Homer

Serendipity in the Strangest of Places

It’s gone now but someone that I follow on twitter pointed out that it’s been six years since Adrian Holovaty posted, A fundamental way newspaper sites need to change In this post, Holovaty, the man behind the micro-news site everyblock.com, and, as far as I’m concerned, the original data-journalist, speaks to the new landscape in which newspapers sit and how they need to change to serve their new readership that is used to links that let them dig thru to the original source of information.

He also speaks of an ancillary value to taking data out of the content blob which is a newspaper article and storing it as meta-data alongside a story.

Then there’s the serendipity advantage. When I worked for LJWorld.com, we worked with the local weathermen to create a weather site that displayed the weathermen’s forecast for the next few days. I made them a Web interface that let them enter the predicted high temperature, low temperature and sky conditions — all in separate database fields. There really wasn’t any reason to use separate fields for these values other than the fact that the site’s design called for presenting the temperatures in a different color than the conditions, and we didn’t want the weathermen to have to remember to insert the HTML coloring codes in the right place. But it wasn’t until several months later that we reaped some real benefits of databasing the information, when we were putting together Game, an exhaustive database of local little-league teams and games. (Yes, you read that right.) We created a page for every little-league team and every little-league game, and when it came time to create the game pages, one of us said, “You know, these games tend to rain out a lot. It’d be really cool if we could somehow display the weather forecast for each game.” And, boom! One of us realized that we already had weather forecast data, in nice, sliceable-and-diceable format, thanks to our database populated by the weathermen. Ten minutes later, our little-league pages displayed weather forecasts. Serendipity.

This is the fundamental lesson so-called old media is still learning. There is hidden value in saving your content into a form that machines can read. SEO is more than just a “black art” to help goose traffic coming from Google, it’s also an important part of your editorial workflow that will pay off dividends in the future when you respond to new opportunities.

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