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Teaching Online Journalism

Buzz words of the moment

I’m referring, of course, to “real-time Web” and “augmented reality.” The second such terms hit the mainstream press, we are likely to be bombarded by them for weeks or even months. A Time magazine cover story is probably in the works. (Or have they already done it? I haven’t seen a Time cover recently.) Jon Swartz has already weighed in on the real-time Web in USA Today.

GigaOm and ReadWriteWeb wrote about the real-time Web in relation to Google earlier this year (RWW in January; Om in May). Bernard Lunn (RWW) offered us the plane crash and rescue in New York’s Hudson River as a case study of the real-time Web in operation; he also highlighted Twitter’s role in the phenomenon. Kevin Kelleher (Om) defined the real-time Web as “the difference between discovery and search, between the ‘Now Web’ and the ‘Then Web.’”

The idea is that the immediacy of your friend streams (via Facebook, say, or Twitter, or wherever you’ve configured your information flow) provides minute-by-minute updates whenever you care to pay attention. Swartz (USA Today) points out that much of this following is done via Internet-connected phones, such as the iPhone — you’re not tethered to a bulky computer while staying continuously in touch with everything. He also notes that the items in these streams tend to be quite brief.

I don’t think I need to tell you that this all has a direct connection to journalism. (How are journalists providing information to the public? How are journalists ensuring that their role as reliable providers of information is assured?)

As for augmented reality (which I was just reading about on Mashable), it requires a portable device (such as your phone) because it connects your location with extra data, coming from various sources, via the Internet. While both Lunn and Kelleher think that Google is lagging in relation to the real-time Web, that’s probably not the case with augmented reality — Google Maps is a prime engine for augmented reality.

With an augmented-reality application running on your hand-held device, you receive information about your surroundings. Ideally you can get it in a few different formats — not only as a map ( “You Are Here”) but also as a photographic image in 360 degrees. You can spin it around and see what’s available nearby. Points of interest are marked in some fashion. Tap a marker, and a bunch of additional details pop up. Tap a link, and a whole encyclopedia entry appears. (Really nice for people who like self-guided walking tours in foreign cities, I’d say.)

Advertising folks should be feeling super-excited about augmented reality. When I’m walking past a restaurant, it can reach out and send me a discount coupon on my phone.

In this video, Boston Globe reporter Hiawatha Bray shows us how augmented reality works on an Android phone: “Pretty soon, you’ll be able to walk down the street of pretty much any city in the world with your phone and read every building like a book.”

Thinking about a role for journalism in augmented reality makes us consider whether we should invest resources in consumer reporting (e.g., reviews) and whether there’s a value proposition for journalism organizations. It’s possible that the boat has already sailed (I’ve written before about how I love using Yelp to find restaurants when I travel in the U.S.) — but there’s also an argument to be made for unbiased reviews of businesses.

City guides are likely a poor choice for journalism organizations to undertake. When I’ve tried recently to use some online city guides compiled by newspapers, I was frustrated by numerous broken links and outdated information. To be useful for more than about 12 months, such a guide must be scrupulously managed, checked, and updated. That’s never going to happen in most of today’s newsrooms.

For a geekier take on the real-time Web, think Flash and Adobe Air. Yeah. Like TweetDeck. For geek-level background, see Brian Lesser’s April 2009 post at O’Reilly.com.


Categories: ideas


5 Comments

  1. Augmented reality, location based, whatever you want to call it, all of these services rely on geographic data. One smart choice news organizations can make that has the potential to pay off across many products is to organize and, when necessary, create geospatial data in their community.

    The Real Neighborhoods™ data at our Florida Home real estate site is an example. We built our own, one-of-a-kind database of more than 3,000 real world neighborhood boundary maps.

  2. Nice example, Mark – thanks!

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