Changing Landscapes: A Great Release

Release date was finally here. I woke up in a panic just before 6am because I fell asleep before John sent me the PDF of the report to be posted to the website. I posted the report, double checked to make sure everything was in order, and then visited NJ.com to read the article. I knew that the article was limited to around 500 words, but I was still hoping for the best. (An aside: why aren’t all newspapers considering a brief short version and a longer web version for their articles? It’s not like there’s a restriction on word count on the Web.) The article was there and it was pretty good, all things considered. But, there was an egregious omission – a link to the report.

Last time I checked, the year was 2010 and we linked to things on the Internet. I wrote a comment on the article at 6:18am with a link to the report. That comment is still not on the article, so I assume the editorial staff of NJ.com deleted it. If anyone can give me a justified reason as to why a link to the report discussed in the article should not be allowed, I’d love to hear it.

As 9 o’clock came around, I released that they weren’t going to link to the report, so I figured I would just need to monitor the referrer strings to see if people were at least able to find the report through a Google search. 12 hours later, at 9pm, I scanned the logs to see what traffic we were receiving. I found that a few more news outlets picked up the article and included a link. The link was directly to the PDF. While better than nothing, I really didn’t appreciate the fact that they were linking directly to the PDF and not to the report’s website, which offers additional information (and of course, my interactive maps) that was written for a general audience, as opposed to the specific language used in the report. So, that night I added a mod_rewrite clause to Apache to redirect those outside requests for the PDF to the project website. We were now going to get the appropriate traffic.

Over the next 48 hours, the report website URL began to bounce around Twitter (mostly due to my passive-aggressive tweeting) and a few blogs picked up on the article and New Jersey Future’s take on the report. Initially, I was hoping for a huge spike in traffic due to a link from the Star-Ledger, but that obviously didn’t come. Perhaps that’s better. Based on the trend of the last few days, what I am now expecting is that as the report and the maps make their way through the Internet, the traffic will grow and ultimately surpass the initial burst of traffic on the release day.

A project that is an in-depth look at land use patterns across an entire state cannot be something that can really be boiled down to a soundbite. But those bites are what is published in the news and broadcast on radio and TV. There in lies the real benefit of the Internet. A hard copy version of this report would have made little traction outside of a few interest groups and government. By hosting the data and findings on the web, the primary source is available to everyone. You don’t need to take the Star-Ledger’s word for it – you can read it and come to your own conclusions without leaving the house or putting on pants. The irony is that if I came out online and spammed the website everywhere, claiming that the sky was falling in New Jersey, I’d get some traffic, but it would come at a cost to credibility. The Internet has cultured this adverse reaction to sensationalism, while at the same time enabling sensationalist news, websites and soundbites more so than ever before.

Tomorrow: lessons learned on the one month trip from concept to completion.

In case you were wondering: title inspired by LCD Soundsystem.

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