Newscast: a novel interface for delivering news

Orkan Telhan MIT Media Labs 20 Ames St. Cambridge, MA 02139 USA Elysa Wan MIT 77 Massachusetts Ave Cambridge, MA 02139 USA James Teng MIT Media Labs 20 Ames St. Cambridge, MA 02139 USA Andres Monroy-Hernandez MIT Media Labs 20 Ames St. Cambridge, MA 02139 USA


This paper describes an interface design which investigates an alternative model for interaction with news through a physical interface. We introduce the metaphor of dripping water which corresponds to flow of information and discuss its affordances in a new kind of public/private display. We believe that the newscast addresses a different paradigm for perceiving everyday news unlike more traditional sources of information (E.g. newspaper, TV, RSS feeds) integrating their features as a customizable news aggregator that can be in your living room.

purpose device with rich interactivity like a personal computer requires a high level of attention from the user. While each news medium introduces its own model of interaction and set of affordances, both traditional and modern interfaces are attention intensive, making news navigation an isolated and entirely foreground activity. Ongoing research addresses the challenge of seamlessly integrating of information with everyday life. Additionally, as media technology designers, we are acutely aware that the interface design has a significant effect on the way users perceive news. Our approach integrates news into daily life in both its physical form and its interface architecture. The newscast is a table, with an embedded pool of water where news items are. Each news items is represented by an individual “news droplet.” A news droplet is both physical water droplets and a digital image of news item. When a news droplet “falls” a water droplet falls and creates ripples on the water surface; at the same time a photograph or headline from the news item is projected on the same location. The content of the news is manipulated by a set of knobs or faucets which allows the user to control of the source of information (e.g. CNN, BBC) or the news genre (e.g. as politics, technology, fashion). Each faucet allows the user to control the amount and flow of news from its specific news feed. Inspired by the intuitive gesture of catching water, newscast let its user to capture more detailed information about a specific news droplet (either by hand or a cup). Once a droplet is caught, a more detailed version of the particular news item is displayed on the table. The visualization of the news droplet is a key to our approach for creating an alternative perception for the news information. Provided that each news droplet has two levels of interaction, the user can choose the level attention he/she ones to put into the content. News can either be presented as a slideshow of headlines or images, resembling the metaphor of ticker heavily utilized in recent TV based news layout or a special page that is

Ubiquitous computing, ambient media, tangible interfaces.

The delivery of news information has a rich history which has constantly been shaped by the latest advances in information technology. Television, radio and printed materials are perhaps still the most popular way of delivering news. When using these mediums, the end user is typically a passive consumer of information, allowing the editors to control which sources, genres and specific news items are presented. On the other hand, the physicalities of these media create many usage implications. Time and print limitations constrains the amount of content which can be presented. Also, the physical presence of traditional news media creates a unique context as a single-purpose object with an exclusive function. Since the advent of the Internet, news web sites have given users more breadth and control over their news consumption. Additionally, the recent popularity of technologies such as the Really Simple Syndication (RSS) and Atom, have sparked the creation of software applications known as news aggregators. These applications allow users to combine content from different sources and create a “personal newspaper” [1]. While this creates organization in a sea of information, using a multi-

dedicated to that individual news item, providing more text and images. Once retrieved from an RSS feed, now the news droplet has a life of its own as an isolated news entry. In our visualizations, one of the main challenges is to design an interface that does not overpower the content of the news by aestheticizing or trivializing it. In the same vein, we believe that we benefit from the metaphor of water both as an interaction scheme, as well as a natural source of inspiration for the association between the flow and aggregation of news as water like behavior. We see the “newscast” as an alternative and novel interface that brings the functionalities of a news aggregator to the physical world while eliminating the continuous high level of attention necessary with a computer. By framing the newscast as a piece of furniture it integrates news information into the natural social environment (e.g. a living room, a town square, etc). This amalgamates the features of a conventional TV display, interactive web pages and customizable RSS feeds as information resources. While tailoring this hybrid technology which benefits from existing media, we incorporate the added benefit more from a gestural interface that doesn’t require external input devices.

droplet and catches a drop of water. Then the full length article is displayed on the table along with a function which sends an e-mail to remind Sarah of the article later. If Sarah “misses” an interesting news droplet she can use a slider which scrolls through previous droplets, once she releases the slider the newscast goes back to its normal state.

Projects like the Newsmap by Marcos Weskamp [2] and My.UserLand.Com, the first news aggregator, developed by Netscape and UserLand [3] familiarized the idea of mixing different news items from varied sources or categories into a single digital environment. Discussions of the convergence between television and the Internet had already been going on since the early 1990’s [4], while nowadays the concept of TV on-demand is already a commercial reality. The newscast interaction model is inspired by the SenseTable [5] developed at MIT Media Laboratory, which provides us a framework for the interaction mechanism by s based on information projected onto a table. Using water and other natural media has been present in the history of tangible interfaces, in the MIT Media Laboratory’s WaterLamp project the mapping of bits to water ripples was presented for the first time [6] as well as David Small’s Stream of Consciousness project.

When approaching this design space we hoped to create an interface which navigates through news items in an effective, intuitive and calm way. The newscast addresses this need both with its operational method as well as its aesthetic quality. We were inspired by the idea that news is happening all the time, not just when a news program is scheduled on television, or when a person chooses to visit a news webpage. Consequently, news browsing should also be a continuous activity. As such, we choose to navigate through news items with a continuous shuffle of news droplets. This exposes the user to a vast breadth of information without a complex navigational procedure. Because this system presents news constantly, it is essential that the system to do so in a calm and nonintrusive way. For that reason we designed the news droplets to fall at a slow and constant rate, creating a semistatic interface which does not require foreground attention. Meanwhile, the aesthetics of real water create a tranquil and natural display. Our analysis newscast placed the newscast at the center of the attention continuum where ambient objects such as décor, watches and artifacts (e.g. the Ambient Orb [7]) at one extreme and attention-intensive device like such as the personal computer, television and newspapers on the other end. This unique position provides users with the desired a constant, yet non-invasive awareness of news information.

The newscast is well-suited in either a public or private environment, the following user scenario is relevant in either setting. A user, Sarah, approaches the news cast and watches the images and ripples as news droplets fall continuously on the table. She customizes the content displayed by newscast by adding and removing faucets placed on the side of the table. By turning a faucet, Sarah increases or decreases the number of articles which are displayed in that category or genre. This also affects the rate at which those water droplets fall. When Sarah sees an interesting picture so she places her hand above the news

Fig. 1 This illustrates the continuum of attention required for several interfaces. Our project occupies the intermediary position between ambient and intrusive devices. The integration of news and daily life is highlighted by the physical form of the newscast as a table. In the same respect, this physicality benefits from the tangible manipulative used to control news content and amount of information shown. The controllable faucets were inspired by the common tangible interface of the sink. This

Fig. 2 The setup of our current newscast prototype, with labels corresponding to the table, knobs, projector, camera and nozzles. household appliance allows people to control water from two separate source (hot and cold), and combine them to create the desired result. In the same manner, the faucets on the newscast allow users to control and combine different sources of news to create a personalized mixture of news content. To view the full story of a news droplet, a user must “catch” the news droplet using a cup or his hand. This tangible interface uses the powerful concept of physically capturing information. The newscast utilizes the rich metaphor of water in many ways. Most fundamentally each news item is mapped to a water droplet which combines to create the pond of water on the table. Also constant and natural stream of water is similar to the constant and natural occurrence of news events. More generally, each news feed is a stream of water which the user can control and manipulate. Finally the physical ripples created by the news droplets is similar to the emotive effects a news items has on a user consciousness as well as the actual effects the news even has on the world. Finally, we want to emphasize that this system is not designed to replace other forms of news distribution, but rather to extend provide yet another way to represent information in a non intrusive and aesthetic way.

such as science, entertainment, technology, etc. Turning the knobs change the rate news droplets are displayed. • Projector. A projector is suspended above the table and displays the images and headlines of news onto surface of the table. Camera. The camera points towards the surface of the table and detects the movement of a user when catching a news droplet. Water system. An array of adjustable water valves above the table store and release the water droplets on the surface of the table. Software. An application continuously downloads news items from RSS feeds and sends the text and images to the projector. The system is constantly monitoring the camera and the knobs to detect when the user catches a news droplet and when the knobs are turned on/off to control the types of news projected.

The current model of newscast has the following elements: • • Table. The table made with acrylic has a small reservoir of water embedded in the center. Knobs. The initial implementation has three knobs, each representing a different news genre

a repository of past news items and providing a way to filter or view previous history using a slider or another tangible interface. More generally, we would also like to explore other dynamic designs of the table and news stream. For example, instead of a flat reservoir, news droplets could drop onto a topographical surface which physically creates streams and a structural organization of the water. Also relevant is creating a cyclical relationship between the water on the table and the water falling from the news droplet, similar to the natural water cycle.

The conceptual base of the newscast lies in the intersection of different types of objects and technologies. The system strives to make the best use of the metaphor of water droplets as news items. We compared this system to other similar ways of displaying information, making a clear distinction of where the newscast is positioned. Finally, we believe the use of real water and knobs provides a good interface for news but we are interested in looking at more ways of utilizing this tangible interface.

We thank Professor Hiroshi Ishii and the 2005 Tangible Interfaces class for providing a supportive environment for this project.

Fig. 3 The newscast prototype. Above is a news droplet displayed on the table surface. Below is the detailed version of the selected news droplet.

The most interesting challenge of the system is the utilization of affordances provided by of physical water in relation to digital news. Consequent research would explore the deeper implications of physical water and the way it may be used to represent and manipulate information. One example the size of the droplet’s ripple what information it might provide about the news item (i.e. a more important news item creates a larger ripple). Also we are interested in exploring the idea of the table as

1.Wikipedia entry on news aggregator 2.Marcos Weskamp Newsmap project at 3.UserLand My.UserLand.ComNews Aggregator at 4.Press., L.. The Internet and interactive television. Commun. ACM 36, 12, 19. 5.J Patten, H Ishii, J Hines, G Pangaro. Sensetable: a wireless object tracking platform for tangible user interfaces. CHI 2001 6.A Dahley, C Wisneski, H Ishii. Water Lamp and Pinwheels: Ambient Projection of Digital Information into Architectural Space. Proceedings of CHI '98. 7.Ambient Devices at