Posts Tagged ‘Chicago’

Google WDYL a Windfall for Citizen Journalists

” Google+,” (Google Plus) which is Google’s second attempt at harnessing social media was getting all the buzz this week, so it was a pleasant surprise to find that Google launched a search tool that will be useful for citizen journalists and place bloggers, without any buzz at all.

Screen shot 2011-06-30 at 11.11.55 AM

Screen shot of WDLY.com, Google's new search utility

WDLY.com is the new site, and it stands for What do you love?

I already love WDLY. The site starts with a plain looking search engine page, with the question “What do you love” a “from Google” note, and a search box. Type in a search term or terms, and WDYL returns a grid that holds a series of sub-searches on your term.

 

I discovered WDLY.com via smartphone, traveling on the subway. When I found it,  I typed “Chicago” into the search box, because that is a subject I know about. WDLY.com takes your search term and runs it through a very useful collection of what I would call “sub-searches” that it presents on one page. The design is flexible, so it scales to be readable on any size screen.

It pays to treat any new tool like any kind of information, and be a journalist. Vet it before you use or recommend it. That means, look you for mistakes, errors, and omissions and verify that it works. When you can explain it to yourself, you are ready to use that tool as citizen journalist.

So I took it through its paces and here is what I found out about WDYL.com. First it is a Google-centric tool. The sub-searches it conducts are on Google-related sites, for example, it includes:

  • Measure Popularity (Google Trends)
  • Explore Chicago 3-D (Sketchup)
  • Make a Photo Album (Picasa)
  • Find Books (Google books)
  • Translate (Google Translate)
  • Watch videos (Youtube.com)
  • Call someone (Google Voice)
  • Scour the Earth (Google Earth, KML)

The searches were fast, and what you expect from these tools. For a citizen journalist, the news tool is a quick way to monitor what’s going on and see if there is breaking news. It is not the kind of exhaustive, custom search you need to do when you are doing in-depth reporting.

The 3-D was more useful than I thought, because Chicago is a center of architecture, and most of our major skyscrapers have been rendered in 3-D. I’d pull those in if there was an emergency or perhaps to illustrate a zoning variance story. If you are writing about phyical objects, be sure to try the 3-D and see if it has images that could illustrate your story.

The trends search is more useful if you narrow your search term, for example, I could search for “Chicago mayor,” and see that topic was trending up as the last mayoral election was held. I think “Trends” searches can add to a story, but it is easy to forget to do one when you are using Google’s regular search page.

An important thing to remember, is that if you are signed into Google, when you do a WDYL search, it will customize some of the searches based on your login. So the “Make a Photo Album” brings back only your photos if you are logged into Google. If you aren’t logged in, then you will see all the public albums that meet your search criteria. This could prove confusing if you work with shared computers, or switch between Google accounts.

For some of the offerings like Google Voice, or Calendar, you will have to login or sign up for an account in order to use the feature.

The pros of WDYL are its speed, ease of use, it scales to any device, and you can customize it to work with any Google login. Because the sub-searches are in boxes in a grid view, the sidebar can feature a navigation grid that makes scrolling up and down a bit more precise and easier to accomplish. Cartoonist Scott McCloud’s pioneering work on visualizing images on the web, used a sidebar navigation grid that was way more elegant than WDYL’s, but I’ve always found that style of navigation to be intuitive and user-friendly.

The cons of WDYO are that it is Google-centric, and that because it customizes to your Google login, it could confuse a user. While Google is generally “good,” it should give all of us pause to trust any single site or company as our information source. For journalists, this is very important to remember.

WDYL.com isn’t going to beat blekko.com for elegant, scholarly, and specific searching, but it is easier to use than blekko, and its multiple search dimensions give you a quick and easy overview of your search domain.

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01

07 2011

Citizen Journalists ask New Mayor, New Methods or Not

screenshot of tweet

From Mayor Emanuel's Chicago 2011 Tweet Stream

Citizen journalists in Chicago should be skeptical but encouraged, that newly elected Mayor Rahm Emanuel is tweeting out invitations to get involved in “[E]ffective, open and accountable government.” Everyone from citizen journalists to the mainstream media will be watching to see if open, transparent interactions with the public will continue through the transition time and into his time as mayor. The site, called Chicago 2011 is functional rather than fancy, and it says:

“City government is a large and complicated set of interlocking agencies and offices, and it can be a challenge to increase public participation and motivate civic engagement. Taxpayers deserve access to their government so that they can take part in the democratic process and hold public servants accountable. How and would you make City government more open and accountable? What parts of our government could benefit the most from public involvement?”

via Effective, open and accountable government – Chicago 2011 – Mayor-Elect Rahm Emanuel.

Minicipal government in Chicago, Ill isn’t known for being open to any outsiders, from mainstream media, to citizens or citizen journalists. In fact, the when the BBC was doing a series about “extremes,” they reached out to local reporter Steve Edwards for a story about Chicago and Illinois, called  “Oiling the Machine – Uncovering Corruption in Chicago, an audio exploration of extreme government corruption.

How bad is it? Since 1971, 1,000 Illinois public servants have been convicted of corruption, and in Chicago, 30 aldermen have gone to jail according to Dick Simpson, a former Chicago alderman who is now teaches political science department at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

In February, Chicago voters, or the 41% who turned out to vote, elected Rahm Emanuel as the next mayor. He will replace Mayor Richard M. Daley, who has been in office since 1989 Richard J. Daley, father of Richard M. also served as mayor of Chicago (1954-1976) but that is a story for another day. Emanuel’s inauguration is scheduled for May. His early actions indicate he may open up what has been the black box of information about city finances, hiring, zoning, and other matters.

Through tweets about the Chicago 2011 site, the public is being urged to go to the site and leave public comments, and get involved, during his transition time. The tweets about the site remind people they can ask questions, discuss issues, make suggestions, leave a resume, and generally keep up with the plans for Chicago under Mayor Emanuel.

As the site develops, we’ll return to it, and also track comments from Chicago’s bloggers and hyperlocal citizen media about whether it is really a break from the past in terms of transparency, or simply window dressing to cover up for “business as usual.”

 

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24

03 2011