Expert Review: ThingLink

ThingLink is a great tool online that can really add a fun element to multimedia stories. Basically, what it does is allows the user to take a photo and make it interactive by adding small descriptions around the photo. When a reader rolls there mouse over the “nodes” you place around the photo the description you wrote pops up.

What can you do with this tool? What kinds of stories is it good for?

ThingLink is a really great multimedia storytelling tool. People don’t like to see a vast amount of information written on a page, and this solves that problem by hiding the information. It allows the reader to control what they want to see and how long they want to see it, which will most likely make the page more appealing to them. For the user, it is very easy to use and multimedia journalists should at least play with it.

It is good for stories that need explaining, especially through photos. It allows you to dissect a photo and break down the most important parts, without overwhelming the reader with a big block of text. It would be a good component as part of a larger multimedia piece, but most likely not on its own like most visualizations.

How do you get started using it? Link to tutorials or help docs or resources that are useful for learning this tool.

Firstly, you’ll have to sign up for an account with ThingLink. Next, click on the red plus sign labeled “create” in the top right corner. This will take you to an upload page, where you can drag and drop or select a file from your computer. As is always recommended with photography, using a larger sized photo will give you the best quality.

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This screen will pop up where you actually create your image. Let’s say we’re doing a story on the anatomy of Fenway for this example (could be interesting right?). The window shows you your photo, and you just click it to “tag” different parts and add descriptions. It’s pretty similar to Facebook tagging just with descriptions instead of people. This upgraded tagging can add a lot to a static photo.

We can easily add a shortened link to give more info.

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Now when readers roll over that big white dot, they’ll see the description and can click for more.

These nodes are easily customizable, with different shapes, colors, sizes, etc. They make it easy to get the look that you really want to convey.

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Adding music and videos can really amp up your photo as well. What’s great about ThingLink is that you can use the program itself to search, so you don’t have to go outside the site to find the perfect media. All you do is search in the bar on the left (make sure you hit Save Tag to go back to the home screen) and ThingLink searches Amazon, Etsy, Vimeo, YouTube, and Soundcloud.

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Here, I search for Dropkick Murphy’s song Tessie and inserted it into the corner, and made the node into a little play button so people are aware it’s a form of media. Below, I added in Sweet Caroline in the form of a Soundcloud file.

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One thing to be wary of with this media is that it is being searched from Youtube and Soundcloud, so the pictures are completely dependent on what those users are posting. Using a clip like this may not be appropriate for an actual news story, simply because it does not fit in with the rest of the theme.

So once you think your project is completed, hit save in the bottom right corner. Don’t forget a title on the top or else it will just name it all the descriptions you wrote! It brings you to the screen below where you can see what interactions you made and gives you the chance to go back and edit them.

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On the right hand side there is a Share button that we can use to put on social media or embed to a website for a multimedia story. I’ve embedded it below so you can take a look at the final (Note: This would need MUCH more editing before being part of a story, I was mostly playing to see the different functions of ThingLink.) In theory, we should be able to easily embed the final product using the text page of our WordPress editor, but it is being difficult and not showing up. Until I get that figured out, check out the final at this link here.

How easy or hard is it? What skills do you need to become proficient in it?

This is extremely easy to use. The only reason I went into so much detail above is to show the amount of different things it can display and do for a photo. Any working journalist with basic computer skills will be able to use this. The only problems I ran into was embedding at the end, but it may work better on a site that better supports multimedia, instead of WordPress. Most of using ThingLink is playing around with your photo to see how you want it to look in the end, and making sure to make it visually appealing to the readers.

Would you recommend this to a friend? Will you consider using it for your final data story?

I would definitely recommend this tool to a friend not only because of how easy it is to use, but of how many different stories it can be used for. Readers love interactive graphics and this can be in everything from crime to feature stories. I am definitely considering using it for my own final project, although I’m not sure how yet. Like I said, there are many possibilities!

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