Database Publishing 2.0: Create Online Databases, Social Lists And Custom Interactive Atlases With Listphile
If you want to create, maintain and publish online databases, social lists, galleries or even interactive mash-up atlases as added-value content for your blog or website, you may very well want to take a look at Listphile.
This simple, free, easy-to-use web application makes it a breeze to create your own community-powered interactive content, embed it in your blog or website, and even allow your site visitors to do the same, spreading awareness of your personal brand.
Whether you choose to create a vote-based interactive top ten list, an image gallery, or even a customized niche-interest atlas, Listphile means that you can easily put together engaging interactive content without any knowledge of programming or design.
Each list can include a blend of images, wiki-style editable text, interactive maps and even embedded video content. Throw in the option to make your list as public or private as you wish, and to license your content using Creative Commons deeds, and you have a powerful content and community building application that won't cost you a cent.
Listphile - Overview
Listphile makes it incredibly easy for you to generate, manage and share lists, galleries, and interactive, niche-subject atlases and has been designed as a very interesting fusion of the wiki and database.
The key feature of a wiki is its basis in community authoring - anyone you choose to join your wiki can edit the documents within it. The most famous example of a wiki in action is Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that anybody can contribute to. This can be a great way of pooling ideas, sharing knowledge or working on ideas in a group setting. But at times the wiki format can lack structure.
Databases, on the other hand, are typically created by a single person, or small group, for use by an audience that have no real say in the information they provide. On the other hand, databases do provide a structured series of questions and queries to prompt users into making their contribution.
Listphile successfully brings the two together, so that you can quickly create a niche-focused list, database, image gallery or even atlas by creating fields for the information you want to gather, before turning it over to your viewers for contributions.
Let's say you want to compile a list of the best places to eat in New York. You could try to write one yourself, but your perspective might be limited when you think of all of the thousands of great places to eat available in such a big city.
With Listphile you simply create some prompts for your audience, questions like "where is the restaurant?", "how much is an average meal?", "what's the best dish?", "where is it on the map?", along with other information, like a section for photos of the restaurant. Once you've decided what you want to know, you turn it over to the public, and work together on collecting as much information as possible.
With ten, a hundred, or a thousand people sharing their thoughts on the best restaurants in town, suddenly your list is going to become a lot more comprehensive. If you apply this same principle to your own special interest, or the niche-focus of your blog, you could very soon have a very useful resource to either point your readers to, or even embed directly into your own website.
Creating a Listphile database is really just a matter of filling out some short forms, and selecting the appropriate radio buttons and drop-down menus to get the job done. In the space of a few short minutes you can have the skeleton of a community powered atlas, video-sharing community or image gallery ready to be populated by your users - or, if you prefer, yourself.
The sign-up process is engineered to the essential and it seems designed to get you up and running with your list-making as quickly as possible. Tap in a username, email and password and you're right there in the authoring part of the application. This is a commendable approach, given how often you have to wade through the creation of a profile and filling-out of multiple forms before you're taken through to certain web-based applications.
Putting together your list is a two-screen process, the first focusing on the basic outline of your list, and whether you want it to be open, private or available to a closed group, and the second on the specific data you are looking to gather.
Once you've given your list a title, one of the first choices you have available is whether you'd like it to be a vote-based or non-vote-based list. The difference is one of both interactivity and the way that your information will be ordered.
Choose a vote-based list, and your list contributors and viewers can cast their vote on any item in the list. The items with the most votes rise to the top of the list, and those with the least sink to the bottom. If you're familiar with social news destinations like Digg or Reddit, you will already have some experience of how this works in practice. If you want to tap into your readers knowledge or interest, or to gather data on which parts of your website they enjoy most for instance, this is a great approach.
While this works for some lists it might not be suited to others, and Listphile lets you create more strategically organized lists if you prefer to. If you have a particular sequence in mind, or prefer your list to be updated according to chronology, for instance, a vote based system might not suit you.
Beyond this most basic layer of interactivity you can also determine who will be able to contribute to the content of your list - whether you make it a list that you author yourself, require moderator approval before people can make edits, or just leave it totally open for anyone to make changes to.
There are plenty of different types of list to choose from, and if you aren't interested in customizing your list to your own specifications these out-of-the-box solutions make it easy for you to get up and running straight away. The options available are:
- Simple text and image lists - which are great for a minimal list detailing, for instance, useful websites or favorite gadgets
- Atlases - which makes it easy to edit your own Google Map, adding useful markers that point to longer descriptions and even images
- Text lists - which are simplest variety, and useful for putting together, for instance, a list of documents or journal articles that don't have much in the way of a visual dimension
- Numbered lists - which are great for creating a top-ten style selection
- Image galleries - which highlight a display of thumbnail images rather than focusing on the textual meta-data
- Lists of people - which has all of the basic parameters you might need to collect celebrity information, or a list of people in your organization
- Lists with embedded video - which are a useful way of adding or foregrounding video content, such as movie clips or tutorials
- Custom lists - while you can customize any of the above lists, if you want to build your own structure without using one of the default templates, you can start from scratch using the custom list option
If you decide to go for one of the default templates you can then get started almost straight away. However, should you prefer to customize the data fields in your list it's possible to do so right after you make a few more choices.
I was pleased to see, for instance, the inclusion of a licensing section, so that you can assign a Creative Commons license to your list, letting visitors know about their sharing and republishing rights.
You can also choose to add tags to your list, to make it easier to find, and choose from a variety of notification and sharing settings. These include the ability to choose whether your list visitors can subscribe to an RSS feed of the list for instant updates of new content, add comments as they might at the end of a blog post, or embed the list in their own website.
In short Listphile gives you a very nice degree of granular control over how your list is used, accessed and shared by others without taking a great deal of time to get up and running.
In the following video from the Listphile website you can get a good idea of the process, by means of a four-minute walk through of creating a list:
While creating a list can be as simple as choosing one of the default templates, Listphile makes it very easy to customize these skeletal outlines, or to create your own from scratch.
It's really as simple as choosing from a list of possible fields - prices, radio buttons, drop down menus, text input boxes, video uploading, a Google Maps module, and many more - to create the exact blend that you think that your particular list requires.
This pick and mix approach is very intuitive, and gives you a lot of control over how you arrange your list, and the type of input you ask for from your users, without needing any mastery of programming or design, which is great news for people like me.
Then, with the type of input you want to gather selected, you just have to fill in the text prompts as appropriate. Each field comes served with its own default text, but you can change these labels to suit your needs. So if you're using the "price" data field, for instance, you could have it read "price of an average meal", set up another to read "average lunch price", and so on, creating your own custom series of queries for your users to provide feedback for.
You can also easily choose which order your fields are placed on-screen, so if you want your video up top, and your text queries down below, or vice versa, this is easily achieved by simply changing their position in the simple list customization editor.
After you've turned your creation loose, users can add to your content at any time - presuming you have allowed this - by simply clicking on a prominently displayed "add to list" tab. At this point, they will be taken to a blank page displaying the list fields that you have created, and can set about uploading their images, adding their information, dropping in relevant photos, or whatever it is you have decided they should be able to do.
I find this experience far less daunting than the empty white-page of a wiki, or worse, going in and changing someone else's text in a wiki document. With Listphile users can contribute to a project without treading on one another's toes, and adding content is as simple as responding to a series of prompts, rather than having to think something up from scratch.
In the following clip from the Listphile website, you can get a clearer idea of the database and list concept, and just how easy it is to put together your own list:
One really effective possible use of Listphile is the creation of a niche-targeted, interactive atlas. Listphile uses a great Google Maps mash up that allows you to place a pin anywhere on the world map, using either graphical or satellite photo views, and then assign data to that pin.
You could, for example, mark out great cafes in your neighborhood, and attach photos, menus, even video to each place on the map. This creates a really effective way for people to search for and locate exactly what they're looking for in a geographically localized way.
Any user can then add data by simply dragging-and-dropping the pin to their chosen location and filling in the forms, check-boxes and upload features that you have provided.
The possibilities here for open travel guides and more locally targeted projects are vast, and Listphile has done a great job of making editing your own customized atlas very simple, where before assigning this amount of customized data to a map required significant technical skill.
Listphile databases can be viewed in one of three ways, the list format, the atlas format and also a nicely laid out thumbnail gallery format.
If your particular database is focused more on a visual theme - be it company logos, celebrity mugshots or baseball cards - the thumbnail view is a great way to present it to the world. You can select which view will be default when you set your list up, and selecting the image-gallery template will ensure that the gallery is the first thing that your users see.
In this gallery view the images that have been uploaded to your database are laid out in an attractive, well-proportioned grid, which makes browsing a lot easier. Clicking through to one or other images takes you to a new page, with the appropriate full-sized image alongside any other information you have assigned to it.
In short Listphile seems to have a very flexible interface that takes into account that projects will take a variety of forms, and place a different emphasis on which parts of the database content are of most importance.
Exporting and Embedding
Making use of an RSS feed for your list is a great way of ensuring that your readers can keep abreast of the latest additions and developments made without having to repeatedly visit the Listphile website to check. You can choose to activate or deactivate the RSS feed for your list when you create it, and can also later makes changes from your Listphile dashboard.
As well as being able to subscribe to your list feed, users can also choose to embed a copy of the list into their own website, if you have turned on this function in the settings. This means that you can have a number of users working on the same database without ever having to directly visit the Listphile website.
At the moment, however, this embedding takes place through the somewhat inflexible IFrame format. IFrames essentially allow you to place a window displaying a second website directly into your blog.
Unfortunately the IFrame approach is rather limited, and leaves you as the user with no control over how the data appears on your website, including the size that it is displayed at. While this isn't completely useless, I am looking forward to the promised changes in this department. Exporting data through the use of web widgets would seem to be a smarter strategy.
Listphile As Destination
While the embedding features currently leave a little to be desired, the Listphile website itself makes for a very useful directory of community-authored projects. Even if you aren't considering creating your own list or database, you may very well find existing projects that you'd like to contribute to.
What's great about the Listphile directory is the vast number of ways that you can search for interesting content. Lists of current projects are organized in the following ways, each with its own RSS feed should you wish to keep an eye out from your feed reader:
- Category - Listphile has a good list of categories that you are asked to assign to your list as you create it, so this is a useful means of targeting projects of interest
- Featured lists - are those that have been selected by the Listphile team as particularly stand-out offerings. There are some great examples as to how you can really get the best out of the service here
- Most popular lists - which presumably rely on site traffic as a metric and give you an idea of what's hot in the Listphile community
- Top tags - which gives you another means to search for relevant content, by means of the most popularly assigned user-generated tags
- And a good many more including the biggest lists, newest lists, most active lists, newest items, most contributors, and newest commenters
If you're ever stuck as to what to take a look at, this plethora of inroads to the Listphile content provides you plentiful opportunities to dig out something of interest. Also, by using a variety of metrics, it makes sure that even newer lists can gain front page exposure, rather than just placing an emphasis on established projects. This makes for a good way of getting your fledgling lists seen by as many people as possible.
Use Case Scenarios
By now you may already have a good idea as to how you might be able to put Listphile to use as part of your own web publishing enterprise, or as a means to explore your personal interests with like-minded people.
There are already a really great selection of niche-subject databases up and running on the Listphile website, from the excellent Open Surf Atlas - a collection of worldwide great surf spots, with an interactive map, video, photos and stats - and a designer friendly Fortune 500 Logo collection.
If you're still not sure about how you could put Listphile to use, you might get some ideas by checking out this third video from the Listphile website:
Photo credit: Ever
Listphile provides non-technical, everyday users the chance to create, publish and syndicate powerful lists, databases, image galleries and interactive, personalized atlases in a matter of minutes using a simple browser-based application.
Without any programming or design skills you can quickly get up and running in creating top-lists, travel-guides, reference resources and just about anything else you can put into a database and media-sharing format. Listphile makes it really easy to create forms and media upload facilities for you and your collaborators to make impressive, useful online reference communities.
While the current embedding features of the tool leave something to be desired, it is indeed possible to take your community-powered lists and publish them directly within your own blog or website. Further to this capability, the Listphile website itself makes for a very easy-to-navigate destination, and provides an excellent directory of projects that have been created using the tool.
If you want to combine the open-ended free-for-all editing of wikis with the structured information of databases, Listphile provides you with a great, free platform to do so from.
I can personally see a vast range of applications for this tool, and will look forward to seeing the imaginative uses that the growing Listphile community finds for this highly flexible, easy-to-use web application.
Whether you want to find new ways of directly engaging - and engaging with - your site visitors, a means to gather valuable niche-topic data, or just your own focused version of Digg, Listphile comes up with the goods and is well worth checking out.
If you'd like to learn more about Listphile, you might like to check out the following links:
- A series of Listphile video demos
- Listphile: Lists On Speed - from TechCrunch
- Listphile Delivers Lists 2.0 from Fabric of Folly
- Listphile - Don't Let The Name Fool You - a Demogirl screencast
- Listphile - Collaborative List Directory from Mashable
Originally written by Michael Pick for Master New Media and titled "Database Publishing 2.0: Create Online Databases, Social Lists And Custom Interactive Atlases With Listphile"
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