'10 X 10' presents 'the news at a glance'

The web offers an impressive variety of methods for keeping up with world events, from this publication and others of its genre, to continually updating news pages like those at Yahoo! and Feed.com, to the longer term "trend spotting" informationposted by Google's Zeitgeist. Last week saw the addition of a new and entirely different approach to following news and tracking trends - an approach that uses tiny images to give us the big picture, and solitary words to tell a comprehensive story. 10 X 10 is as close as you can get to the concept of "the news at a glance."

Developed by Jonathan Harris (the same man who brought us the recently reviewed WordCount), and launched on November the 4th, 10 X 10 is a fascinating combination of art, science, culture, and current affairs - as intriguing for the way that it creates its content as for the content itself.

The function of the site is to place the world's top 100 news stories of the past 60 minutes onto a single web page, represented by a 10 across, 10 down grid of thumbnail images. To do this, an automated process scans the RSS (Really Simple Syndication) international news feeds of Reuters, the BBC, and the New York Times, and then, "performs an elaborate process of weighted linguistic analysis on the text contained in their top news stories." The top 100 words along with their corresponding images and stories are then gathered (without input from editors or webmasters, or human intervention of any kind), and posted to the site.

The result, while it may not be as immediately digestible as BBC or Yahoo!'s news pages, beats both in terms of providing a snapshot of one hour in world history. And though the images are the site's most obvious attraction, 10 X 10 offers a great deal more than pretty (and not so pretty) pictures.

To access 10 X 10, the visitor simply clicks on the "This is Now" link on the website's splash page, which reveals a screen capture of the current grid and a link to the 'live' version of the Flash application. The active grid displays images from the hour's top stories, arranged by rank in a left-to-right, top-to-bottom sequence, while to the right, a key word is posted for each of the images. (The words also appear in sequential order, and in a manner that will be familiar to those who have visited WordCount-enlarge on mouseover for easier reading.) The two navigational methods are linked to each other as well - so scanning the words will highlight the corresponding images, and scanning the images will enlarge the corresponding words.

Click on an image or word, and 10 X 10 draws a pop-in window with a larger thumbnail and links to any stories related to the word. (Word #4 as I write this, "Talks," offers links to stories about Darfur, North Korea, Iranian Nuclear Negotiations, Thailand, and Gaza.) Click on the larger image and it expands -in a heavily pixellated form - to cover the grid. Click on one of the stories, and the original Reuters, BBC, or NEW YORK TIMES page will open into a new window.

Again, while any of the stories available here can be found by much more conventional means, 10 X 10 presents them in a fascinating chronological/cultural context - showing not only what the major news sources are considering the important stories of the moment, but also inviting questions about what might be influencing those choices. (By way of illustration, the top three words in the list as I write are Iraq, Nuclear, and Security. As I scrolled down, I eventually found Victory, but is was in position 96 - and referred to a boxing match.)

In a different way, the thumbnail grid makes its own statement. While words in the list are never repeated, images related to those words frequently crop up more than once, so the visitor is presented with occasional patterns. (Presently, a half dozen identical images of a train derailment in the UK - "Train," "Police," "Crossing," "Crash"...- and four of GWB -"President," "Message"...- are scattered across the grid.) Extreme differences in close proximity are also common - a Nobel Prize winner might appear next to a dictator, or a billionaire next to a refugee.

In this way,10 X 10's news of the hour can easily summon up thoughts about much broader issues.

Given all the opportunities for patterns and interrelations, it would have been fascinating to have seen the grids on the morning after George Bush's re-election, but unfortunately, the site launched a day too late. However, you can look at any hour as far back as the 3 a.m., November 4 launch, through "Previous Hour," "Next Hour," and "History" links at the bottom of the screen - and once January arrives, there will also be a one-grid summation of all the stories gathered in the previous year. (Though for 2004, the year will presumably only include November and December.)

If this site remains in operation for a sufficient duration, the history options could become a singular resource for serious as well as more trivial research - from investigating historical shifts as demonstrated by changes in annual grids, to recording the grid that was posted at the hour of birth of a family addition.

(Finally, at the bottom of the page, beside "About" and "How It Works" links, "For Developers" holds an unusually generous invitation to other web developers - allowing them to freely use the information gathered by 10 X10 in their own non-commercial projects.)

While there is no human intervention on the part of 10 X 10, the stories are, of course, edited and given priorities at the source sites (so, for example, the story about the train derailment wouldn't have ranked as high if it had happened in China, or if the BBC wasn't one of the three sources for stories), but this doesn't detract from the value of the exercise. In its ability to provide an hourly snapshot of the world, 10 X 10 is unique, and whether it will serve merely as an entertaining diversion, or as a valuable resource for followers of global events...well, that will be entirely up to each visitor.

10 X 10 can be found at http://www.tenbyten.org/.

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