Bob Cauthorn on how to organize information at your online edition

Will Sullivan, interactive projects editor at the Palm Beach Post, reports at his Journerdism blog on a webcast of a talk Bob Cauthorn gave at UC Berkeley in March.

Cauthorn is a former VP for digital media at the SF Chronicle. A quick search on his name will throw gobs of good articles, lectures and interviews by and about him.
Sullivan’s notes include the following bits of Cauthorn’s advice to newspapers:

“…Starting a wiki experiment with open source software, ‘Forget the capital stuff. Find your top three reporters, tell them to not submit an expense report for the next two weeks and you can pay for this.’ …He suggests taking your archives, dumping them into the wiki, and letting the public organize the information. …’I hope you all are not trying to make money off your archives, because you all are smokin’ crack.’ …He also suggests letting the public tag stories, letting them be ‘super-librarians’ for you. …He discusses the idea that newspapers are essentially unranked listings of information. We need to aggregate, organize that information and become the communities best repository for that information. That’s what newspapers have been for the last 100 years.”

Cool. I love the idea of letting the readers do the work when it comes to tagging and organizing the archives. Let’s say I’m searching the Chronicle’s archives for a story about Stereolab (one of my favorite bands) and I find this 2001 review of a live show at the Fillmore. I might tag it with the words Stereolab, indie+rock, Fillmore, 2001, concert, review. The tags should end up on the archived article page, so that the next person searching can just click on Fillmore if they want to read more about it, without going back to a search page and typing the word. Once a large set of tags has been built up by readers, start publishing a tag cloud (RSS subscribers might want to click through to look at the right side of this page to see this in action…) on the Search page, so that readers can just browse the archives by reader-created tags.

Hello, serendipity.

What are some of the other tricks we can use online to give readers that sense of stumbling upon stories while they turn the pages of the print edition?

Want more traffic? Restructure your content.

Over at the Online Journalism Review, Robert Niles has posted a must-read for any online news editor or webmaster.

If you’ve never read anything about how search engines work, and you’re responsible for structuring your publication’s Web presence, check out what Niles says about categorizing your stories in a way that allows readers to find what they’re looking for:

What if a news organization, employing professional journalists, wrote their news website like a wiki? I’m not taking about turning over the page to readers. I’m suggesting that — instead of distinct daily takes — news stories could be covered with encyclopedia-style articles that staffers would update with new information whenever available. How many more inbound links would such an approach get? How much higher in SERPs might this page place than a traditional story archive page? And, most important, how much more accessible would a new or infrequent reader find this approach — as opposed to the traditional list of links to daily news stories?

At the Daily, we’ve been wishing for a way to make this happen. Our content management system has something called “meta keywords” (read as: tags), but they’re only visible to us on the backend, and don’t allow us to organize content on pages according to keyword.

Of course, you can do that here. Just click on any tag to read more about a given topic.

Then again, newspapers that prefer to hide week-old content behind paywalls might see this as a bit disruptive, although they could easily just link to related headlines with tags, and then charge for access to anything beyond that.

Bonus Link: If you’ve never read anything at CNET’s news.com site, go click on any article, like this one, for example. Look for a few red buttons on the right side of the page – one says “The Big Picture.” Click on it, and a Flash-diven mind-mappish graphic loads up, letting the reader click around a visual map of related stories. Cool. Not to mention sticky. Makes me want to scroll around and read more about what I’m interested in. Funny how that works.

Ongoing redesign

It’s not quite done yet – I’ve installed most of the stuff I was excited about, including ajax commenting, tags, and asides. Now I’m left with the task of making everything play together neatly. I don’t need tags on my Asides, and I don’t need any additional tags on my nightly delicious links, and I don’t need the date on Asides, and I do need to style those Asides, and it would be nice to have some control over how those list-items on the delicious links look. Maybe I’ll even ditch the nightly link dump and just put my delicious feed in the sidebar.
Perhaps you’re wondering “Hey, what the heck is he talking about?”

The “Asides” I’m talking about are the short posts without big silly headlines. That’s for the stuff I just want to point our during the day. Right now I usually just post that stuff to delicious, and then it gets spit back out onto the blog once a night automagically. This way, the whole “timely” thing will be in play.

The “tags” are the little things in the gray box below each post. That’s me adding some labels to a post, so that you can click on “redesign” and see all the posts on my blog about “redesign.” You might be more interested in tags like “newspapers” or “j-school” or “podcasting.” Just click on whatever you see that you want to know more about, and off you’ll go to a page that makes sense to you.

Want to know what makes sense to me? Check out the tag cloud on the top of the sidebar on the right.

Tag Cloud

The bigger, darker words are the tags I use most often. All my previous posts just have categories, so those tend to dominate, but as I use tags more, you’ll start to get a graphical idea of what I write about here.

The ajax commenting is just a cool-looking buzzword-compliant thing. Click on the “show comments” link at the end of any post with comments to see something cool happen. Hopefully it encourages discussion.

The WordPress plugins I’m using for these new features, if you’re into that sort of thing, are Ultimate Tag Warrior, Inline Ajax Comments, and Simple Asides.