Digital Compass: Navigating Through the Online Ocean

Information sharing is by no means a new concept; the idea of public dissemination of news dates back centuries. It was revolutionized by the industrial printing press in the 19th Century, which created the modern day newspaper we see today. This was further revolutionized with the rise of the Internet and more sophisticated communications technologies. Underlying all these evolving mediums, however, is the constant of the journalist: that is what I hope to be. I study journalism and media because they have become intrinsic in today’s society. But I often find myself a bit overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information on the web. As a journalist, how am I supposed to navigate that information?

The rise of the Internet has created a global online database, easily accessible almost anywhere in the world from wireless technologies. The Information Age (or Digital or Computer Age) has emerged since the commercialization of the personal computer in the 1970’s and reached a peak in the early 1990’s with the adoption of the Internet. This Digital Age has resulted in a shift to online transfers of information. This means that we are sharing, creating and communicating more information much faster than ever before. Information is constantly being uploaded and consumed and as a result, breaking news is more readily available. Aside from the obvious advantages to having a 24-hour information network, there are some obstacles now for modern journalists. The Internet has become an ocean of information that is often hard to navigate. As a journalist, being on top of the most up to date events in the world is part of the job description. So how then does a journalist navigate the vastness of the information ocean?

Vsauce has a great video about the Internet that touches on a lot of points I make in my essay. Worth a watch, but focus on 3:00 minutes to about 4:00 minutes to hear Michael explain Tim Berners-Lee’s theory on networks.

The journalist recognizes “that there are no longer canonical sources [of information]” (Miles, 2007), modern news media has evolved into a sprawling hypertextual landscape, complete with various applications for information communication. News mediums are changing, they are now “unrestricted by sequence”; hypertextual (Nelson, 1992). And as these mediums are changing, new journalistic styles are emerging. Despite all this evolution, there is still a constant element in journalism – research. In the times of print research denoted a smaller, more specific aspect of journalism: interviews and events summaries. But with the shift online came more information. There was still a need for research and contextual evidence, but now there is so much more information available and it is mostly online. The journalist needs to be literate in this form of online research.

Journalists hailed the programming code that allowed the interweaving and categorization of information; Tags are a journalist’s best friend. The key aspect to a journalist’s ability to navigate various sources on the Internet is the fact that these different sources (websites and services) are all able to communicate with one another. This is a result of XML and RSS. “XML is a way to standardize the publication of information so that it can be shared, while RSS is a simple syndication system based on XML that allows for the exchange of this information between various services”(Miles, 2007). Essentially information on disparate websites, in separate locations can be shared, linked and transferred to each other, regardless of the Internet service. This is probably one of the most underrated achievements of the recent Internet and it has made not only journalistic life, but also Internet surfing life easier. This achievement facilitated the ability to tag and link pieces of information so that they are categorized and can then be linked to other content of the same tag. Unlike in print networks (libraries or the like), where a keyword has to fit into a predefined and limited selection, online tags can be generated by users and linked out to other similar posts they have found. This can professionally, by the website itself, or by users reading the content and it makes the navigation of this information so much smoother.


The Opte Project creates visualizations of the 14 billion pages that make up the network of the web.

In the map above the red lines represent links between web pages in Asia, green for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, blue for North America, yellow for Latin America and white for unknown IP addresses.


Many thinkers have explored the field of network science – the most popular conclusion to come out of it being the idea of ‘six degrees of separation’. The idea states that every person is only six or fewer step away from any other person in the world – the chain of ‘a friend of a friend’. This concept was explained by Watts (2003) that, because “the world is highly clustered”, people tend to group together in communities of like mindedness. Websites are no different; “they’re organized in an interconnected hierarchy of organizational themes, including region, country and subject area” (Stromberg, 2014). Hungarian physicist Albert-László Barabási (1999) discovered that any of the estimated 1 trillion documents in existence on the Web (over 14 billion pages as well as images, videos and other files) could be navigated to any other, within 19 clicks. The actual theory is much more in depth but the general idea carries over to the concept of tagging and linking. Take (or any news website). At the bottom of an article page is a list of tags that categorize and link that article to similar articles. The comments also act as reader-generated links. This becomes an invaluable tool to the researching journalist.

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The Herald Sun has links within articles to other related articles, as well as links on the side and categories on the bottom of the page that link out to similar and recommended articles.

Or take a broader website like Wikipedia for example (budding journalists please don’t use Wikipedia as a source… I’m only mentioning it for context!). Printed encyclopedias suffer in their medium, being in a printed form makes linking related articles a tedious effort and any new information that would need to be added to the encyclopedia would require an entire reprint. Being an online encyclopedia, Wikipedia is being constantly updated and has a plethora of links to various articles. This allows research to be seamless and integrated.

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Open any Wikipedia article and you will be bombarded with little blue links, these are all links to other articles based on tags, or keywords.

However we have been talking about research using an online database rather than a print one, and publication on an online newspaper rather than a printed broadsheet. But these seem reminiscent of traditional journalistic methods, just upgraded online. What about the new mediums of news transfer that the Internet has provided? How does a journalist react when the information transferred is condensed and shifted into high gear? What happens when millions of bits of information are saturating the media in one targeted website? How can a journalist sift through this ever-growing sea of information? This is what twitter has become: succinct, almost instantaneous journalism.

Social media has emerged as a new forum for journalists, and twitter is its mascot. The ability for a journalist to navigate twitter has become integral to the profession and twitter has become a hub for news. Hashtags have emerged as an extension of the generic tagging concept. While the hashtags has become largely a social tool they are still indispensable to journalists on twitter. Hashtags act as simplistic user-generated sorting function and journalists can use them to sort and disseminate information. They can track trends in hashtags to see which stories are gaining most attention. Hashtags can also be used as a way to find targeted audiences.

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Just a snapshot of some of the astonishing numbers Twitter churns out

Ultimately the Internet has facilitated a paradigm shift in the way we communicate, a shift that has positive and negative aspects. “It is often an informal, loquacious and occasionally garrulous medium that has made strength of the formal qualities of hypertext” (Miles, 2006). Despite this changing media landscape, there is still a need for the journalist. News production and broadcasting has been accelerated and the amount of information available has been greatly expanded. As a journalist I must evolve with the medium and learn to adapt to the growing social medium enterprise. Along with that I must also be able to navigate my way through the deep ocean of information that is the Internet. In that endeavor I am unbelievably grateful for the development of the XML and RSS systems. I have no idea how the coding works, but the ability to tag and link information online is instrumental to the researching journalist.





Cruz, D.J 2014, ‘”Hashtags” – A Quick Look with its Effects to Modern Social Media’, International Business Times, 12 May, viewed 20 October 2014 <>

Editor 2014, ‘Young Australians spend more time speaking to their friends on social media than in person’,, 9 June, viewed 21 October 2014, <>

Hughes, S 2014, ‘15 Twitter Facts and Figures for 2014 You Need to Know’, jeffbullas’, viewed 21 October 2014 <>

Miles, A “Network Literacy: The New Path to Knowledge.” Screen Education Autumn.45 (2007): 24–30.

Miles, A. “Blogs in Media Education: A Beginning” Australian Screen Ed. 41 (2006): 66-9

Mlot, S 2013, “Every Webpage Is Connected by 19 Clicks or Less’, PCMag, 19 February, viewed 18 October 2014, <,2817,2415589,00.asp>

Nelson, T.H, ‘Literary Machines 91.1: The Report On, and Of, Project Xanadu Concerning Word Processing, Electronic Publishing, Hypertext, Thinkertoys, Tomorrow’s Intellectual Revolution, And Certain Other Topics Including Knowledge, Education and Freedom’. Sausalito: Mindful Press, 1992. Print.

Watts, D.J ‘Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age’, London: Vintage, 2003. Print.

Stromberg, J ‘Any Two Pages on the Web Are Connected By 19 Clicks or Less’, Smithsonian, 18 February, viewed 18 October 2014 <>

The Web Is Not The Net 2014, YouTube Video, Vsauce, YouTube, 8 May <>

Wikipedia 2014, Welcome to Wikipedia,, viewed October21 2014, <>