Kitty, Vivian, and Bianca uncover the peanut gallery

Check out the demo of our commenting system here: http://um-viz.media.mit.edu/finalFON/index.html
As the news industry has evolved, individuals both inside and outside of established media corporations have made efforts to improve the processes of news consumption and production.  Emerging technology allows users to interact with and produce news and broadens both the reach of the news and the range of individuals who can help create and spread it.  While the process of writing and disseminating news has become more participatory, very little meaningful work has been completed and implemented towards improving systems that allow readers to react to and interact with news and other media content.
Often overlooked and undervalued, comments can provide a rich opportunity for discussion: they provide a portal to understanding how news is received, points of contention, and further resources to delve deeper into the topic at hand.  Comments allow the reader to interact directly with the content and the news producers rather than passively consuming material.
For our final project, we explored methods for creating more engaging comment experiences through visual cues, responsive environments, and audio snapshots. One of the great functions of news is to get people talking and debating,  informing them of possible perspectives and involved parties. A comment section should then be a large support or platform for such discussion but it has yet to be perfected in terms of layout,  design, expressive control,  and even analytics. Here,  we are exploring possibilities in the design of comments to reflect user emotion and tone through a mix of sentiment analysis, typographical behavior detection, and a new type of censorship (yay, censorship!!)
In existing systems, all speakers are given the same visual weight, and all words are displayed in the same manner.  We started by asking how reviews and responses could be reinterpreted by more clearly signifying speakers who were representing a business or organization (in the context of Yelp), but instead we chose to provide more implicit features for every commenter.
As it stands, all words and tones are given the same typeface and size.  It can be difficult to parse through and understand sarcasm, irony, anger, and genuine enthusiasm.
Our goal was to answer whether or not changing the design of comments could change the way we interact and read them for the better. In exploring the power of comments and attempting to amplify their richness, we considered the role of lurkers (those who passively read, and potentially vote on comments, while not actively commenting themselves), active commenters, and the authors and publishers themselves.  Part of efforts to amplify comments result in and include creating an environment that is more readily scannable.  This was achieved via two means:
A) Visual Effects:
– repeated letters are translated into larger letters and letters of increasing size
– flowery letters and butterflies to mitigate curse words
– positive words are colored red, negative words are colored blue
– ellipses turn the previous word into fading one
– exclamation points turn preceding words “Large yelling” words
– increasingly positive words become darker red
B) audio soundscape
– drawing from the quantity and sentiment of the comments, the play button produces tones and sounds that represent the fervor and tone of the comment field
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