Times Builds 'Jargonator' to Help Readers Decipher Wikileaks Documents

Among the Wikileaks-related things we saw people talking about on Twitter this morning were the New York Times’s glossary rollovers. Anyone who’s spent any time slogging through military documents knows they’re a sludge of jargon and acronyms. Take this sentence for example: “(SECRET//REL TO USA, ISAF, NATO) AAF MOVE BLUE JINGLE TRUCK VBIED TO SAROBI DISTRICT.” What in the good gracious does that mean?

Apparently the Times Interactive News Technologies team also realized that the two dozen or so documents they were unleashing on their Web site weren’t going to have much impact if their readers couldn’t make head or tails of them. So they quickly developed a nifty roll-over tool, which internally they dubbed “the jargonator.”

As Times INT editor Aron Pilhofer tells us:

It was [journalist-programmer] Alan McLean’s idea. Those documents are virtually inpenetrable for the average reader. In thinking of ways to make them more accessible, Alan thought about highlighting the key pieces of text that needed some explanation and then have a little popup, so as you read through you can roll over a word, and it’ll pop up a definition. It’s there if you need it, but it doesn’t get in your way at all.

Granted, creating a rollover is not rocket science. But it’s also not every day that you see news organizations going the extra mile to add usability to their online content. The Guardian, for example, went old school and simply compiled a conventional glossary. (On the other hand, they did make a spreadsheet of key incidents available for download, which is also kinda cool.)