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Archive for the ‘Production Labs’ Category

We can work it out!

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The biggest problem I had with my Production Labs project was that the client wanted an animated timeline map showing the Manchester cuts in sequence. No matter how much I searched, I could not find a way to do it within my current abilities.

I even spoke the the Flash developers at the Financial Times, but they said that I would need a lot of expertise to achieve what I wanted. Then over a beer in the afternoon a fellow Online Journalist, Desi Velikova, suggested I look at Tableau to see if that would work.

Firstly, I made sure I had all the longitude and latitude data in the spreadsheet, dates formatted correctly etc and then loaded it into Tableau. At first it just showed a map with one large circle in the middle, but then I found out the default setting was to find the average of the numbers, so correcting that immediately changed the view to one of Manchester with all the locations of the cuts correctly displayed.

Next, through trial and error (as the help facility was anything but helpful), I managed to work out how to add a time element to the map and also change the size of the markers depending on the size of the cut (dropped from the final version) and how to change colour depending on which department the cut was from.

You can see a screenshot of the resulting map below, or to see it in action, have a look on Kijamedia.


Written by Andy Watt

March 24, 2011 at 7:54 pm

Liz Taylor: A Life In Numbers

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As a practise for visualising data, I decided to use information about the life of actress Liz Taylor to create a handful of visualisations.

I used Many Eyes, Fusion Charts and Google Docs.

The first was a collection of random data such as how many films she had starred in, how many grandchildren she had, how many front covers she had graced etc.

Next I decided to look at films, and I discovered that in relative financial terms, her movie ‘Cleopatra’ is still the most expensive film ever made which I showed with the following visualisation.

Finally, I looked at a very famous aspect of Taylor’s life, namely how many husband she had, and turned that into a visualisation.

You can see all of these in their full animated and interactive glory here.

Written by Andy Watt

March 23, 2011 at 8:13 pm

BBC Sport and Social Media

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Following my meeting yesterday with Ollie Williams from the BBC, he has decided to test one of my recommendations for using social media as part of the BBC’s Olympic strategy. Ollie has opened a VYou account which you can see here. VYou allows you to ask questions of other users and receive a video response as a reply.

So if you have ever wanted to ask something about the Olympic Games, then why not see if Ollie can help?

Written by Andy Watt

March 22, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Social Media and the Olympics

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Below is a mind map I created to help me compile a report for the BBC on possibilities for using social media to encourage interest in lesser watched sports during the Olympics. Below the mind map is the text of the brief report.


Social media has exploded over the last five years. New start-ups such as Twitter have been embraced by millions of users who use the services frequently, while other more established social networks, like MySpace have fallen by the wayside.

The challenge for the Olympics in 2012 will be to harness the services which offer the most potential to both the Corporation, the athletes and spectators/viewers.


Twitter is probably the most popular existing source of communication between athletes and their followers. It allows the user to communicate updates about their lives to their followers and receive replies, opinions and questions which they can then respond to. Most mobile devices can access the service and it will be one of the most active forms of communication in the build up to the Olympic games and for the duration of the event.

Twitter is not just a simple messaging service though. Through the use of the Lists function, Twitter accounts can be collected together and the user can then follow a particular list which can be updated and amended at any time by the person who created it. This would be an ideal way for broadcasters or sporting organisations to promote and distribute the details of their athletes’ Twitter accounts to potential followers. It is likely that if followers find individual users interesting, they will follow them from their personal accounts. These lists could be a generic list of athletes or organised by sporting discipline/event and could also include the broadcasters and commentators.

Also, Tweeting from mobile phones with location settings activated can allow Tweets to be plotted on a map. This can provide a useful visual source as photographs will also appear on the map along with the Tweeted message. This could be used to raise awareness of where sports personnel are appearing, broadcasters are reporting from and potentially improve attendance numbers at events. The maps can also be embedded into existing websites and updated automatically.


Many personalities, teams, television programmes and events have fan pages created so Facebook users can receive news updates and comment on their chosen topics. It is also possible for members of the groups to upload their own content, such as photographs to be shared by others.

The biggest problem for many is how to keep their pages updated on a regular basis, but this need not be a concern if a Facebook app called RSS Grafitti is utilised. This allows RSS feeds to be automatically posted onto Facebook pages, meaning that the person managing the content could update the individual’s personal webpage or blog and have it automatically post to the Facebook group too. This can increase traffic to the host site as well as provide an invaluable source of information for readers of the page. As the app uses RSS feeds, a Google search RSS feed can be sourced which can be used the same way, but this time pulling feeds from news sites across the world (or localised) and posted to the site. This can have drawbacks if the wrong stories are posted, but the site can be monitored and the rss search results refined to limit this eventuality.

Also, websites can use the Facebook Live Stream service which is like a streamlined Cover It Live service (see below) where members can comment in chatroom style on a live event regardless of whether they are on each other’s friends lists and have their messages automatically posted to their own walls with a link back to the parent site.

Cover It Live

This is a service which allows content from Twitter, Qik, Livestream and others to be brought together and posted in one continuous stream of comments, usually during an event or broadcast. Users can also comment directly into the conversation or do so through services they already subscribe to. This can prove to be a useful tool when covering live events as Twitter hash tags as well as individual Tweeters can be automatically added to the stream. It can also be replayed after and could provide a rich source of comments and record the varying emotions displayed throughout the event.

Cover It Live can also be embedded into an existing website or blog and it may be that the BBC already has a license/account which would make it a low cost alternative.


VYou is a relatively new service which allows members to be asked questions and then record a video reply. It has grown rapidly with music companies, publishers and sports personalities responding publicly to questions.

This could not only provide video content which could be used by broadcasters or online media, but it also provides a very personal response from the account holder with previous questions and responses listed to the right of the video window which can be reviewed by anyone.

The account holder can select which questions they answer and these are only made public once they have been replied to, which eradicates the possibility of spam or offensive content from appearing publicly, meaning moderation would not be a low priority.

Some current users of VYou have been very creative with their ‘waiting’ videos ( a short piece of film which makes it appear as if the person is actually waiting at their computer for a question) and would work well for individuals or teams. This could prove especially useful as a way of lesser known sports and events being made more accessible as the participants could be asked directly about their discipline and even to explain terminology or rules which may be unfamiliar.

Many features are available for free, including the ability to embed the content into another site and also shared on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites. However, if a branded channel were required, the cost would be around the [Cost removed] mark. This cost does allow more options with regards to branding and embedding etc and the cost is apparently negotiable. If you wish to explore this further, you would need to contact [Name Removed].

Location based social networking and GetGlue

The two main players in this field are Foursquare and Gowalla. Both offer rewards for being in particular localities and it may be possible to have unique rewards (in the form of virtual badges) for spectators who attend certain venues and/or events.

Another option would be to use GetGlue which is designed in a similar way but to record the user’s viewing habits rather than physical movements. For example, they may ‘check in’ when they are watching a particular series, show or event and it may be possible to have unique badges for watching BBC content. It is probable that this would not be free and although I have emailed the company, at the time of writing I am still awaiting a response in regards to this.

With all three it is possible to be quite creative with these rewards to encourage users to acquire them.


Personally, I would recommend the use of a combination of Twitter, Facebook and VYou to encourage interaction between athletes, broadcasters and spectators/viewers. Both offer a personal element and can also provide content which could be used elsewhere on the internet.


Written by Andy Watt

March 21, 2011 at 1:00 am

Visualisation Variety

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I have been working on the data provided by the MEN and have come up with 3 visualisations.

Firstly, an interactive visualisation showing where job losses were being implemented. The visualisation can be changed by the user to display the job cuts by establishment or category along with a couple of other ways. It can be viewed here.

Secondly, a heat map which shows the locations where the cuts are taking place which can be viewed here.

Finally, I have managed to get a timeline up and running which will link back to original online articles and include photographs, but it does not load reliably. The script is on Google’s site so I was expecting it to be reliable. Reloading the page often solves the problem but this is confusing because if the script or the data was incorrect, it should display the error every time, not intermittently. Anyway, if you want to see if it will load (try reloading if it doesn’t), then the link is here.

Written by Andy Watt

March 16, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Production Labs – finally got the data

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For my production labs project, I am working with data concerning the Manchester budget cuts. In a previous discussion, I had agreed to a Google map showing where the cuts were taking place which would link back to the online report on the newspaper’s website. I was also going to look at different ways in which to visualise the data such as heat maps etc but the email I received envisaged something much more ambitious.

They would like an animated map, with locations showing up when the timeline reaches the date the respective cuts were announced, with links back to the website. Quite simply, I do not have the ability to do this. I am not a coder and there is not service out there which I could tap into to allow me to achieve this, so I will have to look for alternatives as near as possible to what they want.

Written by Andy Watt

March 14, 2011 at 11:55 pm

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Production Labs #1

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Working through the checklist and the following have been completed:

  • Brown group organised, emails sent and chairman chosen
  • Skills audit complete
  • Project proposal completed and sent

Now to do the actual work!

Written by Andy Watt

February 17, 2011 at 1:20 pm

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