We emailed the Guardian’s Benji Lanyado about a new project he and Matt Andrews have been working on called Top 5 News, which lists the most popular articles by the most popular news orgs in the US and UK. Here’s what we talked about, short and simple:
FJP (Blake): What is Top 5 News and how did it come together?
Benji: top5news.net (and its British cousin top5news.co.uk) pulls from a number of different news sites, displaying their most popular pieces of content every 15 minutes. We wanted it to be a snapshot of what people are actually reading, rather than the latest news, or editor’s choices. To some extent, it’s an automated Drudge Report.
FJP (Blake): How does it work? What was used to make it work?
Matt: The site is a fairly customised use of the PHP framework CodeIgniter. It goes off to fetch the page HTML of the source websites every 15 minutes and scans through the code for the relevant links. We store an archive of links as well as the most recent ones so that over time we can attempt some data visualisation to show trends and spikes. Finally, on the front end we use CSS3 media queries to give the site a responsive design so it works well on mobile too.
FJP (Blake): Is it “just” an experiment or is it something you plan to build off of?
Benji: For now, it’s a minimum viable product… we want to see how popular the idea is, and gather as much feedback as possible. After that… who knows.
FJP (Blake): Besides that, your work at the Guardian and all your interactive traveling (a la Kerouapp) is very cool. Any plans to expand upon this previous work?
Benji: Yeah, it was a lot of fun working on Kerouapp, and its been great to see Jon Henley, one of the Guardian’s feature writers, using it for his trips across Europe. It’s also been used by the BBC and Time Out, which is great. I’m actually travelling a lot less these days, but would love to see other news organisations use the tool and run with it.
FJP (Blake): Please tell me about any other plans you might have, and what you’d like to do in the near/distant future.
Benji: I’m very keen to keep working on projects like this with developers, both inside the Guardian and outside it. I’m actually starting an intensive front end development course myself in a few weeks, so I can potentially knock together prototypes myself in the near future. I think basic programming skills are going to become an essential skill for future journalists.