Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Fun with maps

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OK, so with all this hullabaloo over programmer-cum-journalist Adrian Holovaty (He's the guy behind ChicagoCrime.org, a database of crime reported in Chicago. He was at The Washington Post, where he spearheaded projects such as a database on all the votes in Congress since 1991. Oh yeah, he also was awarded more than a million bucks from the Knight Foundation.) I wondered just how difficult it is to incorporate your own data with Google Maps.

I'd always figured that these so-called map mash-ups were for really hard-core programming types. But it's actually relatively easy to create a map, add a couple markers and link those markers to specific content. Obviously, it gets more complicated as you add more markers and make the map more interactive. But the possibilities are endless, and intriguing. It's not difficult to link such a map to an external database or XML file.

It's gotten me to thinking about how little we do to provide added value to Web content. Yes, we sometimes add photos or video, but rarely anything beyond that. We don't generally link to related stories, or archived stories, or even to related third-party content on the Web. We rarely post original source material. We rarely put maps or graphics online, and rarer still do we make those graphics clickable. As a simple example, with just a couple minutes per article, we could include a small Google map with each story locating specific details. For example, a small 100-pixel Google map could've located where the Charleston fire was. Or, we could use the map's polygon overlay to show the route of the funeral procession. Well, you get the idea...

Click on the red markers in the map above for links to some applications of the Google Maps API.


Andria said...

Holovaty, by the way, left the WashPost after getting his Knight Foundation money. He has a new venture that he's using the money for, with details TBA.
Rich, did you do the Observer cam widget? 'Fess up. Very cool.

Leslie Wilkinson said...

Yep, yep, yep. We don't do much beyond the basics of slideshow and video.

I think you're getting at the same idea I was with the Cleveland posts. It's pretty easy to do these maps and get them going.

We had another chance this week with all the lightning strikes: enter your home, strike, etc. on a map and have a reader generated weather map, not just the National Weather Service stuff.

All this begs the question - these are great ideas to chase, but do they drive traffic? Do people use them? Will they start using them once we do have them?

Rich said...

It's about more than generating new traffic. It's also about getting readers we already have to spend more time on the site, to delve deeper into the site, to link more often to the site, to "cite the site" more often, etc.

Yes, we are rightfully concerned with page views, but... Just as circulation isn't the only concern of the newsroom, page clicks shouldn't be the only concern of the Web site.

I'm of the mind that we should continually be throwing new things against the wall and seeing what sticks... One of the nice things about the Web is that it enables you to do just that. Many new features wouldn't require a lot of resources or new technology, at least in the beginning. If something thrown against the wall is working, then maybe we talk about how to expand it, improve it, build upon it.

Can you name six new features on Charlotte.com?

Andria said...

Leslie's question: Do they drive traffic? My long-lost cousin, widget champion Chris Krewson of Allentown, said recently that he doubted he would let his staff do a Christmas lights Google map like Raleigh did last year. He doubted it would drive enough traffic. (I still think it would work here; Christmas is different here than in Allentown. And disclaimer: I've never met him outside of cyberspace and I don't know how we're related).
Rich's comment: It's about getting readers to spend more time. I so very much agree. So, we need studies/data/short, clear expert reports or opinions that support this concept. The Inksniffer blogger gets at some of the problems with counting traffic nowadays, but it's mighty dense. Can someone find reports that a news executive can read or hear about and be convinced quickly?
Throwing things against the wall, and six new things: if we define that as new ways of using content, and not just new content, no, I can't name six new things. But the bloggers are trying new things, because they can. That's the place where innovation can happen now. Best place for progress I see is to offer to help a blogger "pimp my blog." I bet Kelvin would be up for it. I know Jack Betts wants a Sitemeter counter, but I haven't had time to talk him through it. I did help Mary add one. I'd say go one on one with bloggers who are willing to work with other folks. Theoden is using Technorati. Others are using links to outside sites.