Fun with Google Fusion

Yesterday’s technical issues have been resolved,* so here, as promised, is a guide to using Google Fusion Tables.

Once you learn the basics of Fusion, it’s possible to build a fairly sophisticated map or chart in a matter of minutes — but those basics can be tricky to master. There are lots of steps and lots of places where things can get wonky so, before we get started, remember:

Photo credit: Jim Linwood/Flikr
Photo credit: Jim Linwood/Flickr

Click here to download my instructions for using Google Fusion. And here are some examples of how news organizations are using Fusion to tell stories of all kinds.

We’ll delve deeper into Fusion at next Tuesday’s Summer Tech Camp, so plan to bring your data and your questions.

* The solution involved two trips to Best Buy and a new wireless router.

Garbage in, garbage out

This week’s Summer Tech Camp session was focused on Google Fusion Tables, and I had planned to post detailed instructions and other information today. Those plans are on hold for the moment, though, because I’ve been mysteriously locked out of Fusion.

Oh, technology.

In the meantime, here’s a story from that explores some of the challenges of finding solid electronic information. Just like in any other kind of journalism, your final Fusion project will only be as good as its data. No amount of fancy styling can make up for inaccuracies.

Careful journalists, however, can find a wealth of useful data though this Google interface.

Welcome to summer tech camp

Source: WikiMedia Commons.
Source: WikiMedia Commons.

For the next couple of months, I’ll be leading digital storytelling workshops at Northeastern University’s journalism school. We’re calling them tech camps because a.) it’s summer; and b.) learning new skills is always easier if it’s fun. (It also leaves open the possibility of commandeering the microwaves in the student union to make s’mores.)

The first workshop, which meets this afternoon, is focused on ThingLink, a web-based tool that allows users to to turn photos into interactive hubs. In a shameless genuflection to Northeastern’s mascot, here’s one for people considering adopting a Husky puppy. The portrait of the dog forms the backdrop, and each button — or “tag” in ThingLink lingo — leads to more information. ThingLink images can be embedded in other websites or shared on social media platforms. (It doesn’t seem to work on WordPress, though, so you’ll have to click here to see my inaugural ThingLink project.)

Puppies and food pictures aside, journalists around the world are already using ThingLink to tell serious stories. Here’s how one German paper used it to give readers more information about the iconic Situation Room photo on the night of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The Washington Post turned a static map of Syria into a media rich explainer, and Forbes made an already information-packed graphic even more useful to online readers.

This type of storytelling isn’t new, but ThingLink makes it accessible to newsrooms with limited technical resources. It could be especially useful for web editors tasked with making lovely print graphics suitable for digital readers.

Users can link to any website, but ThinkLink has special display features for YouTube, Instagram, SoundCloud, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia and dozens of other sources.

There’s also a social component to ThingLink, which has a community structure similar to Twitter. It looks like some newspapers are using ThingLink accounts to promote their content by creating a quasi e-edition based on an image of the day’s front page. Here’s one example from the Patriot-News and another from USA Today.

ThingLink plans to release a mobile app sometime soon. In April, Washington Post reporters were allowed to test it at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in April. How else might journalists use a mobile version of ThingLink?