Teaching SEO to college journalists

24 July 2009

I’m working on getting things ready for the DTH when we get back in the fall, and already I’ve had some questions about what search engine optimization is and what it’ll mean for our workflow.

Since this was a topic I felt I’d come back to a lot, I went ahead and organized my thoughts into a slideshow that I can use for future training for staff. Here’s what I felt were the basics of what any journalist needs to know about search engine optimization. Have I left anything off I should include?

Found: A simple(r) Web database alternative

7 July 2009

I started reading Think Python last week because I want to learn at least basic programming. I’ve made slight progress, but I also quickly realized that I won’t have the skill set for a long time to be able to do any of the ideas floating around in my head.

I was getting really frustrated until I found Exhibit, part of MIT’s SIMILE project. I’ve made timelines before using SIMILE and discovered Exhibit while looking back to that. Exhibit basically bills itself as an easy solution to my lack of programming skills:

Exhibit enables web site authors to create dynamic exhibits of their collections without resorting to complex database and server-side technologies. The collections can be searched and browsed using faceted browsing. Assorted views are provided including tiles, maps, etc.

I have plenty ideas for database projects The Daily Tar Heel can use this for, and Andrew Dunn’s already started tooling around with one way to use it. I wanted to try it out first and see how easy it is to use and decided to use it to make a sortable calendar of events, something the DTH lacks.

My HTML skills are rudimentary, and I don’t know CSS well. But I’m decent at following directions, and the kind folks with Exhibit do a good job of explaining the process step-by-step. I saved as while I went along making changes, and the result is my first, second, third and fourth versions. Most of the progress I made was the result of trial-and-error and looking at the source code behind many examples using Exhibit.

My events calendar still still has a long way to go, and Exhibit itself has its drawbacks for a project like this. Exhibit doesn’t seem to work well in Internet Explorer or my older version of Safari at work. The load time is long when there are many events in the database.

But where I think Exhibit excells for any news organization without a handful of legitimate programmers is its ease of use. I can add events to the calendar from a Google spreadsheet, and it republishes instantly when I make changes. The knowledge barrier is low when compared with alternatives. It’s something I could easily see other DTHers picking up and learning quickly. I’m not going to abandon my efforts to learn a real programming language, but in the meantime I can see Exhibit being useful.