Interactive newsprint points to the future

A team of researchers at the Media Innovation Studio at University of Central Lancashire looked closely at newspaper pages. They saw much more than just ink and paper: They envisioned the printed page to become an interactive surface connected to the internet of things (IoT) that would respond to touch and offer audio playback and other unexpected features.

A team of researchers at the Media Innovation Studio at University of Central Lancashire looked closely at newspaper pages. They saw much more than just ink and paper: They envisioned the printed page to become an interactive surface connected to the internet of things (IoT) that would respond to touch and offer audio playback and other unexpected features. What the team around Prof. Paul Egglestone and researcher John Mills described in their poster and tested in their Super 8 project may well provide a glimpse of the future of newsprint.

Advances in conductive ink technology and data connectivity lie at the core of the researchers’ explorations. Their work aimed at developing a publishing platform that can exchange data and bridge the gap between the physical and digital worlds. The team focused on paper since it has been used for hundreds of years in publishing but has lost some of its attractiveness due to its limitations regarding personalization and dynamic content compared to digital platforms.

Super8-2

The research team wanted their work to benefit both consumers and publishers: Newspaper readers would be able to experience rich content with sounds, sights and tactile sensations; publishers would not only have an interested readership but also the opportunity to monitor the users’ data and assess the popularity of the content. “We frame this not in opposition to a web-based consumption but as an alternative method that combines digital media with the unique properties and opportunities of IoT paper”, the researchers write.

During the research project, they developed a product named EKKO that connects the pages with conductive ink to the IoT. EKKO consists of a clip, a companion app and a publishing platform. The EKKO clip recognizes touch and connects the page with a web-based content management system and analytics suite. While the researchers were interested solving complex technical challenges, they also looked at what types of analytic data could be derived from print and, more importantly, what kind of data publishers require. They team took a broad perspective, including business models and cultural practices for both the web-based and print publications.

Super8

To test their invention in real life, the researchers partnered with the agency Uniform and the Trinity Mirror, publisher of the Liverpool Echo. They created an interactive print supplement, the so-called Super 8 prototype, that took eight of the most memorable moments from the career of Liverpool Football Club’s former captain Steven Gerrard. The EKKO clip was the bridge between static content, the printed page, and dynamic content, audio clips and additional information.

Newspaper readers could connect the EKKO clip to the page like a bookmark and trigger online interactions by pressing the buttons printed with conductive inks. A press of a button would activate an audio file on the user’s smartphone. Since the content is dynamic, it is possible to connect different audio or video files to one button. If the publisher changed the audio file connected to a button, every printed page in circulation will be instantly updated. The team designed EKKO to run independently of the publication so that any interested publisher or advertiser can use it.

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One advantage of digital platforms over print has been their ability to collect and analyze user data. EKKO offers something similar for interactive print pages. The information that can be collected currently includes the publication, the reader, the location, the time spent looking at the content, the duration between interactions, the number of clicks, the average time a user listens and the percentage of engagement based on a predefined time threshold of the audio content.

While the concept sounds promising, some challenges remain. They include increasing the robustness of the conductive ink for use in real world environments and creating an infrastructure that would allow the interactive pages and a publishers CMS to work together seamlessly. Further work is also needed to better understand the data requirements by publishers and the usefulness of the collected data. But once these challenges are tackled, there are many opportunities for EKKO and the interactive paper inside and outside the publishing world, including connected paper coffee cups, travel tickets and posters.