Posts Tagged ‘local’

Newspaper Websites Wake Up

Sunday, April 18th, 2010
Posted in Web · Tags:

With the competition between Local TV stations and Newspapers heating up, newspapers need to wake up fast.

Pick 1 JavaScript library and stick with it. Some JavaScript libraries don’t play nicely with others, plus it adds to load time.

Weather
Put this on your front page! There is a reason why Mac OS X’s Dashboard widgets, Yahoo’s Widgets (formerly known as Konfabulator), Vista’s Gadgets, iGoogle, Pageflakes all have weather as their most popular module. Weather is very important. I would recommend current conditions, today’s forecast and tomorrow’s at the very minimum. You can then point them to your weather page that has more information on it.

Stop paying Accuweather and Weather.com for weather information. I’ve made several posts on this blog, about how to pull from the free weather data from the National Weather Service with code samples. Most of the data Accuweather and Weather.com get is from the NWS anyway, they just package it up, make it look pretty and give you easy ways to deal with it. With a little time and patience you can pull that data for free and mash it up how you like. Besides, Accuweather has some of the worst customer service there is and that is a well known fact. The amount of time you wasted for them to respond back for something you paid for or for answering a question, you could of used to built it in-house.

Local TV stations often have more accurate weather information than Accuweather or Weather.com, because they have their own local radar; Thus, they can set it up so it updates online by the minute. The only real reason people even bother going to local TV stations is to check the weather.

AP News
AP allows papers to get more page views (and therefore more advertising) for state, national and world news stories. Is it time to replace this method with mashups? Granted you won’t get the full story on your site, but you would get headlines and or a snippet and could put a citation of source. Perhaps this could be the new newswire and get the latest headlines off the social web and then research the stories more for in depth coverage. However, newspapers have a bad habit of not posting the stories or waiting a day until they are done with them, so they have fresh news tomorrow. Stop, put that news out now and have someone come in at 5:00 in the morning to make sure there is fresh and updated news before the morning traffic hits.

Vendor Apps
Stop paying for web apps from other companies. Did you know there is a market for web apps to be built for newspaper verticals (autos, classifieds, jobs, homes, obituaries, etc.) and sold directly to newspapers? The market exists because they know the newspapers don’t want to built their own app from scratch. If your company owns several newspapers why not have each site tackle one app and share it across all sites? Then you can manage upgrades, add new features and fix bugs without paying more fees and yearly costs when you already have developers.

Niche sites, many times a story will require extra data or some kind of flash interface to make it more appealing, I would forgo these and get the other stuff done first. Throwing up a niche site just to sell to advertisers isn’t useful unless you take into account that you should built sites to be used first and take into consideration making a site useful with data people might want. Web sites aren’t just for placing ads all over.

Does your city really need a separate forum app for every niche you have? Consolidate them into one. Same thing with your other sites if possible, consolidate them, with 1 look or feel.

Standards – Yes you know about web standards. But do you know about ad standards? How about setting new standards? How about a standard for how big your homepage can get? A 2mb homepage is unacceptable. Start setting up design standards, just because you released a new site or niche product doesn’t mean it has to get dumped on the homepage as a new block. Take the time to discuss what is most reasonable.

That new Flash 10 video player that takes 20 seconds to load up is unacceptable.

Stop trying to dump everything on the homepage. People can find things, by clicking on links. You don’t need a subnav, when each page has 150+ links. The reason no one can find anything is because there are more than 150 links on every page, adding more is not going to help. Small sites can get away with a subnav, newspaper sites cant. Trying to throw all your data at the top of the page isn’t helpful either. If you really need to promote something, make a block or area to do so. Use some JavaScript, randomize all the other features you have, use tabs if you have to.

Get rid of duplicate links. Small sites might be able to get away with duplicate links on the side or in the footer, but on a huge site, you need to just get rid of them. This isn’t 1995 anymore people know how to click on things and find their way around. There is nothing wrong with someone clicking on a link or two and visiting 2 or 3 pages to find what they want. In fact, that is how the web works, otherwise you might as well just have 1 page for your entire site.

Search – offer this and allow people to narrow down the search by photos, stories, cars and so on. You don’t have to explain how to use a search engine, this isn’t 1996, people have used Yahoo and Google before. Have only 1 search box, not 5. If you can get rid of NewsBank, you should own your own stories and data and be able to provide them to your users for free also. One of the downsides to using 8 different apps for verticals and every other niche site you have is that each one has to do a separate search. What if someone wants to search for every instance of something in photos, news, obits all at once?

How about some white space? Stop trying to fill every gap and hole with another ad or to promote another niche site. Use some JavaScript and randomize that data, then you don’t even have to use a advertising spot to promote your ad, which is probably costing you money to serve house ads in the first place.

Start using so many domain names, I’ve brought this up several times on my blog, but I cannot stress this enough. dallasmorningnewsjobs.com is a waste of money, use a subdomain. Sure $10 a year may not be much but you know very well your paper probably owns about 300+ domains. While some of your domains maybe to protect your brand or market, by grabbing up dallasjobs.com or dallascars.com, be really smart in what you pick and sell the crap. And do you really need much more than the .net or .org for your main site? .biz and .info are very rarely used by good sites (css3.info is probably the only exception on the entire internet).

We live in a age of APIs and mashups, so start using them if you aren’t already.

TV stations are awake and starting to realize they need to get their online presence stronger than it has been. When it comes to weather, breaking news, video and having local news featured, their sites excel. However for in depth stories and a decent site they fail. Too often they don’t even archive their news, which is silly because people might want to look up old stories. Newspapers realized the web was their only saving grace years ago, but they locked down their content, bogged down the site with too many ads and made navigating their behemoths almost impossible.

Free Weather Forecast

Tuesday, April 8th, 2008
Posted in Web Development · Tags: , , , ,

I noticed on the National Weather Service’s website they now allow you to grab the forecast by REST, whereas before they only supported SOAP requests. This makes grabbing the forecast much simpler than it was before.

If you use SOAP there are many methods to grab the data, but if you use REST there are only 2. With REST you can either use DWMLgen which lets you get a little more specific information or NDFDgenByDay which is a little simpler and lets you pick either 12 hour or 24 hour increments (so you can get each day broken in half as in day and night or the full day). The response is sent back as XML for either method so you can format the data how you like.

For the example we are doing, we are going to keep it simple and use a single location, NDFDgenByDay and a 24 hourly period. We will also set it up so that we send the longitude and latitude for Austin, TX, the current date as the start date and request 7 days worth of data.
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Free Weather For Your Web Site

Friday, February 1st, 2008
Posted in Web Development · Tags: , ,

The NOAA’s National Weather Service provides free weather data that you can use on your web site, even if it is for commercial uses. You can’t claim to have copyright on the data, but it is public domain information. Accuweather tried a few years ago to get this service shut down because they wanted people to pay for weather information (which is part of their business). Fortunately people complained because our tax money is being spent on making this data available in the first place.

So why aren’t more people using it? It’s probably because the documentation is daunting, a little confusing and the icons aren’t that great looking. You might be wondering why not just use Yahoo’s Weather RSS feed? Well, because it’s only for non-commercial use and it only gives you current conditions, today’s forecast and tomorrow’s forecast. However once you know how to access NOAA’s data you can customize it to your liking.

Current Conditions
It used to be that you had to use the METAR service to get current conditions. METAR is a very unfriendly format and fortunately is no longer necessary. You can now get current conditions in a XML file or RSS file. I recommend using the XML file since you will be able to go through the nodes and format it to your liking. The only key here is that most require an Airport/Airfield nearby, since there are only about 1,800 locations across the United States and US Territories.

Getting Weather Forecasts
The first place to stop is the National Digital Forecast Database XML Web Service. (There are change notices the bottom of the page, but they don’t change very often; however it’s probably a good idea to subscribe to the RSS feed. Then you can make appropriate changes in the future and if there are any new features to the service you can take advantage of them). First thing you’ll notice is that there is a lot of information on this page. The service uses SOAP (basically you make requests with XML and receive XML) and there are two functions to grab the data, NDFDgen and NDFDgenByDay. Both will give you summarized forecasts over a 12 hour or 24 hour time period (your choice). NDFDgen will give you much more information than NDFDgenByDay and lets you pick what you want. You need to know the longitude and latitude of where you want the weather forecast and you can send the number of days you want forecasted. You probably won’t want more than a 7 day forecast. If you want you can even request old weather forecasts. They ask that you cache your results for an hour since that is how often they are updated (even Yahoo’s Weather RSS feed is only updated once an hour). They say they are updated 45 minutes after the hour but from what I’ve seen it’s usually around 52 minutes after the hour. If your web server is on Unix/Linux you can setup a CRON job to grab the files on the hour (although they recommend to do it 15 minutes after the hour, because there is a delay in processing and updating all their files on their servers).

I wish they would offer RSS and XML feeds for some of the bigger cities in the US, rather than just SOAP. Part of me wonders if it is due to pressure from Accuweather and the other US weather sites online, because they have big business in providing easier and prettier methods of weather information. Using SOAP in Coldfusion is pretty simple, especially if you are using Dreamweaver. If you are using PHP, take a look at NuSOAP.

For about a month I noticed the Yahoo Weather RSS feed was giving current conditions and a 5 day forecast, instead of 2. However, it seems Yahoo went back to using just current conditions, today’s forecast and tomorrow’s forecast. I suppose it was a bug they overlooked.

What The Television Industry Needs To Do

Thursday, January 31st, 2008
Posted in Web Development · Tags: ,
  • Register a good domain name with SEO in mind. Better yet would be to setup a subdomains based on city.
  • Hire staff that can know the web. People that know not to make images 250k or flash files that are 500k. People that know what SEO is and how it can help.
  • Give prominence to weather and local news. These are the two reasons anyone goes to a local television website.
  • Put up your videos. The local television has the advantage in this area, but they are not concerning themselves with it.
  • Many local stations are owned by a big corporation. They should have the corporation create templates of a web site to push down to the local stations. The local stations can then hire people that know the web and maintain the site. They might not have full control over the site, but they could create ads, graphics, and modify any scripts or HTML needed. This would lessen the amount of staff for each station to hire, while big changes could happen with the developers at the corporate headquarters.

I think the main reason local television stations are not putting more importance on their web site is because they don’t see it as a threat. With sites like YouTube, people are starting to get used to watching video on the internet. Advertising is moving to the web. Newspapers understand that video and the web is their only saving grace in coming years, so they have the advantage over any local television station now and in the coming years.

Another reason is the fact the stations prefer to put out there news 3 times a day, once in the morning, 5/6pm and 9/10pm at night. Occasionally they will interrupt a show or insert a quick news brief throughout the day, but live in a 24-hour news world. They are going to have to learn that putting news on their web site is not competing with themselves but giving people another method to access it.

The last reason would have to be staffing, but it really doesn’t take that big of a staff to maintain a site. Many local newspaper sites get by with about 2 or 3 people dedicated to creating ads, html, css, javascript, minor coding and graphics. Most television web sites look like they should be hosted on fortunecity.com so it’s no wonder not many people are not using their sites. They are ugly, take forever to load, have too many graphics, blink all over the place and lack any kind of interactivity. In a day and age when throwing up a free open source PHP forum, CMS, blog, wiki is so cheap, you would think they would.

Unfortunately I think they will continue to ignore the web, similar to how the newspapers saw the web several years back.

Fox Creates MyFox Portals for Local TV Stations Nationwide

Saturday, September 22nd, 2007
Posted in Web · Tags: ,

Another smart move by improving local television web sites. I wrote earlier about Nexstar doing this before, but now Fox Interactive Media is doing this as well. Their design and templates are much better done than Nexstar, and they have some SEO in place. It’s not just big cities either, seems any city with a FOX station is getting a site like this.

Here are a few examples:

The SEO could be a lot better than it is, but at least some of the portals have the city name in their domain name. Which makes me wonder why they didn’t just use subdomains instead of registering a bunch of seperate domain names. They could of used cityname.whatever.com and saved a lot of money. The Metro Guide offers a lot of local data such as history, real estate, jobs and more. Seems that local data is powered by Local Matters. A lot of sites have yet to enter in data on many of the pages and most of the news seems to be National. It will be interesting to see if other companies that own television stations will continue this trend.