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-Updated -
February 3, 1998

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 [16] and of advances in interactive multimedia technologies for the Internet [7,18]. The types of news sources available on the Internet include newspapers, news wires, cable television, news magazines, and radio stations [17]. 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 [16]. 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 [20]. At this rate of growth, there will be 1,500 to 2,000 newspapers online by the end of 1996. A recent Canadian survey [13] 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 [24]. 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 [5,14]. 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 [26]. 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 with plug-ins, 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 Internet include:

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 multimedia news.

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 [20]. 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 newspapers [6], 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 [20], 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 [1]. One of the exceptions is The Nando Times from North Carolina, which has over 2,500 paid subscribers [8] 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 extensively.

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 the day.

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 in-depth stories.

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 [22]. Appendix 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 [23] 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 [25] 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" [5]. 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 sports.

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 [15].

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:

  1. Understand your target audience's needs.
  2. Provide content in multiple media formats.
  3. Link to other relevant and reliable sources of information.
  4. Provide editorial information.
  5. Provide searchable archives.
  6. Use interactive multimedia where there is demand for it.
  7. Use commonly used media formats.
  8. Provide optional paths to the latest multimedia effects.
  9. Provide user input and participation.
  10. Be mindful of bandwidth.
  11. Use consistent organization.
  12. Layer the information.
  13. Adopt familiar icons.
  14. Give clear indication of available choices and menu items.
  15. Provide overview maps.
  16. Use metaphor where appropriate.
  17. Provide clearly readable text.

Additional user interface guidelines can be found in [14,25]

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 [21]. Other systems [11,19] have used the SGML [9] and HyTime [10,12] document encoding formats to create object-oriented representations of news.

There is also an increasing trend in the design of user interfaces to create personalized displays of information. The Fishwrap Newspaper project [4] 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 [21].

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 [2,3], 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.

Bibliography

Appendices:

A.1 Index to News on the Internet

A.2 Newspapers

A.3 News Wires

A.4 News Magazines

A.5 Television Networks

A.6 Radio

Copyright 1996, 2003. Web Portal Design Corp. All Rights Resereved.

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