Closing Remarks

As this project comes to a close, what I’ve learned about organizing and presenting news items using a common language like XML has reinforced what I discovered last semester about online content. Most of these discoveries distill down to this bit of advice:

Media companies, don’t EVER trash your content.

At one point in my career, I contributed an article to the publication I was working for at the time. Nothing fancy, just an interview with an international artist. The publication killed the story, and I never saw it again. I’d publish the story online myself, but the article still legally belongs to the publication. After all, I would not have scored the exclusive interview I needed for it without their help. I don’t think the publication should publish it or post it online to protect my feelings, though that might become a concern with a bigger-egoed writers. I don’t care either way. This article, however, took me weeks of research and use of the publication’s resources to write, and because it didn’t fit the format they were looking for—and frankly because another more seasoned writer had a better article on a similar story—the publication scrapped it. Continue reading

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Parallactic Drift beta is now live!

About time! I’ve been working on this project and finally, I have something posted online to show for it.

Right now Parallactic Drift stands more as a proof of concept of a scalable AJAX framework that can fit into any CMS that can automate its compiling XSLT scripts (through either Cron or Cron-like functions) and a better search function.

The framework is entirely client-side, using jQuery to hide and present search query-matching stories in individual modal windows that float above a fixed map with location points. As a result, it’s a pretty big page with a slow search function and other limitation (i.e. the page does not contain my favored fade others function for emphasis because of the sheer number of news items). The news items come from a few weeks of gathering all of the RSS feeds from the BBC.co.uk, Economist.com, English.Aljazeera.com and CNN.com. So individually, the news items number in the thousands. Continue reading

API development sheds light on a new workflow

Making a stand-alone scraper and XML readers seems to be the vogue nowadays. I met news API developer for The New York Times Derek Willis last week, and he brought up the good point that many online developers working in journalism had to use APIs and other querying services for their own publications because they are usually not given admin access to the publication’s electronic database.

Like Derek, I want to help journalists solve redundancies within their information gathering and distribution models. All of the hard data that many of my hard-working colleagues gather (i.e. names, ages, dates, etc.) should be stored at the most granular level within a relational or hierarchical database should be easily reused and accessible to everyone, not just journalists. Practical sorting of individual articles, i.e. by relevance, relies on an article’s meta-data, the most accurate of which is derived from the article’s most minor elements. Continue reading

Finding the best way to query news items

The XSLT code for the site is done! Now I am focusing more on different ways the user can search for different news items. As mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been looking at using a multi-level JavaScript drop-down menu, a search box or a combination of the two.

An attempt to present all the countries and cities that appear in the scraped RSS XML makes for a drop-down or scroll-down menu that is way too long to be practical. Also, instead of using a menu for sorting stories by format (text, video, audio, et. al.) I’d rather use the simple icon key explained in that same post. Thus, menus for my project are a no go for now.

Another minor issue I’d like to work out is how to present overlapping file types. For example, I want to be able to present the link to a story that has text with an embedded video as having video and text. So far I’m thinking of using another so-called “code scraper” such as HtmlCleaner, which turns HTML code into plain text. Continue reading

Similar site using Google Maps API

It just occurred to me that the presentation I explained in my previous post can be seen in another news aggregation site. News Facet uses the Google Maps API and meta-data obtained by OpenCalais to display stories by overlapping categories on a world map. News Facet’s uses color-coded transparencies for its story locations more for aesthetic rather than the functional reasons I outlined as a possibility for Parallactic Drift.

News Facet’s project also differs from mine since the developers of the site opted to display the most recent stories, only going back as far as 30 hours. With Parallactic Drift, I want to bring focus to even older stories, since access those stories can only grow over time and a well-constructed and well-presented XML framework that groups these stories by different relevance factors will promote their accessibility to online users.

Still, News Facet has a sharp and organized design that takes advantage of many different free APIs available online. I encourage anybody who wants a better idea of what I want this project to look like to check out NewsFacet.com.

Making it work

Each format may contain one or more of these iconsI’ve been plugging away at the XSL loop for a solid week now. I think I’ve nearly exhausted all that XSLT can do for this project, which I am mainly using to call information from a massive database when certain conditions are met. For example, I was able to make it so that when “Israel” is selected as the location, all of the stories involving Israel will show up with the news item’s headline (wrapped in the story’s permalink), over the publication date, the lede and icons corresponding to the news item’s format (text, audio, video and commentary).

Although I include the publication date as part of each item’s presentation, it will not bear any impact the site’s organizing principle. Each item’s story location(s) will also show up as a dot on a world map. Hovering over either a dot or its corresponding news item’s box brings focus to both the news item and the dot (i.e. by fading out all other story items and dots). Continue reading