Screencapture of the layout of NiemanLab's "What We're Reading" page featuring 10 articles with bold linked headlines, a story summary, the name of the outlet, writer, and publication date.

The Nieman Lab has an awesome and invaluable “Reading Page”

Usually I’m reading their content via a feed reader, but last night I visited their actual site and I noticed that the Nieman Lab has a reading page!

Since they’re unlikely to report on the mechanics of some of their own website and journalistic output, I’ll take a moment to highlight it on their behalf.

Reading pages or Linkblogs

Traditionally known as linkblogs back in the old blogosphere days, this sort of web pattern is probably better and more specifically called a “reading page” now. (Even Nieman titles the page “What We’re Reading” and uses /reading/ in the URL path to the page itself.) Many people still maintain linkblogs or bookmark pages (often on social silos like Pinboard, Pinterest, Twitter, Pocket, Instapaper, et al.), but generally the semantic name there implies articles or pages that were found to be of general interest or that one wanted to keep to read or consume later. On today’s more advanced web, there’s actually more value in naming it a reading page as it indicates a more proactive interest in the bookmarked content–namely having spent the time, effort, and energy to have actually read the thing being bookmarked. This additional indication of having more skin in the game provides a lot of additional value of a read post over a simpler bookmark post in my mind. It’s also part of the reason my website sends and receives read-specific webmentions.

This pattern of providing links of read material is pretty cool for a variety of reasons.

Discovery

First, if you’re following and reading the Nieman Lab, you’re very likely going to be interested in many of the things that they’re reading, researching, and covering. By providing a reading page they’re giving their readers a trove of useful data to discover articles and material in similar and tangential spaces that the lab may not be able to actively cover or engage in at the time. 

Context

By knowing what the Lab is reading, you’re provided with a broader perspective of the things they’re actively interested in. By reading those things yourself, you’ll have increased context into what they’re doing, what those areas look like, and what they are adding to the conversation in their research and work.

Added value to their site

Linkblogging has long been a thing, and, in part, is what a large number of Twitter users are typically doing. In Nieman Lab’s case, they’re just doing it on their own website, which adds tremendous value to it. By smartly hosting it on their own site they’re also guarding against the built value of their read archive disappearing if they were hosted on a social silo (remember Delicious? CiteULike?). Also by keeping it on their site, it has more long-tail value than if it were to all disappear into the new-content-wins attention machine that Twitter has become.

Of course I’d personally find it a lot more beneficial if they provided or advertised a linkblog feed for their reading page. Sadly they don’t. However, if you’re as interested as I am, you’ll dig under the hood a bit to discover that Nieman Lab’s site is built on WordPress and they’re using that page likely with a category, tag, or other taxonomy. So with a short bit of intuitive guessing about how WordPress is structured, we happily discover there is a feed of their reads at https://www.niemanlab.org/reading/feed/. (I suspect this feed exists as a design choice by WordPress than by the design or will of the Nieman Lab.) If you prefer a faster, one button subscribe option:

If Nieman would like their own universal follow button like this, take a peek at what SubToMe has to offer on this front.

Value to research

By accumulating a trove of links and summaries, which they’re hopefully keeping, they’re creating a huge relevant database for future research on the topics in which they have interest. The small pieces that may not make sense today may potentially be woven into future narratives and pieces of research later, but this sort of thing is vastly harder to do without reading and making note of it. In a sense, they’re creating a corporate or research lab-based commonplace book for their own use.

Other Examples

While I’ve seen many people (generally individuals and not magazines, companies, or other bigger outlets) regularly publish newsletters or weekly posts on what they’ve found on the web that is interesting, I haven’t seen as many who publish specific pages or archives of what they’re reading. Even fewer provide RSS or other feeds of this content.

The IndieWeb wiki read page has some useful and interesting examples of this behavior, but they’re almost all individuals. 

One other example I can think of in the journalism space, mostly because it’s getting to that end-of-the-year recap time is Bloomberg’s Jealousy List, which this year incidentally has some fun little drolleries that move as you scroll the page. This subset of reading lists is interesting as a group of articles Bloomberg wished they’d written and published themselves. This may indicate that they’re keeping a reading list internally, but just not publishing it regularly like Nieman is.

I can’t help thinking if Nieman Lab’s OpenFuego bot is a part of their workflow in creating their reading page as well?

And finally, since I also have a similar behavior, I’ll mention that you can find my reads on my reading page (sometimes with commentary) or follow it all via RSS if you like.

Are you aware of other people or organizations publishing lists of what they’re actively reading online? Do they provide feeds? How can we make this feature more prevalent on the open web?

Published by

Chris Aldrich

I'm a biomedical and electrical engineer with interests in information theory, complexity, evolution, genetics, signal processing, theoretical mathematics, and big history. I'm also a talent manager-producer-publisher in the entertainment industry with expertise in representation, distribution, finance, production, content delivery, and new media.

11 thoughts on “The Nieman Lab has an awesome and invaluable “Reading Page””

  1. @macgenie Thanks for the note. I had the same issue myself, especially on my desktop browser. It looked better on mobile. I reduced the resolution a bit to make it appear more like a screenshot, but I’m still debating moving it into the body to make it look more like an example.

  2. Hi. Thanks for the post. Does anyone know what plugin is made with what we’re reading? In the source code I see two that can be: CurateWP and Argos Link but I couldn’t figure it out

    1. Lewis, thanks for asking. I’d meant to dig into this very question myself and had found the same two plugins hiding in the source that you had. Argo links looks like an older project that may not be maintained anymore while the newer CurateWP is a paid plugin.

      I’ll ping them and see what sort of response we get about how they’re collecting and presenting them. My reading page is built using David Shanske‘s excellent Post Kinds plugin. I suspect if Nieman is paying a larger fee, they may prefer to do a custom template for a reading page and use something for free.

      While I’m thinking about it David may appreciate the structure and functionality of these as I know he’s been thinking about something to replace bookmark related functionality, though I think he has something much more comprehensive in mind.

      Argo:
      * https://github.com/argoproject/argo-links
      * http://argoproject.org/argo-links.php.html
      * https://argo-links.readthedocs.io/en/develop/

      CurateWP: https://curatewp.com/

      1. Great sleuthing! I am the creator of CurateWP and just saw this thread. Although Nieman Lab is using CurateWP on the website, it’s not currently being used to create this page.

        I saw within the code references to “wwr-” and through my own searching I could not find a related plugin. It could be a custom plugin they created for themselves.

        Regardless, I appreciate the mention! Reading how valuable this kind of page is fuels ideas that I can bring into CurateWP. I’m currently working on a new major release that focuses on the new block editor.

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