UGC in Uttarakhand, and useful tech tools


A grab bag of a post today, organized around no particular theme.

Item 1: Any tips for verifying user-generated content?

I’m throwing this out there because I’m not sure what to do. The past few days have seen an outpouring (terrible pun not intended) of posts on social media about the ongoing natural disasters in Uttarakhand. There are great opportunities here for social media. In the past two days we’ve created an interactive map of user-generated pics and  put out a call to help connect missing family members.  But then I had an incident like this morning. A user sent in a terrible – but very newsy – video of a car being washed into a river by a flash flood.  I published it, but emailed him to ask him about the provenance.

No reply, but six hours later the same user submitted two more videos, also very dramatic, also clearly shot on mobile phones, purporting to be taken at sites within about 46 kilometres of each other. Now here’s my question: did this guy actually witness three buses/cars washed away into oceans or gorges in a single day?  (And if so, god, worst day ever).  And if he didn’t, where are these videos actually from?

No response from the user.  The videos are fantastic footage, if they were really taken by him, at the sites in question, in the past day or two. I searched for his name on YouTube – no hits. I looked for “Bus accident – xxlocation” in Google News and Google Images. No matching hits.  (Normally, Google’s “search by image” is an invaluable tool for figuring out if users have whacked pictures off the Internet and are passing them off as their own – if you don’t know how to use it, learn!)

Beyond all that, what solutions can people recommend? What are other folks doing, if anyone is using UGC to report on Uttarakhand?

UPDATE: Spoke with the user on Twitter and email, he confirmed the videos had been shot  by him and a few of his friends, on June 17th.  I posted one on Facebook.  Sure enough, within minutes another FB user mentioned that he’d seen the same video on YouTube a year ago, and provided a link.  The incident actually took place in Bolivia.  Any tips for how to handle it now?

Item 2: Free tools that are worth some time

Expecting every piece of digital journalism to be “Snow Fall” is like expecting every news article to be the Watergate investigation.  Here are some WYSIWIG tools to produce interesting things in a hurry.

1. Google Maps – surprisingly customizable. The only downside is that they don’t provide embed code for personalized maps (or do they, and am I missing it?)  We used this one to create an interactive map of north Indian floods.

2. Timeline.js – I haven’t used this one as much as I’d like, but it creates lovely timelines in a hurry.  If you’ve got a coder handy, a few simple hacks and you can do a lot – change the orientation from horizontal to vertical, alter fonts, etc.

3.  Storify – This one actually has a bit of a learning curve, or at least it did for me.  Nothing beats Storify for pulling together social media content fast.  The carding is beautiful. The embedding is painless and incredibly attractive. My only gripe is the awkward “read next page” blue link that they throw into the middle of a story. It’s unattractive and I doubt most users click past it, no matter how fascinating the content. Storify is great for sites like ours because it gathers our primary content in one place. We use it to create social news stories, where we gather social reactions to questions we put out in response to trending news topics.  They offer paid accounts with all kinds of promised upgrades, but I haven’t used those.

4.  Meograph – I don’t just list it because I know the founder.  An attractive tool for pulling together a lot of content into a single almost encyclopedic video, including Maps/data/etc. I love how clickable things remain within a Meograph vid (a bonus for Storify too) but playback on Meographs can be slow, or at least it was on the couple I’ve tried.  They also have paid options.

Pic by Walter Siegmund.

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