Amy Webb on the top technology trends for academics

Amy Webb of @webbmedia took the Journalism Interactive conference on a tour of emerging tech trends for academia.

She started off by talking about gestural technology, showing as an example a Wacom product that allows you to draw on paper and upload the image digitally.

Webb also mentioned Livescribe which plays back audio from notes of an interview. It also has OCR so can convert notes into digital text.

She showed the New York Times magic mirror and g-speak Spatial Operating Environment that allows you to move screens around. It sounded very Minority Report.

She urged the profs to get the students to think not just about multimedia journalism, but to consider every surface as potential story telling tool.

Second trend was refined search. Webb made the point that Google brings up way too many results. But search matters, and educators have a role in teaching students about the importance of search, she said.

It means that keywords are vital in helping readers find your content. Students need to learn to write meta data, she stressed. In other words, how to include the right keywords to online stories.

Webb mentioned Helioid that colour codes results, making it more visually appealing.

She also showed Greplin which allows you to search all your online data, such as Gmail, Twitter, Facebook or your own iPhone.

Webb suggested that news sites could use Greplin to help users find stories they saw earlier and are trying to find again.

Another tool to discover information in networks was Knodes. The service is currently in closed beta.

Webb moved onto illustrate how these technologies could be used in news. A lot of news organizations have simply given up on search, she said.

She then suggested that instead of just having one search engine on a site, users could be offered various choices, that offer more structured data results.

Webb showed the power of specific search tools to discover personal information. She used Cindy Royal’s professional and Gmail address through the people search tool, Spokeo, to find where she lives, the dog she walks and what she listens to.

Next came social proximity networks, such as Sonar that finds people nearby that are connected to you. If you need a nerd, there is NerdNearby.

Webb said these more focused social connecting tools make it easier to find sources, observe connections being made or look for leads or influencers.

Webb moved onto holistic content experiences. This means more than just telling a story in many different perspectives and instead create an holistic experience across platforms and media.  Her example, the New York Public Library project, Biblion.

Another example, Al Gore’s Our Choice as a digital book for the iPad.

For the classroom, Webb suggested students should be working on creating holistic content experiences. Rather than app, creating appified HTML 5 websites.

FInally, the last trend was face and iris recognition. Webb pointed to and its API to create face recognition apps.The idea behind these tools is that it can tag photos by recognising individuals and identifying them by their Facebook profile.

Potentially, connecting facial recognition with Facebook provides a means to identify an individual, but also data mine a profile for further information.

This would be “terrifying” to some, said Webb. But she suggested reporters could use this to identify sources and get additional information, without having to ask any questions.

Webb said how police in Rio de Janeiro for the 2014 World Cup were going to wear cameras to scan and idenify for potential troublemakers.

She suggested face recognition could be used to track election candidates’ expressions during debates and linking it to key moments in the debate. Or finding out which celebrities look most alike.

“These are wonderful reporting tools,” said Webb, but we have to be responsible about their use.

Notes from her presentation are available as a PDF.


  • Bryan Murley says:

    ““These are wonderful reporting tools,” said Webb, but we have to be responsible about their use.”

    Who is “we” here? it really doesn’t matter if you or I or a “responsible” journalist uses them for a supposed good. She gives a concrete example of how this can be used for info gathering by intelligence apparatus in Brazil. Ostensibly to identify “troublemakers.” Right.

    It should be terrifying to more than “some.”

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