Technology is easy; labor is hard

Aron Pilhofer of on the hardware, software, and costs associated with building the best interactive data projects in the news business:

Everything we use is free and open-source. Our platform is Ruby on Rails backed by Mysql databases running on Ubuntu servers. The cost here isn’t software, or even hardware, which is relatively cheap these days through hosting companies like Amazon EC2 (on the high end) or Slicehost (on the low end). The price most news organizations (and it’s not just small ones) seem reluctant to pay is for people — developers like the ones in my group who can build the infrastructure to support the rich, deeply engaging web features that so many people love about our site.

Read the whole thing at Old Media, New Tricks.

Five ways to produce online news without asking the web guy for help

You don’t know what it’s like for the web guy at a newspaper.

All day long, requests and ideas funnel in his direction, with no end in sight, and little help.

Web guys, this is for you.

Reporters, listen up. Here are five ways you can put together something wonderful for the web without asking the web guy a single question. All you’ll need to do at the end of each of these exercises is to send him a link or a hunk of code, if that. He’ll know what to do with it.

  1. Make a movie: Record your video. Edit it in iMovie (free on your Mac) or Windows Movie Maker (free on your PC). Upload it to YouTube. Send the web guy the URL. Bask in the glory.
  2. Produce an audio slideshow: Record your audio. Gather your photos. Forget about SoundSlides for the moment and edit it as a video file in iMovie or Windows Movie Maker. Upload it to YouTube. Send the web guy the URL. Bask in the glory of your award-winning tearjerker.
  3. Create a podcast: Record your audio. Pick a photo or two to go with it, even if it’s just mugs of the people talking. Edit it as a video file in iMovie or Windows Movie Maker. Upload it to YouTube. Send the web guy the URL. Bask in the glory of your ingenuity.
  4. Create an interactive map: Go to Click on ‘My Maps.’ Follow the instructions. Add as much or little information as you have for each point you add to the map. Photos and videos go a long way. (Use the embed code from your YouTube videos here.) When you’re done, send the web guy the ‘link to this page’ URL or hit the ‘Customize and preview embedded map’ link, turn it down to ‘small,’ and send the web guy the embed code. He’ll know what to do with it.
  5. Create a social network: Go to Follow the directions. I recommend choosing a topic that helps you serve the needs of the people you take the most phone calls and e-mail from. (Obscure high school sports coaches? Real estate agents? Kindergarten teachers? City council members?)

None of this requires any technical know-how. You don’t need any training to point-and-click your way through this process. Don’t sweat the details about things like ‘settings’ or ‘encoding.’ If questions come up, type them into Google. You’ll find the answers.

Most important: Don’t wait around for someone else to hold your hand through this stuff. You’re an adult. You can handle this on your own. Get started today.

(Yes, I know, I know. Next time I’ll use the phrase ‘web gal.’)