MIT Researchers Want to Bring Readers Into the ‘FOLD’

A new platform they’re working on makes telling and reading news articles easier by adding elements that enhance the narrative.

MIT Media Lab Photo via Facebook

MIT Media Lab Photo via Facebook

When the crisis in Crimea started to unfold earlier this year, MIT Media Lab researchers Kevin Hu and Alexis Hope found themselves asking a lot of the same questions they suspected other people had about the escalating situation.

“We didn’t know where it was,” said Hope, a designer and researcher studying at the MIT Media Lab and the Center for Civic Media. “We realized we weren’t the only ones that had that question, or other questions, like the country’s history, about the people living there, or why it was important. We were wondering ‘why we should read about it?’”

The confusion about the story’s timeline, geographic coordinates, and complex background leading to the unrest was the impetus for Hope and HU to create “FOLD,” which they describe as a context creation platform for journalists and storytellers to structure and craft narratives into digestible news content.

“Our first prototype was based around that issue, and we did extensive research to pick apart all the players involved and created the initial platform using Crimea to illustrate why this [project] would be useful,” said Hope.

Initially the sample was for class, but after getting excited about its potential, Hu and Hope decided to keep working on it.

FOLD, scheduled for a beta release at the end of summer, not only enhances the way that reporters and writers can convey their news stories to their intended audience, it also “helps readers confidently engage with new material, providing curated tangents to capture interest and attention,” according to the creators.

Hope said FOLD is set up as a block of information, with horizontal “ribbons” extending from the main content. Those ribbons supplement the story with related information in the form of visual media such as photos, maps, videos, songs, or animated GIFS, all of which quickly unravel the deeper storyline for a given article.

FOLD, which is starting as a website and will later, hopefully, become an app for smartphones and tablets, is an editable authoring platform that can access outside sources without leaving the main page. For example, if a reporter were using the platform, they could search for certain terms from FOLD’s website to add the digital content to the story. “It allows you to search YouTube for videos related to your topic of interest, and see [and] add the video right there,” said Hope.

This sort of setup is also what makes FOLD ideal for people consuming that content. In an age of fast-clicks and multiple web-browser tabs, FOLD will help keep readers on one page, eliminating the hassle of starting new tabs to look for, and Google, other information about the topic. Buttons at the top of the FOLD allow for quick and easily navigable scrolling, so readers can sift through the extra material.

“We’re committed to the concept of providing context alongside larger stories that doesn’t take attention away from the story at hand. It’s like scrolling cards that are anchored to the main text,” said Hope. “We want to go to classrooms, and history classes, and even newsrooms to see how this may be helpful for people, and if they would use it. It’s going to be a big project all next year for us.”