06 January 2007

Daylife: The Hyperlinked News... Paper?

I recently wrote about sites that aggregate news stories from sources around the world and present them as a gestalt, either in graphical or headline fashion. The evolution of the traditional newspaper as an archetype of informing oneself has been a hot topic over the past couple of years - the gestalt form corresponding to McLuhan's reference to pattern recognition that emerges from information overload (one of his early reversals in Understanding Media). We have seen nearly every traditional broadsheet around the globe take to the web: some, like the Globe and Mail, incorporating community-forming aspects like comment threads on major articles (okay, so it's often a dysfunctional community). Others, like the Toronto Star, simply move from one confusing mess of a web presence to another.

At first glance, it would seem that the traditional newspaper might be tailor-made for translation to the web. Articles are juxtaposed on the page according to (editors' judgement of) importance, or topic relation, or by page theme. Individual pages are grouped into sections according to major taxonomic divisions - The World, The Nation, Sports, Entertainment and so forth. But inherently, newspapers are nonlinear and both explicitly and implicitly hyperlinked ("see more on page 10; related articles on pages 12-15"). So, aside from the convenience of reading multiple newspapers online each morning (and not having to haul pixels for recycling to the curb every other week), why is the online newspaper such a boring medium?

Perhaps a look at the recently launched Daylife can provide some clues. The "cover" feels a bit like a magazine - a large photograph that highlights an editorially-selected topic of note for the day's theme. "Inside," the top stories - as well as all the other content - are entirely algorithmically generated collations from news sources around the world, like Daylife's forebear, Google News. What makes Daylife unique is the assembly of related topic and article links throughout the page. Among all of the aggregate pages are related stories, pictures, quotes, people, organizations and places that effect the type of juxtaposition that so characterizes traditional newspapers, leading McLuhan to observe that one steps into the daily newspaper as one might step into a bath.

I'm impressed by Daylife, particularly for its human feel and aesthetic, and its implicit understanding that the world in which we live, and on which it reports, is primarily about relationships and connections. More so than most other sources, Daylife demonstrates this basic and important understanding amidst the chaotic flow of the day's news.

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