Looking for data? Thanks to Google, the last dataset search tool you’ll ever need is here.

This week in digital tools for journalism

January 29, 2020
Category: Tech & Tools

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 Tuesday? Sign up here.

If you’re looking for data, your search should start here. Google’s Dataset Search just launched as a full-fledged search tool, and it’s about as good as you’d expect. Google does a masterful job of collating all kinds of datasets from all across the internet with useful info like publication data, authors and file types available before you even click through. From NFL stats from the ’70s to catch records of great white sharks in the northwest Pacific, it seems to have it all. There are about 25 million datasets available now — actually just “a fraction of datasets on the web,” Google told the Verge — but more will be available as data hosts update their metadata.

Is there a word for that? Last week, as I took what must have been my hundredth Uber or Lyft ride at the tail end of two weeks of travel, I publicly wondered if there was a word for the specific type of small talk you make with a rideshare driver. (There isn’t, but I tip my hat to my former editor, Anne Glover, for whipping “chauffeurenfreude” together.) Different languages often feature unique words that capture seemingly indescribable feelings or experiences that don’t translate well at all. Here’s a website that keeps track of them.

This messaging app will self-destruct in 10 seconds. Literally. Well, not literally. There’s no explosion. But with Yap, messages (between up to six people) exist only until you type your next message, taking “ephemeral” to a whole new level. It seems to me that this is more of a proof of concept that shows the internet doesn’t have to be forever (imagine that!) and less of an actual useful tool for journalists. But the folks who subscribe to this newsletter are smart cookies. Prove me wrong.

Facebook just gave you access to some more of what it knows about you. Because of multi-site logins and Facebook ads, Facebook receives all kinds of information about users’ activities on other apps and websites. With the new Off-Facebook Activity tool, you can see and control exactly where that happens. “You might be shocked or at least a little embarrassed by what you find in there,” writes Washington Post tech columnist Geoffrey A. Fowler, and he couldn’t be more right — by piecing info together from my history, you can tell that I have a chronic bad habit of ordering late-night Domino’s pizza.

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If you needed another reminder to use caution online, here it is. The Tampa Bay Times, which Poynter owns, was the latest news organization to be hit by a nasty ransomware attack. The Times reported that it is unclear how the attack was carried out, so I can’t give you specific tips for avoiding a similar fate, but it’s a good reminder that any organization is only as safe as its weakest link. There are tools that can help — a good password manager and a well-placed firewall, for starters — but exercising good internet safety hygiene is the best first step. Be skeptical of emails from unknown senders, especially those with attachments. Keep your operating systems and software updated. And don’t use weak passwords (and especially don’t use the same weak passwords across multiple websites).

Weird news is often harmful to the most vulnerable members of society. I cringe every time I see a “Florida Man” story (my colleague Al Tompkins lays out why that is here), but many stories labeled “weird” or “dumb/stupid criminals” capitalize on human misery. Some of these stories may seem funny, but at whose expense?

Here’s a tool that displays every road in a city. It’s an interesting way to look at any metropolitan area, town or hamlet — from the world’s biggest city of Chongqing, China (population: 30 million), all the way down to my humble hometown of Gasport, New York (population: 1,248). Plus, you can export each one as a .png or editable .svg file. (Just a warning: Smaller locales seem to take a long time to load, if they even do at all.)

Bookmark this publishing tool in case it’s the next best thing (it probably is). The founding CEO of Chartbeat, a ubiquitous realtime analytics tool for newsrooms, is back at it with new project. It’s called Scroll and it massively improves the reading experience by removing ads and loading pages faster. My colleague, Rick Edmonds, has more about its founder and the future of the platform.

WikiHow’s bizarre art has been plastered all over the internet since 2005. Many of its pieces feature odd scenes that would probably never happen in real life. You’ve probably seen them repurposed in meme form. Here’s the strange story about how they’re made (and yes, it features some human misery, though we’re not making fun of it here).

Ren LaForme is Poynter’s digital tools reporter. He can be reached at ren@poynter.org or on Twitter at @itsren.

Try This! is supported by the American Press Institute and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.