The NewsThings research project is all about harnessing the Internet of Things (IoT) to improve how news content is found, created and delivered to audiences.
NewsThings is a collaborative project involving the Media Innovation Studio at the University of Central Lancashire, Trinity Mirror Regionals and the innovation consultancy Thomas Buchanan. It is one of 124 projects that has received funding of the Europe-wide Google Digital News Initiative in 2017.
Through this close collaboration between academics, designers and journalists, the NewsThings team create prototypes that test, challenge and explore what connected media objects could be and how people may interact with them. Users are at the centre of the innovation process, which spans objects in homes and public spaces as well as IoT infrastructure, data usage and commercial opportunities.
NewsThings explores this world of connected and smart objects and how they can tell compelling, meaningful stories that truly resonate with people.
The project is particularly exciting as each of the collaborators has been working on innovation projects within journalism and IoT for a number of years, for example Liverpool Echo’s Super 8 supplement and the design of interactive newsprint. To bring this shared history and experience together within NewsThings opens up a number of possibilities.
Workshops and cultural probes
“To kick the project off, the team ran a number of workshops in Bristol and Manchester. These were with Bristol Post and Manchester Evening News readers, and were designed to establish a deeper understanding of readers’ news consumptions habits and preferences”, explains John Mills, researcher at the Media Innovation Studio.
“The team took the widest definition of news possible, and spoke and about how people gather information from a range of sources.”
Cultural probes – a method that allowed the researcher to gain rich user insights – were deployed in Bristol and Manchester by Thomas Buchanan and the Media Innovation Studio to better understand how people consume news.
Over five days, participants logged how and where they consumed news and – using emojis – how the news made them feel. They also made their own newspaper and flipped a coin to decide whether to buy a newspaper they loved or one they loathed.
The themes of wellbeing, context, routine and quality (of news and experience) are currently being further explored within the context of the IoT.
The team ran a workshop at the Manchester Evening News with Trinity Mirror staff to get a more in-depth understanding of the challenges and opportunities an internet-connected news thing could tap into. Participants from editorial, audience data, and intelligence and marketing worked together to identify key areas to which the research team could respond.
This is a key example of data being generated to feed into the ideation and build of different elements of the project. It is this combination of insights from users, the industry and researchers that adds significant value to the project.
Our research shows that audiences find online news reading distracting, and that they read physical news more deeply. PrinterThing allows people to read a personalised, printed newspaper at a time that is convenient for them. It uses a Pocket app, newspaper design layout and an IoT printer to print out a newspaper full of information tailored to the individual. The research further explores how the physical form of news impacts on the wellbeing of the reader, how delayed reading impacts on how we read the news, and the shareability of physical news.
Designed as a newsroom tool, ConeThing simply displays a headline that has been posted to Facebook. The object then tilts left or right depending on the emotional response of the readers, which is established by running a semantic analysis on the comments that appear underneath. This prototype explores how journalists use a single-function IoT object that provides unique feedback via an ‘ambient’ or ‘glanceable’ way.
A large proportion of user feedback from our workshops centred around positive news stories and personalisation: readers wanted to hear good-news editorial and choose the topics that were most relevant to them. RadioThing explores this concept. Thanks to both text-to-speech software and semantic analysis, its users can choose to hear output from a wide range of publishers and can also decide whether or not to receive positive, negative or neutral stories.
Outputs and dissemination
Researcher John Mills explains that the project is gaining traction with academic and industry circles: “We’ve been fortunate to have been able to talk about the project to a wide range of audiences. These include the World News Media Congress in Durban in 2017, and the news:rewired conference in London. We’re also looking forward to sharing our work at Google’s annual DNI event in Amsterdam, and presenting a work in progress paper at the TEI conference in Stockholm.”
To find out more about this project and new developments, head to the Media Innovation Studio site.