Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Google's Picasa for simple, fast & complete slideshow embeds

I was really just trying to come up with one more way to fit the word 'Google' into a blog post headline before the month ended ... kidding, of course. I would so like to post about some non-Google thing, and I will. But not today.

The first snowstorm of the season hit Michigan last night. It wasn't exactly a whopper of a storm, but it was enough snow to get everyone to pull out their cameras and take shots of their snow-covered lawns and backyards.

We started crowdsourcing this morning on Twitter and Facebook, asking for people to send us their snow pics. People responded — not a massive response — but several folks Tweeted pics of their dogs, yards, wildlife, etc. As community engagement editor, I feel like part of the whole 'engagement' task is to not just get people to interact with you, but to make use of those interactions.

I had five photos to start. Not enough to make a fancy slideshow in iMovie, and I really wanted to be able to include captions. There was some program that we used to use for slideshows, but something about an FTP server and passwords has always been a roadblock in actually using it.

So I turned to Picasa, which is Google's version of Flickr. I've used it for years now and knew it offers links to albums and automated slideshows, so I figured it had to offer an embed code for slideshows too.

It does.

Here's the how-to:
1) Sign in to your Google account, go to "more" and then "even more." Select Picasa when you see it.
2) Upload your photos
3) Make sure you're selected on the album and you should see "Link to this album" on the right hand side
4) Select "Embed Slideshow" — it's an option that only shows up after clicking "Link to this album" 

What I love
It pulls in all the captions you added for the photos. I have Photoshop and run everything through it first, adding captions and stuff. I was so pleased to see that pop up.
I used the extra large size for our website. It came out so nicely!

Here it is, this is the large size  

Don't forget
Let people know you appreciated their interaction and made use of their contributions. I thanked each person who contributed and Tweeted a link to the final story file.

I almost forgot the best part! 
About an hour after embedding slideshow, I had a sixth picture come in. I added it to the Picasa album and crossed my fingers, hoping it would just automatically update the slideshow on our website.
It did. How cool is that? I shared the little success with some of my colleagues.
"You know how awesome that will be when we're covering something on the fly, to have it update like that?" said Charlie Crumm, our political reporter.
So true.

Check out the story file: Send us your wintry photos

Friday, November 25, 2011

More Google Voice examples: 'BackTalk' and soundcloud

I'm happy to share some more examples of how we're using Google Voice.
Click on the headline to view the project referenced.

Trentonian launches audio version of 'BackTalk' 
We call it 'Sound Off' here at The Oakland Press. At the Trentonian, it's 'BackTalk.'
It doesn't really matter what it's called, though — it is consistently one of the most popular items for readers, regardless of whether it's in print or online.
The way it used to work was that readers could call in and leave a voicemail sounding off on issues important to them. At The Oakland Press, we requested only that the caller leave the name of the community he or she resides in.
A clerk then manually transcribes the messages — listening and typing furiously to keep up — and editors select which messages will be published.
The Trentonian is using Google Voice to put a new spin on this project. They're using the Google voicemail account to capture messages, downloading them and then uploading to Soundcloud, which generates an embed code that you can place anywhere in a story file.
Pretty neat.
One note: Editor Joey Kulkin contacted me while working on this with a question about the embed codes offered directly through Google. By clicking on the down arrow next to the message — the same function you use to download the files — you have an option of generating an embed code for that individual message.
I haven't tested out the Google embeds myself, but Kulkin said they weren't working for him. Let me know if you find a way to make them work.

Can the Lions win against the Packers on Thanksgiving Day? 
We are all aware the answer to this question is no.
But before the game was played, we asked readers what they thought would happen.
Normally, I use audio files like this to accompany a slideshow, but we all know how holiday weeks can be — busy.
For this project, we uploaded the audio to our website using the same function you use to upload a photo. As long as the file is smaller than 5 MB, it'll work and play automatically. It is also automatically dropped at the very top of the story, so not exactly my favorite option to display audio.

Readers thankful for family, friends
Oakland Press Reporter Shaun Byron used Google Voice for his Thanksgiving Day story asking readers what they're thankful for.
It was not a hugely popular use of Google Voice with readers, though, and only two people called in.
Because we were having issues setting ourselves up with Soundcloud accounts before the holiday (we've fixed that problem now), we again had to use the media upload feature on our CMS.
Byron made it work by linking to a separate story file that contained the audio responses.
For instance, under a graf about so-and-so, it said something like: "Listen to so-and-so's full response." Then it's one click for the user and the audio begins playing.

Fans sound off about Suh's Thanksgiving Day performance
Michiganians love Lions' defensive star Ndamukong Suh, but no one seems to be loving the Thanksgiving Day play that got him ejected from the game.
Fans reached out in every way they could to talk about the penalty, including calling our Google Voice line.
With my Soundcloud account now up and running, I used that option today to showcase the comments called in.

Get the how-to docs and resources you need to start using Google Voice at your organization

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Audio editing tips: 'An aggressive process'

Planning to use Google Voice to put together a multimedia project featuring audio responses from your audience? Here are some tips on editing audio to keep in mind.

"Editing should be an aggressive process," advised Mark Lewis, corporate multimedia editor for JRC. "Cut until you think that losing one more piece would sink the project. As a rule, tighter tends be better." 

Select for emotion
Audio is an excellent way to convey emotion — as a listener, we can hear the intonation of the speaker's voice and understand the emotions driving it. That means audio can be a powerful tool, but in order to capitalize on it, you've got to be selecting for those passion-filled, emotional responses.
Skip over the dry, monotonous responses. If you include them, you risk losing the listener. So no matter how well-versed the response is, it's not worth including if it means driving away listeners.

Keep it short. Really, really short.
We're all familiar with the term soundbyte, but what is a soundbyte, really? I like this sentence from wikipedia that sums it up this way: "A short phrase or sentence that deftly captures the essence of what the speaker is trying to say."
How short is relative. In a video I produced this week, I included a clip of an accident witness simply saying "Ka-boom!" to describe what the accident sounded like. In the context of the video, it worked.
A good soundbyte can be as short as a couple words. Whether it works is all about context and emotion.
Moving quickly from one quick soundbyte to another gives these projects great movement to keep the listener engaged.

Lead with the best
Just as we know to lead our stories with the most engaging information first (and your videos, now that you've all been through the JRC video training, right?), the same goes for audio.
Saving the best response for last is useless if the listener gets bored with the less-than-best responses you led with and ditches before he or she reaches the end.
Keep them engaged. Start with your best.

Reduce redundancies
If you asked five people for their opinion on something and they all gave the same answer, would you include all five answers in your print story? I hope not — space is tight, right?
Apply the same method to audio.
If you have a bunch of responses that are essentially the same, take the most passionate one and cut the rest.
Even if the point you're trying to convey is that everyone is saying the same thing, be selective. Choose the best and get rid of the rest.

Giving credit
I struggled at first with how to give credit to the people who participated — many left their names verbally, which meant I'd have to call back to confirm spellings if I was going to use a scrolling credit screen.
I ended up using their audio instead, selecting the brief second or two it took them to state their name, and using them at the end of the project. You'd hear my voice say, "Today's audio contributors include" followed by each person saying their own name.
Just a suggestion.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Google Voice: 'Great engagement tool'

I'm loving that Google Voice is catching on as an engagement tool. Here's the latest on these projects:

Delaware County Daily Times produces 'Delco Speaks'
After the Philadelphia Eagles recent loss to the Cardinals, the staff at Delaware County Daily Times used Google Voice to ask its audience, "What should the Eagles do now?"
The responses poured in — 60 calls in the first 10 minutes after posting the question.
Here's the finished product:

Feedback on putting together these projects
I asked Vince Carey, online editor for Delco, what he thought about using Google Voice.
"I found the process pretty easy, but pretty time consuming," Carey wrote to me in an email. "We got over 60 calls and going through each message before deciding which ones to download wasn't a lot of fun."
He added: "To be truthful, I think it's a fun idea, but can't be done daily."
I agree, this isn't a daily project. I really think the best uses of this tool will be for those big breaking news stories or issues that people are deeply opinionated about.
Getting so many calls will make it more time consuming to go through the messages, but I think it's also a sign that we've done the right thing by engaging the community on a topic that they want to be heard on.
I'm going to post later with some tips on editing audio that should help reduce that message review/selection time too.
And while the process can be time consuming, I found that practice helps. As with everything, the more you do it, the more experience you get and the more efficient you become — the whole practice makes perfect theory.
Steve Buttry, director of community engagement and social media for JRC, recently chimed in on Google Voice too, calling it a "great engagement tool" and asking staff to let him know how it's working out.
Thanks Steve!

Coming up — tips on editing audio
Just like learning how to structure a story, there's some things to keep in mind while editing audio.
Check back tomorrow for some general tips on that.

Looking for resources on Google Voice? 
Lots of information and how-to documents available on the post, Using Google Voice for multimedia projects

Friday, November 11, 2011

Google voice project on scandal at Penn State

One of our sister papers in Pennsylvania, the Delaware County Daily Times, used Google Voice to crowdsource reaction to the scandal at Penn State earlier this week.
They crowdsourced the question using a story file on their website on Wednesday morning, asking their audience whether Joe Paterno should step down.
At that time, the Associated Press was reporting that Paterno would announce his plans to retire at the end of the season later in the day — which he did. Even later that night, though, he was terminated by the board, effective immediately.
The question was posted online just before 11 a.m. Wednesday. In less than an hour, about 20 calls poured in.
I tried to do the same here in Michigan, but perhaps Penn State is just too far removed from us for folks to be passionate enough about the subject to call in. No calls from Michiganians on this one.
The efforts of the staff at Delco definitely demonstrate that the right question about the right story in the right market make this a worthwhile project.
Seriously, when you get about 20 calls in less than an hour, you know you're engaging your audience on a topic they want to be heard on. That's valuable.

Here's the final result:

Learn how to use Google Voice for a project like this, Using Google Voice for multimedia projects 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Hey Google, we want an embed code for the hangout!

Some colleagues of mine at The Trentonian, a JRC paper in New Jersey, used another cool Google tool to help them cover the election last night.
Editor Joey Kulkin, staffer Joe D'Aquila and reporter Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman teamed up to use the Google hangout to get live interviews with candidates, concluding with an interview of the winning mayoral candidate.
I caught up with them earlier this week when they were testing it.
Because Google does not currently provide an embed code for its hang outs, D'Aquila and "tech guy" Ryan Boyle used a screen capture feature through Ustream, which gave them the live feed used on their website.
Pretty awesome.
I talked with my coworker, politics reporter Charlie Crumm, about potential uses in our own office.
"Is this something I could teach an 70-year-old politician to use?" he asked me.
I think so. It all depends on the individual, but knowing the politician he had in mind — one that at least is aware of the impact applications like Twitter and Facebook have — I do think it's possible.
It's super easy to join Google+, if you haven't already, and from there, starting or joining a hangout is a click of a button. As long as you have a webcam, you're ready to rock n'roll.
You can see in the embedded video file below that The Trentonian had a reporter on the scene to do the interview with the politicians.
At The Oakland Press, we're also thinking about ways we can use this when we can't physically get to the interviewee.
Something like this could also be used in conjunction with a live chat so that viewers could feed questions they have directly to the reporter, who can ask and get the interviewee to respond in real time.
I love Google.
But really, Google could make this a whole lot easier on us by just providing an embed code for the hangout. So, come on, Google. At least consider it.
Hats off to The Trentonian team for innovating a new way to use yet another cool Google tool for journalism!

The Trentonian's livestream using Google+ hangout
Video streaming by Ustream  Here are some additional notes from D'Aquila on the set up:
We found some soda crates in the room and used them to prop up a web cam in front of my laptop’s screen. The camera was hooked to a desktop we lugged into the conference room. I started the google hangout then positioned the camera to grab what I wanted. We used an audio patch cord that I just happened to have (one I use to hook an ipod to a portable boombox) and we used that to feed the audio from the laptop to the desktop-speaker jack-to mic jack. I then set up a third computer, a notebook, to use as a monitor to watch what viewers on our Web site would see and listened with a headset.
He also said: "Google has created something called 'Hangout On Air' which can be embedded, but they haven’t made it available to everyone yet. Soon, hopefully. It will be a very useful interview tool once they do."

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Using Google Voice for multimedia projects

Merriam-Webster still defines Google as a search engine. Isn’t that silly? Google is so much more than that.
The latest and greatest Google product to grab my attention is Google Voice, a free service that has some really exciting applications for journalism.
Google Voice is essentially a routing service — you get a local phone number with a digital voicemail account that can be tied to other phone numbers and email accounts. For instance, you could route all calls to your work and home phones to your cell phone.
But that’s not what I’m excited about — in fact, I don’t the service at all for how it was intended. I leave my phone lines unlinked and use the Google voicemail account to collect messages.
The voicemail allows you to download audio messages in an editable format.
Think about the possibilities there.
It’s an incredibly simple (and don’t forget, free) way to collect comments and reactions from our audience.
Those messages can be edited into soundbytes and placed over slideshows or even used as simple audio files to accompany a story.

Ways to use Google Voice for journalism
I first used this tool to crowdsource “Where were you” stories for The Oakland Press’ coverage of the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Read all about that, A hyperlocal multimedia approach on the 10th anniversary of 9/11
More recently, I’ve gathered fan reaction after Detroit Lions games (check out a detailed case study on that). It was while working on the Lions project that I came across a promising way to crowdsource reactions with immediacy.
I used our SMS service to reach the audience, sending a message like, “Where did the Lions fall short tonight? Let us know, call 248-291-7332.”
People began calling in the very minute the message was received on their phone. The immediacy blew me away. 
With that in mind, I’m excited about the possibilities this has for breaking news situations, timely collective pieces — think about the how the world reacted to Steve Jobs’ death — or even hot-button issues.
What do you think? Is this something you’d use, or something you have used? I’d love to see more examples of how journalists are using Google Voice.

Learn how
Here’s a handy how-to on getting started with Google Voice, and also some information on using the free tool audacity for audio editing.

Listen to why I used Google Voice for the 9/11 project:
Karen-1-1 by jrctraining  

Listen to how I used Google Voice for the 9/11 project:

Karen-1-2 by jrctraining
And hear about the results:
Karen-1-3 by jrctraining