The Road to Knowledge

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The Road to Knowledge

A recently published story on the Washington Post’s website called “Why the Islamic State leaves tech companies torn between free speech and security” ( is speckled with highlighted and underlined words and phrases. Click on one of those words and a sidebar appears next to the story’s text. The sidebar explains in greater detail the underlined word or phrase, giving more context to the story that might otherwise clutter the article and it offers links to other related stories.

This is the Post’s new Knowledge Map feature which allows readers a simpler way to gain context and additional information on a complex story or topic—all without leaving the page.

“Why the Islamic State…” is the first story to receive the Knowledge Map treatment and is a part of the Post’s series “Confronting the Caliphate.”

Director of digital strategy Sarah Sampsel said the Post chose this story to test out the Knowledge Map because they wanted a story with interconnected themes and storylines, one that required an understanding of the topic where readers might be on different pages.

But before the story went live, Sampsel said it took them three weeks to create the Knowledge Map. They didn’t initially have the right tools to create the map, Sam Han, PhD., engineering director for data science at the Post said, because there hadn’t been anything like the Knowledge Map before. In addition to creating the right tools, the team had to gather the additional information for the sidebar.

Afterward, Sampsel said they tested the map with a focus group that “appreciated the background and they were surprised the links didn’t go to different pages.”

By not linking the information to another page and keeping it to the side, the Knowledge Map creates easy to read bite sized information that would otherwise need to be added into the story.

Through this first experiment with the Knowledge Map, Sampsel said they’ve been able to collect user data including which “triggers”—the underlined words and phrases—readers are clicking on and engagement time, giving them greater insight into what readers want.

The feature also opens up a potential revenue stream for the Post. “By having better engagement, we get better advertisers,” said Han.
However, Sampsel said they aren’t focused on creating revenue with the new feature yet. For now, they’re working on a second Knowledge Map story that will be released later this fall.

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