Friday, 25 February 2011

New journalism- is that what we're doing?

The world affairs correspondent on the BBC web site, Paul Reynolds, has been musing over how his job has changed over the nine years since he 'left the "mainstream" BBC'. The most significant change has been communication with the public via the internet and the internet itself as a source of news. As Paul said in a lecture to journalism students 'some time ago' that 'the concept of the world waiting for news crews to get to disaster zones was over - witnesses there would be taking their own pictures'.

As the current situation in Libya demonstrates, sometimes the only source of information (aka news) is from those witnesses with their cameras, usually cunningly disguised as mobile telephones. In a less extreme example, it's interesting that now, with the court's permission, you can tweet from a UK court. That exemplar of nominative determinism Lord Chief Justice Judge has said so, but he limited this to journalists.

So what is a journalist? Is it (in the UK) a member of the NUJ, carrying a press card, or is it (as the OED says) "One who earns his living by editing or writing for a public journal or journals". Is the 'earns his living' important? Some would say so, and a simple Google search on the subject brings up conflicting opinions. There's a particularly interesting analysis on The Next Web by Jacob Friedman called Blogging vs. Journalism: The Ongoing Debate.

On one level this matters because in many jurisdictions journalists get special protection, notable to protect their sources. On another it matters because down the line the material that is written can become a source for further research and even further news stories. So the provenance of your sources is important. It is OK to report a rumour as long as you say it's a rumour and to give opinion as long as it is clear that it is opinion. One criticism of blogging is that it can be opinion masquerading as fact. In the Friedman piece one quote likens bloggers to people who used to write letters to newspapers but not get published.

Ironically, one blog referred to in the piece is by Jolie O'Dell and called How to tell a Journalist from a Blogger. Apparently it has caused quite a stir and makes interesting reading ... as do the comments.

I could argue that the multiplicity of sources of information brought to us by the web (and of which any web pages you publish will be a part) are now parts of a new journalism. Journalists are an important part of this, but so are bloggers, commenters on blogs, tweeters, Wikipedia editors and so, even, are the pages on a company's web site promoting a new product. As readers, we now need to have some of the attributes of researchers, since we need to know how to weight our belief in what we read based on our knowledge of its provenance. Think about how your web pages might stand up as journalistic sources and also wonder whether we should now be teaching everyone how to carry out research as part of the school curriculum.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Project Life Cycles and Project Management

This used to be a simple question - not providing simple answers though - of understanding the planning, the design, the build and the implementation phases of a project. These underpinned a company's approach to developing projects. They were based heavily on IT inspired phases of software development as this was the closest to interactive media development.

So for the early years, the Waterfall approach dominated and for many this approach still does. If you need reminding about the Waterfall life cycle take a look at SoftDevTeam's site and their Life Cycle Selector software tool description. We don't know anything about the tool itself, by the way, but the diagrams and summary advantages and disadvantages descriptions of the spiral, waterfall, incremental, evolutionary prototyping, rapid application development, and V-shaped models of software life cycles , are illuminating. Some are new for us but then we've not been in pure software development.

Check out more definitions of models at Business E-solutions.

The planned and designed inherent Waterfall approach is iterated by Alex Baker recently in Life Cycle Stages of Website Design Process, but it is dependent on the client stating the business goal and requirements – something that proves pretty hard most of the time.
Another take on a life cycle comes from Jason Montague, An Agile Project Lifecycle, and he has a visual denoting the process. He also explains difficulties he's met in organisations when trying to explain the usefulness of using Agile processes. Remember that Agile tried to address the 'refining' of requirements that often occurs during interactive projects. The strict Waterfall software approach did not allow such changes and caused conflict between client and developer, so Agile techniques may help overcome some of the difficulties.

There are masses of Waterfall versus Agile debates still going on in cyberspace if you care to Google it, but few solid answers about the life cycle of an interactive project whether website, mobile, iTV or whatever. Shame, I'll keep looking periodically though and let you know if I find any answers. Meanwhile, how is anyone managing any project!

Friday, 11 February 2011

The CAP Code - are you ready for March 1st?

You've probably heard through the extensive ad campaign that the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) is getting ready to implement new rulings concerned with marketing on web sites from March 1st. The CAP Code (The UK Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing, issued by The Committee of Advertising Practice) is in its 12th edition from September 1st 2010, but awareness about its effect has been raised by an extensive campaign from the ASA - all done with donated ad space, apparently. You can get access to the CAP Code at the Committee of Advertising Practice

Essentially the new ruling extends the power of the ASA's digital remit. It allows the ASA to name and shame non-compliers, place warnings alongside the search result listings of non-compliers, force the removal of paid links/adverts to the non-compliers, refer non-compliers to the OFT (Office of Fair Trading) and/or the Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulators.

There's quite a debate as to whether the notorious difficulty of policing the internet will dilute or even negate these powers, but companies should make sure that they understand the implications and take the necessary steps to devise and implement a strategy for them. This might include: regular checks on your web presence (this includes social media sites too), training any employees who contribute content to digital media, update any agreements used - particularly with advertisers/agents - to reflect the changes in codes of practice.

The paid link veto is supported by Google which had its own guidelines on companies using these links to improve their search ranking but which they found difficult to enforce. In fact they have part funded the CAP Code initiative. See Changes to the CAP Code - Google finds an ally in the war on paid links by Alex Postance 28th January, at Epiphany.

The ASA work from the premise of people producing marketing that is legal, decent, honest and truthful by applying The Advertising Codes, but this applies to communication that is wider than adverts, such as competitions and use of user-generated content if pulled into and used in a company's marketing for its own benefit. See the Digital Retail Advice page of the ASA.

It's just as well to understand new moves like these to make sure you are informed and take a company stance that suits you and the legal implications. You wouldn't want to fall foul and plead ignorance as it wouldn't help, now would you?

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Crime hotspots pinpoint data problems

You can't have missed the news earlier this week that UK crime information was being made available online, linked to maps and searchable by postcode. The story made the news for possibly the wrong reasons: the site was unreachable and the results seemed nonsensical in some cases.

The problem with access to the site,, seems to have been resolved and can be put down to intense consumer interest coupled with widespread publicity. Building a web system that can cope with thousands of hits a minute isn't easy and isn't cheap, especially if the base load predicted for the system is much less. But that's not why I'm writing this here.

I am interested in data, and have been for a long time. Data isn't really something in isolation: it usually needs interpreting and quite often needs background of how the data is collected to allow you to understand it completely. There were a couple of newsworthy elements to the crime data, one of which relates to the meaning of location.

The crime reports seem to be displayed based on postcode centroids (essentially the geometrical middle of the postcode) which tends to shift them to the middle of roads (meaning the middle of the length of a road, not the white line). This may be misleading if the criminal activity tends to occur at road junctions since centroids are rarely located there, and activity spread across a postcode will tend to be pushed to the centre, as if it was falling downhill towards the centroid. But as the web site display says: To protect privacy, crimes are mapped to points on or near the road where they occurred. That's a data output issue.

On the other hand, data input can be misleading. A call centre was logging nuisance calls to its own location when they didn't have a real location for it. That meant that the call centre itself was listed as a crime hotspot! That's a data input problem, which could be ameliorated if a 'confidence' ranking was given to logged locations.

One final thought concerns data correlation. With access to this crime data it is likely that someone will start to compare these maps with other data. This is unwise unless you really know what you are doing and what the data represents. To give an example, there may be an apparent correlation between the distribution of red admiral butterflies and car crime on Merseyside. But if you thought you saw this in a map you wouldn't take it seriously would you? I know it's a somewhat ridiculous example, but I'm sure you get my point.

Those butterflies eh?