Tweets on a Pole: The Information Radiator
By Chris Marstall, Boston Globe Creative Technologist
Yesterday, we put this up in the newsroom. We’re calling the project Information Radiator, and eventually it will encompass screens throughout the Globe’s various newsrooms. This is version one, a temporary setup on a portable pole.
Six displays are grouped into pairs, with each mirroring the contents of another on the opposite side of the pole.
On top is the twitter screen, where we continuously show the most recent newsroom-staffer tweet. Nice and big so it can be viewed from far away.
The tweets are pulled from the @bostonupdate/bostonglobe twitter list, which is maintained by our social media team, led by Adrienne Lavidor-Berman and Joel Abrams. This particular list follows the newsroom editors, reporters & staff who tweet, 170 accounts in total. Even though the display is relatively small, tweets can be read from four or five cubes away. Being mirrored on both sides of the pole means it’s readable from probably about 1/6 of the newsoom. The pole’s in a prominent place, visible from most of the room, and many people walk past it every day.
On the bottom two screens are our two news sites, boston.com and bostonglobe.com (the latter’s not yet available to public, you’re getting an exclusive glimpse!).
Those who pass by get close enough to be able to read headlines on the two sites. They’re often quite different, which is interesting in itself.
From afar, the bottom two screens are just blurry whitish squares, but they still have a purpose: to remind everyone that we have two news sites now. We’re not just boston.com anymore.
For reporters, twitter is a 2-way street. It’s a distribution channel, but also a source of news – many follow politicians, athletes, artists, etc. We hope the Information Radiator will be used this way, too. That it can be an updated take on newsroom screens and data feeds from another era – TVs, police scanners, centrally-located teletypes, etc.
The perfect Information Radiator would take the place of all of these. It would be just as simple, just as atmospheric, just as rapidly changing as CNN with the sound turned down. Yet it would be richer, more attuned to the needs of the newsroom. It would encompass, of course, the voices of all our local competitors. It would take in City Hall, the Fire Department, Symphony Hall, Ochocino. It would show conversations going back and forth between our own staffers. Our readers’ reactions to our stories would be in the mix constantly. And this would all live, unobtrusively, ambiently, in the place we hope will remain the heart of the region’s informationscape – the Boston Globe newsroom.
How we built it
The Globe Media Lab team (myself, Antony Paolillo and Grace Woo, with some crucial design help from Miranda Mulligan) put this together over the course of a few weeks for a budget of around $2000 plus some scrounged parts.
The 7’ pole and floorstand are sold by Ergomart and cost $291; VESA brackets were another $300 from the same source. The mounted displays are Asus 24” VE248H’s ($149). Three $199 Asus EEEBox mini-pcs running Ubuntu are velcro’d to the back of three of the monitors.
Everything is held together with Velcro strips, Velcro twist-ties and other sundry cable management geegaws we bought at MicroCenter on Memorial Drive in Cambridge.
Total power draw is around 300W, and the footprint is 30”. We control it with a $79 Adesso wireless keyboard, which we can switch from box to box just by moving a wireless USB stub.