Apps + Code + Viz Roundup, March 21

New features, tools & writeups from all over

The Guardian’s NCAA analysis

Despite the mass mourning for Google Reader and fist-shaking over the depredations of US Daylight Saving Time, it’s been a fruitful couple of weeks for news apps and people writing about them: this roundup brings a sturdy batch of new features and tools and about twice as many write-ups as usual. (Avid readers will note that we skipped a roundup around the launch of OpenNews Learning—which you should definitely go check out if you haven’t yet—but we’re so back.)

New Apps & Visualizations

The New York Times’ school-breakup feature

The New York Times published an interactive feature on the division of underperforming NYC schools into multiple new schools, along with performance data on the original and new schools. Like most other news organizations, the Times also made an NCAA bracket, but with bonus Nate Silver.

The Guardian produced an interactive feature on the average height of players on basketball teams playing in the NCAA tournament and an accompanying article on a correlative relationship between height and success.

The LA Times published a photo feature on California’s war dead using code forked from Andrei Scheinkman’s gitmo-splash.

The WNYC data team announced its new Cicada Tracker and the station’s John Keefe spoke with Nieman Lab about the project’s for an article on sensor journalism. The article also flags an upcoming WNYC project with Columbia University’s School of Public Health that will track air pollution using a sensor-equipped smartphone.

The Financial Times published a video/interactive hybrid feature on the bond market (registration required) using timelines, charts, and other features introduced in narration and then made available as interactive overlays on the video.

Essays & Analysis

A diagram from Brian Abelson’s measurement post

OpenNews fellow Brian Abelson wrote a detailed post on measuring user engagement with news applications, focusing on event tracking and using the New York Times’ Red Carpet Project as a case study:

With a standard, interpretable metric, editors and journalists can begin to judge whether their intuitions match up with their readers behavior; analysts can compare apps over time and across news organizations; developers will come to value simplicity of presentation and ease of use over technical complexity; and, perhaps most importantly, news organizations will begin designing their digital offerings with users in mind.

NPR’s Katie Zhu wrote How to Build a News App that Never Goes Down and Costs You Practically Nothing, breaking down a low-cost strategy for serving rock-solid apps:

Developing in the newsroom is fast-paced and comes with a different set of priorities than when you’re coding for a technology product team. There are three salient Boyerisms I’ve picked up in my month as an NP-Rapper that sum up these differences:

  • Servers are for chumps. Newsrooms aren’t exactly making it rain. Cost-effectiveness is key. Servers are expensive and maintaining servers means less time to make the internets. Boo and boo. (We’re currently running only one production server, an EC2 small instance for running scheduled jobs. It does not serve web content.)

  • If it doesn’t work on mobile, it doesn’t work. Most of our work averages 10 to 20 percent mobile traffic. But for our elections app, 50 percent of users visited our Big Board on their phone. (And it wasn’t even responsive!) Moral of the stats: A good mobile experience is absolutely necessary.

  • Build for use. Refactor for reuse. This one has been the biggest transition for me. When we’re developing on deadline, there are certain sacrifices we have to make to roll our app out time – news doesn’t wait. Yet as a programmer, it causes me tension and anxiety to ignore code smells in the shitty JavaScript I write because I know that’s technical debt we’ll have to pay back later.

At ProPublica, Al Shaw wrote up an expansion of his NICAR talk on “casino-driven design” for crowdsourcing projects, based on the techniques his team tried with their Free the Files project:

We called the design we devised for participation-oriented areas of the site “Casino-Driven Design.” A variant of Behavior Design, Casino-Driven Design cuts away all distraction and drives the user’s attention toward staying focused on a single task.

Shaw also did a two-part writeup on the Malofiej World Infographic Summit: Day One, Day Two.

More talks and posts:

New Tools & Code

LearnOSM, from MapBox

Jeremy Ashkenas announced the release of Backbone.js 1.0 and noted that Michael Fogus has a book on functional JavaScript and Underscore coming out this summer with O’Reilly.

MapBox published Locator, a simple template application that lets users place a marker on a map and then share it via HTML embed code. They also relaunched LearnOSM, a resource for learning to map using OpenStreetMap. The new version of LearnOSM was funded by a Knight Foundation grant and developed with in collaboration with the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap team:

The main content on LearnOSM is the beginner’s guide, but there are also advanced guides and teaching materials for each experience level, all of which are authored and actively maintained by HOT and regularly used in trainings around the world. Currently LearnOSM is available in English, Indonesian, Japanese, Portuguese and Italian – with additional languages like French and Spanish in the works.

Calls for Help

The Buenos Aires Hacks/Hackers group and their confederates are collaboratively writing an Iberoamerican Data Journalism Handbook (Manual de Periodismo de Datos Iberoamericano), and they want your help.

In the UK, the Open Data User Group is petitioning the UK Meteorological Office to release its historical weather information as open data, and have requested help building their case.

Visualising Data is running a survey for people interested in data vizualization.

And More

Census nerds take note: the US Census Bureau has created Population Bracketology, an interactive game testing knowledge of metra-area populations. Finally, in case your deployments are feeling a little joyless, Ben Welsh has dropped the code for LAT Soundsystem on GitHub so that you too can enjoy a little more Ludacris in your life:



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