UK unemployment map

In our data journalism class with John Burn-Murdoch today, we were taught how to use cartodb.com – a useful online tool for creating interactive maps out of spreadsheet data.

We downloaded data on unemployment in each local authority district in the UK from Nomis Web, and then downloaded mapping data from the Office for National Statistics’ geoportal.

We then merged the data, uploaded the result to cartodb.com – and hey presto:

Unemployment in the UK by local authority district

Unemployment in the UK by local authority district

If you click the above, you’ll be taken through to the interactive map that’ll allow you to zoom in and see the specific numbers.

Bear in mind, when looking at the map, that the percentages refer only to people on the claimant count – and so might be lower than you would’ve expected.

Who cares about Interhacktives?

I will soon be helping to run #Interhacktives, a website for students on City University’s Interactive Journalism MA to share their experiences as they learn about digital journalism.

Journalism, like any industry, should consider the people it serves: its readers. Otherwise, in the digital age, the readers will go elsewhere.

So: who will use the Interhacktives site?

Profile of an Interhacktives user

Well, you might think it is most likely to be someone interested in the field of digital journalism.

The problem is: this might limit our audience somewhat. After all, how many people are interested in digital journalism? And what proportion of those would be we able to attract?

Therefore, we need to aim more broadly. As UsvsTh3m has shown, simple, topical news games can go viral – but these require technical skills currently beyond us.

But two things we can do are infographics and data visualisations.

Infographics can make information come alive

Infographics can make information come alive

Data visualisations help to put numbers in context

Data visualisations help to put numbers in context

Not only will producing these allow us to develop our digital skills, but they are also popular beyond the narrow realm of digital journalism. People are interested in pictures. And pictures that give them information more succinctly than any prose could?

Bingo.

This is how we can meet the key journalistic aim of adding value for our readers.

HOW TO REACH PEOPLE

With fifteen or so of us running Interhacktives, it might seem easy for us to reach a large audience – we just each tweet every article, and our followers all click through.

If only.

Twitter has notoriously low click-through rates. Although it has its uses, it should not be the only way to promote material.

Other possible methods include:

  • Posting on Facebook – which has relatively high click-through rates, but remains a generally non-public space;
  • Linking on our own blogs;
  • Connecting with journalists with large followings who can then promote our work to their followers;
  • Connecting with the relevant community for a certain article; and
  • SEO (search engine optimisation).

Although promotion is very important, though, content is king. And that is our main challenge.

IFTTT – supercharged productivity

For my first blog post about something I’ve learned on my Master’s, I shall expound the benefits of IFTTT – a web tool I’ve found both useful and elegant.

What is IFTTT?

IFTTT screenshot

IFTTT stands for ‘If this, then that.’ The aim is to save the user time by managing output across the user’s various different internet accounts.

For example, I could wish for all of my blog posts to have a link posted immediately on my Facebook timeline, or, in IFTTT-speak: ‘If blog post, then Facebook post.’

Recipes

This is what is known as a recipe: any action that causes a corresponding action on another website, program or application. Another example is getting tomorrow’s weather forecast texted to you; the possibilities are so extensive that it’s almost impossible to list them all. Helpfully, IFTTT has a list of its most popular recipes.

IFTTT recipes

What is particularly exciting, though, is that anyone can create a recipe. This doesn’t require knowledge of coding – everything is made very simple by the IFTTT system. The only requisite is that the channel exists.

Channels

A channel is any website, program or application that works with IFTTT. For most people, this will include everything that has anything to do with productivity: Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, Last.fm, calendars, text messages, email – the list goes on. There are currently 72 different channels.

IFTTT channels

All the user must do is grant IFTTT permission, and Bob’s your uncle – the channel is connected.

Triggers

Channels work through triggers. A trigger is the part of the recipe that controls the interaction between the channels.

To use the earlier example, a user might want his Facebook profile to publish links to his blog posts. This publishing involves the simplest of triggers. A slightly more advanced trigger would be to have only posts with certain tags posted. In IFTTT-speak: ‘If blog post with ‘social media’ tag, then Facebook post.’

IFTTT trigger

A further example of a useful trigger is to be notified of the weather only if there’s a storm coming. This would save the user from having to trawl through the weather every day to check for himself.

Ok – but What’s the point?

Productivity. IFTTT can save you an awful lot of time. Even if you consider yourself an infrequent internet user (if those still exist), IFTTT could help you. Who doesn’t want to know if a storm is coming, for instance?

Don’t just take my word for it. The site is ultra user-friendly, and even has a mobile app. The possibilities are vast, and growing every day.

As IFTTT says, put the internet to work for you.

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Have I missed anything? Is there a better tool out there? Have you had a bad experience with IFTTT? Let me know by posting a comment below.

A most inspiring wedding

Two weeks ago I had the thoroughly enjoyable experience of watching an old university friend of mine, Emily Maudsley, marry her fiancé, Matthew Slattery, whom she had met in Durham three years previously. My report of the event follows.
 

The lifelong commitment of a loving couple was sealed recently as Matthew Slattery and Emily Maudsley were married at a traditional ceremony in Kenilworth.

In a time of doubt about the nature of matrimony, this young couple proved that tradition remains alive and well in a small pocket of the West Midlands. Guests were overwhelmed by the touching speeches and emotive church service as the couple’s devotion to each other was demonstrated with heartwarming sincerity.

Emily was resplendent in a spellbinding white dress as she was led down the aisle of a packed St. Nicholas’ church by her father, who was giving the last of his three daughters away, to the understandably jittery Matt at the altar. Some guests momentarily lost control and audibly gasped at the sight of the loving aura that seemed to surround the couple, who had chosen Emily’s local church to provide the glamorous backdrop to this unforgettably pious event.

The groomsmen, who, like the groom himself, were attired in impeccable grey morning dress, and the bridesmaids, whose beauty in elegant blue summer gowns was surpassed only by the ethereal glow of the bride, provided able support to the day’s two protagonists. The vicar juggled guises between jocularity and solemnity, when appropriate. The assembly was coaxed into hymnal singing by an angelic voice from the front, and talented pianism from the side. All other thoughts were smothered by the significance of the ceremony, of which Matthew’s memorized recital of his vows provided an apposite reminder, whilst adding to the undeniable sense of class surrounding the occasion.

In an era when truly lifelong commitments to others is rare, to witness an exchange of vows that engenders such confidence in their sincerity, and in their likelihood of fulfillment, is not only refreshingly different, but makes the soul sing with a noticeable purity of joy. As was once claimed by Oscar Wilde, “men marry because they are tired; women, because they are curious”, and the veracity of this often holds; in this case, however, does the famous playwright invite ridicule. Any doubts that presented themselves throughout the service seemed so immediately inappropriate that, within a few engrossed breaths, they had already been banished to the graveyard of forgotten thoughts.

The wedding breakfast, taking place in a garden marquee at St. Swithin’s House, was appropriately free of the uncouth anecdotes and relentless pursuit of costless intoxication that have come to bedevil modern matrimonies. The class and considered organization cast a spell over the guests, banishing rogue notions of fatuous hedonism and inducing them to maintain the integrity and respect the occasion deserved.

The speeches were attended with captivated concentration. The best man complied with the tone by resisting the temptation to regale the assembly with cheap gags; the proud father was keen to impress on the listeners his delight at the union; and Matthew, the groom, enchanted the audience with an intimate account of his past with Emily, and his hopes for their future together. After recounting the difficulties of the previous two years, when they had been compelled by circumstance to conduct relations from distant dwellings, negated only slightly by sporadic trysts, the speaker despatched his guests into enraptured admiration by turning to address his bride and revealing his most heartfelt source of delight: “And now I’m so pleased to think that I’ll never have to spend another day apart from you for the rest of my life.”

If anyone had almost inconceivably managed to continue nursing a doubt about this couple, it must surely have been excised for evermore by this most moving of moments, to be superseded by a confidence both complete and comforting, for all in the room received a vicarious glow of contentment as a result of the roaring cauldron of love that was burning so brightly on high table.

The matter of the day proved indubitably to all concerned, proceedings assumed a festive character with the provision of the evening entertainment, which took the form of a traditional ceilidh. University friends relived their cherished college memories as formality was forsaken for the cause of voluptuous delectation, which was accompanied by an arresting spirit of joie de vivre that descended upon the dancers. Enthralled and absorbed, guests barely remembered to jaunt over to the bar, which was attended most competently by this writer’s uncle.

Finally, and not unaccompanied by regret at time’s ever-swift passage, the denouement arrived. Exhausted in the kind of ecstatic and satisfied manner that only truly enjoyable and fulfilling physical exertion can produce, guests formed a guard of honour to see the newly-weds out of the marquee and on to their more private enjoyment of the evening, before beginning a honeymoon in the sensuous grasp of rural Italy’s bewitching charms.

This was a day that will live long in the memory of those endowed with the fortune to witness it.