Sunday, 17 April 2016

What’s the Storify?

These digital days the deluge metaphor is widely used to describe the sense of information overload that many of us feel. According to Twitter Blogs (2013) more than 500 million tweets are sent each day. Fincham (2011) quotes TechFortune that more than 30 billion pieces of information travel across Facebook each month.

Avalanche, deluge, tsunami the imagery seems inadequate especially as every new digital user (soon every child born in the Western world?) is adding to what we once called the data “stream”. Today it is less of a ripple, and more Niagara and Victoria falls combined.

The impact of so much seemingly unrelated data is a sense of fragmentation. An isolated tweet can be meaningless. In simple terms context is lost. What to do? Burt Herman had the idea of Storify. As Fincham suggests:

If social media is killing context, Storify can help journalists and students put it back together again.

The founders of Storify say the tool/platform lets you pick out the most important pieces, amplify them and give them context, in other words, a form of curation. As Fincham says: “Students have the whole world to sort through.” Maybe Storify offers a way of making some kind of raft the better to navigate the daily digital storm.

An example follows which could be used for reporting, and for a number of teaching contexts within Journalism schools, film studies, Arts and Humanities, where students are asked to look beyond the glitz of the initial data bytes, and go deeper contextually, and maybe reveal something permanent in the seemingly ephemeral world of digital sound bursts.

Fincham, K. (2011). Review: Storify (2011). The Journal of Media Literacy Education, 3(1). Retrieved 20 April 2016, from

Twitter Usage Statistics - Internet Live Stats. (2011). Retrieved 20 April 2016, from

New Tweets per second record, and how! | Twitter Blogs. (2013) Retrieved 20 April 2016, from


Anonymous (2016). Retrieved 20 April 2016, from

Cassavoy, L. (2016). Build a Story Out of Your Web Wanderings With Storify. PCWorld. Retrieved 20 April 2016, from

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Wordclouds - Static and Dynamic

If faced with the task of reading a number of texts on the same subject matter, it can be useful to compare them with the help of some sort of automated tool. Of course, as you read the texts, you will note patterns of similar concepts and perhaps words, but an IT tool such as a Wordcloud maker can really help visualize patterns in a very clear and notable way. Some examples follow.

What is a Game ? This question was recently thrown into the learning pot for debate. So as an experiment I thought I would play with a Wordcloud maker and run it at some of the better known texts about game definition. The first text is Wittgenstein's famous Philosophical Investigations treatise from 1958, admittedly not entirely about games, containing more about definitions of definition:
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The next text is Katie Salen & Eric Zimmerman's Rules of Play, a lot more game going on:

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The final text is Jesse Schell's The Art of Game Design, again predictably a lot more emphasis on games and related words, such as play and players:

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If you are looking at text that recounts an event or events over time, such as a diary, there may be a change in emphasis in the writer’s perspective or opinions. Such is the case for James Stephen's diary account of the Easter Week Rising in Dublin in 1916. In this case, it can be useful to add a dynamic feature to the Wordcloud presentation, the better to appreciate the evolving nature of the account through the frequency of words used throughout the day by day recording of the event. A simple animated gif can portray the sense of movement in the author’s mind as the language changes, which perhaps reflected the viewpoints of his friends and neighbours.

This example is an animated gif of word clouds of James Stephen's day by day account of the Easter Rising week, starting on Easter Monday, and finishing the following Monday. The first Monday the words Green Men stand out, on the last Monday, note how the words Ireland and England stand out.

James  Stephens - 1916 Diary Animated


Wittgenstein, L., & Anscombe, G. E. M. (1997). Philosophical investigations. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.

Tekinbaş, K. S., & Zimmerman, E. (2003). Rules of play: Game design fundamentals. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Schell, J. (2008). The art of game design: A book of lenses. Amsterdam: Elsevier/Morgan Kaufmann.

James Stephens, The Insurrection in Dublin (1916) - II. (2016). Retrieved 15 April 2016, from

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

A Wall of Potential

A wall of pixels greets you when you follow the link to Visualize the Public Domain on the NewYork Public Library Public Domain website, and it looks like something both lifeless and without meaning.

 NYPL Public Domain Visualization
A Wall of Pixels
But allow your mouse to hover, and each pixel comes to life arousing something deeper than mere digital experience.

A living pixel
Each Pixel tells a Tale
In fact it represents countless hours of work to digitize countless works that in themselves would have taken their creators hours of precious time. Layers and layers of history and art overlain by further layers of contemporary history, because right now in our present day, there is a serious drive to digitize every artefact from every nook and cranny of our libraries, museums and national galleries. Will historians one day look back at our headlong pursuit of digitization? Where will it end? Will we ever get it all digitized? Only if one day, robots can do it? Is it really worth it?

One advantage is the sheer quantity that is now available to the digital scroller. Many curators have too many works to display, so storerooms house boxes of art and memorabilia. Once digitized and classified, these items become available to the click of a mouse. And more besides. The site describes the various channels into its volumes of works as experiments, encouraging even the most passive visitor to consider how it is all presented, and if there are other ways to get this out to the public, who let us not forget, are the current inheritors, curators, and future bestowers of every piece known and as yet unknown.

Behind each pixel is human endeavour, that of the artist to find meaning in the world, or an historian (amateur or professional) to conserve something of meaning for future generations, and the digitizers and visualizers who wish to share with as many people as possible the potentiality of each artefact, small and great.

The New York Public Library offer an API interface so that the data is truly ours to use and share freely. Perhaps one day our screen savers will be dipping into this ever growing global digital body and randomly pulling a painting from the Louvre or an imprint from a library in Kerry or wherever your settings may take you.