Wednesday, March 6, 2013

How to 'snowfall' your stories with no coding and for free

When Kevin Nguyen wrote about 'The future of the feature' over at Nieman Lab last November, I began to think about how small newsrooms could use web tools to produce a similar effect.

Then came the New York Times' 'Snow Fall' and that really got me excited about the possibilities, and I imagine others did too, if this wonder by the Washington Post is any indication. Reading about how 'Snow Fall' came to be (same deal with Wapo's cycling feature) was very enjoyable but — being in a small newsroom and all— it also became a permanent exercise of thinking how I didn't have time, or staff, or developers, or a good content management system. You get the idea.

I had started plotting using different web applications in unconventional ways to reach my goal: Produce an enjoyable web experience that also had responsive design AND for no money AND fast AND with no coding, so it could be replicated when needed and scaled up to other newsrooms.

SO, my first try was a vertical add-on sidebar using New Hive.

New Hive 

This incredible 'expressions' tool allows you do pretty much put anything you want, vertically or horizontally. You can add photos, videos, gifs, embeds (maps, sounds, etc). If you are a print layout person, you could have a lot of fun with this.

The embed above, however, didn't quite capture the grandiosity of the full-screen experience.  (And the font was reduced), so it didn't quite work like I had planned to.

So for my next project, instead of posting an embed code, I took a screenshot of the New Hive expression, and used that image with a hardlink to the expression. I cheated too. I pinned the image to Pinterest so I could have it hosted, and then grabbed the embed code and changed the link target (where is says 'h ref=' in the embed code to the URL of the New Hive expression and added a link at the bottom to boot.

SO, this story  shows you this:

That way I could have a horizontal slideshow with a video and a Google map.

The story, however, surrounded the images, and I wanted to flip that around.


Jux is more limited on the templates but easier to use, and —BONUS— it works on most devices, big and small (but looks awesome big).

SO, once I had the story and photos, uploaded a bunch of photos and put the story inside of them, like this (scroll down to see what I mean).

The embed was a bit wonky too, so you can do the same Pinterest trick when posting on your site:

If you fast-forward through the feature, it goes like this:

Now, I’ve found that most people don’t scroll and instead click, so you can also build your ‘stories’ by having different panels instead of one long one (which is one project I’m currently working on).


OK, so this is far from Snow Fall, but it's way better than what I can currently offer at the Freeman or at this blog. And it's simple (and fun) to produce and the end result is most definitely better than a lot of news websites out there.