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Archives: January 2009

8 Interactive online projects that educate and captivate

Obama’s Team

Sure you could read the in-depth reports or watch the tiresome press conferences to find out more about Barack Obama’s cabinet team members. Or you can just use the interactive infographic from Spiegel Online that uses a carousel menu to illustrate the President-elect’s political circle (learn how to create a similar effect here). The text is in German, but you don’t have to speak the language to understand how engaging this project is.

Going to the End of the Line

Anyone who was ever lived or visited New York will recognize areas like Canarsie and Far Rockaway as a sort of a mythical no man’s land, the end of the line where many subway riders rarely venture. The New York Times brought these and several other train stops to life through a compelling photo project that functions as an multi-level slideshow.


The dictionary has been around for centuries, but even its current digital form not much has changed since they were first being printed. Wordia is giving the lexicon a Web 2.0 makeover by providing a forum for anyone to upload what particular words mean to them. “Refuge” is commonly defined as “shelter or protection,” but the user in the screenshot below describes refuge as “jumping into a hot shower after being trapped outside in the cold for hours.” You won’t find that in Webster’s.

Breathing Earth

Because we can’t physically see CO² emissions, it’s hard to imagine the possible destruction the gas is causing the planet. The Breathing Earth simulation attempts to visualize the effects of greenhouse gases and blends an interactive infographic with changing statistics.

Obama’s “Whistle Stop” Train Tour

CNN again makes use of its iReport feature to let citizen journalists be the ones to capture Obama’s ride on the rails as he made his way to Washington, D.C. User-generated video is blended with CNN reports and mapped to give the user an interactive feel for the journey.


There are likely hundreds of thousands of maps that document the African continent, but internet users can find all the map they’ll need at this Harvard-created interactive project. The simple map can become more and more complex as various levels of data are layered on top of each other. Below, a 2007 index of Africa’s power plants rests atop a 1770 historical map.


Imagine talking heads who don’t talk at all. The video series from BaseMotion asks several people for their opinion on an issue and instead of showing their answers, shows only the pauses, breaks, ums and aahs. The stripped-down interview is a demonstration of human idiosyncrasies and reactions, rather than an attempt to gather opinions.


It’s a human anatomy lesson cleverly disguised as a game! Players attempt to drag and drop bones in their correct locations while facing a timer. After playing the game, you’ll not only know where the phalanges and humerus bones are, but you’ll be able to identify them in record time.

Also on 10,000 Words:

Exploring the human body through multimedia
Create brilliant multimedia projects from the mundane
Online news games are fun (and informative!)

6 Sites that are changing the way you follow the news

The way we read the news is changing, so it only makes sense that the way we follow the news should change as well. Even relatively new news aggregators like Google News seem antiquated compared to these game-changing tools.

Track This Now

Track This Now is an impressive tool in which the user inputs keywords and a Google Map outputs where the phrase is being mentioned by news sources around the world. In the below screengrab it is evident that media organizations all over the world are talking about president-elect Obama, as shown by the markers on the map. The latest news on Obama or any other searched-for topic is shown in the pane on the right.

Spreed News

Spreed recognizes that many internet users want their news quick, fast and in a hurry. The free service displays news articles a few words at a time, making them easily digestable and reducing the time necessary to read each story. It’s hard to tell if the service will catch on, but it will definitely be popular among those with short attention spans.


MemeTracker analyzes almost a million news stories a day to determine what quotes and phrases appear most frequently over time. Memorable quotes like “Lipstick on a pig” and “The fundamentals of our economy are strong” echoed strongly across the blogosphere and as such are marked by strong peaks on the graph. The site, which was created by a team of researchers from Cornell University, has a great search function for viewing the popularity of quotes based on keywords, such as “economy” in the example below.


One of the latest iPhone applications lets owners of the mobile device listen to news stories on the go. Unlike other mobile news radio stations in which users tune in to a 24-hour a day broadcast, Stitcher users can listen to audio news articles from news organizations like NPR and CNN on demand, as well as pause, rewind and fast forward. Favorite news stories can bookmarked and saved for later listening.


DiggGraphr is a tree map visualization of the latest news on Digg and is reminiscent of the Marumushi newsmap (previously covered here). Each story is represented by a color-coded square. An initial visit to the page can be a little off-putting because selecting “All” will bring up headlines for spammy stories with just one or two Diggs, but by selecting a category in the drop down menu, users can filter the information into any one of Digg’s relevant categories.

NewsIsFree: NewsMaps

NewsMaps tracks the latest news from a number of popular US media organizations in a similar manner as DiggGraphr, albeit in an even more scaled down way. Recent stories are grouped by source and represented by blocks of color, red signifying the most recent news. Users can filter by keywords, source or any of several other factors. The NewsMap also offers a couple of unique features including the ability to directly clip, email, blog or track the article, all without leaving the site.

Previously on 10,000 Words:
7 Innovative ways of visualizing the news
The big scrolling debate: Do users care about page length?

10,000 Words gets a major update

As 10,000 Words has grown from a small side project to a full-blown resource, it became increasingly apparent that the site was due for an overhaul. If you look around, you’ll notice quite a few changes — and not just cosmetic ones either. The site has increased navigability, better search function and new links and information have been added to old posts, among other things.

Love it? Hate it? Share your thoughts on the revamp in the comments.

Eyetrack studies: What we've learned and how to conduct your own

As webmasters and site designers, it’s easy to fall into the trap of being so familiar with a site’s interface that we disregard the notion that navigating does not come as easy for visitors. Often web users have different viewing habits than we do and eyetrack studies have worked hard to determine what they are:

1. Users will skip anything that looks like an ad

Banner blindness is real, according to this 2007 study. Web visitors don’t read websites as much as they scan them, which means ignoring ads in both the header and rail of a web page, as evidenced in the heat map on the right.

2. Readers like “F”s

In a further explanation of the above study, it is revealed that web users read in a pattern that looks like a capital letter F. “At the top, users read all the way across, but as they proceed their descent quickens and horizontal sight contracts, with a slowdown around the middle of the page,” according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. “Near the bottom, eyes move almost vertically, the lower-right corner of the page largely ignored.”

3. The higher your search engine rank, the more visitors you will attract

This one’s a bit of a no-brainer for anyone who has been working with the web for a while, but the results of a combined study confirms it. It is also important to note that whereas years ago users may have clicked through a few pages of search results, many will not look past the top few results.

4. Young people want info and they want it now

In this comparison of the Contra Costa Times’ and San Jose Mercury News’ websites, the interviewees revealed that they prefer clearer, less jumbled layouts and, again, that the most important information be at the top. Most interestingly, the test subjects also rejected time-tested methods of encouraging interactivity such as polls or links to multimedia stories.

There are several online tools like CrazyEgg and clickdensity (which offers a free trial) that will test the usability of your site. In return, you will find out how users view your site and can amend it appropriately to increase user interaction. Financially challenged site masters can also use Google Analytics‘ free site overlay feature (pictured below). Click here for a comparison of the features offered by CrazyEgg and Google.

QUIZ: How new media are you?

Are you a self-proclaimed media geek? Are you a social networking butterfly? Put your techno savvy to the test with this 12-question quiz