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Gelernter on the Next Newspaper

July 7th, 2003 · 1 Comment

David Gelernter writes about the “Next Great American Newspaper” – in short, replacing the New York Times.

It will have to be published on the web and not on paper, and as a new style web newspaper, not one of today’s conventional web-based losers. It is coming–and (in the nature of things) it will redefine the news story and the newspaper.

As an object-in-time the web-paper will be king, if we let it be–but what kind of object is that? If a still photo is an object in space, a parade seen from a fixed location is an object in time–its grand marshal two hours in the past, its rear end 20 minutes into the future. And (it just so happens) the news is a parade, it is a March of Time (Time-Life’s famous newsreel series), a sequence of events–and thus perfect for a (new style) web newspaper. How can history’s parade (or any parade) not be interesting? A proper web-paper will be a parade of reports, each materializing in the present and marching off into the past.

The web-papers of tomorrow should be “objects in time,” and here is the picture. Imagine a parade of jumbo index cards standing like set-up dominoes. On your computer display, the parade of index cards stretches into the simulated depths of your screen, from the middle-bottom (where the front-most card stands, looking big) to the farthest-away card in the upper left corner (looking small). Now, something happens: Tony Blair makes a speech. A new card materializes in front (a report on the speech) and everyone else takes a step back–and the farthest-away card falls off the screen and (temporarily) disappears. So the parade is in constant motion. New stories keep popping up in front, and the parade streams backwards to the rear.

Each card is a “news item”–text or photo, or (sometimes) audio or video. “Text” could mean an entire conventional news story or speech or interview. But the pressure in this medium is away from the long set-piece story, towards the continuing series of lapidary paragraphs. There’s room on a “news card” for a headline, a paragraph and a small photo. (If the news item is a long story or transcript, only the opening fits on the card–but you can read the whole thing if you want to, by clicking the proper mouse-buttons.)

So: a moving parade (or flowing stream) of news items–new ones constantly arriving in front, older ones moving back. (Actually it’s one long parade reaching back to the newspaper’s founding; you can rewind it like videotape.) You can only see one full card at a time; the others are partially hidden by cards in front. But you can guess what’s on the partially hidden cards, because you can see their top edges and left margins. And when you touch a card with the cursor, a complete version pops up instantaneously. The news stream uses foreshortening to make the most of screen space: One glance encompasses the most recent 20 or 30 postings, the latest quarter-hour to several hours of news, depending on the world’s pulse at the moment and your preferences.

Everything on every card is indexed, everything is searchable should you care to search–the news parade is (equivalently) an “information beam” you can focus as precisely as you like. Type “Tony Blair” and you get a Tony beam–still a moving stream edging backwards into the sunset, but all Tony, all the time.*

Gelernter’s views echo what his software (Scopeware) does wth information on a PC.

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