Note: This is maybe more detailed and involved than needed, so apologies for the length of the post. But I’m submitting a similar version of this proposal for a Knight Prototype Fund grant, so I’d be grateful for any feedback or suggestions.
What is your project?
We are producing a series of multimedia diaries that take advantage of wearable technology. The core of the project is the creation of an app for Google Glass that automatically records 10 seconds of video every few minutes and automatically interviews the subject throughout the day by displaying questions and recording the answers.
For the initial phase of the project, we will choose participants with particularly compelling circumstances and loan them Google Glass, and a producer/editor will work closely with each subject to coach them through the process, explain the privacy implications, and obtain permissions where appropriate. The resulting Web videos will be short – just 2 or 3 minutes each – to give viewers a peek into the day in the life of another person, from their first-person perspective.
In a later phase, we hope to add a system that can automatically assemble the clips into a draft piece and let users do simple editing to cut or reorder the clips. That way, the wearable diaries can be created without the help of a human editor. The app will be free to encourage as many people as possible to participate.
Who is the audience for the project? How will they be impacted?
Our approach is modeled loosely on the Radio Diaries project, a non-profit effort that gives people audio recorders to document their lives (though we have no affiliation with that project). Pieces from the Radio Diaries project reached a wide audience through broadcasts on NPR stations and were also distributed online and were a critical and popular success.
We are reaching out to traditional news outlets (newspaper and magazine Web sites) for possible partnerships to publish pieces made through the Wearable Diaries project. We will also post the pieces on our own Web site, with the hope that those who watch one of the diaries will be curious to see others in the series.
The stories are simple in their structure, but we believe their impact can be profound. By documenting the lives of many types of people in a short and sharable format, showing the similarities and differences in a diverse group of people, we hope to promote empathy and understanding of difference – as well as simply telling compelling stories.
What has come before?
This project can be situated in a long history of “life-logging” efforts, which have been proposed since the earliest days of wearable computers. A 2006 Media Lab project called InSense, for instance, let users make personal multimedia stories with a bulky camera and computer strapped onto a user’s chest. (http://hd.media.mit.edu/tech-reports/TR-599.pdf) Our effort takes advtange of the latest technology, which is smaller and more discrete. It also stresses a journalistic approach to storytelling, and the involvement of a human editor to shape the final piece.
What assumptions will you test?
One key premise of the project is that wearable technology such as Google Glass can help journalists tell stories in new ways.
Specifically, we hope that wearable technology might solve two problems faced by journalists filming documentary pieces about interesting people. One, subjects often act more self-consciously when they are followed around with a camera, detracting from the authenticity of the story. Secondly, the reporter is often not with the subject of a story at key moments, leaving gaps in the final piece. We see Google Glass (and potentially other wearable devices), as a way to follow story subjects with a kind of robotic reporting assistant that will occasionally shoot video and even ask them questions about what they’re seeing.
Who is working on the project?
What have you made so far?
We have created a rough prototype of the app using WearScript, a system designed to rapidly prototype Glass apps to test them. We have done a couple of initial tests and created a Web site outlining the project: http://wearablediaries.org/ Jeff also presented the idea at a Google Glass hackathon at the MIT Media Lab: http://bit.ly/weartalk
Taking the project further will require creating a more robust Glass app and purchasing Google Glass that are fitted onto less-conspicuous frames than the original design.
Kevin and I have been working on FOLD, a tool that adds structure and context to news stories.
FOLD allows you to expand and contract elements of a story (to get more or less detail), and associates a context bar to each section of the story. A context bar can include many elements, including historical background, maps, photographs, citizen media, videos, or technical descriptions.
From observing people consume news, we recognize that readers spend significant time acquiring contextual information in additional browser tabs, taking their attention away from the story at hand. FOLD offers journalists a way to provide readers with a curated “tangent.”
For the final project, Kevin and I would like to continue our work on FOLD by:
1) Conducting further observations of readers interacting with complex and/or emerging stories so we can see their processes of trying to understand the news (e.g. Do they pull up other sources to look up a specific concept or prior event? If so, how often? Do they give up reading the article altogether? What is their understanding of the article after having read it?)
2) Making changes and improvements to the design based on our observations of readers and feedback from the class
3) Adding an authoring platform (so writers can easily turn plain text and photos/videos into FOLD vertical and horizontal ribbons)
4) Conducting user studies with a few journalists in the class, to see if and how their writing process changes when structuring stories in the FOLD way. Extending from that, we can also see if FOLD changes not only how something is written, but what is written.
5) Re-making an existing story into a FOLD story to create a nice demo of what the tool can do
Our group used this exercise to discuss how we consume news on our phones, what kind of mood we are in when we read news on our phones, and what we do before and afterward. One of the surprising takeaways is that many of us check our phones for news when we are bored or waiting for something… in other words, often in a negative state of mind. As an antidote, we thought that more humorous short stories might be in order!
What follows are the raw, unedited notes I took during our discussion….
1. Method of attraction – how does the form attract and sustain attention in an attention scarce world? Last minute updating. Push notifications. Convenient. Newness.
2. How did you find this news? Did you subscribe, link from a friend, turn on the TV, etc Subscription. Sharing. Feedly. Pocket. Passive. You grab your phone because you’re bored, and it pops out.
3. Did you have to choose it (by searching, clicking)? Or did it find you (like radio, push notification)? Often you receive it passively through push.
4. When do you experience news in this way (time of day, during what types of activities)? What were you doing immediately before and immediately after experiencing the news in this way? First thing in the morning. Smartphone as alarm clock. And when you’re waiting. Before and after, you are likely doing something completely non-news related. Or you’re on your email.
5. Are you doing other things while experiencing the news in this way? Maybe lying in bed or walking down the street.
6. Who else was experiencing the same news? Was it co-present, remote, asynchronous Mostly individual. There are some Facebook links that you might follow to news but these are the minority.
7. How did you feel while experiencing the news like this? e.g. Intellectually stimulated, guilty pleasure, obligated to read it, riveted until the end, interrupted but kept coming back, bored, occasionally annoyed, took you out of everyday life, etc. Bored. Distracted. Guilty for not clicking on all of the follow-through links!
8. Did you “do anything” based on the news – for example, share it, talk about it with someone, log it somewhere, remember it later, cite it? Share it. Tweet it. Save it to pocket.
1. What kinds of values are embedded in this news experience? Values: quick and dirty
2. What is this experience’s “theory of the user”? Who do they imagine you are? Does the experience also have a “theory of change”? Theory of user: limited time, limited attention Value: using time efficiently. Always staying connected and up to date. Efficiency. Theory of change: informing people. But not necessarily giving them time to take action.
3. What is this experience’s end goal? Virality & eyeballs? Deep listening? Exposé for action? End goal: eyeballs. Entertainment. Get subscriptions. Get user data.
4. How are you empowered through this experience? Disempowered? Disempowering because people read headlines only. Counterargument: Can also be empowering… If something big happens, you can get on your phone right away and take action and get up to date.
5. What kinds of stories is this method good for? bad for? underutilized for? Good for: breaking news stories. Short stories. Sports news. Segmentation. Bad for: long stories. Historica analysis. Non-urgent stories. Infographic. Underutilized for: advocacy stories
6. What other form could you mash up with this for to create a new product that delivers the news?
Split screen on the mobile phone. Shopping while doing that.
Or combine humor with short phone stories. For more appealing and mood improving content
Combine short radio story with a mobile news story. So you can listen while you are walking. Like a short news podcast.
Our group decided to do a write-in candidate and explore the experience of consuming news on Twitter. Since Twitter is so formless (or multi-formed), we first talked about how we typically access Twitter and what we use it for. There were four people in our group, and half of us primarily went to Twitter through laptops, and the other half leaned more to access via cell phone. Some used Hootsuite, some used Tweetdeck, and some used Twitter’s home page.
Then there’s the question is what is “news” on a Tweet. In some cases, the content of a news story fits within the 140 characters of a Tweet itself. More frequently, though, the Tweet is a link to a news story along with some comment about it by the person Tweeting. In that way, reading news on Twitter is like entering a story via the comment section of an article.
All of us follow both individual reporters we like plus the institutional feeds of news organizations (like @nytimes). None of us read all of the Tweets by the people we follow. Instead, we occasionally look at the flow of info into our personal Twitter accounts as if looking out a window.
Here were our brief answers to some questions posed on the assignment:
1. What kinds of values are embedded in this news experience?
Twitter favors “efficiency” of language, conversational, and humor
Twitter’s new Web design (pictured below), released this week, seems designed to attract more general users – to make Twitter look more like Facebook, and therefore more familiar.
2. What is this experience’s “theory of the user”? Who do they imagine you are? Does the experience also have a “theory of change”?
Twitter seems to assume users want to be part of a community, want to do networking or want to be part of a conversation (or all of the above).
3. What is this experience’s end goal? Virality & eyeballs? Deep listening? Exposé for action?
Social sharing. instant communication, breaking news
4. How are you empowered through this experience? Disempowered?
The barrier to entry is low, so it appears to create a more casual, level playing field. It’s possible for anyone to address public Tweets to anyone, no matter how famous. Sure, that celebrity probably won’t read the Tweet, but the system makes users feel empowered.
5. What kinds of stories is this method good for? bad for? underutilized for?
6. What form could you mash up with this to make new product for news?
Twitter wants to be the second screen
the global backchannel
Last summer, the magazine I edit published the story above, a long and in-depth piece looking at what happens with dyslexic children in Romanian schools. We believe that getting people to read and pay attention to a story tackling such a huge topic requires that we go deep inside the lives of individuals through which we navigate the landscape. (The story of one can stand in for the story of many).
The goal of this is to create empathy. The danger, often, – as Rowan Williams said in a lecture on empathy at Harvard – is that focusing narrowly on one person (especially in pieces about social issues) you only trigger the emotional response, which leads people to take action that takes care of their immediate discomfort, but doesn’t always trigger the cognitive response, which can generate larger-scale solutions. (This research on the moral molecule, empathy, and donations is an illuminating. // Williams also wrote a more convoluted and calm version of the Dobelli piece.)
If we accept the premise that journalism should help find ways for people to get involved, the challenge – both of the journalism itself, as well as of any way of involving the public – is to balance the emotional response and the cognitive response.
Let me go quickly through what we tried in both the journalism and the follow-up, and then see what we could have done more of/better.
The story. We had one character, Robert, who lives in a small town with his working class family. He was diagnosed late, the parents though he was lazy, the school didn’t offer any remedial classes. All in all, he somehow made it to VII-th grade with little to no progress. We also had a contrasting character, Ioana, who lived in the capital, had a wealthier family, was diagnosed early by good psychologists, her parents moved her into a private school, and paid for speech classes. She was the same age as Robert, and flourishing.
We didn’t want to leave it there, and we also looked into the systems: what made one school work, and the other not. We looked at the psychologists and therapists and found that schools in Romania are understaffed – a therapists would have to evaluate an average of 45 kids/day for 5 minutes each to get through all. We also looked at NGOs and associations involved in this space, and learned that their funding had dried up (they had done good work publishing special manuals, and training teachers). We also looked at the law and saw that it actually said everything it should – it was not implemented because it required both material resources, as well as more involvement from families.
This seemed like a complicated, but interesting set of conclusions. The law is good, but there are no resources. Some schools do good, but families need to learn about them.
It seemed like there was an entire universe of stakeholders that could all do a better job: kids, parents, teachers, administrators, lawmakers, doctors / therapists, NGOs.
The follow-up. We didn’t have a systematic approach to involve readers – it wasn’t something we had done before. We did publish it on our website immediately (which we don’t do), we gave out the contact details of the reporter (which we also don’t often do), and we did encourage people to reach out if they had ideas of how to help. This is how we got a few people reaching out to contact Robert’s family, and somebody donated an iPad, which Robert dreamed of.
The bigger thing we did is an event, where we tried to facilitate the interaction between some of our stories, and our readers. At the event, the reporter laid out the issues, and also presented a bulleted list of the needs of some of the relevant NGOs in the field. Unfortunately, most of the needs were in the realm of fundraising, and I don’t know exactly if something came out of it.
Looking back, here are some other things we could have done better to increase the potential of getting people involved. (I’m still working on these kinds of ideas, as it is a priority for us in the next year or so).
The story. Should have definitely used some of the tools and processes discussed in class:
- the way the system works could have been much clearer explained in infographics. The visual representation would have spotlighted more clearly where the system breaks;
- we could have created interactive elements that attempted to put the reader in the experience of a dyslexic kid – reading texts, writing texts etc.
- we could have used videos;
- in the style of solution/constructive journalism we could have more clearly did sidebars/breakouts on how various situations have been handled, and/or what best practices are around the world;
The follow-up. This is the more difficult part. The advocacy, if this is the word, is not (necessarily) the problem. It’s tougher to decide how you use resources, and whether you need to take over the lives/action of others (doctors/teachers/parents). That being said:
- we could have pointed to groups/ways to contact relevant stakeholders;
- certainly we could have pointed to the more traditional petitions/donations opportunities.
- we could have brought together all relevant stakeholders for a series of meetings, and moderate a conversation, and offer the results to the public. The journalist as a facilitator of dialogue seems an important role in a culture where stakeholders don’t read, take action (as it still happens in Western media).
Goal: To create a “Profile of a News Experience” that explores the values, affordances and affective impacts of a particular way of delivering the news
Students will divide into groups of 3-4 people. Each group will randomly choose 5 news experience cards.
From the 5 news experience cards, the group will discuss and choose one to work with in the exercise. Your goal is to create a “Profile” of that news experience based on the questions below.
One or more people from the group should be synthesizing the conversation into a short blog post or infographic that can be posted on the blog.
Profile of a News Experience: Easier Questions
- Method of attraction – how does the form attract and sustain attention in an attention scarce world?
- How did you find this news? Did you subscribe, link from a friend, turn on the TV, etc?
- Did you have to choose it (by searching, clicking)? Or did it find you (like radio, push notification)?
- When do you experience news in this way (time of day, during what types of activities)? What were you doing immediately before and immediately after experiencing the news in this way?
- Are you doing other things while experiencing the news in this way?
- Who else was experiencing the same news? Was it co-present, remote, asychronous?
- How did you feel while experiencing the news like this? e.g. Intellectually stimulated, guilty pleasure, obligated to read it, riveted until the end, interrupted but kept coming back, bored, occasionally annoyed, took you out of everyday life, etc.
- Did you “do anything” based on the news – for example, share it, talk about it with someone, log it somewhere, remember it later, cite it?
Profile of a News Experience: Harder Questions
- What kinds of values are embedded in this news experience?
- What is this experience’s “theory of the user”? Who do they imagine you are? Does the experience also have a “theory of change”?
- What is this experience’s end goal? Virality & eyeballs? Deep listening? Exposé for action?
- How are you empowered through this experience? Disempowered?
- What kinds of stories is this method good for? bad for? underutilized for?
- What other form could you mash up with this for to create a new product that delivers the news?
With the shift toward “view from somewhere” journalism, we are probably going to see more activist-style stories permeate the news pages. So how do you engage readers who might want to do something about what they are reading?
Rather than designing a widget, I think the way to get readers talking and acting is to simply do a better job of helping them find content they might be interested in and that might provide ammunition for causes they already hold dear.
As we discussed in early classes, the media do a poor job of matching readers with content. In my experience, beyond simple algorithms at the news sites I wrote for, it was typically up to me and online editors to identify communities that would be interested in a new story and target them by emailing a link, tweeting at them with appropriate hashtags, or encouraging sources to share the story. This was time consuming and we weren’t always aware of the key players and interest groups on the subject—especially globally—or we didn’t have time to find their contact information.
This assignment made me wonder whether there is a systematic way to match journalists who write about particular causes to appropriate online communities, newsletters, interest groups, policymakers, discussion boards, Facebook pages, et cetera, so that they can better target their stories and mobilize people for action.
For example, I imagine a website for journalists that allows them to search key words related to a story, perhaps narrowing by geographic region. Let’s say I am writing about the need for transparency in clinical trials. I enter the words “transparency” and “clinical trials” and the website spits out contacts and Twitter handles for advocates of the AllTrials campaign, other journalists, health professionals, politicians, researchers, and activists who already write or talk about clinical trials transparency, and Facebook or other social pages related to the issue. It would be even better if the journalist could enter the entire text of her story, and the website could return all the appropriate related social content and contact information (ie., Twitter handles, Facebook pages, hashtags, etc.) so that the journalist could save time searching. I think this kind of resource would help journalists and editors better match their content with eager readers who are likely to care about and act upon a given story.