When four officers were gunned down on Sunday morning,
seattletimes.com went into live updating mode, delivering the latest news through the site as well as @seattletimes
on Twitter. As the story shifted from news of the horrific slayings to the search for the suspected shooter, the social stream became even more imperative to help readers keep up with fast-changing developments.
Chasing the manhunt through the social web became one of the primary ways for @seattletimes to engage with its readers and deliver updates. The constant updates contributed to a record day for traffic Monday
due in large part to the relationship the newsroom established with readers through @seattletimes.
But Twitter wasn't the only tool the Web staff used to tell this story. Seattletimes.com also engaged with local readers and those around the country through a social media experiment:
Google Wave. It is described by Google as "an online tool for real-time communication and collaboration." For us it became a live document that allowed folks on the Web interested in the story to take part in helping to move it forward. It was social media, reporting and online journalism at the next level. Or at least a crack at it.
What we did
We created a Wave, made it public and tweeted out to our users that they could join in. We did this using the #washooting hashtag, something we had started on Sunday. It instantly had fellow "Wavers" joining and a healthy dose of content being contributed. At the height of the Wave there were close to 500 people participating -- so many that it was quite bogged down at times.
Some elements of the Wave included links to police scanner audio, live video, information about road closures, school lockdowns, suspect information and more. A manhunt map was created inside the Wave and updated by participants. And a map was linked inside the Wave that seattletimes.com then used on the site. It was useful to producers updating the site because they could put information out and get tips back, instantly. We then could pass the tips on to the Metro desk and follow along that way. It was like using Twitter with a real-time response and rich content.
To see a PDF of the Wave, go here.
had this to say:
Due to Google Wave's real time updating capabilities, this is actually a rather fitting use. People are posting everything they know, from information about the suspect (right down to his old pictures and Twitter accounts) to news from police scanners.
Although Wave didn't work perfectly, we learned enough about its capabilities to add it to our toolbox for future coverage. It bogged down at times and became virtually impossible to engage with. (This is why it's still an invite-only beta version). Moreover, it sometimes took on the characteristics of a chatroom. But if, as Marshal McLuhan might have said, the content of the old medium is the new medium, then this one has potential. We just have a lot more to learn about how to make it really useful.
Kathy Gill, a professor at the University of Washington in the Master of Communication, Digital Media, program, joined in our Wave yesterday and had some good points. One was about the need for moderation if the topic is "hot" as this one was. Our Wave "exploded," as it were. This was when folks couldn't jump in, when browsers started crashing. She also notes that as this was a public Wave, anyone could moderate ad-hoc. The beauty and the curse.
We'd love to hear your thoughts on how our Wave worked and what we could do next time. Please use the commenting function below.