Last week, Alastair Dant, lead interactive technologist at The Guardian, came to Hacks/Hackers NYC to show how his team produces its informative and award-winning interactive graphics.

It’s a wide-ranging talk about what’s new and inspiring about news technology, and how each team member’s unique skills contribute to the whole.

Well worth watching. And if you want to deeply nerd out with The Guardian, check out their Developer Blog.

The projects mentioned in Alastair’s talk:

Alastair’s team is Martin Shuttleworth, Mariana Santos, Jonathan Richards and Alex Graul.

Quora product designer Rebekah Cox answers the question (on Quora, naturally).

Note, this is one person’s perspective. Nevertheless, her response is a really important read. For some time now, I’ve been studying how to increase the number of women in tech and as I see it, the hurdles are three: Culture. Education. Mentorship/Role Models.

Of the three, example after example shows culture is the hardest to overcome. Cox illuminates what tech culture is like — and offers valuable advice on how a woman can use perspective to her advantage.

It’s my hope that tech culture will evolve in a way that doesn’t require a hard shell to stay in and excel.

But until then, people who don’t feel like alpha nerds but want to be in tech can learn a lot from Rebekah Cox’s reply and footnotes. Read it and leap.

It was great to see so many people excited about yesterday’s post on understanding API documentation. And better still, it was encouraging to see people succeed in the first exercise.

Being able to read API docs is like being able to read any foreign language: You improve through daily practice. So for today, let’s stick with movie reviews.

I hope you’ve got a Netflix account. If so, work through Joseph Smarr’s Netflix API tutorial. When you’re done, you’ll have a personalized list of RSS reader-ready movie ratings, reviews, and recent DVD returns.

If you’ve got questions as you’re working through the tutorial, post them in comments and try to help each other. I’ll pitch in too. Afterward, you’ll be ready for something completely different, so we’ll take a look at the Bitly API on Wednesday.

If you need a little break while you’re working through the Netflix example, enjoy the fascinating video below that explains the Stuxnet computer virus. This kinetic type explainer was created for Australia’s “Hungry Beast” news show on ABC1.


Video: Patrick Clair/Vimeo

Poynter.org just published my how-to piece on reading API documentation.

It’s directed at readers with little to no coding experience. I hope the intended audience finds it helpful. The example I used — looking up New York Times “Harry Potter” movie reviews — was a fun one, rather than something more serious, because doing fun things lowers the barrier to getting started.

Reading API documentation takes patience and tenacity. Even the most experienced developers I know will sometimes come across documentation so poor that they spend a lot of time guessing at how the API works. So don’t feel daunted. Practice instead.

I’ll post a couple follow-up exercises here on Ricochet, but get started now by heading over to the beginner’s guide for journalists who want to understand API documentation.

Update:
Thanks for all the retweets, comments and link pass-alongs. Keep them coming, and feel free to ask questions and suggest other tutorial topics in the space below.

Michal Migurski of Stamen sent me some thoughts about writing APIs based on my post, which makes me think there might be hope for the way API documentation will be written in the future.

In the meantime, if you’re responsible for writing API docs — or technical documentation of any sort — Jacob Kaplan-Moss’s “Writing Great Documentation” instructional series is mandatory reading.

Jacob’s name might sound familiar to you: he’s one of the co-founders of Django, a Web development framework created by journalists and developers as a tool for doing data-based journalism.

Photo: Sean Dreilinger/Flickr

The future belongs to the makers. I don’t know who said it first, but the more time I spend looking at the world out there, the more I believe this to be true. We can dream great dreams, but only those concepts made concrete can be tried, tested and built upon.

I think that’s why people like hackathons. This year, I’m cohosting Hacks/Hackers Hacking @ ONA11, a hack day in Boston on Sept. 22, the day before the start of the Online News Association conference. You’re invited to join 100 like-minded makers of all stripes by signing up now. It’s $20 — a small price to pay for what you’ll get out of it.

September is a long way off, which means there’s lots of time for pre-hackathon planning and collaboration. Whether or not you’ve participated in a hackathon before (and if you haven’t, here’s why you should), you can help make the period from the signup announcement up to day of event a productive and collaborative one.

Post your suggestions for bringing any hackathon community together online at the Hackathon Runway EtherPad instance, or feel free to leave your thoughts in comments below.

Things I’ve been thinking about:

  • What’s the most effective way to collaborate?
  • How can non-coders play an active role?
  • What tools (software, SDKs, repos, APIs, apps) have you used?
  • How can the hacks made be incorporated into everyday use?

Your ideas and feedback are always appreciated.

By the way, I’m here at the MIT Knight Civic Media Conference, one of the most exciting annual gatherings for people interested in gathering, organizing and disseminating public information. It’s the highlight of the Knight News Challenge, and showcases some of the most motivated and dedicated thinkers and doers in the field. Sixteen proposals were funded this year, and they’re the most wide-ranging and potentially impactful yet.

If you’re here, say hi and be sure to come to my 2:30 p.m. unconference session today on building pre-hackathon community. I’ll be there with Matt Carroll of the Boston Globe and Phillip Smith of the Mozilla Foundation.

I’ve started writing a few how-tos for Poynter.org. The first piece is a step-by-step illustrated tutorial on how to make an interactive heat map with Google Fusion Tables, like the one below.

If you’d like to see other tutorials, let me know what you’re looking for.

Speaking of community, I’ll be on Poynter.org at 3 p.m. ET to answer your questions about the skills journalists need to effectively engage audiences. Join me, won’t you?

Thanks to Joe Grimm and Mallary Tenore for inviting me. You can read the replay in the window below.

If you didn’t get to Metafilter founder Matt Haughey’s talk about community management at SXSW, don’t panic. Once he got home, he recorded it with slides in front of his computer and posted it online.

Thanks, Matt!

SXSW this year was huge — so big it was inevitable that sessions worth seeing were missed. Fortunately, there’s video.

Here, designer Khoi Vinh talks with design writer Alissa Walker about where design for online reading is headed.

If you don’t have time to watch the video, read Alissa’s write-up on Fast Company.

A long time ago in an Internet culture far, far from where we are now, it was normal to use a handle online. As the founder of a Macintosh enthusiast webzine (remember those?), I was known as MacDiva. People liked the name: It was catchy, meaningful and easy to remember.

In 2007, like many of you, I discovered Twitter. That same year, I joined the Online News Association conference planning committee with the intention of sharing what was happening with as many people as possible, even if they couldn’t be there in person.

At the time, I couldn’t post to the conference website; that was reserved as the showcase for the student newsroom. I couldn’t post to the ONA website; that would have presented problems of its own. So I turned to Twitter, created @MacDivaONA and began recording what I saw.

I’ve been involved with the ONA conference planning board ever since, experimenting with different ways of bringing a virtual version of the annual event to anyone who wants to be a part of it.

The conference isn’t the only time I use Twitter, though, and ONA isn’t the only organization I’m actively involved with. And as Jennifer 8. Lee recently pointed out, people who don’t know my IRL name often do know me as MacDiva — though they don’t always remember the ONA ending.

So now that there’s a brief lull between journalism and technical events, I’m simplifying — for all of our sakes: On Twitter, I’m now @MacDiva.

Have you recently decided to change your online name? What urged you to action? Share right here, or ping me @MacDiva.