IST researchers aim to increase community engagement through local news app

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- In recent years, Twitter and other social media sites have played an increasingly important role in reporting local news through personal perspectives. Formal news articles that are published by media organizations may be more objective and authoritative but lack social context. Researchers at Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) have devised a smartphone app that integrates local news articles and socially generated tweets, with a goal of increasing community awareness and engagement by enabling users to access more dynamic community news information.

“I think that what’s clever about (the app) is that the content it needs is already there,” said Jack Carroll, distinguished professor of IST who directs the Center for Human Computer Interaction (HCI) at Penn State. “It really integrates stakeholders in a news story in a way that doesn’t normally occur.”

The Local News Chatter (LNC) smartphone app, which is developed and managed by the Center for Human Computer Interaction and was recently uploaded to the Android market, extracts a set of popular tags from articles published in news outlets in the State College, Pa. area — Centre Daily Times, Daily Collegian, www.statecollege.com and Penn State News — and utilizes them to find associated tweets from Twitter. The app displays those tags in a tag cloud and presents both formal news articles and tweets in an integrated manner. The researchers are interested in understanding how users perceive aggregated community information while using the app and if the app helps them be more aware of local community news and activities.

The Center for Human-Computer Interaction is an interdisciplinary organizational unit for human-computer interaction research, instruction, and outreach within Penn State and beyond. The center seeks to leverage and integrate diverse HCI activities throughout the University to facilitate interdisciplinary faculty interaction relating to HCI issues, problems and opportunities. Carroll is assisted at the center by Patrick Shih, an IST research associate, and Keith Han, a doctoral candidate at the College of IST.

The LNC app employs an algorithm that generates the most common keywords from local news sources based on text analysis and then aggregates tweets that include those keywords. The keywords are displayed in a “tag cloud” cluster on the user’s smartphone, and by clicking on a tag, news stories can be accessed that were published within the previous 48 hours along with the aggregated tweets. As an example, a popular tag following a Penn State football game could be “Beaver Stadium.” A sports story from the Centre Daily Times may be displayed, along with tweets that mention Beaver Stadium in some way, such as fan commentary or tweeted moments from a game.

Individuals can access the Local News Chatter app either as guests or through their Twitter accounts, the researchers said, and are able to read the full versions of the stories as well as add their own tweets. Twitter users have more options with the app than guest users. The app is currently available only to Android users in the State College area, although the model can be adapted to other geographic areas.

“My hope is that if the application goes well, we can expand to other communities,” Han said.

The app is available for free. 

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Last Updated November 04, 2013