The 'network' -- tomorrow's 'newspaper'

Your newspaper may soon be obsolete. Its news organization will probably continue, and news will be with us always , but in the near future we may receive news through interactive media: electronic networks that users can interact with. The print media survived the onslaught of radio and TV news because of its ability to provide news in depth in a form that readers could select easily. New forms of "interactive news" are beginning to provide the instantaneous access of electronic media combined with the depth and selectivity of print media.

The production of inexpensive microelectronics has created low cost computers , including personal computers, and increasingly inexpensive communication networks to interconnect them. These new developments make personalized news possible. Each day you can receive an "electronic news report" that contains only those topics in which you have expressed interest.

At Stanford University, Paul Martin has been receiving personalized news every day for several years. Each day that Paul starts to use his computer system, he is notified on his terminal of any new stories on a number of preselected topics. A computer program automatically scans each incoming story from the Associated Press wire and the New York Times News Service to see whether it matches Paul's specifications.

Since he has friends from the Seychelles he has asked for any items that contain the word "Seychelles." These never appear on television and are buried on the back pages of the newspaper. Paul's specification of what he's interested in sometimes takes fine tuning.

By successive modification of his news specifications, Paul has been receiving personalized news reports each day that contain information of particular interest to him. Because they are selected from a much larger pool of stories than those broadcast by TV or radio, or printed by newspapers, he obtains more detailed reports than are usually available. In this way, Paul has been serving as his own editor, selecting his own personalized news.

Meanwhile, many people around the country are sending and receiving electronic mail. They receive messages that are typed on a computer terminal, transmitted over phone lines, and held by a computer for them to read whenever they want.

Only about one-third of the messages I've received recentyly have been directed solely to me. Another one-third are messages sent to me as part of group discussions.

Electronic message systems can be used for "teleconferencing," a communication medium with powerful new properties, especially when it is carried over longer time periods (in "nonreal time"). Over the past year, I have participated in a wide variety of nonreal time telediscussions, ranging over topics such as the state of developmental psychology, classroom interaction, administrative discussions, as well as less serious conversations rife with jokes and bad puns.

The remaining one-third of my recent messages are general announcements, sent to me as part of a large group of people.This facility creates the problem of "electronic junk mail." Once it becomes easy to send a message to many people at once, people soon gets lots of messages that they have no interest in. One way to solve this problem is to use "junk mail filter programs," that systematically delete incoming messages that meet some set of specifications. Another response is to arrange places for general notices to be sent that interested readers can access. In this way, users of an electronic message system start to create their own data bases for others to access.

These developments allow you to act as a reporterm of news, as well as being the editor of your own news. You can create your own collection of information you find interesting, and permit access to whomever you want. Or you can contribute to the computer data bases created by others (if they allow you to).

Such dynamic and decentralized information networks redefine the meaning of the word "news," shifting from the current institutional definition (that which is reported in newspapers, radio, or TV) to a more personal one (that which you find interesting).

Information can spread through these interactive networks in a way directed by the demand of the participants. Information that is often requested by a participant can be stored by that participant for later use. If a question is asked and answered often enough, then the answer can move outward through the network. Knowledge can in this way spread through the system.

The invention of the printing press decentralized text production from a few monasteries to thousands of small print shops. Similarly, the emergence of inexpensive computation and communication makes possible the decentralization of news production and distribution.

These new interactive news networks have major implications, both for us as individuals and for our social organizations. The ability for us to play an active role in the news process will have side-effects in the ways that we each view our world. On a larger scale, the flow of news plays an important role in determining how organizations function, and thus changes in information flow will affect many of these organizations. In many ways, the interactive news media may have important decentralizing effects, which we need to understand to know how to develop media that best serve the needs of all of us.

Any new development provides a range of possibilities, each of which has both positive and negative effects. We need to explore the challenges of the new interactive media, so that informed action today can lead to fruitful information networks t omorrow.

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