Archive

Posts Tagged ‘technology’

Q&A with Tyson Fandrick about the Powell River Peak’s new app

April 6, 2011 1 comment

This blog doesn’t practise journalism much, but when it does, it does so in the easiest way possible: the ol’ question and answer.

Last week, I noted that the Powell River Peak had launched an app, in the process becoming the first community paper to do so. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the paper also is one of the only with a new media/IT specialist, in the form of Tyson Fandrick. Last week I sent Tyson a bunch of questions, and he was kind enough to reply.

Thus are the origins of the following Q & A:

Q: Thanks for doing this. The first obvious questions are: who was involved in the development of the app and how long did it take?

Tyson: The development was pretty much entirely on my own, as time permitted over 5 months or so. The process started back in the fall of 2010, exploring and researching the options. Peak to Go was available in the App Store by the beginning of March.

Q: How difficult is it to design an app? Did you have to start from scratch, or was there a template available to work from?

Without the proper developer experience and education I’d say it is a rather daunting task to build from scratch. Originally I started in that direction. But being mostly self-taught in the industry and not being able to commit my full time to it, I ran into limitations. With some perseverance I sourced some template tools to take care most of the coding framework.

Q: Was there much of a learning curve on your part (assuming you were involved in its development)?

Yes for sure. Though it didn’t end up being built from scratch I learned a lot regarding going that route. Then there was still plenty to figure working with the template tools. Using them helped to launch an app covering basic functionality and key features: news, sports, editorials, letters, obituaries, blogs, video, photo galleries and even support ads. So we are proud of the start but are excited to continue to improve on it with future updates. Also hope to deliver it to other mobile platforms, such as Android.

Q: How difficult/easy is it to get stories and photos into an app-ready format?

Very easy once it was setup. The app content is based on direct feeds from our website. So any new articles or videos posted to the site will automatically push to the app.

Q: Why was the decision made to develop an app now? I’m not aware of any other community newspapers taking that step yet.

There’s no better time than now. The Peak has always focused on trying to stay on top of the tech wave. Only one way to get started, and if it doesn’t work the first time, keep trying. So that’s what we did.

Q: How is the parent company involved in this? Are there any plans to use the Peak’s design as a template for other Glacier newspaper apps?

There was very little input from the parent company. Near the end of development I did get to show off a test build and received positive feedback. There are beginning talks of implementing the app system for other papers. I’m eager to see where we could take it working with them.

Q: Why was it released for free?

The potential profit by charging, say 99¢, for our market size just wasn’t worth it. We wanted to put our media in as many hands as possible, so free was the way to go.

Q: What’s the response been like from readers?

We’re only a few weeks in but the response has been great. A few hundred downloads from eight countries. It’s cool to see Peak to Go being used in Thailand and Japan, or the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Q: Does this mean everyone at the Peak is getting an iPhone?

Yes, absolutely. My publisher is reading this, right?

Get your e-newspaper delivered weekly

March 30, 2011 Comments off

If apps are the news delivery system of the future, news digests sent directly to your inbox are the way of the Internet past.

Which is not to say they’re not a good idea.

Now, when you visit certain (all?) Glacier Media websites, you first have to get rid of a box asking if you would like to subscribe to a web edition of the paper to be delivered to your e-mail on certain dates.

This isn’t a new idea and doesn’t exactly involve advanced technology. Heck, you can sign up for an email subscription to this blog by clicking the button on the right toolbar. But for people who aren’t web savvy consumers (a group that includes the vast majority of Canadians and newspaper readers) being confronted with the option to sign up for an email digest is the best way to make the option known.

The email digest, in turn, allows newspapers another way to brag to advertisers about dedicated online readers. Each one of those subscribers is probably far more valuable than 1,000 page views.

Of course, you don’t want to make visiting the news sites annoying (like the feeling that comes from that pop-up video ad on many Black Press websites).

You can make the alerts stop by checking a box. But remember what I said above about the Internet literacy of Canadians? I bet most people will miss that. Glacier, then, will have to be careful not to make the box a permanent and regular feature of visiting their sites. (They seem to have done so. I can’t get the subscription box back up on my screen, even though I didn’t click the box).

Categories: Technology Tags: ,

Timing is everything

December 14, 2010 Comments off

Multitasking isn’t as easy as it sounds. It certainly isn’t that productive. Studies indicate that each time you change tasks, it takes a substantial amount of time to refocus. Checking your e-mail, twitter, or favourite blog every 15 minutes isn’t conducive to effective work flows. Neither is the sending of e-mails, twitter updates or blog postings every 15 minutes.

At the same time, though, our new media (that really is a horrible term, isn’t it?) demands constant attention and updating.

A common downfall among newspapers’ Twitter accounts is the way they regularly issue whole swaths of tweets first thing in the morning, with links to all of the new issues’ stories. This is a great way to get de-followed. It also encourages Twitter users to skim over all your tweets. A better method is to tweet regularly throughout the day. That way your tweets seamlessly integrate into followers’ ongoing conversations.

But that brings us back to the multitasking conundrum. Nobody wants to have to tweet every hour. At that point, Twitter becomes a major pain in the ass, rather than a resource.

Thankfully, there’s a solution.

Those readers who have subscribed to my Twitter account may have noticed that I tweet regularly during work hours.

Now I’m not going to lie and say I never check on this blog while I’m at work, but most of what you read is written in my spare time. That includes the Twitter updates.

I use an online program called Hootsuite. Among the program’s (free) benefits is a scheduling feature that allows me to time exactly when a tweet will be issued. Since Twitter activity isn’t very high late at night, I’m not going to tweet (another icky term) into an empty void at 1 a.m. Instead, I’ll tweet at an appropriate time when it may attract some attention, say 10 in the morning. I can also make sure that my tweets are appropriately spaced out from each other, so that they fit into the conversation that is Twitter, rather than briefly taking it over. Subtlety is better than brute force.

You may also have known that this blog is also regularly updated during work hours. And again, yes, sometimes I stray during lunch and write something for this blog. But more often than not I have written the post the previous evening, or even sometimes several days ago, and scheduled it to appear at my preferred time (usually at least several hours after my last post). This way I can carefully — or more often than not, haphazardly — orchestrate my daily roll-out of posts to maximize the likelihood that they’ll be seen and read. After all, even if I’m doing this for free, I don’t want my words to go to waste.

Check out the poll on the right side of the page. Classy, no?

Photo (!) (?) by Robbert van der Steeg via Flickr

Leave a comment, dammit.

******************

Have I made an error? It wouldn’t be the first time. Leave a comment and I’ll duly update the post.

Seen something else I should know about? Want to write a post? Have better photos than the Creative Commons Flickr pool ones I use? E-mail bclocalreporter(at)gmail.com.

We’re making inroads into our census of B.C. community newspapers, but there are still a lot of blanks in the Journo-lust Spreadsheet. How many journalists work at your paper? How often do you come out? Who’s your publisher? Participation is free! The benefits unlimited! The exclamation points boundless!

Categories: Technology Tags: , ,

Online amateurs

December 9, 2010 Comments off

Community newspaper bosses have become obsessed with the Internet in recent years.

“The Web!” they scream. “Post to the web! Video, slide shows, photo galleries. This is your new job.”

Behind it all, however, has been a determined reluctance to hire the number, or quality, of web-savvy producers required to achieve such a goal. You can count on one hand the beleaguered folks who post stories to the web for the two largest major B.C. paper chains. And unfortunately, they’re so swamped with plugging holes and shovelling news that they don’t have time to ensure the websites are actually as forward-thinking as the 50- and 60-year-old Luddite executives they work for think they are.

As today’s example of untapped technology, let’s consider the RSS feed of BC Local News, the hub of David Black’s digital empire. As I started this site, I hoped to add RSS feeds for all the Black Press papers so as to be able to monitor the stories being written and, hopefully, point to the good and the bad.

(RSS feeds for the uninitiated allow readers of blogs or news sites to have new content–or portions thereof–sent to a centralized hub as soon as they are published, where they can be read alongside the consumer’s other subscribed to sites.)

But when I first went to subscribe to the overarching BC Local News site, no matter what I did, I was signed up for the “Kootenay Rockies” subscription. Even after I figured out how to independently subscribe to each individual region (Hint, go to Bookmarks > Subscribe To This Page > Region of choice), the feeds were still useless. Every single article and cutline is posted, each with a title. But most (although, mysteriously, not all) don’t include so much as an introductory sentence or blurb that would give me a sense of what may be behind the sometimes mysterious headline or kicker.

Postmedia sites are better. Barely. To subscribe to the Postmedia websites there is a link, way at the bottom of the page, for “Sitemap/RSS.” At the sitemap you can subscribe to various RSS feeds. But it takes some serious navigation and I only found the feeds after significant searching.

Granted most people don’t know what an RSS feed is. But that is surely not helped when an industry that would benefit from the subscription model don’t even understand the potential of the technology. And there are readers out there if you can properly access them. The Kamloops Daily News feed only has 11 subscribers who use Google Reader to access the site. But the blog of that same paper’s sports editor, Greg Drinnan, has 109 subscribers through Google Reader. Given that Drinnan’s blog has no easy-to-find RSS button, those subscribers likely have above-average levels of computer literacy. But these are the young readers newspapers are trying, but failing, to target.

I know what you’re thinking: newspapers can’t make advertising dollars if people only read their content on, say, Google Reader. That’s true.  But RSS feeds don’t have to provide all of a site’s content. The best technique is the one in which a site provides a paragraph or two–the lede or a nut graph–that entices a reader click the “more” icon and follow through to the site. This, for example, is the Burnaby Now RSS feed. And this is the Lillooet-Bridge River News feed. Neither feed scoops the paper, and both would be useful to readers if they weren’t so hard to find and if they were educated on how to use them.

For an industry that was once based on the subscription model—and which hopes to prosper from the Internet revolution—this seems like a massive oversight from both chains. Glacier deserves kudos. There is a gigantic “follow” button, which includes RSS, at the top of most (but not all, unfortunately) pages. Each feed also relays the first paragraph, rather than the first sentence, of each story.

For me, the lack of reliable RSS feeds makes it a pain in the ass to monitor community newspapers in British Columbia. And the one thing a newspaper doesn’t want to be these days is a pay in the ass.

You can sign up for this blog’s RSS feed by moving your mouse over the RSS icon at the top of the sidebar. You can either click the icon, or choose a provider like Google to handle your feeds. I recommend using Google Reader to monitor multiple feeds, but you can always save the feed as a like your run of the mill bookmark.

******************

Have I made an error? It wouldn’t be the first time. Leave a comment (the button’s up top by the headline) and I’ll duly update the post.

Seen something else I should know about? Want to write a post? Have better photos than the Creative Commons Flickr pool ones I use? E-mail bclocalreporter(at)gmail.com.

Help complete a census of B.C. community newspapers by filling in the blanks for your newspaper in the Journo-lust Spreadsheet. 

Photo courtesy of Robert Scoble via Flickr
%d bloggers like this: