I just got around to reading the entirety of the Mother Jones updates on what’s happening in Egypt. If you haven’t seen it yet it’s a treasure trove of information, thanks to Daniel for the link.
Partly due to the fact that it’s such a great resource it leaves me wanting for a better way to track updates on it. What Mother Jones, and a lot of news organizations, have done for their live blogs is create a single post that has many revisions and additions. This gets the information out there while also providing a single place to turn to for updates and back story.
This method works but it leaves a bit to be desired. What’s missing is the ability to track updates as separate news items.
Permalink the updates
Mother Jones has hacked around the inability to reference single updates to the post by adding in anchors for each day’s worth of updates. Here’s Monday for example. This works but is far from a true solution. When Mother Jones publishes an update the entire post is sent out via RSS with the most recent update all the way at the bottom.
The format also means that we have no way to link into their coverage. There is an anchor for each day in the text but I want granularity. I should be able to specify a single update they’ve pushed as something worth reading.
The Guardian’s live blog does a bit better of a job at this. Each update is prefaced with an update-level permalink that will take you right there. They even add a nice touch with the pop-up window there that gives you the link pre-selected.
A better live blog
A live blog should be just that, a fully functional blog with multiple posts that each have a permalink. Otherwise it’s just a post that’s added to over and over again.
Were Mother Jones to turn their Egypt coverage into a true live blog they’d hit these 3 improvements:
- Entry-level permalinks: Every entry would have a unique permalink that would allow readers to link deeply into the organization’s coverage.
- Granularity in updates: By breaking each update into a single entry it would allow each update to be sent out via any number of media. Combine this with the ability to subscribe to new updates in RSS, Jabber, Email, Twitter, etc. and you have a news organization that can push updates to you anywhere.
- Attention of users: I can more easily parse out new information in a complex event like Egypt when every update does not also include the full back story. Keep the broader context available for new readers but allow your repeat users the ability to skip over what they have already read.
Ultimately the updates to an event and the back story need to be separated out. You wouldn’t verbatim republish yesterday’s story with one new paragraph in print so I’m not sure why it flies online. Your RSS feed is your distribution channel, the more repeated noise you push through there the more likely I’ll tune it out.
Updates and context are both important but to stay on top of a fast-moving event new information ought to be easily separable while maintaining a broader compendium of everything that makes up the back story of the event.