The Times Thermometer Trumps Competition

around Online Comments Hackdays in London, England

30 September 2013

The Times of London won the GEN Guardian Hackdays with their Times Thermometer, designed to filter comments based on sentiment to give an indication of what Times readers think and feel about a particular issue. It solves the problem facing many Times readers that it takes a long time to read and keep track of the threads of debate when there are hundreds of comments.

The thermometer comprises two parts: the dynamic “sentiment indicator” panel at the top of the page, which aggregates ‘the temperature’ of readers sentiment and gives greater visibility to reader opinion, and the sentiment filter next to the comment box, which allows reader to select comments using a slider to give a sense of the breadth of opinions that our readers have (something that's quite distinct). Their presentation can be seen here.

A special mention was also given to The Guardian team who had a strong project allowing users to self identify as a 'subject expert', an 'eye witness' or have 'personal experience'.

During the two days Matt Cooke, Product Manager at Google EMEA showed how media organisations around the world are using Google Hangouts for stories, involving local communities, interviews and then posed the question - could you envision having editorial meetings using Google hangouts? 

Other masterclasses covered User engagement and online commenting at The Guardian by Joanna Geary, Social Communities Editor at the Guardian, soon to be Media Partnership Manager at Twitter, and Digital news development: best practices from ITV News by Jason Mills, Web Editor, ITV News.

The GEN Guardian Hackdays took place at the Guardian headquarters 26-27 September 2013 and was supported by Google. Teams from Haymarket Business Group, The BBC, The Daily Post,The Guardian, The Metro and The Times competed to build digital content around  the theme:

Re-imagining online commenting: alternative to a thread below the article.

Participating team’s honed in on different aspects of online commenting, from integrating social media for readers at home using Facebook and Twitter (the Daily Post), to moderation of comments (BBC) and showing people’s expertise and authority on a given subject (The Guardian). The Hackdays are designed to bring individuals in the newsroom together to inspire innovation. The BBC team hadn’t previously worked together but thoroughly enjoyed their time and were excited by their final project.

The teams, comprised of a journalist, a designer, a developer, were judged on editorial, technical, design and originality, by arah Marshall, Technical Editor, Journalism.co.uk and Antoine Laurent, Editors Lab Program Director, Global Editors Network

With thanks to Google for supporting this event, the team from the Times of London will be invited to take part in the International Hackathon at the GEN Barcelona Summit 2014, competing against the winners of the twenty national Hackdays being hosted all over the world since August 2013.

Ben Whitelaw, Communities Editor, The Times: “We think this is an original editorial and technological solution to a problem our readers at The Times face every day. It doesn’t alter the way that existing commenters take part in the community but opens it up to the participation of more voices and input.”

Another member of the team, Matthew Robbins, Designer, The Times commented “This has been an incredibly refreshing event! To produce new projects we usually work in big and complicated committees, and to be able to just brainstorm, code and design in a team of 3 persons over two days, working on a great topic, has been a great opportunity! We go actually faster, we work better!”

Sarah Marshall, Technology Editor of Journalism.co.uk and jury member for the GEN Guardian Hckdays said "It was a really tough decision as all teams displayed creative and innovative ideas when re-imagining commenting. We selected The Times Thermometer for its simplicity, the originality of the idea and the ease of implementation."

And Antoine Laurent, Program Director said that “the level of the projects produced was very high, a few could have won these hackdays. But The Times team had a very original approach, with a nice technical solution, quite experimental but easy to test out and implement. And it could solve a big challenge for online publications: how to make sense of the mass of comments posted below the articles?”

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