Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Discovery's Earth Live

I ran across this article on Wired about the Discovery Channel's new visualization tool, Earth Live, which gives real-time satellite data of the Earth--everything from cloud cover to water vapor to sea surface. It's purpose is to help people understand global climate change on a larger scale by allowing users to manipulate different climate features in near-real-time.

The Discovery Channel may not be a media outlet in the way that newspapers and magazines are considered but this new application is something I think journalists can learn from. It includes a combination of interactivity, news stories, videos and research that will keep viewers interested and wanting to come back for more information--which is exactly what newspapers need.

Users can create their own stories by adding different "layers" of clouds, rainfall, water vapor, etc. or read other stories about Hurricane Katrina or the tornadoes that ripped through the Midwest earlier this month. Users can also look at different world news from around the globe or look into climate research from around the globe.

Wired's Alexis Madrigal makes an interesting point about the potential an application like this can have:
Combined with new scientific datasets (like maybe Google's stockpile) and a bit of futurism, visualization tools like Earth Live could help make a compelling case about taking action on climate change. Imagine if we could see how some societal change, like the deforestation of the Amazon or a world wide switchover to compact fluorescent lightbulbs or growth in nuclear power, would impact the earth.

She also noted that the site is lacking in stories and content, which I agree, but considering this is a new endeavor, I'm giving Discovery the benefit of the doubt that it will beef up the material in the near future. Regardless, it's very innovative--both from an environmental aspect and from a journalistic aspect. Should the site become more involved, users will definitely have an incentive to continually come back for more.

Implementing a similar interactive applications within the journalism field has the potential to bring more traffic to newspaper Web sites and generate more interest with viewers--who might actually stay on the site for a little longer.

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