What is Data Docs?

What if web videos were still linear stories, but they knew about the outside world on the rest of the web and reacted to it?  What if they could build themselves based on where or who you are?  We’re making a web video platform that talks to the rest of the web and keeps it simple for you. And we’re simultaneously acting as our platform’s first client, making a series for that platform that explains the data that impacts our lives.

Data Docs is a series of embeddable interactive video narratives, designed to render seamlessly on desktop and mobile (tablet and smartphone) devices. By extending the popular Popcorn.js library via our salt plugin, Data Docs offers a mechanism for integrating both static and interactive JavaScript elements – from text to data-driven charts and graphs – into the timeline of a web-based video. Additional plugins and source files support custom video controls, full-screen support, and device detection. All of these features rely on standards-compliant, open technologies, such as HTML, CSS3, Javascript and jQuery, and will be shared using common resources like GitHub.

Data Docs also offers documentation and interfaces to the data feeds we use in our own episodes, through blog posts, custom charting scripts and interfaces to popular visualization libraries. By making materials based on the data we use available independently, Data Docs seeks to increase the reach of these data sources and provide enhanced storytelling capabilities to anyone who wishes to use our platform, whether to create video or graphical content.

Data Docs grew out of the first POV Hackathon in August 2012, which challenged participants to imagine new forms of documentary for the web. After many months as a side project, continued development of Data Docs as an open-source platform was made possible by a generous grant from the Knight Foundation’s Prototype Fund in June 2013.

Work With Us!

The Data Docs project was conceived and proceeds in the open-source spirit: we want to increase not just the accessibility of the data we build our episodes around, but also of the technology that drives them. We are eager to work with both news organizations and individuals who are interested in co-producing content, whether you’re interested in having us produce a complete Data Doc on your behalf, or are looking for help in creating one of your own. To reach us with questions, comments, suggestions or proposals, just email us at team@datadocs.org.



Still from our Demo
Click for our in-progress prototype, called “Understanding Unemployment,” showing how we hope to tell the story with Data Docs, an interactive, immersive web video platform that combines the power of documentary storytelling with the informational resources of the internet. (Please view in Chrome or Firefox).


The technology

Data Docs integrates and extends several existing web technologies:

• Popcorn.js provides the fundamental methods for controlling HTML5 video. Data Docs implements a handful of plugins to Popcorn.js so that it supports full screen mode, custom controls, and showing and hiding any html div container on the page. Links to the finished plugins will appear here as development progresses.

• The API of the Federal Reserve, known as FRED. FRED provides access to thousands of economic measures and indicators. Data Docs provides a charting interface facets of the FRED database.



• Code refactoring and plugin development: extracting and submitting div visibility, cross-browser full-screen support, and custom player controls as official Popcorn.js plugins

• Developing FRED API resilience: working with the development team at the Federal Reserve to effectively handle data publishing/revision schedule for API data

• Supporting linked custom text/media: adding an optional URL field to divs and custom-alphabet text fields

• Testing mobile



Susan E. McGregor Code

Susan E. McGregor is the Assistant Director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School and a member of the full-time faculty. Her research interests include education, data standards and accessibility, and digital security and privacy issues. Prior to joining Columbia, she was the Senior Programmer on the Online News Graphics team at the Wall Street Journal.

A co-creator of Data Docs, Susan is responsible for the main technical development of the platform: writing and refactoring the code base, generating documentation, and working with data providers to develop sustainable access to APIs. She also brings additional expertise on information and graphic design, as well as strong connections to the professional journalism and academic communities.

Lam Thuy Vo Report

Lam Thuy Vo is the main reporter, editor and videographer for Data Docs. An experienced reporter and producer, her task is finding characters, data sets and experts that can speak to both the relevancy of data to people in their everyday life and their implications in a larger context. She has done multi-platform reporting for the Wall Street Journal, Planet Money, and recently joined Al Jazeera as an interactive editor leading a team other journalists. Her work has earned accolades from Webby Awards, the Society of American Business Editors and Writers and the Overseas Press Club.

Joe Posner Direct

Joe is the main director and designer / animator of the Data Docs series.The interdisciplinary nature of the project provides a perfect match for his work in design, animation for documentary, music, direction and interviewing. He previously created and directed a series of animated political video essays called “Op-Video”, which appeared at Newsweek & The Daily Beast from 2011-2012. The series was recently named a nominee for a National Magazine Award. He’s also directed short commissioned videos for APM’s Marketplace, Brown University, and contributed animation, design & research to feature documentary films including Freakonomics (2010), If A Tree Falls (2011), and The House I Live In (2012).


Data Docs: The Open-Source Overview

December 4th, 2013 | General | Susan McGregor | No Comments

Thanks to lots of positive feedback and generous support from the Knight Foundation, what began more than a year ago as a very rough prototype of an interactive, data-driven web series has finally been refactored into the first components of a fully-fledged web platform that allows filmmakers, developers, journalists and storytellers of all kinds to […]

FRED’s new (data-format) friend, JSON

August 27th, 2013 | General | Susan McGregor | 2 Comments

It’s probably clear by now that we here at Data Docs have a lot of love for AL/FRED, the vast web- and API-accessible economic data repository run by the St. Louis Fed. It is fair to say, though, that we never loved all parts of AL/FRED equally; while the thoroughness, timeliness, and accuracy of its […]

Getting to know FRED: Insight into the Federal Reserve’s economic data API

July 18th, 2013 | General | Susan McGregor | 2 Comments

I was first introduced to FRED sometime in 2007, shortly after joining WSJ.com as Senior Programmer on the News Graphics team. My first projects in that role were designed, in part, to demonstrate the scope and efficiency that data technologies could bring to our work. Though we succeeded in publishing more comprehensive, explorable pieces, many […]

The salt plugin for Popcorn: how it works

July 1st, 2013 | General | Susan McGregor | No Comments

The salt plugin for Popcorn.js is the backbone of the DataDocs platform. Put simply, salt allows you to control the visibility of HTML divs on a page according to the timestamp of your video. Though all the code you need is on the github page, this post will offer a quick conceptual overview of what […]

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