April 9, 2018

This article originally appeared in Try This! — Tools for Journalism, our newsletter about digital tools. Want bite-sized news, tutorials and ideas about the best digital tools for journalism in your inbox every Monday? Sign up here.

A curious visitor appeared at our door a few weeks ago.

His name was Flipboard. I hadn’t heard from him in many years.

Flipboard is a news aggregation company famous for building a genre-defining news app for the fledgling iPad in 2010. Like many of the iPad’s news apps, it looked like a magazine that had been reimagined for a touchscreen. Unlike many, it felt like a genuinely innovative experience. And it did a bang-up job of pulling news from a user’s social feeds.

It soon expanded to the iPod Touch (remember those?), the iPhone, Android devices, and, finally, to the browser. Big names in tech like Dustin Moskovitz, Jack Dorsey and Ashton Kutcher (a punk turned venture capitalist) invested in it. Steve Jobs called it a personal favorite.

And then, at least for a lot of journalists I know, it seemed to disappear.

Maybe the novelty of the iPad wore off. Maybe the news aggregation industry got a little too crowded. For whatever reason, it seemed like nobody was saying much about Flipboard for half a decade.

But there it was again in February, driving a significant majority of traffic to one of Poynter’s articles. A little digging showed it was a top-10 source of our traffic in 2018. And we’re not alone on that. Parsley found Flipboard was the No. 4 traffic source for digital publications, behind only Google, Facebook and Twitter (Axios has more on that here). And the Washington Post partnered with Flipboard in 2015 and has been actively experimenting on it.

What’s the lesson here? For one, keep an eye on those traffic sources and look into strategic changes you can make to maximize new ones (I’ll be talking to my colleagues about what we can do with Flipboard soon). And maybe don’t count a good app out when it’s actually not?

Welcome back, Flipboard. It’s good to see you again.

CREEP NO MORE: Facebook just dashed a little-known but highly criticized feature that allowed users to search for other users by phone number. Besides scouring numbers via the main search bar, users could also enter a phone number in the login field if they were signed out. Facebook would populate the associated user’s name and photo. It was spooky (and something I used all the time to try to figure out who the heck was calling me).

PROTECT YOURSELF: Last week I shared a handful of tools and plugins to lock down web browsers and curb tracking. As a Chrome user with extreme paranoia, I’ve been loving Privacy Badger because it blocks almost everything. If you’re on Firefox (and slightly less suspicious), give Mozilla’s Facebook Container Extension a try. It makes it harder for Facebook to track you across websites and it comes from Mozilla itself, so you know it’s good. (h/t to Samantha Sunne, who runs a great digital tools newsletter that you should also subscribe to.)

NEW TOOL, FOUR STEPS: As a teenager, I was transfixed by a piece of art that my ex-girlfriend’s uncle had in his living room. It was a painting of a beach scene that somehow used a tiny projector to make the waves look like they were moving. It was maybe just a little bit tacky. But cinemagraphs! They’re like the refined, soothing online version of that painting. And, with these steps from IDEO, they’re pretty easy to make if you have an iPhone and space for a handful of apps.

  1. Set up the shot and record it using Live Photos (look for the concentric circles at the top of the stock photo app). You’ll want a scene with relatively little movement.

  2. Turn the Live Photo into a movie with an app like Lively or Google’s Motion Stills.

  3. Use an app like Splice to loop the video so that it’s five seconds or longer.

  4. Crop off any letterboxing or black bars that may have appeared with Video Crop (or whatever your favorite iPhone video app might be — mine’s Videoshop).

That’s it! When you’re done, share it on Instagram or Facebook or turn it back into a GIF to introduce a little bit of serenity to an article.

TWEET DEFEAT: I had to scrap a dozen of my favorite tools a few years back when Twitter changed its API and broke them. Many app developers fear this may happen again because Twitter is about to deprecate its “streaming services” that allow apps like Twitteriffic, Tweetbot and more to function. Twitter has promised developers access to a new API but has yet to do so. User outcry prompted Twitter to delay the planned June 19 deprecation date.

PROMISES, PROMISES: Peter Nagy just visited Poynter all the way from Slovakia and introduced us to SME Sl’uby (SME Promises in English). The site tracks promises made by politicians and puts them all on a countdown. It’s like Politifact’s Trump-O-Meter but for all national politicians. The best part is that the code behind the site is open source. Reach out to Nagy if you’re interested in adapting it.

IT WORKED: A few weeks ago, I wondered in this newsletter if there was a way to use a Spotify playlist in an article. The answer is a resounding yes. I am 100 percent sure that the inclusion of a playlist in this Wall Street Journal article about Spotify’s IPO had nothing to do with me but I LOVE IT SO MUCH.

A LITTLE HELP: The grant that allows me to chase down tools all day and send you this newsletter expires this summer. I need a little bit of help to keep it going. If you’ve benefited from any tool, tip or piece of news that you’ve gotten from me, either in this newsletter or elsewhere, please please please let me know. Even just a few sentences are helpful. Thank you so much.

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Ren LaForme is the Managing Editor of Poynter.org. He was previously Poynter's digital tools reporter, chronicling tools and technology for journalists, and a producer for…
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