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Monthly Archives: January 2013

Coal, Multimedia, and Usability.

Today I am thinking about coal, and specifically the multimedia website Coal: A Love Story. For this website, I conducted a usability test on myself and my brother to test the site’s navigation.

My own experience with the navigation was nonlinear, though the website is designed so that it could be approached linearly as well. After scrolling over the whole website, I first clicked the link about midway through the page that allowed me to calculate my own coal use, because it was interactive.  From there, I went back to start the beginning. I remarked favorably on the fact that this didn’t take me to another page or a popup, but just a window that I could easily exit out of to reach the main page. I then looked at a number of videos in no particular order. I stumbled upon a link that referred to Wyoming that I had scrolled past several times, because it was specifically relevant to me.

Then came the job of locating a way to contact the creators of the website. This is where I ran into issues. The first place I looked was at the bottom of the page, for a “contact us” link. None presented itself, so I started clicking on “about” links, to News 21, The Carnegie Foundation, and others. I ended up jumping around these sites with little luck. I started exploring the original page, looking for anything obvious, but still found nothing; I threw up my arms at about the 10 minute mark.

Other than being unable to find the page creators contact page, I liked the navigation. At the same time, in light of some of the rules we learned about navigation, I found that the smaller, “learn more” links below some of the main topics were difficult to notice – they felt out of the way. I also failed to notice the “next” function on the videos until I had watched a number of them. I found the odd way that they changed the size of each section  distracting and a little confusing. Are the larger rectangle stories more important?

Courtesy of Poweringanation.org; Coal: A Love Story

Courtesy of Poweringanation.org; Coal: A Love Story

Next, I did the same usability test on my brother. He began by watching the second video, and then used the next button. After this, he explored the page and tried clicking on the link “Energy Viewpoints” at the bottom of the page, only to find that it was a dead link. Not surprisingly, the last link he went to was the one referring to Wyoming.

During his exploration, he commented that he “liked the style” of the page. Specifically concerning navigation, he commented favorably on the fact that most of the links didn’t lead him to another page. He also praised the fact that it was as easy to explore linearly as it was to take a nonlinear approach.

When I asked him to figure out how to contact the people who made the page, he had no trouble. Whereas I had found myself frustratingly digging through related pages and finding nothing, he noticed the link “About Coal: A Love Story” and immediately found contact information.

His and my experiences were similar, in that we both explored the page in a nonlinear manner, picking and choosing what appeared most interesting. Though it could be viewed linearly, there was no specific reason why that experience was better than just exploring the page. For differences, I explored a little more randomly than he did and he found and clicked on links that I never even noticed(including a dead one). Most pronounced was the fact that he had no trouble navigating the site to find a contact page: is that page difficult to find or not? I have no idea.

Powering a Nation’s “Coal: A Love Story” uses some good navigation. They shouldn’t change how the videos open in pages that are easy to close, or their non-linear approach to the story. In addition, the inclusion of next buttons and a navigational bar on the left makes the linear approach possible as well. This facilitates different ways of approaching the story, and that’s good.

Not everything about the site is smooth, however. I think that the way they alternate the sizes of the sections is confusing, and that their subheadings (“Learn more”) are easy to miss, and that should be fixed. Finally, there’s no good reason for a site like this to have dead links. (I’d suggest leaving an obvious “contact us” link at the bottom of the page, too, but perhaps that’s my own issue…)

Signing off,

Joshua C. Geiger

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Posted by on January 29, 2013 7:00 pm in online journalsim

 

Analyzing Multimedia Penguins

The first thing that struck me while looking for a multimedia story is that there aren’t very many of them. Most stories I ran into (and run into) have a simple formula when reported online : big picture at the top, story text beneath it. Often, there aren’t even more pictures in the story, though there may be some links. I just found that interesting, given how conducive the internet is to multimedia journalism.

Photo courtesy of BBC news.

The story I finally chose to analyze I found at BBC News. It was a story I had found on The Guardian, except that BBC’s report was multimedia and The Guardian’s wasn’t. The story is about a study on penguins’ hunting, which was conducted using cameras strapped to penguin’s heads.

The story focuses on what the study learned about marine foraging behavior. It accomplishes this mostly in the text, with a handful of pictures of the Adelie penguins, and including some of the footage that the Japanese scientists got during the study. The footage is certainly interesting, if not particularly enlightening. It doesn’t include any kind of audio track. The pictures add to a visual understanding of the penguin’s habitat and serve as a good shift in the article’s topic focus.

Other than the basic scrolling nature of the article, it also links to several other videos of Adelie penguins on BBC. Other than being informative and about the same penguins, they have nothing to do with the story. Navigation wise, I don’t know what they want to accomplish with the links inserted into the body of the story (as opposed to the sidebar), because clicking on them takes you away from the story completely.

As a matter of a scientific interest story, the subject matter is engaging, and including high quality photos and actual video from the study makes it more engaging. The story of overcoming past problems with studying animal foraging and the penguins specifically was interesting, too. Some of the descriptions of what the scientists looked for could be seen on the video. In addition, the pictures provided an understanding of the penguin’s world, and the attached video links provided more information about the penguins themselves.

On the other hand, the video was not of the highest quality, and provided no additional information with an audio track, which may have been useful. The photos were also pretty and relevant, but not complete. When the text described the sensors and camera that were attached to the penguin, it would have been nice to see a clear picture of the things. I was left wondering exactly how a penguin still hunted effectively with a video camera glued to its head.

A happy penguin.

Despite those complaints, the story itself was fairly satisfying. It provided me with a fairly complete but not overly technical description of the study. It also added more trivial but interesting information about the penguins themselves, linked to videos with more information in the article, and described unfamiliar animals.

One of the important things that this story reminded me of is that even if the video is not great, an article about a video like this should have that video included if possible. Another thing is to use resources that the news organization already has, for instance the other videos of the Adelie penguins included in the “Antarctic oddities” aside of the article. Most importantly I learned that Adelie penguins are super good at hunting camouflaged fish.

Personally, if I had done the article I would have liked some small audio description of the video, if only something along the lines of “oh, there he got something”. Any audio, from reporter or scientist, would have made it a bit more engaging, but perhaps that was unrealistic, which I understand. I also would have changed the title of “Antarctic Oddities” to something like “More on Adelie Penguins”. They already have a ‘related’ section, but that way it doesn’t look quite as much like it’s a part of the story.

This article, though it utilizes different media, comes off as mostly a print story. An audio accompaniment or even complete video or audio segment could have been included. A photo gallery of the penguins during the study or even just as penguins could have been included, acting much like their external videos do.

Multimedia successes and criticisms aside, penguins just make good news.

Signing off,

Joshua C. Geiger

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2013 6:29 pm in online journalsim

 

My News Sources: An Introduction

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As an avid internet user and member of the electronic generation, I don’t think it comes as a surprise that most of my news sources are internet based. For most of my daily news, I use Yahoo! and a specialized homepage that highlights politics, science and technology. For more in depth news I also use the New York Times and Real Clear Politics . I trust these new sources because they are widely used, because I find Yahoo! especially to be timely, and because they haven’t yet crushed my trust in them with lies or bad reporting. I don’t read news in print or watch much television news. I also have specific websites I use for art news (DeviantArt.com) and for gaming news (TrueAchievements.com).

I find that Real Clear Politics is the least bias of the news sources, because it collects a wide range of articles from across the political spectrum. Yahoo! does not always do a good job of including pictures or integrating other media into their articles, and they also report a lot of less valuable entertainment news. The New York Times is much better in quality, but I believe that it often has a liberal slant in its articles, and especially in its op-eds.

Except that I would often categorize Yahoo! as entertainment news, I don’t trust entertainment sources as real news. They may sometimes be informative or at the very least interesting to read or watch, but I don’t personally find a lot of value in them.

In using the internet for much of my news diet, I also do most of my news discussion on the internet. Via Facebook, I talk to my father (whose opinion I trust to be well thought out, if usually deeply conservative).  My father and I link each other to news and talk about it almost daily, and my mom (who is deeply liberal) shares news articles via Facebook, though I often avoid discussing the articles with her because we usually disagree politically. When I talk to my friends about the news I usually just talk out difficult concepts or issues, and try to avoid serious conflict when I realize our opinions differ.

Despite talking about the news daily, I don’t read that many articles. I could also use a greater variety of news sources, and I don’t like watching videos. I am guilty of mostly reading articles that agree with my own political bias (as well as getting frustrated with articles that don’t). I’m also guilty of mostly discussing news with people I agree with. I think I could improve my news diet by going to a source like the New York Times first instead of Yahoo!, and probably by discussing the news with a wider range of people.

So that’s the news on where I get my news.

Signing off,

Joshua C. Geiger

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2013 11:16 am in online journalsim