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Lauren Hockenson

Lauren Hockenson is a professional technology journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. Her profiles and musings on all things tech can be seen across the Internet at Mashable, The Next Web, and IGN Tech. Follower her on Twitter at @lhockenson.

ProPublica Crowdsources Gun Control Bill With #TrackTheVote

When it comes to gun control, the White House is murkier than ever. Senate Bill 649, which primarily deals with stricter background checks, bigger punishments for drug trafficking, and programs devoted to school safety, is facing mounting filibuster threats and complicated opinions from Senators. Not many are speaking out publicly on the issue — making it difficult to get a clear picture of how the bill will fare, or even if it will make it out of the Senate at all.

ProPublica is shining a light on the battle for gun control by reporting on every Senator’s position on the issue. Of course, individually tracking down 100 offices for comment is outside the resource capabilities for a typical newsroom, so ProPublica is relying on the power of the people to help them #TrackTheVote. Read more

Are Hashtags Useful?

Of all of the techniques, strategies, flotsam and jetsam to spawn from social media since its meteoric rise in the mid-2000′s, there may be nothing as polarizing as the hashtag. Some users utilize hashtags any chance that they get, others see them as an aesthetic and textual nuisance.

But the real question is: are hashtags useful in any real way?

Today, another social network, Vine, announced the platform-wide adoption of hashtag-focused organization and search. Vine CTO Nick Kroll wrote in a blog post for the company:

“To surface that content, we’re introducing trending hashtags, which show you the fastest-rising hashtags on Vine. These hashtags signify those that have moved up quickly in popularity; they aren’t necessarily the hashtags with the most posts.”

Using hashtags to track trends has been the mode of choice not only for Vine parent company Twitter, but also for Flickr, Path and Instagram. Last month, there was even talk of Facebook taking up the hashtag trend, though the social media giant has remained silent on the topic. On the surface, incorporating a searchable component based on hashtags is a helpful thing: users would be able to discover topics and search for what they want quickly, without having to bother with further context. Read more

Times Haiku Proves News Can Be Poetry

Did you know that April is National Poetry Month? The New York Times sure does, and the venerable publication is making the most of it with their newest blog, Times Haiku. The blog itself is actually a bot, combing through all of the Times‘s articles from the day and putting them together in neat little haiku packages — naturally displaying in the standard five-seven-five syllable set the poem requires.

“We started with a basic rhyming lexicon, but over time we’ve added syllable counts for words like “Rihanna” or “terroir” to keep pace with the broad vocabulary of The Times,” writes Senior Software Architect and Times hacker Jacob Harris.

Scrolling through the blog, which is powered by Tumblr, one can easily snicker at the randomness of it all — evoking the odd pleasure of other bots like the popular @horse_ebooks, which combs through free ebooks online and takes out snippets of the words. But Harris, who actually reverse-engineered @horse_ebooks to understand the nature of bots, has a little bit more sophistication up his sleeve in the form of careful curation by the Times‘ own journalists, who comb through the bot’s results to find the most interesting poems. Read more

5 Must-Have Chrome Extensions for Journalists

It’s no secret that one of the keys to being a successful journalist these days is mastering the art of combing the Internet. And, a large portion of finding great stuff on the Internet relies on properly and efficiently utilizing clever tools that elevates your online skills from “great” to “practically superhuman.”

Chrome is now the most popular Internet browser, and for plenty of good reason: in addition to having a straightforward search bar and integration with all of Google’s great tools (auto-complete in the browser!), users can customize their web experience with a host of add-ons. These add-ons, called “extensions” by the browser itself, can do amazing things — and boost your reporting abilities to make you more organized, connected, and efficient.

Here are five extensions that are popular for their great utility in any journalist’s arsenal, and they are all absolutely free to download.

What’s your favorite Chrome extension? Let us know in the comments.

OneTab

Reporters everywhere are singing the praises of OneTab because it beautifully solves one of the biggest pain points for online journalists: the agonizing slow-down of a computer once it crosses its maximum threshold for open browser tabs. If you tend to have dozens and dozens of tabs open at any given time, this extension will speed up your computer without losing all of your hard-earned tabs. Read more

What Summly’s Acquisition Says About Online Journalism

Yesterday, hot on the heels of its recent spate of acquisitions, Yahoo! picked up an interesting little app started by a 15-year-old kid in his family’s London home. The app, Summly, was rumored to be picked up by the search company for a cool $30 million, and it stands to change the way Yahoo! looks at news generation.

More importantly, Summly has the potential to revolutionize how digital news is ingested, both online and on mobile.

The impetus for Summly came to teenage Nick D’Aloisio when he realized that the physical activity of sorting through and reading his daily online news was just exhausting. Founded in 2011, Summly cut down news articles by distilling their words into simple, 400-character summaries and displaying them on a mobile interface that catered to the user’s specific tastes.

Check out Summly’s concise description, with Stephen Fry, below: Read more

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