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Rendering real-time

By Jon McClure

What is real-time anyway?

The Guardian’s Alastair Dant discussed the concept in terms of a continuous feed of information and provided a few tips on how journalists should approach it during "Dealing with real-time data."

Chaos is raw real-time data, Dant said. To render it journalists must first conceptualize the continuous feed in measured discrete segments.

It’s useful to think of real-time feeds in terms of sequences, cycles, and streams, Dant said.

  • Sequences represent discrete measures of real-time data streams, like those that bound any common news event.
  • Cycles are discrete and repeatable feeds, like daily news, which can be plotted in their totality to produce meaningful content or building dialogue
  • Streams are incrementally updated feeds of live content, their focus being the ever-present now of the story.

All three of these denominations of real-time contribute to the totality of the frame of real-time data stories.

The three steps necessary to then render the data are to record, analyze, and publish.

  • Recording is the first step in capturing raw real-time data.
  • Analysis must then be done to limit the scope of the data into workable size and to create algorithms that highlight especially pertinent data.
  • Publishing represents the discrete rendering of the data feed, creating snapshots of it in time.

Rinse and repeat. These three steps then become a cyclical data feed to your readers.

But how should they see it?

In publishing, the dashboard concept provides a useful method to interface with real-time data, Dant said.

As an example, Dant shared the results of a week-long hack at The Guardian which produced an interactive map of continuously updated twitter feeds during the Arab Spring.

Real-time is chaos, but Dent’s work at The Guardian demonstrated how chaos can be measured with the right yard stick. Or .9144 meter stick, as the case may be.

Jon McClure is a graduate student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

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