Building Lenses: An open-source tool for mobile data viz
Justin Hendrix, executive director of NYC Media Lab, explains the idea behind an upcoming drag-and-drop data viz tool for journalists
The growth of mobile traffic to news sites raises the challenge of packing large amounts of information onto a small screen, a challenge even more present in stories with data visualisations.
Meet Lenses: an open-source tool that wants to make data visualisations which both work on mobile and don't require extensive coding knowledge from the reporter working with the data.
Lenses is being developed by News Corp in partnership with NYU engineering students, who are building its components; Columbia journalism students who are creating stories with the tool using civic data; and NYC Media Lab which is managing the project.
"It's meant to be extremely easy to use," said Justin Hendrix, executive director of NYC Media Lab. "Journalists won't have to learn how to code, or do design."
Speaking to Journalism.co.uk after his presentation at Digital Media Europe yesterday, he said Lenses is meant to "make it possible for journalists to very easily incorporate any type of data into a visual programming platform, and then drag and drop different components to instantly create mobile data visualisations."
When talks with News Corp about the project first began, the conversation centred on the idea that many publishers now get over half of their traffic from mobile devices.
"Doing this in a mobile context was always first and foremost in our minds," explained Hendrix.
"The metaphor for Lenses is the idea that it's different lenses on the numbers, so different perspectives," he added.
"[You can] apply different types of components to it to give you different types of visualisations that may let you understand the data and its relationship to one another in different ways".
Lenses is now essentially a working prototype, and the next several months will be spent testing the tool to ensure all bugs are taken out.
The Associated Press has volunteered to test the tool, and there is an open call for other news outlets who would be interested in being involved at this stage.
Hendrix said the team aims for a fuller version of the tool to be available in time for the US elections in 2016 – seeing this as a "design constraint" for the project.
"Hopefully [we'll have] enough components in place that a lot of useful reporting can be done using Lenses for the American election."
Update: This article has been updated with the audio clip interview with Justin Hendrix
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