Thursday, September 20, 2007

Digital paper to change newspapers

At the conference Publishing in the Digital Age organised by the Faculty of Arts of Leiden University, Jan Bierhoff of EC/DC talked about the paperless paper. His conclusion was that Ultra Mobile PCs (UMPCs; see photograph of a Vaio Sony UMPC) and digital paper panes beg to change the very nature of the newspaper business.

In order to build his case, he went back to the project Swedish DigiNews. This project consists of the Swedish newspaper partners Tidnings Utgivarna, AftonBladet, Ostgota Correspondenten, Gotenbogs-Posten, Nerikes Allehanda, Norrkopings Tifningar, Sundsvalls Tidning, Sydsvenskan and the research institutes Hogeskolan Halmstad and KTH Vetenskap och Konst. The European partners are the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, the Belgian newspaper Publisher Concentra Media, the German research institute Fraunhofer FIRST, the software company Ibermatica, the Belgian research institute K.U.Leuven Department of Computer Science, the French newspaper, the technology partner Philips Applied Technologies and the company Robotiker The basic objective of this project was to produce three prototypes with hyperlinks, page indications and frontpage indexes. A number of lessons were learned in the project:
- An overview is needed;
- An index is appreciated;
- The paper metaphor is not necessary;
- There should be direct links to the articles;
- Start with the same sections as in the printed version;
- Mix familiar elements with the unexpected;
- Develop an authentic e-reader format.

He went on to speak about the MePaper project. This project has recently been started in The Netherlands and involves five Dutch newspapers and two research institutes. Aim of the project to develop novel journalistic formats for new technological devices for mobile newsreading: the e-ink mounted iLiad and forthcoming 'ultra mobile PCs'. Participating newspapers are De Volkskrant (national daily), Financieele Dagblad (Financial daily), SP!TS (free tabloid), Eindhovens Dagblad en Barneveldse Krant (regional dailies). The coordination is with the research institute EC/DC, while the (Flemish) research institute IBBT, partner in De Tijd experiment, joins in for setting up of user tests of the prototypes which will be developed in a joint design studio. A substantial part of the project budget comes from the Dutch Bedrijfsfonds, a newspaper development fund.
The vision of this multi-party group is that the classical paper will gradually shrink from broadsheet over tabloid to a magazine format, and the electronic counterpart will have the reverse development curve, from tiny cell phone screens, via the present 8 inch-panels of the e-readers to ultimately the same magazine size, full colour, flexible, mobile, versatile. That will take another decade, but it clearly makes the case for thoroughly rethinking the journalistic newspaper approach.

The focus of the ‘MePaper’- project is on the development of novel journalistic formats, especially designed for electronic mobile reading. We have to leave ages of tradition in newspaper writing, lay-out and organisation behind us, if the trade doesn’t want to become obsolete. That challenge knows an uncertain outcome and can only be met in an experimental set-up. This is precisely what the MePaper-project will organise: a development lab in which journalists rather than scientists start playing with the opportunities modern displays and software are offering. Journalistic focus must here be understood in a broad sense: writing staff, subediting, lay-out as well as the interplay between editorial and commercial content.

The lab will start next month with brainstorm sessions looking for the news scene of 2012 and deciding on the concepts, choices and priorities. It will be intersting to see the results coming out of this project, especially as it is ambitious enough to put up the position that e-readers and UMPCs will change the very nature of the newspaper business.

During the pause I spoke with Mr Bierhoff about the experiments in the market. The Belgian financial daily experimented with the iLiad e-reader and used the pdf file of the printed paper as the first page; this was difficult to read; from there users could let articles pop up. Recently there was the launch of the commercial electronic edition of Les for two e-readers. We agreed on the lack of interface. IMHO the interface to the electronic version of les Echos on the iLiad was treated as vertical tickertape with in the second column a lead to the Editorial Comment as a vague reminder of the printed edition. No effort had been spent in developing an authentic e-reader format. Given the elements of digital paper and wifi refreshing should have led to another interface.

Blog Posting Number: 872

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