The Washington Post adds context to the news with 'Knowledge Map'

The Washington Post

The Washington Post started testing a new "Knowledge Map" feature on Thursday. The tool, which surfaces annotations for readers, aims to add background information and context for stories.

"We wanted to experiment with providing background information as a user reads a story to help bring context to a complicated topic, and we designed Knowledge Map to work in a way that would not interrupt the reading experience," Sarah Sampsel, director of digital strategy at The Post, said in a prepared statement. "Knowledge Map makes reading the news a more personalized experience, giving readers access to additional information as they need or want it."

Readers can navigate the Knowledge Map by clicking different topics.
Readers can navigate the Knowledge Map by clicking different topics.

The technology integrates highlighted text within the article and, when clicked, loads up additional information about the subject on the right side. We tried the tool on mobile, and it loads a pop-up that displays the information.

The Washington Post Knowledge Map on mobile.
The Washington Post Knowledge Map on mobile.

The first story that incorporates the feature is titled "Why the Islamic State leaves tech companies torn between free speech and security." It uses the tool to supply historical context, show timelines, link the reader to relevant graphics and elaborate on the key people mentioned in the story. It also adds a section for the reader to explore themes such as "anti-Islamic State activism" and "atrocities."

The announcement also hints that The Post may use metrics gleaned from these user interactions to discover which topics people are interested in and build algorithms around the same.

"Our ultimate goal is to mine big data to surface highly personalized and contextual data for both journalistic and native content," Sam Han, engineering director for data science, said in the announcement.

The tool represents another step toward making the news experience more interactive, but it's also an acknowledgement of the importance of annotated news. With products such as Vox's card stacks gaining traction, the practice of adding background and context to the news is becoming increasingly popular among publications. Organizations have used external services such as Genius to embed annotations within news stories in the past. However, the Washington Post's latest foray takes that concept a bit further with an in-house product.

  • Gurman Bhatia

    I report, write and produce interactives for Poynter.org as the institute's 2015 Google Journalism Fellow. Tweet me @gurmanbhatia or email at gbhatia@poynter.org.

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