Alvin Chang

I tell digital stories at the Boston Globe; they are often data-driven. I co-founded The Listserve; it’s a social experiment. I like pens, watches and baseball; they slow down life a little.

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Why ‘viral news’ is wrong

In 59 B.C., Julius Caesar created what is thought to be the first daily news media.

The Acta Diurna was a daily digest of public announcements — everything from military notices to recent deaths. This kind of record-keeping wasn’t revolutionary; the game-changer was that he put it in a public place.

 Power to Caesar

The Acta Diurna was etched into stone or metal and posted in the Roman Forum for anyone to read. Sometimes, these notices would be copied and sent to provincial governors.

Before the Acta Diurna, content was spread through word of mouth. This meant only people with a large and powerful network could spread ideas at scale. Since Caesar controlled the Roman Forum, the power to spread message still belonged to him — except now his viral power was amplified.

 Power to those with a distribution model

Then about 1,500 years later, Johannes Gutenberg created the printing press

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Responsive experiences

One of the first things I do when I go to a new website is resize the window. Why? If you’re on a desktop computer, re-size this webpage; notice how it rearranges the content to fit the new screen width. If you’re on a mobile phone, notice how the content is beautifully styled just for your device.

This is called responsive web design. The concept is to create an internet that works great on all devices. Often, this means first creating a mobile experience — because it is the least capable device — and adding features for larger screens.

Now, this works beautifully with text, and that’s what most of the internet is. But when it comes to anything more — for example, data visualization, which is what I do — we quickly run into issues. There are many surface-level challenges that arise:

1. Layout: There’s more planning required to get everything to fit logically at every screen width.

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