Around the world in under 5 minutes

In 2010, Kien Lam quit his job as a strategist at a financial firm to travel the world, capturing his journey in pictures. He created this beautiful timelapse video from 6,237 photos of places and people around the globe. It includes many famous spots, but I especially like how it connects the quiet beaches of Indonesia with the busy markets of Marocco or Metro trains in D.C.

You can see more of Kien’s photos from his travels on his website and read more about the video there or at Mashable.

The design of limited choices

Websites are like an oriental rug store, if you think about it. An article on Smashing Magazine that argued it’s important to limit users’ choices through design drew this interesting comment.

Having all the choices is still important, but having an interface that guides users to the right choice is required.

Anecdote: I used to work in an oriental rug store. Literally every rug was different. Choices abound. We killed our smaller competitors who had fewer choices. We did it by having salespeople who could look at your color swatches and immediately take you to the 3-5 rugs that would work best with those colors in the desired size.

Rugs were aranged by size and type, but that was mainly to help sales find them. In fact, the rugs were moved around the store regularly to keep the appearance of moving stock. Customers would never find what they wanted alone.

The business fell apart when we got a new manager who thought the best approach would be to reduce the selection to the best selling machine made rugs, arrange them on racks in some rigid categorization, never move the racks (getting rid of stock help), and reduce overhead (get rid of sales people). Sales went through the floor and that store still hasn’t recovered.

Translated to the web, our salespeople were the search box. Type in what you want, we’ll find it for you. Designers are the stock help, they keep things moving around and looking fresh.

If you’re arranging your products behind huge lists of categories, you’re just doing it wrong. The number of choices isn’t the problem. The user doesn’t know or care what category you’ve selected for that piece of info or merchandise. They want to tell you what they are looking for and you produce your short list of *relevant* choices.

I love this anecdote, because it pinpoints user troubles around the web, including my own. I recently tried to find information on the Adobe website, and failed for exactly that reason. The search box didn’t turn up any relevant information – and I was searching for one of Adobe’s main products.

The paradox of choice. Photo by Harry Brignull on Flickr, via Smashing Magazine.

News sites face a problem similar to the rug store with the overflowing stock: An overabundance of content. Organizing all the stories, blog posts, videos, photos, updates, breaking news, feature stories and everything else a newsroom churns out in a day is a huge design challenge. Add the fact that many newsrooms have separate versions of stories for the printed and digital product, and you end up with a tangle of loose ends.

Cramming all of this onto a homepage can lead to overload, something comic Brad Colbow poked fun at last year with a mockup of an “alternative” design for the New York Times homepage. The idea was much criticized for its lack of pragmatism (no ad space, no sharing links, very few stories and even fewer images on the page). But his point was that news homepages are often so crammed with content they leave readers scratching their heads.

There is also a trend away from section fronts such as entertainment, sports, etc. Increasingly, the individual story page becomes the entry point for readers who arrive through search or social media. That means the story page itself has to offer relevant context, leading readers to other parts of the website.

Implementing all this is a huge challenge for which I certainly don’t know the answer, but how to design for news is a fascinating question as our news consumption evolves.

2011 in one word

Twitter hero Andy Carvin collected these great responses to his question: How would you describe 2011 in one word? O’Reilly writer Alex Howard said “connected,” which played a huge role in how I experienced 2011. I agree with Time and another responder: The one word that describes 2011 has to be “revolutionary.”


Happy holidays

I’m emerging from a holiday-related absence, a week spent almost entirely without using a computer. Instead, there was a Christmas tree and carols and family and love and joy and candy. So much candy. I hope everyone who celebrated had a wonderful Christmas, or Hanukkah, or otherwise got to spend some moments with friends and family.

Our Christmas tree, decorated with lights and ornaments.

The Capitol, seen in the distance during a walk on Christmas Day.

Social sharing: Facebook looms large, Twitter and Tumblr sharing skyrockets

Online sharing has exploded on some social networking sites, according to data released by AddThis, the social sharing service used on 11 million domains.

As Jeff Sonderman succinctly summarizes at Poynter, the data shows that Facebook is dominant with 52 percent of social shares made through the site, but sharing on Twitter and Tumblr has seen an explosive growth.

“AddThis also found that 2011 was a big year for sharing on mobile devices, with six times more sharing on iPhones, iPads and Android devices this year. The iPad also surpassed the iPhone in sharing volume in June,” Sonderman writes.

What can we expect next year? AddThis said its data shows Tumblr sharing is accelerating, while sharing via Google’s Plus One buttons has reached a plateau. Sharing online content with others via email or simply printing it out accounts for close to a fifth of total sharing.

Interestingly, one single event drew 28 percent of all shares this year: The death of Osama bin Laden. AddThis has summarized all that information in one nifty infographic.

From journalist to programmer: Give us a better CMS

If I could make one Christmas wish to developers, it would be for a better content management system. A CMS is one of the most important tools of a web journalist – it helps determine how easily content can be uploaded and updated, how it can be positioned, linked and displayed. Yet many CMS systems are ill suited to the needs of the journalists who use them. It’s become almost a wisecrack among web journalists: “Oh, everyone hates their CMS.”

It shouldn’t be like that. I would love a CMS that lets me navigate easily, had clearly labeled buttons and lets me find what I’m looking for (I could write paragraphs about the shortcomings of the photo search tool in one CMS I used). Blogging platforms like WordPress or Tumblr show how seamless and intuitive a CMS can be, and while a news organization’s system has many more constraints than a spiffy little Tumblr blog, the user experience there makes that on many other content systems all the more dreadful.

I would love a more flexible CMS that allows me to change page layouts and move parts around on a page without having to delve into code myself. That way, I could taylor the format to the story. This flexibility is becoming more and more important as stories morph quickly with new developments.

Improving a CMS is not a sexy task, but it would go such a long way to making the life of web journalists easier.

And if I can add a little extra wish to programmers: Help us talk to you. Help those journalists, like myself, who don’t know how to program themselves but understand the importance of the job you do. Programmer-journalist Heather Billings says it more eloquently when she argues to just start making things together.

What hinders that, sometimes, is just that many journalists don’t really know what programmers can do and how they do it. I’m a firm believer that we’re all storytellers, but along with different tools come different languages. When that language consists of one-letter terms (R? C+?), talking to a coder can be intimidating. That is true for other growing fields of journalism as well.

In a way, simply working together will help break down that barrier. But many newsrooms aren’t lucky enough to have dedicated developers, or journo-programmers. We need a roadmap, some sort of hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy of programming, so that when developers join the conversation, we know what to ask them.

This post is inspired by the Carnival of Journalism’s December topic, and I invite you to check out the many smart responses.

Guardian lässt Leser die Richtung angeben

Obama während des Wahlkampfs in 2008. Foto von der AFL-CIO Gewerkschaft auf Flickr (Creative Commons).

This article is about the Guardian’s new project, creating a “citizen’s agenda” for election coverage. Read about it at the Nieman Lab.

Die US-Präsidentschaftswahl ist noch fast ein Jahr hin, doch amerikanische Medien berichten seit Monaten über das Wettrennen der Republikaner. Umfragen liefern endlosen Stoff, mal liegt der eine vorn, mal holt der andere auf. Doch was interessiert eigentlich die Leser?

Dieser Frage will sich jetzt der britische Guardian gemeinsam mit Journalismusstudenten der New York University annähnern. Sie nennen es die Agenda der Bürger.
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International news orgs among fastest growing on Facebook

Facebook is looking back at which stories, events and news organizations its users have interacted with the most in 2011. Today the site published a list of fastest growing news organizations, which includes three international news orgs and the Onion, which makes news satire (a fact that eludes some Facebook users).

PBS also made the list. The organization ran a successful “Like Drive” this year, in which it asked users to share a statement of support on their wall and promised to unlock exclusive content from its archives if it reached a daily goal of 1,000 new fans. Also notable is Yahoo News, which not only was the seventh-fastest growing page but also had numerous stories among the most shared this year.

Most shared stories on Facebook

The 10 most shared stories, according to Facebook, provide an interesting case. Two are related to the news (in both cases the earthquake and Tsunami in Japan), but the rest are classic Facebook fare: Viral videos of animals, posts about zodiac signs, a giant crocodile, two parenting posts. Of course, one of the most shared posts on Facebook is about Facebook.

It’s also interesting that all posts came from only four sources: Yahoo News, CNN, The New York Times and The Huffington Post. Here is Facebook’s list:

1. Satellite Photos of Japan, Before and After the Quake and Tsunami (New York Times)
2. What teachers really want to tell parents (CNN)
3. No, your zodiac sign hasn’t changed (CNN)
4. Parents, don’t dress your girls like tramps (CNN)
5. Father Daughter Dance Medley (Yahoo)
6. At funeral, dog mourns the death of Navy SEAL killed in Afghanistan (Yahoo)
7. You’ll freak when you see the new Facebook (CNN)
8. Dog in Japan stays by the side of ailing friend in the rubble (Yahoo)
9. Giant crocodile captured alive in Philippines (Yahoo)
10. New Zodiac Sign Dates: Ophiuchus The 13th Sign? (The Huffington Post)

The most talked about topics, however, closely align with the news of the year. Osama bin Laden’s death tops the list of topics (this was also a huge topic of conversation on Twitter). As opposed to the news pages, the most talked about topics globally heavily tilt toward U.S. news. The verdict in the Casey Anthony trial that had been covered relentlessly by the media (at No, 3), Charlie Sheen’s escapades (No. 4) and Hurricane Irene (No. 10) all show up on the list.

Important news events continue to show up on country-specific lists, which you can find below the global trends. In Germany, Angela Merkel makes the list as the 10th most talked about topic, and the e.coli outbreak comes in at No. 2.

The trends show that Facebook users increasingly turn to the social network not only to message their friends or upload a photo, but to talk about what’s going on in the world. Facebook has become the virtual town square where everyone is talking about the news of the day with their friends.

One question I wasn’t able to answer is whether Facebook analyzed only public status updates for their top trends, of whether those trends include all status updates, made public or only to friends.

Sweet surprises from St. Nicolaus

Dec. 6 is St. Nicolaus Day in Germany, where kids find their shoes filled with candy, fruits and nuts. When I was younger, we would clean our biggest pair of shoes the evening before (riding boots were the shoe of choice), then leave them out overnight for a surprise in the morning. Happy St. Nicolaus Day!

Image by Tin.G on Flickr used under Creative Commons