The other day I stumbled across a YouTube video of pioneering journalists/programmer Adrian Holovaty playing the MacGyver theme song on guitar. (The video is on the YouTube homepage and has been viewed 750,000+ times). Seeing the video prompted me to head over to his site for the first time in awhile.

For the uninitiated, Holovaty developed the Django web framework while working at the Lawrence Journal-World, built an innovative online database of crime patterns in Chicago and currently works as editor of editorial innovations at Washingtonpost-Newsweek Interactive. He has a skill set that is unique for the journalism profession (how many journalists do you know that have written a web framework?).

Rifling through his site, Holovaty has done some awesome work at the Post.

The coolest thing is how well integrated some of these databases are into the site itself. As an example, any article you read that contains a Senator’s name will link back to that Senator’s voting record. It is great stuff and creates a much better reading experience than most papers.

But these features also demonstrate what a huge technical challenge newspapers face when trying to implement this stuff. As an example, if you read this article about last night’s Republican debate, you’ll see links to John McCain’s voting record and a general search page for Rudy Giuliani. Since the article is about the Presidential race, I think you’d ideally want to link to the Presidential profiles of Giuliani and McCain and not the more general information. This is brought up not as criticism, but to show how hard and complicated this kind of stuff can get.

Another challenge is how to integrate these features into the site itself. As mentioned, the Votes Database is beautifully integrated. But I go to the Post site just about every day and had never seen features like Faces of the Fallen, Clinton’s Golden Voice or the Video Game Reviews database. The Post invests the time to develop these great features, and then they sort of disappear into the labyrinth that is the Post’s site structure. It is like those stories you hear about people finding Mickey Mantle rookie cards in their grandparents basement.

But I’m quibbling. Check out Holovaty’s site and the Post features listed above.  More people need to do this stuff.

About the Author
Todd Zeigler
Todd Zeigler serves as the Brick Factory’s chief strategist and oversees the operations of the firm. In his sixteen year career in digital, he has planned and implemented campaigns for clients including the Pickens Plan, International Youth Foundation, Panthera, Edison Electric Institute, and the American Chemistry Council. Todd develops ambitious online advocacy programs, manages crises, implements online marketing strategies, and develops custom applications and software. He is bad at golf though.