots of photos of fire hydrants and worn out couches.

($49.99 | ThinkGeek)


Also on 10,000 Words:

30 Must-have gifts for journalists
Crazy gadgets that are (possibly) crazy useful
6 Creative approaches to photography

5 iPhone applications that can revolutionize mobile journalism

By now you’ve seen or heard about the growing number of iPhone applications available from mainstream news organizations, including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Sky News. The mobile apps are a step in the right direction, but disappointingly most don’t offer much beyond the ability to read or share the news stories that are available elsewhere on the web.

The iPhone is a powerful tool that can elevate journalism beyond just reading stories, but also interacting with them in new and different ways. The following applications demonstrate that the possibilities for what can be done with the technology are limitless.


1. SpotCrime

For New York City iPhone owners, finding out what crimes have occurred in the neighborhood is as easy as launching the SpotCrime app and viewing crimes on a map. Users enter an address and the app plots recent crimes, including burglary, theft, assault, on a Google map. The information is also available in an easy to scan, text-based list.

SpotCrime is available online for neighborhoods all over the United States, and is similar to the many crime maps produced by news and independent organizations. Yet it is the unique mobile offering that is unrivaled by the media outlets who are often the gatekeepers of such data and statistics.


2. Kindle for iPhone

The popularity of the Kindle and its companion iPhone app are proof that users are more than willing to read long passages of text on handheld devices. This is good news for media outlets to looking make lengthy content available to mobile readers.

With hundreds of thousands of books available for reading on the iPhone and iPod Touch, there is hope for the 50,000-word news stories that have been ditched in favor of the quick, bite-sized information available on the web. The concept also introduces a possible revenue stream in which media outlets can charge for the subscription service or for the individual stories themselves, the incentive being the expanded stories/coverage are available for on-the-go reading.


3. Howcast

Several iPhone apps developed by mainstream media offer news video that has been repackaged from on-air or online broadcasts and made available for the iPhone. Howcast is no different, but instead of news stories, the site offers how to videos on a range of subjects — from how to make sushi to how to master online career networking.

It’s time for newspapers to stop looking at the front page as the only source of material for iPhone applications. Many papers offer content in other sections that can be transformed into handy iPhone apps. For example, the archived recipes from the food section could be made available to the cook on the go and the entertainment listings are perfect mobile material for the last-minute thrill seeker.


4. iheart radio

There are what seems like a million radio apps available in the iTunes store that offer a variety of ways to hear music or live radio stations. iheart radio, the free application from Clear Channel radio, is no different. What is remarkable is that the app has been downloaded by more than a million users and increased the Clear Channel Radio audience by 15 percent. Such a large percentage of new listeners is enviable by anyone’s standards and is all the more reason to pursue mobile applications.

iheart radio, which is also available online and for the Blackberry lets users pick a radio station by city or genre and listen directly from their mobile device.


5. HearPlanet

The HearPlanet app is a lot like having a tour guide in your pocket: audio clips that describe thousands of landmarks around the world or available with a tap of the finger. The application, which has both free and paid versions, includes interactive maps and a GPS-based function to find audio tours of nearby locations.

Like SpotCrime, there is a massive opportunity for journalism organizations to aggregate location-based/geotagged news and make it available in a mobile environment. Whereas SpotCrime is useful for time-based incidents, HearPlanet serves as a model for showcasing evergreen content that has been produced or written about a particular location. For example, if a user wanted to find out more about a park they were visiting, they could launch the figurative app and find news stories on the park’s dedication, its history, previous events that had been held there and yes, even the crimes that were committed there.

Many media organizations lack the funds or resources to produce iPhone apps, but it shouldn’t stop everyone from imagining or working toward the next best thing in mobile journalism. If resources are a problem, consider creating a mobile-friendly or iPhone-friendly site to capitalize on the growing crop of readers using mobile devices.


Also on 10,000 Words:

21 iPhone-friendly news sites and how to format your own
6 Ways to create a mobile version of your site
10 Essential iPhone apps for bloggers and reporters
10 Not-so-essential (but totally cool) iPhone apps

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