Digital First’s new Social Media Wire is the child of two groups of creative people: the original Journal Register Co. ideaLab and the community engagement staff at TBD. The Social Media Wire is testing now on the site of the New Haven Register and eventually will roll out across Digital First Media’s news sites across the country.
Mandy Jenkins, our Digital Projects Editor, writes about the Social Media Wire on her Zombie Journalism blog. Mandy is leading the way on the project and played a key role in development of the idea at TBD.
As we were planning the TBD launch, scheduled for Aug. 9, 2010, I suggested that we tell the story of the day in Washington through the content people were creating about the day: Gather all the local tweets, Facebook updates, news stories, YouTube videos, photos and so forth that we could find and show them in chronological order, as quickly after they happened as we could. I thought if we promoted it well, it would be something people would come back to again and again throughout the day and would establish us as something different from traditional news sources.
I saw it as a one-day project of intensive work by the community engagement team. Fortunately, my team had better ideas. The team was Mandy, Jeff Sonderman, Daniel Victor, Lisa Rowan and Nathasha Lim. I don’t remember who had what ideas, but it’s fair to credit the whole group with the idea. Because once I outlined the idea, the discussion took off, with everyone contributing, and they just left my original idea in the dust.
Instead of making it a one-day project, they rightly saw that we could set it up with automatic feeds and make it a standing feature of the site. I won’t explain all of the features we discussed because I can’t remember them all and because some of them seem, in retrospect, a little kooky. But a discussion that welcomes kooky ideas can bring out some great ideas.
Soon the idea matured into “TBDnow,” a feed-based page that would tell what was happening right now in the Washington area all the time. It would be a widget on the home page and you could click into the widget to see a full page. The day’s news would scroll past in tweets, videos, photos and RSS feeds. You could click on any of them to stop and dig in, or you could just enjoy the stream as it flowed past you.
Mandy and Jeff immediately started working on a prototype. I won’t go into the reasons that TBDnow never launched. We came up with the idea too late to include it in development plans for launch, and the story of how quickly TBD faded after launch is a pretty well-worn path by now.
But about the time we were preparing to launch TBD, Journal Register Co. was forming another creative group, the ideaLab. Members were chosen based on their individual ideas, but like the TBD team, they fed on each others’ creativity and somehow came up with the idea for a Social Media Wire.
I wasn’t in on those discussions, but I know that they were thinking that a combined display of politics-related feeds would make a great news product during election season. (IdeaLabbers: If anyone wants to tell the story of the brainstorming about the Social Media Wire, consider this an invitation to write a guest blog post. Or write it on your own blog and send me the link. Update: Ivan Lajara tweeted me a link to a 2011 #jrcchat about the Social Media Wire.)
At any rate, when I joined JRC last year, Jon Cooper asked me to work on implementation of the Social Media Wire and I immediately recognized similarities to TBDnow. When Mandy came to work for me earlier this year, this was one of her first assignments.
As Mandy wrote on her blog, we’re testing it now, and we welcome your feedback:
There’s certainly work to be done on fine-tuning the user experience… and that’s where I hope you can come in. Please visit nhregister.com and click around our widgets on the home page and section fronts and spend a few minutes on the full-page Social Media Wire.
Let me know what you think could make the user experience better, which feeds should be added or removed, etc. in the comments, or contact me via Twitter, Facebook or email. As with any beta product, we need all the eyeballs and feedback we can get.
One footnote: My original idea of telling the story of a single day may have had its roots in a story I wrote for the Omaha World-Herald’s 9/11 first-anniversary coverage. I told the story of the day before, both the routine stuff that happened in Omaha on a routine day and some of the activities of local people whose lives would change the next day. We used the idea again in 2009 for the first anniversary of the 2008 Cedar Rapids flood. And Jeff Jarvis did a similar thing on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, tweeting what he was doing 10 years earlier (until Twitter’s stupid rate limit cut him off). And I know I wasn’t the first journalist to try to re-create a day in the past. In fact, the World War II homecoming that produced two of the best stories of my career started out as an assignment to re-create the day of Bob Moore’s homecoming. I ended up telling the lives of the people in the photo instead.