I'm a big believer in bringing order to the chaos of text. Even if you only bring a smidgen of structure to that information, you add so much more reader value. In fact, it's become a joke around the newsroom how often I use the phrase "structured data." My boss, editor in chief Scot Finnie, keeps urging me to come up with something catchier. I'm thinking "mashup-ready" might work.
The classic case is the old Chicagocrime.org, one of the first mashups. Instead of simply posting a lot of local crimes news as individual plain-text stories ("There was a house break-in at 123 X street Tuesday...."), online journalism pioneer Adrian Holovaty got all the information into a database where site visitors could search and sort by neighborhood, type of crime, day and more. Holovaty has since gone on to work on the grant-funded Everyblock.com.
Rob Curley is another well-known name in the field of onine journalism. One of his biggest areas of expertise is so-called hyper-local coverage online. In a recent interview at Media Bistro, Curley said:
We now geo-code every story on our site, every piece of content. We either add an exact latitude and longitude to it or, if we don't have that, then we try to at least get it down to the zip code. Soon, if you give your zip code you can have all of those stories now on one page. You can have all of the home foreclosures and homes that have been sold on that page; you can have all the crimes. We can show you all the rotary club meetings, all the high school shows that are in your zip code, the movie listings that are closest to you... We've build the page so that it works very much like iGoogle does, so you can move all the boxes around in any order that you want.
That's adding value to your content -- something all of us in the media business need to be doing. At Computerworld, it's why we have our Best Places to Work in IT sortable by a dozen criteria such as training budget and percent of staff promoted, as well as by company size and region. It's why we now our product reviews in a (very simple) database, so site visitors can search and sort by product and product category as well as see story headlines. And it's why so many people are starting to pay attention to the intersection of journalism and technology.