Review of Literature
Design of Internet Based
News Delivery Systems
By WebPortal Design Corp. 501(C)(3)
[This report presents an overview of emerging
interactive multimedia technologies and how Web Portal Design
Corp introduced the Daily
Republican Newspaper, the first Internet-based news service,
implemented that new technology to deliver news to its customers
on the Internet. The Daily Republican's design principles for
designing interactive multimedia news systems are given that include
factors such as the effective use of navigational aids, design
of menus, presentation styles, and effective use of media. Examples
of effective designs and implementation of multimedia news on
the Internet are also given. The impact and benefits of multimedia
news on society are also discussed with examples. The paper concludes
with some possible designs for future news delivery systems.]
The news industry is currently undergoing major
transformations as a result both of the growing popularity of
the Internet itself 
and of advances in interactive multimedia technologies for the
The types of news sources available on the Internet include newspapers,
news wires, cable television, news magazines, and radio stations
New technologies for the Internet include animations, direct manipulation
of graphical interfaces, and real time on-demand audio and video.
The shift from paper to electronic delivery of
news occurred almost simultaneously with both producers and consumers
of news. The number of Internet users has been debated widely
but current estimates range from 10 million to 22 million Internet
users, and 11 million to 17 million WWW users .
The number of newspapers online has grown from 20 in 1993, to
100 at at the end of 1994, to over 800 at the start of 1996 .
At this rate of growth, there will be 1,500 to 2,000 newspapers
online by the end of 1996. A recent Canadian survey 
of 197 news organizations showed that 38% of them were hooked
to the Internet in 1995, and another 56% were planning to go online
in the next 12 months. Vincent E. Giuliano of the Electronic Publishing
Group has reported that the circulation of newspapers has declined
since 1990, with the newspaper share of advertising slipping from
50% in 1930, to 27.6% in 1980, to 23.6% in 1993 .
During recent years, the electronic services industry has grown
at a rate of 10%.
The amount of information stored on electronic
news repositories is increasing very rapidly. Without an effective
organization of information and design of the user interface,
users will become lost and confused in the vast amounts of information
The objective of this paper is to describe some design principles
for developing digital newspaper repositories on the Internet.
This paper is organized as follows. An overview is first given
on interactive multimedia technologies and how they can be used
to deliver news. The paper then describes some design principles
for interactive multimedia news and discusses several effective
implementations of news on WWW sites. The impact of effective
multimedia news on society is then discussed. Finally, a brief
discussion is given on emerging trends for online multimedia news.
Online interactive multimedia has greatly increased
the popularity of electronic newspapers, particularly with the
younger age groups, which have shown in recent years a significant
decreasing interest in print-based newspapers. Currently only
52% of 18- to 24-year-olds read daily newspapers, compared to
71% in 1967 .
The average age of readers in many large newspapers is over 50,
which has motivated many newspaper organizations to move toward
electronic delivery methods and seek new markets.
Multimedia news can contain images, sounds, and
movies. The most recent advance is the development of interactive
multimedia technologies such as Shockwave by Macromedia Inc. and Java by Sun Corporation.
These technologies incorporate images, sound, video, animations,
and user input into multimedia applications. These applications
(also known as applets) are downloaded from a WWW server and provide
interactions similar to that found on current CD-ROM implementations.
Many of these technologies can be incorporated into WWW browsers
software modules that can be defined to process particular types
of files that are downloaded as part of a WWW page.
Radio and televisions stations are also making
their broadcasts available on the Internet with on-demand multimedia
technologies. On-demand audio technologies, such as RealAudio
or TOOLVOX by VOXWARE, can
begin playing a sound file as it is being downloaded. On-demand
video technologies such as VDO Live can begin playing
a video file as it is being downloaded as well. The use of images,
audio, and video can increase the impact and perception of news.
Examples of recent news events delivered with multimedia on the
Hearing Nicole's distressful voice in her 911
phone call and seeing the crime scene can be dramatically different
than reading about it. However in many cases the electronic medium
has not been used fully, appropriately, or effectively used. The
following section of the paper discusses diverse sources of multimedia
news. Subsequent sections present design guidelines for interactive
The range of delivery styles and news sources
on the Internet is wide--encompassing newspapers, news wires,
news magazines, television networks and radio. Below are several
example Web sites.
Currently 800 newspapers are available on the
Internet, eight times as many as two years ago .
Many of these newspapers are available on the Web in their entirety
at no cost. Some are only partially available and require a fee
for full access. Unlike previous text-only versions of online
today's electronic versions contain images, audio, and video.
In some cases audio and video are available on demand, negating
the need to download the entire audio or video file before being
able to hear or see the news story. Readers are able to contribute
their thoughts and opinions on stories using electronic mail and
to see other readers' comments online. News is continually updated,
which appeals to readers of breaking stories, such as sports news
or conflicts in progress.
Of the 800 newspapers online ,
717 are accessible on the Internet, 44 are available on online
services, and 39 operate Bulletin Board Systems (BBS). The BBS
allows users to avoid the cost of getting Internet access from
an Internet Service Provider (ISP). There are 450 newspapers online
in the United States, 212 in Europe, 49 in Canada, 38 in Latin
America, 38 in Asia, 10 in Australia and New Zealand, 7 in Africa,
and 7 in the Middle East. Some examples of newspapers on the Internet
include: USA Today, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, San Jose Mercury News, The Irish Times, and Le Monde (France).
Very few newspapers are making money from their
Internet-based systems .
One of the exceptions is The
Nando Times from North Carolina, which has over 2,500 paid
that access the news paper either on World Wide Web or with Nando
Net's BBS. Nando has archives of news, and uses photographs and
advanced multimedia effects implemented with Java
Some newspapers attempt to implement a look and
feel in the online version similar to the print version. For example,
Times Fax is an 8-page excerpt of the New
York Times formatted in Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF).
Documents encoded in PDF require the Adobe
Acrobat viewer from Abobe
and is available for most computing platforms. This approach preserves
the look and feel of the newspaper but lacks the interactive features
available on the Web.
News wire releases from Associated
Press, and Reuters
on Yahoo offer headlines and full text stories. The headlines
sometimes appear with a one or two-line description of the news
item. Typically the one or two lines are the first lines in the
article. These news sources are updated continually throughout
News magazines such as Time,
U.S. News and World Report, Business Week, The Economist are also online. The stories
in these magazines sometimes have links to the home pages of the
individuals or organizations mentioned in the article. Typically
this type of linking is not extensively done in most news implementations
on the WWW. This is an example of where the technology is not
fully used for the benefit of the news consumer.
Cable news networks such as CNN
provide up-to-the-minute coverage of news including video stored
in Apple Inc.'s Quicktime movie format. Cable sports networks
such as ESPN and
the Fox Sports Network provide
up-to-the-minute results on sports scores and include photos and
Major television networks also have descriptions
of their television shows, transcripts of news broadcasts, and
timetables for their programs. Some major television networks
on the Internet with news content include NBC, CBS, and CBC. CBC has transcripts of The National, a nightly news program, and
CBS has a daily on-demand video of their Up
to the Minute news broadcast.
Radio stations are also making available their
broadcasts on the Internet either as downloadable sound files
or on-demand audio. Examples include CBS Radio, CBC Radio, and Prime Sports Radio. There are
also live radio
talk shows that can be heard on the Internet with on-demand
audio technology. Indexes to news sources on the Internet can
be found at the Internet Free Press
1 also has some selected sites.
Several design principles are described below
for creating multimedia news WWW sites. The principles are organized
into four categories: content, interactive multimedia, organization
of information, and presentation of information. Examples of effective
implementations on the WWW that adhere to these design principles
are also described.
One of the most important considerations in creating
a Web site is to create content that matches the needs and desires
of the intended audience. There are three types of users to consider:
users who regularly read print newspapers (or other news sources)
and are not regular Internet users, regular users of the Internet
(who may also be regular readers of print newspapers), and users
who are neither regular users of the Internet or print newspapers.
Surveys are useful to determine appropriate content.
A recent survey 
of 300 women who use commercial online services showed that women
are generally not interested in online shopping. In this survey,
online shopping ranked dead last. The top two motivations for
respondents for using online information were to 1) save time
and money and 2) create a sense of community. Few respondents
cited technology problems. Thus, surveys need to be conducted
to understand the needs of users, and the content needs to be
as diverse as the types of users. Future systems will make it
easier for the content to presented and organized in ways that
are tailored to individual users.
Embedded graphics, sounds, videos, and animations
can increase the impact of information. CNN
and Nando Times extensively use multimedia in
their Web news sites. Providing multiple presentations of the
information also helps users to decide which presentation format
best suits them. For example, adding a map of a local area where
a news event has occurred might be useful for some users but not
necessarily for others. A simple sentence describing the location
of the event or small image might be sufficient, with a link to
a larger image displaying the area.
One of the most overlooked features of the WWW
for news delivery is the ability to link to external sources of
information, such as the home page of an individual or organization
mentioned in a news story. CNN has WWW links from their news stories to related
information. These links must lead to information that is correct,
has an identifiable author or source, is regularly maintained,
and is consistently accessible on a remote server. It is possible,
however, to provide too many links from a Web page, which can
make a news story look cluttered.
In print sources, the reliability of the information
can usually be quickly determined by looking at the editorial
information, such as copy on the inside cover of a book. It is
suggested that WWW pages also have the name of the authors and
affiliation, the date and time of the initial Web posting, date
and time of last revision, and the e-mail contact of either the
author or the author's employer to notify of errors and omissions
in the information. CNN provides such editorial information. Most WWW
pages do not.
Another important consideration is the availability
of back issues, which is largely missing in most online news systems
on the Internet. Each back issue represents another source of
information for the user, and another source of advertising income
for the publisher. Nando Times
provides searchable archives. Search engines are typically confusing
for users to use. Many users find it difficult to understand and
use boolean operators, field searching, proximity operators, term
weighting, and relevance ranking. Natural language interfaces
have yet to show reliable results for search precision and recall.
Thus, providing multiple types of search interfaces for different
types of users is one approach to solve this problem. A simple
search engine that allows users to enter search terms and delimit
the search to particular sections might be a simple interface
for novice users. Advanced searching can be provided optionally
for experienced users.
Most newspapers that have gone online have simply
transferred the content of their print versions to the Web and
presented the content in familiar layout. For example, the New
York Times Fax uses Adobe Acrobat document encoding method
to preserve the layout of the printed newspaper page. Such an
approach is useful to the traditional reader who does not want
to bother with new technologies and software that needs to be
constantly upgraded. However, this approach seriously ignores
the potential of new technologies to present new content.
New technologies that link WWW servers to databases
can be used to create new personalized content. For example, the
WebObjects technology from Next Inc. has been used to develop an electronic
commerce application that allow users to configure cars and see
how the car will look like and how much it will cost. This type
of interactive application would be a useful addition to an online
news section on cars. Few Internet users would likely request
this type of application (unless they were familiar with Web-database
technologies). User feedback and the frequency of usage of this
type of application can be used to guide the further development
of interactive multimedia applications.
A variety of formats exist for encoding multimedia:
image formats such as GIF, TIFF, and JPEG; sound formats such
as WAV, AIFF, AU, SND; and video formats such as AVI, Quicktime, MPEG, FLC, FLI, and MOV.
The difficult choice for multimedia designers is to decide which
formats to use, given limited resources, to create an online multimedia
newspaper and to make information accessible to the most number
of people. In most cases the file formats chosen should correspond
to the target audience and the capabilities of their computers.
It could be argued that some of the most active
users of online news systems may also be among the most knowledgeable
computer consumers. For such users, the latest multimedia effects
on Web sites provides motivation for them to return each day.
However, making a Web site so dependent on that latest multimedia
technology might make it difficult for other users to properly
view the information. Thus, providing users with an option to
view the content with latest multimedia effects, or with a less
multimedia content would accommodate the diverse needs of users.
The WWW provides many opportunities to allow
users to actively interact with the system. One example is the
use of news quizzes by CNN. Users
can also express
their opinions on news stories by sending them via e-mail
to CNN. Some of the e-mail notes are then posted or displayed on the CNN
Web pages. The Boston Globe
has live chat rooms where users can converse
using text input.
While there are advantages to including multimedia
content to news sites, multimedia files are typically large and
take longer to transmit. Shneiderman 
summarized several research studies that indicate that users become
impatient after two seconds without response. User feedback on
some WWW browsers show how much information has been transferred,
how much remains to be transferred, and the expected completion
time for the download of a file. Web pages can also indicate the
size of the file and the expected time to download the file for
different types of modems. The first page of a Web site in particular
should load quickly and allow users to choose a high bandwidth
Web page with high graphical content or a low bandwidth Web page
with mostly text. The Nando Times has a fast-loading initial page
and provides links to either high graphics or text-only Web pages.
One of the frequent complaints of hypertext and
hypermedia users is that they often feel "lost in hyperspace"
A consistent organization of information can help users understand
where they currently are. Reuters
on Yahoo uses a hierarchical menu structure that shows at
all times the previous levels and the current level where the
information is stored. Users can quickly go back to previous level.
USA Today, Nando Times, CNN also provide clickable menu bar at the top
of the page that appears consistently within a section such as
One approach to help users with their information
load is to layer the information with headlines, short abstracts
that have links into the full story. USA
Today provides a photo with a caption that has a link to a
page with the abstract of the story. The abstract page has a link
to the full story. Reuters on
Yahoo uses short one- or two-line sentences describing the
headline with a link to the full story.
Icons can help users find information only when
the icons are intuitive or have labels attached. However, users
often misinterpret icons. This was evident in the design of the
home page for Sun Corporation, which was redesigned nine times
based on feedback from users on the design of the icons .
Clickable image maps have become very popular.
However, it is not always clear where the user should click. Highlighting
the clickable areas of an image with a border can help guide the
user to choices. In some cases, the added cost of transferring
an image may not be worth the benefit. An example is an image
that contains only text, such as menu items. The benefit of such
an image is that the font of text can be controlled and background
colors can enhance the presentation. The CNN
image map at the top of the screen contains menu items but also
the logo of CNN. In this case, the fonts are important to the
corporate image of CNN.
Overview maps are graphic displays of how the
information is organized. These maps are useful to show the user
where else they can go at or from a given site. However, these
maps usually don't show the user where they currently are in the
graphical map (that is, "You are here" labels).
Metaphor is the use of an organizational structure
or graphical image that a user is familiar with to help understand
the organization of a new item. For example, the graphical display
of a desk with file folders can be used to represent the organization
of information. Users apply the knowledge they have from a familiar
situation in a new situation. However, metaphor must be used carefully
since not all expectations from a familiar situation can be realized
in a computer implementation. For example, if the desk has drawers,
an intuitive expectation might be that the drawers can be opened
by clicking on them. In many cases, metaphor expectation of users
are not met. Online newspapers that imitate the look and feel
of a print newspaper may have problems meeting some of the intuitive
expectations of novice users.
17. Provide clearly readable text
It is vitally important for readers to be able
to read easily, meaning that they should have no difficulty in
readily identifying letters and words. Considerations that need
to be taken into account are the size of the font, background
colors, and the ratio of white space to printed text. Nando Times provides a line break between
each sentence giving the user a higher ratio of white space to
printed text on the page, making their news stories easier to
read. Specific background and foreground colors should only be
used if combination improves the clarity of the page. In some
cases, color combinations make it harder to read the page.
Below is a summary of the design principles for
interactive multimedia news systems:
- Understand your target audience's needs.
- Provide content in multiple media formats.
- Link to other relevant and reliable sources of information.
- Provide editorial information.
- Provide searchable archives.
- Use interactive multimedia where there is demand for it.
- Use commonly used media formats.
- Provide optional paths to the latest multimedia effects.
- Provide user input and participation.
- Be mindful of bandwidth.
- Use consistent organization.
- Layer the information.
- Adopt familiar icons.
- Give clear indication of available choices and menu items.
- Provide overview maps.
- Use metaphor where appropriate.
- Provide clearly readable text.
Additional user interface guidelines can be found
One of the major benefits of online news is the
ability for users of the Internet to gain different perspectives
on news. Users are no longer dependent on their traditional sources
to receive their news, but can now reach news services around
the world. The global accessibility and rapid availability of
news may result in different opinions of events. Local biases
in reporting may now be quickly offset with information from different
sources at relatively low cost.
One of the most recent examples of bias in reporting
deals with the diverse accounts for the number of people at the
Montreal rally before the Quebec referendum in 1995.
Internet news readers were not only able to get diverse views
of this story from across Canada, but were also able to have continual
updates of the referendum results, see reaction to the referendum
from around the world, and gauge the reaction of financial markets.
In other cases, local governments can suppress
the expression of groups and individuals. An example is the British
government's invocation of a broadcast ban on direct statements
by representatives of Sinn Fein (the political wing of the IRA)
under the Broadcast Act of 1981 and 1990. Sinn Fein has its own
home page and newspaper An Phoblacht Republican
News on the Internet. The point being made here is not whether
the British Government has a right to a ban, or if Sinn Fein acted
properly in setting up an Internet WWW site (which are legitimate
and interesting questions), but rather the point is that the Internet
has opened up new ways for groups and individuals to express themselves
and has also provided consumers with new sources of information
to base their opinions.
Finally, the 'Trial of Century', namely the O.J.
Simpson case, was extensively reported and watched on television.
Television has a linear format for presenting information. While
television viewers had the option to change channels, most channels
were reporting the same information in similar formats. The World
Wide Web can provide users the freedom to choose the news stories
that they want, to be presented in formats of their choice, and
to see the news when they want. While this style of news delivery
has many advantages to the consumer of news, it does represent
a change and loss of editorial control for news providing organizations.
To what extent will users be empowered to control the news they
want to see and what effect this will have on society will probably
be determined over the next few years.
There is a trend towards storing news and information
on object-oriented database systems. These systems can provide
more flexible systems for storing, organizing, and retrieving
information. Some of the benefits of this approach are the ability
of journalists to contribute news items or objects via remote
Internet connections (such as from a laptop in the field) and
using hierarchical object-oriented controls for access and revision.
Users can also have the ability to retrieve selected objects (sound
files, video, text) from a news database .
Other systems [11,19]
have used the SGML 
and HyTime [10,12]
document encoding formats to create object-oriented representations
There is also an increasing trend in the design
of user interfaces to create personalized displays of information.
The Fishwrap Newspaper project 
at MIT allows users to create their own personalized list of news
sources. The system initially selects some news sources based
on responses the user provides to personal questions (such as
the user's hometown). Another approach is to develop systems that
can intelligently assist users to create personalized views of
news based on the user's online behavioral patterns .
The future of online newspapers will bring about
intelligent agents who will keep users informed of news by browsing
on behalf of users. Current filtering systems are based on keywords
but future systems may use knowledge-based techniques to filter
information more accurately than existing methods. Such agents
will pose threats to user's privacy and security. Improvements
in online interactive multimedia will increase the dramatic effects
and impression of news and result in new forms of electronic advertising.
The global expansion of online news services on Internet will
also increase the amount of news available to users from what
was previously available from traditional television news sources.
What is largely unknown to the news industry is the extent to
which users will be willing to pay for access to such services.
Users have so far resisted fees, in part due to the large availability
of free Internet news. Understanding effective design of online
interactive multimedia and the needs of users will be key to future
successful Internet-based news delivery systems.
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Times URL: http://www.nytimes.com/
District News - California, U.S.A. URL: http://www.towerdistrictnews.com/
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Journal - New York, U.S.A. URL: http://update.wsj.com/
Washington Post URL: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
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Design Corp. All Rights Resereved.