Read & Respond week 11 – Audio

October 19, 2018

When we think blogging, we think writing. Recent weeks have emphasized images and other tools, but things still seem to come back to the written word. Briggs, in this week’s chapter on audio, proposes some ways to emphasize sound over sight. We’ll focus on one: Podcasting. Over the next several classes, you’ll be hearing from podcasters and planning out a podcast with your group to record in our own studio here in the Media Innovation Center. Read on, and think about what you might have to say.

What’s a podcast?

You could think of a podcast as an audio blog post. Instead of reading, you can download and listen, which is helpful if you like to do your “reading” while exercising, cooking, or doing something else. The process can be simple or complex, but it boils down to four basic steps:

  1. Plan
  2. Record
  3. Convert/Upload
  4. Promote

This guide from DigitalTrends gets into more detail, but at minimum you need a theme (and usually some guests), a topic, a mic, and a (free) copy of Audacity; anything more can give a cleaner, more polished product but isn’t absolutely necessary.

With special guest, Trey Kay!

We’ll be joined this week by Trey Kay of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, host and producer of the “Us & Them” podcast. In preparation, I want you to check out some of his pods from Us & Them and Red State/Blue State.

The best part is, you don’t have to sit at your computer for this assignment. Cue them up on your phone and go for a jog (or brisk walk)!

Want more?

Audiences listen to podcasts via apps such as Stitcher (free), iTunes, or just listening to them streaming online. If you’d like some examples beyond the WVPB ones above, consider these examples of the form:

Your response this week should be enjoyable: Listen to some podcasts, especially if you never have. Pick some from the links above, or find some of your own. How do these (and Briggs’ other audio subject) inform your work? Have you now decided blogging is dead, and you’re going to become a podcaster instead?

In addition, what’s a subject (ideally one relevant to your group blog) you could see running an approximately 10-minute podcast on? Would you have guests, or would it just be you and your groupmates? What are some questions/topics you can set up in advance to avoid the dreaded Dead Air? Post your responses by 11:59 p.m. Sunday, October 21.


How to write a simple chatbot (part II)

October 17, 2018

Last time you learned the basics of making a rule-based chatbot that can respond to some basic triggers (hi, yes, no, maybe, what is the meaning of life). Nifty but not too journalistic, so now we’re going to progress toward making a simple on-the-rails explainer using buttons.

For a great example of this, remember the Quartz News (nee Quartzy) chatbot from class. The bot may seem complex, but if you walk through a story, you actually have very few options – many checkpoints only provide a single option, and the ones that provide more quickly return to the main story. This simple engagement, coupled with a distinctive voice and an interesting story, provides a way to relate the news via your bot, and it’s pretty much all done with buttons. Let’s make one!

Your first button

Select your bot from last time and go into Edit mode (the pencil icon). We’ll keep our hi/Hello There! first interaction, but we’ll have our bot follow it up with a button to direct the reader’s next step.

Your first two lines of code should say:

+ hi

– Hello there!

Hit return twice and add the following:

+ intro button

– 

Add a space after the – and leave your cursor there. Do the following:

  • Click the button icon at the top of the edit panel (second from the left).
  • This adds the button code, which will look like this: ^buttons(First Choice, Second Choice, Third Choice)
  • The text is all placeholders. The only things you can’t change are the punctuation marks ^ and ()
  • Delete everything in the parentheses and replace it with “What are you?
  • Back at the top, after “Hello There!” add a space the code {@ intro button} so the button will show up after the robot is triggered with “hi”

Right now you’ve created a button that doesn’t go anywhere – give it a try! Next, we’ll make it do something.

  • Add a new trigger: “what are you” (no quotes)
  • Add the response “I’m a bot!

Publish and try it out! Your code should now read:

+ hi
– Hello there! {@ intro button}

+ intro button
– ^buttons(What are you?)

+ what are you
– I’m a bot!

Did it work? If not, go through our troubleshooting list (is it published? are there capitals or punctuation in triggers? did you add the {@ intro button} code in your bot’s first response?). If not, check in with me and we’ll see.

Adding more buttons

This is the simplest button scheme you can have – there’s only one choice! What I’d like you to do now is add in a second option for the reader who already knows what a bot is. Back in the response to + intro button, add a comma after What are you? and add a second option, Who made you? At the bottom of your code, add this new trigger/response pair:

+ who made you

– You did, silly!

Publish and try it out! If it fails, run through the usual steps, which you should be getting pretty good at.

Tell me a story

Now you know how to write button code with ^buttons() and how to call that code with { }. From here, we’re going to turn this to something more practical. Identify a simple story related to your interests that can be told in three stages (plus an introduction). Think again of the Quartz News example – we’d call this an explainer – and don’t overthink it!

  • Keep it short and conversational!
  • Each stage should progress via a single button
  • Try at least one stage with two buttons

When you’re done, go to the deploy menu, click the switch that deploys your bot (it won’t work otherwise, as we learned last time), paste the code at pste.edu and give it a try. If it works, go to this link (it’s a Google Doc) and add your chatbot (with your name and description) to the list. Let’s see what you come up with!


How to write a simple chatbot (part I)

October 15, 2018

We’ll be designing basic chatbots in the next few weeks. You learned about these in this week’s readings, so you know you’ve already interacted with a chatbot on your phone, in your home, and probably lots of other places. The bots we’re going to make will be simple, rule-based call-and-response setups, but they’ll be enough to put together a simple explainer for your next assignment. Let’s get started!

FIRST: Create an account on rundexter.com (Dexter is a free platform for building chatbots) and log in

First contact

  1. Select a Blank theme and create a new bot (there are lots of possible themes to browse, but we’re starting simple).
  2. Rename your bot (top left) and in the big window, delete all the default code – we’re starting from scratch!
  3. On the first line, enter “+ hi” (don’t use quotation marks)
  4. Hit return, and on line 2 enter “– Hello There!” (again, no quotes)
  5. On the right, click the big friendly green button that says “Publish Current Topic”
  6. There’s a phone-shaped window on the right with an entry blank at the bottom. Type in “Hi” – your chatbot should respond “Hello There!

What did you just do? You created a trigger and told the chatbot how to react when it encountered that trigger. It’s a call-and-response, like how when you say “Let’s Go!” people respond “Mountaineers!” This is a rule-based chatbot: It doesn’t really use artificial intelligence to “think,” it just reacts to preprogrammed stimuli.

Now try the following:

  • Tell your chatbot both “hi” and “Hi” and “hi!” – what happens?
  • Tell your chatbot “hello” – what happens? Why?

Does my chatbot hate me?

If “hi” didn’t get you a response, there’s two likely reasons. The code for your chatbot triggers (the code after +) cannot contain either of the following:

  • Capital letters (“+ Hi“)
  • Punctuation (“+ hi!“)
  • Also make sure you include a space after the + or – in your code

Look at your code. Does the trigger contain either of those? If so, there’s your problem. Also note that the chatbot responses CAN contain caps and punctuation. Also ALSO note that you can include these when talking to your chatbot, so either “hi” or “Hi” or “”HI!!!!!!!” will work just fine. “Hello” or “Hi there” won’t, however, because that’s not what your chatbot is coded to respond to.

Sorry, didn’t get that

As you’ve just seen, chances are users are going to say things to your bot that it’s not prepared for. It’s good practice to have a catch-all response for this.

  1. In your code, hit return twice (to leave a blank line) then add a new trigger: “+ *”
  2. Below that, add an error response such as “– Sorry, I don’t understand that command.
  3. You’ll have to republish the bot (green button) before you can test out the new code

That asterisk (*) trigger is a wildcard, meaning it stands in for any trigger not specified in your code. Right now, that means anything other than a variation on “hi” will return the catch-all message.

There are other uses for the wildcard operator too:

  • Add it in brackets before or after a trigger to allow additional words – so “+ hi [*]” would recognize both “hi” and “hi there”
  • Bots commonly also recognize requests for help by including the trigger “+ [*] help [*]” (along with a response that gives the user a list of help commands)

Publishing your bot

We’ve tested our bot in Dexter, but it’s not the best way for seeing your work in action. To try it out, we’re going to copy the code to an HTML pastebin that will show what it’d look like in Messenger or on your phone.

  1. Click the green Publish Topic button when your bot is ready
  2. At the top of the screen, click “Deploy” (the paper airplane icon)
  3. You’ll get a window that says “Embed Code” with a block of code under it. Select that code and copy it.
  4. In a new tab, go to pste.edu
  5. Paste your code in the box and click submit
  6. Go to the link you get and click the chat bubble in the bottom right to activate your bot!

That’s it! You now have a functioning – if somewhat dull – bot. Next, try building in some additional triggers and responses. What should this bot do? How can you use it to tell a simple story? We’ll do more with this in our next session.


Read & Respond week 10: Chatbots

October 11, 2018

This week (or two), you’re going to build some bots! Chatbots – or “conversational agents” if you’re fancy – are a fairly new entry (with apologies to Eliza) into our mass communication world. Digital assistants like Siri and Alexa are chatbots: You speak to them, and they rely on rules or artificial intelligence (or both) to answer or perform a function.

Here’s a simple example: Cleverbot

A chatbot typically mimics human speech in a call-and-response way: If I say “Hello,” the bot might respond “Hi there!” That’s not too exciting, but bots are rarely so simple. More likely, the bot will ask what I’m looking for, shopping for, or otherwise would like to know. The Loebner Prize is a contest that seeks bots that can best approximate human interaction – as these transcripts show, they’ve still got a way to go.

Do people actually like chatbots? Yes, actually! They’ve certainly got their place, but the simulated human communication often goes over pretty well. The health care profession has even been exploring using bots for personal care and assisting those suffering from dementia. The language learning app Duolingo also includes chatbots (currently offline for a fix) that will converse with you in the language of your choice.

Chatbots are all around you, and they’re only going to get smarter. Although you’re most likely to see them in customer-service areas, journalists have been experimenting with them as well…

Bots are great for daily functions like answering common questions or automating data-oriented tasks or for larger projects like the one above. They’re not hard to make, either – free platforms like Dexter (which we’ll use in class) let you create simple ones on your own.

For this week’s response, reflect on what you’ve learned about chatbots and where you might apply them in journalism. I’d also like you to come up with a specific application for a bot: Answering questions or interacting with audience for a specific subject. What kinds of questions would you expect? What kinds of answers would it give? What kinds of questions might you NOT expect (people are weird, after all)?

Remember, your responses are due by 11:59 p.m. Sunday, October 14, as a comment to this post. Don’t worry about Briggs this week – the syllabus had us reading the Mobility chapter, but it’s not particularly relevant – so just focus on the questions above.

 


The Group Blog Project (fall 2018)

October 10, 2018

Beginning in two weeks (Sunday, October 21) and continuing through the end of the term, you’ll create, maintain, and promote a group blog that tackles a local and contemporary trend, topic, or theme in a journalistic way. You’ve already been assigned a team, started brainstorming and written your first post, but now it’s time for greater specifics. You will:

  1. Identify, connect with and engage a community of interest in Morgantown
  2. Provide original content for that community through your own reporting and analysis

This is a team project requiring everyone’s strengths. The result should be a robust and engaging addition to your portfolio that will set you apart in the job market. If everyone does their own thing and there is no cohesive focus to the blog, you will do poorly.

Don’t. Just don’t.

This list gets a little bigger every semester, so read it carefully if you want to earn points for your work.

  • There will be no restaurant, local entertainment, advice, or graduation-themed posts unless specifically approved by Prof. Britten (they won’t be).
  • No “here is a place/thing” or “this event/group exists” posts. All these elements may be involved with a post, but the focus should always be on specific issues.
  • Do not make your blog a list of community calendar events or recommendations for local places to check out.
  • Blogs focused on personality profiles are not recommended.
  • Unsourced lists are frowned upon.
  • Do not use clichés such as “eclectic” or “something for everyone” – define a focus and an audience.
  • Posting recipes will bring swift retribution.

Weekly requirements:

You will be judged on the frequency and quality of your posts, comments, and other demonstrable contributions to your online publication. In addition, if your teammates report you’ve become a significant asset (or weakness), that matters as well.

  • Individual posts: Every person is expected to post at least once per week, and each blog is expected to have a post every weekday.  Your groups must each arrange and follow a posting schedule to ensure regular updates throughout the week (Monday-Thursday between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., or Monday-Friday if you have five members). If you miss your scheduled deadlines, you will get lowered (or no) credit for that post.
  • Weekly group budget: By 5 p.m. every Sunday (beginning October 21; ending November 25), each group will email me a single budget for the current week and following week. It must include the following:
    • Current week: Which stories are you going to run, when (day, date & time), who will write each, and a brief description of each story, the specific information sources it is using, and why it’s of interest to your community.
    • Following week: Same information as above, but likely with less detail.
    • Longer term: Identify which big or longer-term stories you are pursuing.
    • Promotion: What will your group do this week to publicize your blog and connect to a larger community? (This might involve posting to social media but should also involve HOW you post – experiment with time, wording, etc.)
  • Weekly personal memo: By 9 p.m. every Saturday (beginning October 26; ending November 30), each person will send me a weekly memo assessing your work so far and what’s to come. It must include the following:
    • Post: Provide details and links to your work.
    • Comments: You will make 5 meaningful comments per week(not all on the same day!), divided between your group blog, other class blogs, and some outside blogs of interest (which is good way of attracting like-minded bloggers to your site). Link to these in your weekly memo.
    • Added Value: A plain-text post adds only one level to the conversation. That’s the minimum, so doing only that will earn you the minimum grade. I expect to see you using your skills with links, images, maps, audio, wikis, and more, as well as integrating the site and its promotion into other social media like Facebook and Twitter (provide links).
    • Your Grade: Provide an honest grade for your work in the preceding week as a percentage score (e.g., 82%). Base your grade only on that week, and include an explanation of why you have earned the grade you propose.
    • Group Grade: Provide an honest grade for your group as a percentage score, and explain where the group struggled or excelled in the preceding week.

How You’re Evaluated:

As noted above, each Saturday (beginning October 26) every student will send me an e-mail memo assessing the previous week. You’ll also include short updates on your experience thus far and your blogging plans for the week ahead. I use this to grade your quality of work, so if you’ve done more than just post, tell me about it!

You’ll get a grade for each week’s worth of work, which includes your weekly post, contribution to the group memo, and any extra work you do (note this in your memo). If you like to think in terms of points, imagine that I score in roughly the following way:

  • 40%: Content — Is it interesting? Relevant to your blog’s focus? Fresh?
  • 30%: Connection — Quality and relevance of the link(s) you included in the post
  • 30%: Mechanics — Grammar, spelling, punctuation and appropriate style
  • Bonus points! … for HTML, outside comments, etc.—beyond-the-call stuff. If you’re the editor-in-chief or have other special duties, let me know!

Because you’re each only expected to post once a week (more is allowed), I’ll expect the writing and ideas to be especially sharp – we’re not looking for long reviews. What matters more than the number of posts is the overall quality of the body of work.

First due dates:

  • Initial blog concept proposal (one page of overview, one page of posts from each member, and a tentative schedule) due as a single six-page packet from the group in class Monday, October 1.
  • First post from each member (printed, with links and images/media indicated in brackets) due Monday, October 8 – UPDATE: Wednesday, October 10.
  • revised blog concept packet – based on the packet above and incorporating feedback from me and the group – due in class Wednesday, October 17. 
  • Your group blog’s About page with a focused mission statement must be posted by Friday, October 19. (post the URL as a comment to this post)
  • First budget: Email me this list of topics and dates for your first two weeks of postings (see above for explanation). It’s your first week, so this may change, but it must be thorough and complete – due 5 p.m. Sunday, October 21.
  • Your group’s first post: Must be posted between 10a – 4p, Monday, October 22.

Group Assignments

Available here.

One more thing:

In addition to creating a blog, you’ll need to add all your group’s members as authors (you may all be administrators or just choose one member for this role). Follow these steps:

  • In Dashboard, select “Users” from the left bar
  • Under “Invite New,” enter the new user’s preferred email address
  • Choose the new user’s role (contributor, administrator, editor, or author)
  • Click “Add user”

Assignment #6: Make a Map

October 4, 2018

This assignment builds on what we learned about Google Maps in last week’s class. You’re going to apply that to your personal blog by writing a post that incorporates a map of your own creations. That means the post needs to incorporate a “where” component in some meaningful way: Locations of key events, places to find a thing, cities where a performer has played, and so on.

For the assignment, you will:

  • Write a post for your personal blog with a clear location component. Your blog post will be graded like a typical post (5 pts) and counts for this week’s post. It should hit all the usual marks for content, links, depth, and overall quality.
  • Create a Google Map that adds to the story in your post in some meaningful way. This will be graded independently of the post (10 pts), but it must be relevant!
  • The map should have a least THREE useful data points (that’s the minimum, so it’s worth the minimum grade). Use the guide on our course blog to make sure it’s set to a useful default view (we probably don’t need to see the whole world), and include useful information in your selection of pins, use of labels, photos, etc.

DUE: This assignment is due whenever you post next week’s personal post, so it must be during normal blogging hours (10 a.m. – 4 p.m., Monday-Thursday) during the week of October 8-11.


How-to: Making and Embedding a Google Map

October 3, 2018

Today we’re making maps! At the bottom of this how-to, you’ll see a sample map of our own beloved Evansdale Crossing, made by following these very steps. Follow along and create your own!

Making the map

  1. Sign in to Google and go to maps.google.com
  2. Click the menu icon to the left of the search bar (it looks like three horizontal lines) and select “Your Places” from the drop-down menu, then click “MAPS”
  3. Select “Create Map” (at the very bottom of the left bar)
  4. In the new window, click “Untitled map” to give it a title and description
  5. Add places: Search a place address, click the marker, and select “+ Add to map” in its pop-up window
  6. Make changes by clicking a placed marker:
    1. Edit (the pencil icon) lets you change the title and description of a place. You can also add links () with HTML.
    2. Style (the paint bucket icon) lets you change the color and design of map markers. You can also upload your own designs, if you’re fancy.
    3. Add Image or Video (the camera icon) lets you … well, I think you can figure that one out.
    4. You can also add points of your own by selecting the “Add marker” icon (under the search bar) and clicking to place new map markers.
  7. Add lines and shapes
    1. Click the line/shape button and click points – double-click to finish
    2. Can name/describe your lines and polygons (shapes) in the same way as map markers.
    3. Style:
      1. Click lines to change color and thickness
      2. Click polygons to change color, border thickness, and transparency.
  8. Trash an element by selecting it and clicking the trashcan in its window

Adding group members

  1. Click “share” in top left menu
  2. Under “Invite collaborators,” add email addresses
  3. Choose what they can do: “Can view” or “Can edit”

Embed the map in your blog

  1. Click “share” and change settings from Private to “Public on the Web” (this allows any reader of your blog to see it), then click Done.
  2. Placing the map:
    1. Position the map how you want it to appear on your blog
    2. Click the three dots next to your map’s name in the top left menu > Select “Set default view”
    3. Click them again and select “Embed on my site”
      1. The code should look like this: “iframe src=”https://www.google.com/maps/d/embed?mid=1L7ZYJ8iuII5T9qoIuk4IAtmQF7U” width=”640″ height=”480″ “
      2. [note: There will also be pointy brackets like this around it, but I’ve left them out so WordPress doesn’t think I’m trying to embed a map here!]
    4. Paste the resultant line of code directly into a WordPress blog post and preview to see if it looks the way you want it.

Advanced map shaping

  1. Don’t like the shape of your map? Notice the details of that code:
    1. (this code comes from the map embedded in this post): iframe src=”https://www.google.com/maps/d/embed?mid=zRA7u_2r6VF0.kDx4jre2-3cA”; width=”640″ height=”480″
  2. See those “width” and “height” values? Right now it’s a horizontal rectangle, but you can change that! Try some different values to get the shape you want.

Here’s our map!

Last year’s map (for code reference)