Future of Web Apps conference in Miami

fowa-thumb.gifQuick conference opportunity for techies, especially for Floridians and Miami natives such as yours truly:

The Future of Web Apps conference is taking place in Miami from February 28 to March 1. The speakers list includes tech-heads from Twitter, Plaxo, Ning and much more. Early bird registration is $145 for early birds, $195 normal. Conference plus the day of workshops is $495 early bird, $595 regular. Registration for students is $50 (workshops not included). See the full fee list here.

As an alternative to the workshops, BarCamp Miami (a free event) will be taking place the same day on February 28.

23 design lessons from eye-tracking studies

Christina Luan over at the Virtual Hosting Blog has put together a must-read list of 23 design lessons learned from eye-tracking studies such as the one put on by Poynter.

Read this list. Love this list. You dare not ignore this list. News sites are often the biggest offenders of this list.

Among the lessons:

Fancy formatting and fonts are ignored. Why? Because users assume they are ads and don’t have the information they need.

Navigation tools work better when placed at the top of the page.

People generally scan lower portions of the page. […] Give readers something to latch onto when they’re scanning your page.

Many more here.

And, on an unrelated sidenote, the mature milfs dating with improvements galore. Audacity is the cash-strapped news operation’s audio editor of choice due its many great features and low, low price of “free.”

Hat tip to https://journalistopia.com/chattanooga-hookups/ on both items.

Students, educators: Get Adobe Flex Builder 2 for free

flexlogo.jpg Adobe is offering up its Adobe Flex Builder application for free to students and educators. If you’re at all interested in the future of interactive features, don’t pass this up! The Flex platform uses the ubiquitous Flash player, making it a sure-fire way to create a rich application that the overwhelming majority of your users can access.

Check it out here.

Hat tip to Download Squad.

WebSpeak now available via RSS

poynter-thumb.gifHey folks, just a quick heads-up that the new Poynter column WebSpeak is now being offered up via RSS. Woot!

(And yes, “RSS” is in the queue.)

WebSpeak is a regular feature in which my Orlando Sentinel co-worker Dana Eagles and yours truly define terms you’ll need to know to survive in this webby world. Think of it as a Hitchhiker’s Guide to Online News!

Check it out.

Morning Call strikes again with widgets

morning call election widgetFirst, the Allentown Morning Call generated lots of buzz with its popular Breeders and Kennels search widget. Now, they’ve gone and done it again with a new 2007 elections tool that allows users to search a plethora of local elections and embed a widget of the results on a Web page.

Run a search, and check out the “Create a Race Widget” link (it’s small and to the far right) to get some embeddable iframe code. The widgets are available for each race.

[UPDATE: Jeff Johns over at Mccall.com comments: “We have widgets built into our project requirements, we try not to launch a project without a widget. We feel it really connects more users with our content.]

Taking that extra step to create some simple widgets can be easily forgotten in the scramble to get data features up. But widgets are a great opportunity to really serve your online audience and have your content reach more people. Don’t pass it up!

Eliminate the “Most E-Mailed” list? Bushwah!

ugliestdog.jpgMy former competitor, the World’s Ugliest Dog

Oh, the poor, frail egos of journalists. If low pay, the threat of a shrinking industry and malcontented, loudmouth editors won’t do their self-esteem in, then the most e-mailed lists on their Web sites surely will.

Jon Friedman argues in MarketWatch that news sites should abolish the most e-mailed, most read and most blogged about lists from news sites because they will cause journalists to “lower their standards and write top-40 stories instead of pieces with actual depth.” It also, says Friedman, “reinforces that we’re a nation of gossipmongers and dummies.” (For a more humorous take on this issue, take a look at The Onion‘s “story” back in April: ‘Most E-Mailed’ List Tearing New York Times‘ Newsroom Apart)

With all due sensitivity to journalists’ egos, it’ll be a fun, freewheeling day in the obituaries section before I advocate getting rid of tools such as the most e-mailed/viewed/blog list. Those lists serve as the original way in which readers can “vote” their stories to the top, often circumventing the filters of newsroom editors. The lists serve as a way of spotlighting interesting content long after the unforgiving minute-by-minute news cycle on the Web has pushed it along. It also let’s readers see what other readers are checking out, giving them an alternative way to consume news on the site. And last but certainly not least, it’s just plain interesting to see. It’s part of why news ranking sites such as Digg are so popular.

The real issue is that journalists can’t stand to see stories such as “What Shamu taught me about a happy marriage” become the equivalent of a perpetual hit on the newsroom pop charts while big Sunday snoozer projects, stories about politics and other Serious Stuff barely register a blip. It boils their ego-rich blood.

The answer is not doing something so foolish as abolishing the most viewed list. The solution to this particular pickle is educating the newsroom to understand metrics a little better.

Many journalists don’t realize (or forget when they see these lists) that the most viewed list is a representation of an audience that reaches far beyond the circulation area of the newspaper or viewership area of the TV station. It also doesn’t show how long a person took with the story nor who exactly read that story. I hate to sound like an elitist, but wouldn’t you feel better about your story if a senator read and reacted to it as opposed to if your average Joe did the same?

Back in August of 2005, I wrote a story for the Sun-Sentinel titled ‘Thefts from cars among top crimes’, which took a look at how thieves break into cars and what readers could do to avoid this particular crime. It turned out to be a popular story. But August also marked the rise of the so-called “World’s Ugliest Dog.” It was to be an epic struggle.

The World’s Ugliest Dog and my car-theft story duked it out for the title of Most E-Mailed Story. I climbed to the top of the list first. Then the hideous little fiend inched me out. Then, in a surprising turnaround, my story knocked him down a spot. Alas, when the next day came, the repulsive canine had permanently bumped me from the top, where he remained “top dog” for several weeks.

But I wasn’t offended. I had been “hip to the Web” so to speak and understood that interest for the ugly dog’s ran far beyond the corridors of Broward and Palm Beach County. I also had seen quite a few metrics reports before and had a more balanced understanding of what becomes popular on the site. Lastly, I knew my story was helping the readers who viewed it in a very real way. Those readers most likely spent way more time on the site reading my story then examining the dog. They e-mailed my story to their friends likely because they thought reading it would help their pals too.

The lesson is that the “top” lists on news sites should be taken with a grain of salt — but they should definitely be taken. Editors dare not ignore page view reports, time spent, visitor paths and other critical metrics. They must receive and read them regularly so that they’re not shocked by outliers. They have to understand what works and what doesn’t on the Web, even if it’s more art than science. If that affects our journalistic sensibilities, well, too bad. It simply is not an option to close our eyes and ignore the interests of our readers — prurient though they may occasionally be.This doesn’t mean our whole news site needs to be composed of frivolous content. When an item like the Shamu story or the ugliest dog occasionally bubbles to the top, we tend to ignore the hordes of other “serious” news that our readers find interesting. Just because we consume page view metrics doesn’t mean we need to perpetually pander to the lowest common denominator of the public’s interest. Do readers want our site to be a showcase of Britney Spears and animal freaks?

Despite what our metrics occasionally say, do you in your heart really believe that is what our loyal readers want our news sites to become?

NYTimes reports on metrics mess

The New York Times has a must-read story about the discrepancies between publishers’ own data and the data put forth by firms such as Nielsen/NetRatings and ComScore. From the story:

Online advertising is expected to generate more than $20 billion in revenue this year, more than double the $9.6 billion it represented as recently as 2004. Nobody doubts that the figure will grow — particularly as advertisers hone their techniques for aiming messages to particular consumers — but the question remains how much the clashing traffic figures will hold the market back.

Read the story here.

(And yeah, yeah, I know it’s from Oct. 22. Just catching up on some feeds… sigh.)

Shawn Smith’s best newspaper blogs

popcandy.jpgShawn Smith over at New Media Bytes queried the hive mind at the ONA listserv, did his own digging and has put together a list of best newspaper blogs for comments, community and readability.

[UPDATE: Also, make sure to check out Squared’s list of Mama Tribune’s most popular blogs. Good stuff here!]

Among the picks: Bakosphere, Pop Candy, Pogue’s Posts, Stuck in the ’80s and many more.

This is a great list for inspiration and to gather pointers on blogging practices (at least as applied to newspaper sites), so check it out!

(And since Shawn for the most part excluded sports blogs on the list, I’m going to plug The Other Football, a soccer blog written by Brant Parsons for the Sentinel, as a heck of an example of how to do a sports blog well all by your lonesome.)