News from a Bubble

My friend Vincent Maher, currently the director of the New Media Laboratory at Rhodes University’s School of Journalism & Media Studies in Grahamstown, South Africa (my old stomping ground, when I taught there in the late 90s, and studied there in the late 80s) has developed an innovative way to ‘aggregate’ the day’s news.

Check out

The site aggregates news – categorised into technology, world, US, UK and South African – and converts the stories into tags and renders them as floating bubbles where the size of the bubble is determined by the frequency of the tag. It also shows which tags are the most clicked on by users.

What it basically does it create differently sized balloons which inflate according to the frequency of certain keywords. In today’s news aggregation, we see that keyword “police” has made the largest bubble, while terms like “Climate” and “rainfall” have made teeny-tiny little ones.

The application is still in ‘beta’, but says Maher, “It’s like a dog, every day I wake up and train this thing – I have to train it which words to keep and which to discard.”

He says he didn’t create it intentionally. He’d been thinking about new ways to aggregate the news and “had some bubble code lying around”. “I just started messing about”, he says.

It might not be the most efficient way of searching the news, but it is loads of fun, turns up unexpected stories and has loads of potential to visually demonstrate both news priorities and reader interest as Maher develops the technology.