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A Belated Welcome to DataLab

It’s been a few days since we launched FiveThirtyEight, and, with it, DataLab. And we thought it might be worth laying out a welcome mat for this section of the site.

Blogs used to be defined by their ability to provide a diary or journal of the events of the day, usually in reverse chronological order. But the genre has been squeezed by social media on the one hand (why not just tweet it?), and by the mainstream media on the other (why not just call every piece of online content a blog?).

That’s a shame, because we think blogs, especially as they were originally conceived, are pretty cool. You’re reading FiveThirtyEight’s blog.

There are three main ways in which the content on DataLab will differ from that on the rest of the site. Let’s call them the “three Cs’’:

Concise. Some of us (Nate raises hand) have a tendency to go on and on about a subject. But there can also be value in responding quickly and concisely as news develops. DataLab will be a place to provide information (especially when misinformation is permeating) while being honest about the fact that it is a work in progress. Content that falls somewhere between 140 characters and 600 words has fallen out of fashion, but sometimes it represents the best balance between responsiveness and comprehensiveness.

Conversational. DataLab is also the natural place for FiveThirtyEight to discuss data with our readers. You might spot something we didn’t, ask about a trend that isn’t shown, or suggest a different way of presenting the data. Breaking the fourth wall between readers and writers is one of the best things about blogs. While social media and comments sections are helpful, DataLab can be a more interactive and substantive place to talk.

Chronological. In contrast to our feature-length articles, DataLab posts are presented in strict reverse chronology. We’re inspired by Robin Sloan’s metaphor of stock and flow for the different forms that content might take on the Internet. The design of DataLab is simple and mobile-friendly, meant to be an easy-to-use companion providing context for the day’s events. We encourage you to bookmark DataLab’s front page, and we’re curious to see how you’ll interact with it.

None of that means that DataLab has to compromise on quality. All DataLab posts are reviewed in advance by at least one editor (almost always two), and each post should reflect our editorial values. When we’re engaging in a back-of-the-envelope calculation, we’ll tell you as much. Some DataLab posts err on the side of simplicity. But that’s because we recognize that complex arguments take more time to get right.

DataLab will be bite-sized without being half-baked.

Mona Chalabi is data editor at the Guardian US, and a columnist at New York Magazine. She was previously a lead news writer for FiveThirtyEight.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.

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