How much traffic do the Edmonton Journal and iNews880 get from Twitter?

Depending on who you talk to, Twitter is either killing news media or saving it. A recent analysis by Hitwise found that less than 0.2% of people who use Twitter wind up going to news and media sites (thanks to Karen for the link). Their analysis looks at Twitter as a whole though, and I’m not sure how well it accounts for local news sites. I believe very strongly that social media has the greatest impact at the local level (more on this in a future post). Given that, I have long wondered how Twitter has impacted local news media here in Edmonton. Last night, I finally did some analysis. I decided to explore how much traffic the Edmonton Journal and iNews880, Edmonton’s two top tweeting media outlets, received from Twitter last year.

@EdmontonJournal

First up, the Edmonton Journal. They’ve been tweeting news articles since at least January 2009, so I had lots of data to play with. They used tweetburner to shorten links until September when they switched to bit.ly. Using the APIs available from those services, I added up all the click stats for all the links posted by The Journal. Here’s what I found:

Lots of variation, as you can see. Some of that is down to the use of two services, some of it is because of the number of Twitter users. There are probably dozens of other factors too.

For the period January 30 through December 31:

  • A total of 153,968 clicks were recorded on 4737 links.
  • That’s an average of 33 clicks per link, and an average of 15 links per day.
  • According to the stats on the bit.ly links, 95.4% of clicks come from the Edmonton Journal’s hash*.
  • The link with the most clicks (700) was this one, on May 26. It doesn’t work, because annoyingly The Journal doesn’t display old articles for some reason, but it appears it was about Edmonton’s Poet Laureate Roland Pemberton.
  • The day with the most clicks, September 14, doesn’t appear to be special…just lots of clicks that day for some reason (any ideas?).

@iNews880

Next up, iNews880, one of the first local media organizations to join Twitter. They used tinyurl.com until July, when Twitter switched the default to bit.ly, so unfortunately I only have data for the latter half of the year:

For the period July 14 through December 31:

  • A total of 90,500 clicks were recorded on 3811 links.
  • That’s an average of 24 clicks per link, and an average of 22 links per day.
  • According to the stats on the bit.ly links, 93.8% of clicks come from iNews880’s hash*.
  • The link with the most clicks (1933) was this one, on August 2 (that’s the huge spike in the graph above). The link goes to the report on the Big Valley Jamboree stage collapse, and it was popular because it included before and after photos.

Edmonton Journal vs. iNews880

I wanted to do a quick comparison, so I chose the period September 17 through December 31, because both sites used bit.ly for links during that time. Here’s what it looks like:

During that time:

  • The Edmonton Journal posted 2369 links (23 per day) and iNews880 posted 2261 links (22 per day).
  • A total of 79,519 clicks were recorded on Edmonton Journal links (an average of 751 per day or 34 per link).
  • A total of 53,815 clicks were recorded on iNews880 links (an average of 508 per day or 24 per link).

Thoughts

That’s a lot of clicks! Clearly Twitter and other social networking sites (where most shortlinks are posted) are having an impact. But how much? According to the latest report by the Newspaper Audience Databank (NADbank), weekly online readership at EdmontonJournal.com increased by 35% last year to 115,900 from 85,800 in 2008. That’s an increase of 30,100 readers per week. According to the click stats above, The Journal received 3208 clicks per week in 2009. So what does that mean?

Roughly 10.7% of the Edmonton Journal’s online readership increase in 2009 came as a result of posting links to Twitter.

And if I had to guess, I’d say my analysis probably underestimates things. Apparently the NADbank data is based on surveys, so I’m not sure how accurate it is, but it’s probably within acceptable margins of error. I’m also not sure what exactly a “reader” is – a page view, a visit, etc.

Caveats

I’ve tried to be as accurate as possible, but I can’t make any guarantees!

  • All the click stats are current as of last night.
  • I’m suggesting that all the clicks come via Twitter, when that’s probably not entirely true. Links get passed around, displayed on websites, etc. But the shortlinks do originate at Twitter.
  • It’s possible that The Journal or iNews880 posted a link to somewhere other than their own sites, but uncommon. I did remove one link from the iNews880 dataset, because it pointed to an Environment Canada site (it was obvious, lots of total clicks as others have linked there too). For the rest, I’m making the assumption that the links point to the news sites.
  • I don’t know how reliable the stats from bit.ly and tweetburner are. I suspect they are quite a bit different than server logs or Google Analytics metrics.
  • I would assume that both services tweaked the way stats are calculated throughout the year, so 15 clicks on a bit.ly link in May is probably different than 15 clicks on a bit.ly link in December.

* – When you shorten a link using bit.ly, you get a unique hash. If I shorten the same link, I get a different hash. The stats are recorded and made available individually and in aggregate, however.

Edmonton Sun violates the EPS Crime Map Terms of Use

Back in July, the Edmonton Police Service launched its Neighbourhood Crime Mapping site. Like most people I was quite enthusiastic about the site, until I read the terms of use and realized how restrictive they were. Basically you can look at the numbers, but you can’t do anything with them (such as publish them on a blog). The Crime Mapping site is not open data. I emailed back and forth with the EPS, and was told that they wouldn’t be changing the terms of use. And, they haven’t.

That didn’t stop the Edmonton Sun, however. They apparently ignored the terms of use altogether, and published an article on December 20th summarizing a number of statistics from the website:

Some of Edmonton’s roughest neighbourhoods faced markedly fewer crimes in 2009, according to police statistics.

The statistics came through a new crime mapping system launched by Edmonton police last summer.

I had asked for permission to do something similar and was turned down. After reading the Sun article, I emailed the EPS to find out if the terms of use had been changed (despite the text on the website staying the same). Here’s what Acting S/Sgt. John Warden wrote back:

The Edmonton Sun did not have the EPS’ permission to use the information from the Crime Mapping website and the EPS is dealing directly with the Edmonton Sun in relation to this.

I emailed back a couple of follow-up questions, but have not yet received a response. The Edmonton Sun article is still active on the website, so I’m not exactly sure what “dealing directly with the Edmonton Sun” means.

I’m annoyed by this, obviously. Was it an honest mistake? Maybe. Is it a case of a large media organization getting off the hook? Maybe. Will it happen again? Probably. No one reads the fine print, we all know that.

I don’t think the current terms of use is appropriate, and I strongly urge the Edmonton Police Service to change it.

Recent media links & thoughts

I read a lot about new media, journalism, publishing, news, etc. I always try to think about the things I read from both a global and a local perspective. Here are some thoughts on the things I’ve read recently.

From Jeff Jarvis:

I’m not so sure journalism is storytelling anymore.

Jeff points out that saying “journalism = storytelling” is limiting. Journalism is about more than the story, it’s a process. I agree completely. Data, algorithms, aggregators – all are aspects of journalism. They always have been, of course, but their importance/visibility has been heightened lately, thanks to new tools and technologies.

From paidContent.org:

Time Warner’s CNN is taking a stake in hyperlocal aggregator Outside.in—the latest example of a big media organization making a play in the hyperlocal space.

Smart move, just like MSNBC’s purchase of EveryBlock. And the news today that Google is in talks to buy Yelp. The dollars are starting to flow toward local/hyperlocal news companies. You know how the saying goes: follow the money.

From TechCrunch:

So what really scares me? It’s the rise of cheap, disposable content on a mass scale, force fed to us by the portals and search engines.

From ReadWriteWeb:

In my view both writers and readers of content will need to work harder to get quality content. Right now ‘quantity’ still rules on the Web, ‘quality’ is hard to find.

Lots of others have already discussed the “content farm” issue that made the rounds in the blogosphere last week. My view on it is pretty simple: readers need to become more active. There’s so much information so easily available that you can’t afford to passively consume the news. You have to seek out sources and recommendations. Certainly we’ll get better tools (aggregators, filters, search engines) but I think readers need to make more of an effort. See also: Content farms v. curating farmers.

From Clay Shirky:

…one of the things up for grabs in the current news environment is the nature of authority. In particular, I noted that people trust new classes of aggregators and filters, whether Google or Twitter or Wikipedia (in its ‘breaking news’ mode.)

I called this tendency algorithmic authority.

Fascinating. I think there’s incredible opportunity, both globally and locally, to take advantage of this. Who do you trust for your news? Is it the same people/organizations that you trusted five years ago?

From Unlikely Words:

Ken Auletta from the New Yorker wrote a book about Google, “Googled: The End of the World as We Know It” and before he published it, he cut the last chapter of 25 media maxims.

Now you can read them online. A few of my favorites:

  • Passion Wins
  • Adapt or Die
  • Digital is Different
  • Don’t Ignore the Human Factor

And finally, one of my favorite new tools: Times Skimmer. We need more innovation like that at the local level!

I love Opera 10

As long-time readers will know, my web browser of choice is Opera. I’ve been using it as my primary browser since at least version 9.0, which came out over three years ago. On September 1st, the latest version was released:

In a world of ordinary Web browsers, Opera 10 stands out from the crowd with innovative new features wrapped in an elegant, fresh interface. Opera 10 is absolutely free, comes in 43 languages, and works on Windows, Mac and Linux platforms.

Opera 10 really does look fantastic, and has a decent list of new features. Interestingly enough, I haven’t found the most touted feature, Turbo, all that useful. I suppose I haven’t really used it on a slow connection however, and that’s what it is designed for.

Here are my favorite things about the new release:

  • Speed. Opera now loads Facebook and Google Reader as fast as, if not faster than, Chrome. I used to leave Chrome open for those apps, but not since Opera 10.
  • The big, beautiful new icon, as seen above.
  • The updated interface. It’s slick, and I love the little circle notification when a tab has been updated. Visual tabs are also pretty neat. I also enjoy that I can get rid of the File menu.
  • Spell checking built-in. Yes I know other browsers have this.
  • Customizable speed dial! You can now increase the number of buttons on your speed dial.
  • Built-in auto-updates. This is long overdue for Opera, and works quite well (I was using the betas and release candidates which got auto-updated).

Favorites I mentioned about versions 9.5 and 9.1 are still relevant too!

If you haven’t tried Opera, I encourage you to do so. It’s a fantastic browser! Others seem to think so too – Opera 10 was downloaded 10 million times during the first week of release. Pretty impressive.

EPS responds to my query about the Crime Mapping terms of use

Last week I posted about the new Crime Mapping site launched by the Edmonton Police Service (EPS). One of my criticisms of the site was the very restrictive terms of use or disclaimer that you must agree to before you can use the site. In particular:

While it is acceptable to pass the website link on to others in your community, you will not share the information found on the website with others other than with members of the Edmonton Police Service or other law enforcement agencies; and

You will only use this website and the information in it so you can inform yourself of, and participate in, this community policing initiative;

This is problematic because it effectively means that you can’t do anything with the data that EPS has now made available. You can look at it using their site, but you can’t then blog about that data, or add it to a PowerPoint presentation.

I emailed a request for clarification and received a response from Amit Sansanwal, Criminal Statistics Coordinator at EPS. I asked for and was granted permission (by their legal department) to publish his response:

The EPS views the Neighbourhood Crime Mapping website as a valuable addition to our community policing initiative.

The EPS, however, is of the view that this tool can only be effective and achieve its community policing objectives if people seeking the information visit the Neighbourhood Crime Mapping website directly themselves.

By visiting the website, hopeful participants in this EPS community policing initiative can learn about what kind of information is available to them (e.g. crime prevention and partnership programs) and how it fits within this program.

We appreciate your interest in this program and hope that you tell others about the existence of the Neighbourhood Crime Mapping website.

In a later email, Amit pointed out that the current preferred way to get EPS statistics is through Statistics Canada.

The crux of their position, if I understand it correctly, is that they don’t want people looking for crime statistics to come across an inaccurate or malicious source. That seems reasonable. The problem is that such a position assumes people are actively seeking the information. By opening up access to the data and allowing others to make use of it, they can potentially reach far more Edmontonians, not to mention the benefits that could come from mashups or other data visualizations. Furthermore, it seems as though they just want to force people to use the Crime Mapping site so that they can promote additional programs to users.

The Crime Mapping site is fun to look at, but I would argue its utility is restricted by the current terms of use. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that’ll be changing any time soon.

Edmonton Police Service (EPS) Crime Mapping tool now online

Back in June we learned that the Edmonton Police Service was planning to launch a new website that would enable citizens to find crime statistics for their neighbourhoods. This afternoon, the EPS Crime Mapping tool went online, and it does just that. You can search for stats on eight types of crimes in any neighbourhood across any time period since 2007. From the press release:

The new crime mapping tool will provide members and citizens with a better understanding of what is going on the neighbourhoods they work and live in.

I’ve been playing with the site today, and I like it. There are pros and cons, however.

How It Works

The first step is to agree to the disclaimer – more on that in a minute. Next, you pick the crimes you want statistics for. The eight types include assault, break and enter, homicide, robbery, sexual assaults, theft from vehicle, theft of vehicle, and theft over $5000. Third, you pick the neighbourhood – there are 357 listed in the system. Finally, you select the time period. There are some quick selections such as yesterday or the last 30 days, or you can enter any two dates. Click “Show Crimes” and your neighbourhood appears on the map, covered in colored dots to represent the reported crimes. Here’s what Oliver looks like for the last 30 days with all crime types selected:

There’s also a “View Statistics” tab above the map that will show you a table for the last three years broken down by month, with a graph below that.

The Good

There are some really good things about this site. First and foremost, the data is excellent. I’m glad that they included everything up-front, instead of doing a test release or something to start. Second, it’s built using Google Maps. This is a big win for EPS – it’s a stable technology that Google is continually making better, and I would guess that most Edmontonians are familiar with it. Third, it’s fast. Almost as soon as you click the button, your stats appear.

The Bad

There are two things about the site that I don’t like. First is the disclaimer – it’s too restrictive. These two points in particular are problematic:

While it is acceptable to pass the website link on to others in your community, you will not share the information found on the website with others other than with members of the Edmonton Police Service or other law enforcement agencies; and

You will only use this website and the information in it so you can inform yourself of, and participate in, this community policing initiative;

That effectively means you can’t do anything with the data. This is in direct contrast with what the press release would lead you to believe:

Providing our citizens with the real picture of neighbourhood crime is the first step in engaging them to do something about it. Members of the public will be better equipped with knowledge to work collaboratively with the EPS to reduce and prevent crime.

What’s the point of making the data available if you can’t do anything with it? Why can’t I blog about the crime stats in a particular neighbourhood? Or mash the crime stats up with some other data? I challenge the notion that simply being able to see the dots on a map equips me to do something about crime in my neighbourhood.

I’ve emailed the feedback address listed on the site asking about this, but I haven’t yet received a response.

The second bad thing about the site is that while it does make data available, it does so in an opaque and closed way. If Edmonton is going to become an open city (with respect to data), sites like the crime mapping tool need to provide information for multiple audiences. One is the average citizen who is happy to click around on the map. Another increasingly important audience is the creative professional who wants to do something with the data, and needs it in a machine-readable format such as a CSV or XML file.

The Undocumented API

The first thing I did after testing the site with my neighbourhood was poke around for clues about where the data comes from. It didn’t take long to realize that there’s a JSON web service behind the application. You can access it here. It’s probably not meant for public consumption, but it’s there and it works. I was able to throw some code together in about 30 minutes to get data out of the service. While it would still be good to have static data files available, the API largely negates the con I mentioned above. As it is unofficial however, who knows if it will remain active and working, so enjoy it while you can.

Final Thoughts

Overall I think the Crime Mapping tool is excellent. We need more applications and services like this, though with less restrictive terms/licensing and easier-to-access data. Kudos to EPS for building this, and let’s hope they improve it.

UPDATE: There are more details in this article. For instance, the tool apparently cost $20,000 to build, and is automatically updated each morning.

The future of local news gathering in action

On Saturday morning Sharon and I walked to the City Market Downtown, as we often do on the weekends. Along the way, near 107th Street and 102nd Avenue, we came upon a parade of firefighters. I immediately took out my camera to snap some photos, and also used my BlackBerry to post one to Twitter via TwitPic. We followed them up the street until they turned toward Jasper Avenue, taking a few more pictures. They were a somber group, so we assumed it was a memorial march of some kind, but we didn’t know the details.

Firefighters remember Station Captain Al HarrisFirefighters remember Station Captain Al Harris

For the next couple hours, I sent BlackBerry messages back and forth with Brittney at iNews880. She had seen my TwitPic, and wanted to write a story about the march. I always tell her she can use my photos, but she asks anyway which is nice. Brittney and her team figured out what the march was for, wrote the story, and posted it with my TwitPic. When I got home, I uploaded the rest of my photos and they added them to the story.

That’s the future of news gathering in action.

Now I realize that iNews880 and some other media organizations regularly use photos from contributors but I think what’s significant here is that the story started with the photo. Would they have written about it had I not posted a TwitPic? Maybe, maybe not. In this case they saw the photo, tracked down what it was about, and were able to produce a story.

Here’s a quote you might have heard:

In journalism, there has always been a tension between getting it first and getting it right. – Ellen Goodman

In this case, I got it first and iNews880 got it right. Note that doesn’t mean that I got it wrong and iNews880 was way behind. We simply worked together to make the story happen. This is the kind of news gathering that can scale. So many of us walk around with mobile Internet devices, always ready to post a message or a photo.

What comes next? Aggregation, of course.

Newspapers, cities, and the local web

Edmonton SkylineThe concept of “local” has never been more important – that’s something I firmly believe. Though I found the book somewhat wordy, Who’s Your City by Richard Florida presents this idea very effectively:

Globalization is not flattening the world; on the contrary, the world is spiky. Place is becoming more relevant to the global economy and our individual lives.

It’s definitely worth a read. So much of our lives is defined by place – by the people and things around us. I think this is especially true when you live in a city.

Cities are interesting because they encompass a range of place sizes. A specific block, neighborhood, area, quadrant, etc. right up to the entire city and greater metropolitan area. Some people identify most with a neighborhood or area, others with the entire city. Often their affiliation depends on the current situation (perhaps a neighborhood when it comes to family issues and the city when it comes to business). Consequently, the information individuals are interested in varies.

Newspapers try to cater to this range of interest. Here in Edmonton, the Examiner publishes stories for different regions of the city. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Edmonton Journal attempts to cover the entire city. Then there are all of the other publications in between. And some news simply isn’t covered by any publication.

There are many problems with this. A newspaper can’t get too specific, because advertisers won’t want to buy ad space if only a few dozen people are going to see their ad. As newspapers move toward a larger audience to attract better ad revenue, they inevitably end up with more general content. And of course, newspapers are not real-time.

Put simply, newspapers are not very good at representing places. For this reason, I find it incredibly bizarre that a number of recent articles focus on place as the reason why newspapers will not go away. For example, here’s an excerpt from a National Post story on Monday:

Newspapers retain their market relevance partly because flipping through a newspaper is one of the quickest and easiest ways to answer the question, "What’s new and might be of interest to people who live where I live?"

The printed version of the newspaper is connected with a physical geography at a specific point in time that few, if any, online resources can be.

How can any of that be true? We know that to truly find out “what’s new and might be of interest to people who live where I live”, we’d have to flip through a number of newspapers. And even then we’d be missing stuff. The second point is absolutely wrong also – there are many online resources that are intimately connected with a place and time. For instance, EveryBlock. Such online services are probably more connected with a specific place and time because they go down to the street level and often deal with real-time information.

Here’s another excerpt, from a Todd Babiak column in yesterday’s Edmonton Journal:

For its residents, a city must be more than a house, a car and a job. It’s a narrative, a living history, myths and conflicts, and for as long as Canada has been a country the newspaper is where the city has been inscribed.

If it is true that the city newspaper is dying, the city is dying with it.

Just because something has always been a certain way, doesn’t mean it’ll remain that way forever. Innovation is largely about challenging the status quo. Thus, the fact that newspapers are failing to innovate shouldn’t be a surprise. To suggest that cities are dying as a result is simply ridiculous, however.

I’m not falling for the myth that cities depend on newspapers. It’s true that a newspaper plays an important role in documenting the evolution of a city, but it’s not the only institution that does so. A newspaper is also not the only way to get information to citizens. Increasingly, citizens can get information directly.

I think we’re at the beginning of the “local” era on the web. As more and more people carry mobile devices that are location-aware, this trend will accelerate. Increasingly, online services will help answer the question, “what’s new and might be of interest to people who live where I live?” Eventually they’ll also provide context and background in a way that simply isn’t possible in the offline world.

Newspapers can play an important role in this local era. However, just as cities do not need newspapers to survive and flourish, neither will the local web.

You’re asking the wrong question

Last week’s issue of SEE Magazine was a “theme” issue, focusing on the future of the media industry (“print in peril”). In addition to this interesting article, there was a panel comprised of four local newspeople with lots of experience: Linda Hughes (U of A, formerly Edmonton Journal), Ron Wilson (CBC), Jeremy Lye (iNews880), and Roy Wood (MacEwan, formerly Edmonton Journal). They discussed a range of things, including the fact that the industry didn’t develop these problems overnight. The general consensus is that journalism is important, but what it looks like in the future is up in the air.

Of course, you can’t have an article on the future of media without asking who’s going to write about City Council, and the panel didn’t disappoint! Linda Hughes asks:

But with breaking news and local-level news, who is going to go sit in a courtroom all day for a three-paragraph story that is important to know about but isn’t sexy and is just part of the pubic discourse? Who is going to do that? Bloggers often provide a lot of insight, but most bloggers are not going to go to sit in city council committee meetings for five hours to keep track of what city council is doing.

Ask a sports writer about the future of news and he’ll probably use this defense, even though he never sets foot inside City Hall! It’s the easy way out, and it’s an incredibly common response lately from journalists in the hot seat. To make things worse, SEE asked the question again later in the piece:

If newspapers and mass media outlets do dwindle, then, who will be the watchdogs in society to ensure politicians don’t run wild? Who will pay for the investigative reporters who can zero in on one thing for months and all of a sudden have the biggest story of the year?

Sigh. There will still be passionate individuals who follow specific topics and do investigative reporting. Probably more now than ever thanks to easy publishing systems (blogs, wikis, Twitter, etc). And they’ll produce much more interesting content than someone who does it just because they get paid to.

Let’s ignore that argument for a minute, however. Asking how to pay a journalist to sit through meetings to get three paragraphs is still the wrong question!

The real question is, why have we ever had to pay someone to sit through five hours of City Council committee meetings? Let’s get rid of that absurd need altogether and this discussion becomes irrelevant.

This is why I’m so excited about ChangeCamp and the possibilities it represents. If we can change the way our government communicates with us, the need for a newspaper filter could go away altogether.

Let’s focus less on how we’re going to pay a journalist to sit with Council all day and more on how we can get Council to communicate with us in a meaningful way. If we can do that, the journalist will have much better things to cover!

Millions of dollars for shorter links

So much for the recession – bit.ly, a URL shortening service, has raised $2 million in funding. TechCrunch did the math (back of the napkin, natch) and figures that bit.ly is worth about $8 million, while its more well-known competitor TinyURL is worth at least $46 million. Who knew there could be so much money in building a simple service to shorten really long web addresses and perform automatic redirects?

I used to be a TinyURL user, but switched a few months ago to bit.ly in order to get better analytics about the links I post to Twitter. These services are really a dime a dozen, however. I’m pretty amazed that investors would sink that much money into bit.ly.

Here’s what Peter Kafka wrote about the deal today:

So where’s the money? bit.ly is free to users, and the company says it doesn’t plan on selling its analytics or other tools to publishers. Team bit.ly says revenue will come sometime down the road, from something else–when they figure out what that is.

This is great news for bit.ly, obviously. And for me it means that my favorite URL shortener will be around for a while. Beyond that, I’m not sure what to think. Do the investors see a buy-out in the future, or do they really think bit.ly will be able to generate revenue at some point?

It also makes me wonder what kind of service will get some investor love next. A simple copy-paste service? TwitPic?