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4 Min Read

When Content Goes (Web) Native

If the past fifteen years has been about disseminating content in new ways (think site design, search engine optimization and social networking) the next fifteen will force fundamental changes in how we produce what we produce. Central to this position — advanced by Jeff Stanger in the most recent episode of the Communication Network’s Diavlog Series — is native digital content.

If you could have developed it before the web, it’s not native.  Kindle, for instance, won’t make the grade because it simply disseminates the printed word in new ways. Video doesn’t make the grade because you could have watched it on TV. Fuggedabout downloadable PDF’s.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation has been creating native digital content for years through its annual Kids Count survey. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has developed a wealth of interactive maps that enable viewers to slice and dice information about the magnitude of the nursing shortage, the progression of the obesity epidemic and other healthcare-related issues. The Wallace Foundation has developed a cost-calculator that enables youth development advocates to understand youth development program expense variables based on the Foundation’s extensive data collection on the topic.

As I discussed with Jeff, who recently founded the Center for Digital Information, some of the most robust examples are coming from news organizations. One we discussed is an interactive graph from the New York Times that showed the most popular World Cup players based on a live data feed demonstrating how many times their names were mentioned on Facebook each day. (You can find other great examples of native digital content — some with topics even more important than soccer — by checking Jeff out on Twitter (@jeffcdi).

Because Jeff’s The Center for Digital Information is devoted to ensuring that public policy organizations can tap these tools to advance change, Comnetwork members may find this episode especially relevant.  Total
running time of this interview is 31:39. To view selected sections, use this guide to forward to the time indicated:

  • Site design, search engine optimization, and social media came first. Now comes truly digital content. (1:10-3:38)
  • Characteristics of digital content and examples (3:38-9:44)
  • Not just data visualization or multimedia – it is fueled by live data and interactivity (9:44-19:30)
  • Center for Digital Information focusing on policy research content (19:30-24:29)
  • Institutional challenges to taking advantage of these approaches (24:29-27:05)
  • Gaining personal “fluency” with digital content (27:05-31:38) — Hint, hint: permission to buy an iPad is hereby granted by Jeff!

If you are like me, once you begin to fall in love with this type of approach, you want to learn how to make it your own. These days that usually means some sort of platform or template that you can hire a brainy juvenile to program for you. Google Public Data Explorer let’s you create interactive graphs from public data but doesn’t appear (yet) to let you do the same with your own. While the data sets from which it lets you create interactive charts are severely limited, that’s bound to change fast.

There’s also Philanthropy In/Sight that lets users combine the Foundation Center’s data on grantmakers to quickly create customized Google maps that that show foundation giving geographically by country, state, county, city, metro area, congressional district, or zip code. You can also use the service to review grantmaking information for any part of the nation with that same level of detail.

Jeff got me really excited about how foundations and nonprofits can pioneer the use of digital content. I’m sure there are many more experiments and novel applications underway. If you have any of your own to share or have seen some notable examples, please email them so we can feature them on the Network’s website and blog.

–Susan Herr

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