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Nieman Journalism Lab
Pushing to the future of journalism — A project of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard

The Wall Street Journal ran a review of a 3D printer, the MakerBot Replicator Mini, yesterday. Nothing too unusual there, at least for 2014. But the paper went a few steps beyond the norm in presenting it.

First, it made a two-minute explainer video. De rigueur at this point.

Then it used a 3D modeler to create a three-dimensional bar chart showing the growth in 3D printer sales:

wsj-3d-printer

…and turned that into a set of actual physical objects with the 3D printer:

…and uploaded the model of the 3D chart to MakerBot’s Thingiverse, so others with 3D printers could download and make their own version of the physical object:

wsj-3d-printer-model

and used the app Augment to embed an augmented-reality version of the bar chart in the print newspaper, viewable as if it were in real space through your smartphone:

(I tested it out on my iPhone — crashed the app a couple times, and took a looooong time to find the image, but it did work.)

wsj-3d-printer-augmented-reality

It’s hard to file all this in any category other than “gimmick” at this point. And for all the labor that went into it, I’m sure a data-visualization critic would tell you that a simple 2D bar chart — or a half-dozen other formats — would communicate the chart’s actual information better than a News Corp Princess Leia. Still, it’s always good to see a traditional media company trying out new ways of optimizing the presentation of a story and of reaching out to new audiences.

— Joshua Benton
                                   
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