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July 16, 2015, 2:33 p.m.
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LINK: www.washingtonpost.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Shan Wang   |   July 16, 2015

How the Islamic State is leaving tech companies torn between free speech and security is a labyrinthine topic. To fully understand it, readers should probably already have a good grasp on the spread of the Islamic State on social media, past acts of terror such as the 2013 Westgate Shopping Mall attack in Nairobi or the shooting at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, and even just how social media works.

Today’s 8,000-word-plus story on the subject, part of The Washington Post’s “Confronting the Caliphate” series, comes with the background knowledge and context right in the story itself:

caliphate-context-screenshot

The feature, which the Post calls a Knowledge Map, appears as highlighted links and buttons within the story, allowing readers to click on and then read a brief overview of relevant topics like “Anti-Islamic State activism” or “James Foley.”

“We wanted to experiment with providing background information as a user reads a story to help bring context to a complicated topic, and we designed Knowledge Map to work in a way that would not interrupt the reading experience,” the Post’s director of digital strategy Sarah Sampsel said in a press release. “Knowledge Map makes reading the news a more personalized experience, giving readers access to additional information as they need or want it.”

Screenshot knowledge map on mobileThe feature works on mobile, too: click on a highlighted link, and a window opens within the page that a reader can then exit out of without leaving the story page.

For now, Knowledge Map is still a small-scale test, appearing only on this one story. But the Post eventually hopes to apply data mining to personalize the reading experience further for its readers.

“This iteration sets us up to use data mining techniques to identify and surface contextual content for our readers,” the Post’s engineering director for data science Sam Han said in its announcement about Knowledge Map today. “Our ultimate goal is to mine big data to surface highly personalized and contextual data for both journalistic and native content.”

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