Science is on the net; the net is part of everyday-science. Science is
also becoming a major content source for television. But where and how
do 'net' and 'television' join their efforts to promote science as such?
For the time being, at least, cooperation between traditional TV and the
Internet is scarce - in spite of the optional Web-site almost any TV-producer
The principle idea of the European Popular
Science Information Project'(EPS) therefore
was to explore and develop new ways of incorporating and transferring
Internet science content into mass media TV.
In the course of implementing this task we focussed our attention on
- How to make Internet content usable for TV-journalists producing
- How to incorporate Internet-based information in science TV programs?
- How to visualize the Internet on TV (interface design etc.)?
Cooperating with national TV producers in Germany we developed, among
other things, storyboarding techniques using the WWW in order to process
information, to develop 'stories' and to facilitate pre-production and
production of programs.
In addition, we addressed the problem of how to integrate films, images,
maps and other material available on the Internet into these programs.
This led to experiments in interface design: providing 'windows' from
the 'real world' of TV programs into the virtual worlds' of cyberspace.
2. Introducing the European Popular
Science Information Project (current
website - future
Where science meets the public, new forms of publishing become significant.
But changing the media changes a lot more: the awareness of scientific
research in the public sphere as well as the media consciousness of science
itself. The creation of different types of media formats and user interfaces
accompanies these changes.
EPS, an European Commission-sponsored joint effort co-ordinated
by the University of Münster analyses these new forms of communication
in multimedia and networked environments - and participates with its own
projects. There are two 'departments'.
EPS online: The role of scientific networks has been overshadowed
by the commercialization of the Internet; nevertheless online science
content and interaction on the Internet is growing at a rapid pace. The
EPS Project addresses the interconnectivity between science TV programming
and science content/services on the Internet by developing a database
of science content exploring the feasibility of serious scientific information
in a commercial environment.
EPS tv+video: Media production activities connected to the EPS
Project concentrate on the development of science content materials for
television. This at present involves the development of themes and formats
for innovative TV science programming. Another core activity concerns
the evaluation of science programs and videos.
3. The setting and general problems
a) Science and Youth Culture
'Music-Video-Clips', technically and aesthetically, to-day seem to represent
the state of the art in audio-visual culture. Young audiences are developing
part of their cognitive competence along these lines. Experimenting with
the production of educational science videos for audiences like these
whilst ensuring quality and responsibility will require high investments.
A general problem is how to come up with products competing with MTV-fare
and how, at the same time, to successfully disseminate cultural and scientific
information in 'difficult' educational settings.
b) Internet Culture and TV
The Internet is not only changing the design and the reception of traditional
media, but also the way they operate, i.e. how they present a given content
to an audience, and even more how they can eventually establish a fruitful
interaction between themselves and the viewer. Digital technology will
not simply replace radio, TV or telephone or even newspaper, but merge
with them, finding new forms to present its content to the public and
to serve in the interest of the public.
c) Mass Media: the Gap between Hype and actual application of digital
Many media people - in Germany - are only talking about the benefits
of Cyberspace without fully exploiting the possibilities the Internet
has to offer, regarding the production and dissemination of information
for the good of an informed public. Their production methods and information
policies are still very much focussed on power and control mechanism -
and not on gauging the democratic and informational potential of digital
d) The changing role of public science
The same can be said about the university and research system. In securing
funding, Internet-hype abounds. There is very good equipment being used
behind the closed doors of research institutions. But the obligation to
inform and educate the public is not being met by vigorously by presenting
and disseminating knowledge by means of the new communication technologies.
Scientists still operate within a closed shop policy of specialized networks,
far removed from the public networks.
e) The Internet as a source of popular science information
The Internet contains a vast number of science sites, ranging from simple
representations of institutes and universities, databases and text collections,
to useful applications for further research and teaching. Another big
chunk is made up by the scientific online-journals, offering all sorts
of interactivity. Other sites are indeed implementing TV programs by providing
surplus information. Very rarely, though, do these sites add extra value
to what is shown on TV. That holds especially true for the narrative structure
of the content, which still is very much focussed on the TV-mass media-filtering-paradigm,
disregarding the open structures the Internet and its audience value.
f) Theoretical considerations
There is a complex theoretical background for our activities we will
spare out. We just want to mention the concept of 'cognitive mapping'
in the sense of a pedagogical political culture which - under the conditions
of the multinational and decentered communicational networks - seeks to
endow the individual subject with some sense of its place in the global
system. In addition, we stress the importance of developing the tools
of the narrative (allegories and metaphors etc.) within science content
presentation on the net. We also find helpful the notion of an 'interface
culture' (Steven Johnson).
4. Adventures and Explorations of
the EPS Project
In late 1996 the European Commission's 'Information Society Project
Office' (ISPO) accepted the proposal for a media project that was
to address the interaction between scientific internet activities (content
presentation etc.) and popularization of science, especially in mass media
television. The 'European Popular Science Information Project' (EPS) was
set up and started working in January 1997. The international project
partners included the British Film Institute (BFI), the German
Research Network (DFN), the Computing Center (ZIV) of the University
of Münster and Spiegel TV ( subsidiary of DER SPIEGEL
and one of the largest German producers of commercial TV programs). In
1998 Spiegel TV was replaced by Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR), Germany's
major public sector TV producer, and a local channel, Münster
TV. The co-ordinating partner was the Institute of Sociology (IFS),
University of Münster.
As far as 'broadcasting the web'
was concerned, the original idea of the project aimed at the development
of new formats for science programming on TV, at pre-production and production
routines using Internet's possibilities in various ways and, in a wider
sense, at gaining experience in bridging the two worlds of TV and Internet.
a) Producing commercial science TV programs with Internet support (Spiegel
In 1997 Spiegel TV produced four science programs three of which were
broadcast in November/December of that year. The EPS-project was participating
in all stages of the production process, i.e. developing treatments and
scripts based on internet research, opening up internet sources for visual
material of various kinds, 'grabbing' video sequences from the internet
etc. Researchers from the IFS were also involved in the actual filming,
directing and editing of portions of the programs. We also tried to influence
the actual format of the three programs that were aired. For this purpose
the results of a BFI-study on science TV programming in North America
and Europe were presented to the producers at Spiegel TV.
In addition the EPS team at the IFS began developing electronic storyboards
in order to speed up communication during the pre-production phase, to
identify and develop stories', to contact and inform experts and
interview partners etc. (for details on the storyboarding technique see
below). The same storyboards were also used to document the broadcasts
at 'Spiegel Online' (another subsidiary of DER SPIEGEL, see below).
The innovative character of the three science TV programs aired by SPTV
as a result of the EPS effort was disappointing. Although commercially
a fair success, their quality really did not differ much from usual science
TV reporting - except for the fact that content actuality and completeness
was enhanced and that the accompanying websites were better than usual.
But there was some progress 'behind the scenes'. It was established that
analogue TV production techniques (which at that time still dominated
at Spiegel TV) were no match for the digital possibilities of research,
communication and 'storyboarding'. Therefore many efforts by EPS ended
in a vacuum - including the fact that the DFN had made available high
speed connections into the European Research Network (which were never
used by Spiegel TV). But Spiegel TV since has made many efforts to incorporate
digital communication into its production routines. And EPS, after terminating
cooperation with Spiegel TV in early 1998, has analyzed and evaluated
its experiences with commercial national television to fairly great avail.
b) Development of a Commercial Science Online-Information Service (Spiegel
From the original proposal: "Few commercial websites are responding
to the fact that the Internet is a vast reservoir of scientific information.
Commercial exploitation of this treasure trove is feasible through the
development of 'help'- and counseling functions. Scientific expertise
of a flexible, 'lateral' nature is to be provided for an individualized
clientele seeking solutions for complex problems. Setting up an interactive
'scientific counseling service' of this kind at a commercial website would
require stable information resources and the recruitment of experts on
net structure and content."
We found the people at Spiegel Online (SPON) more than
willing to work in that direction. In fact, an extensive service package
(message boards, job market etc.) was conceived. Various scientific discussion
fora were realized. The EPS Online contributions at Spiegel Online, in
a way, constituted experiments in what science 'Internet TV' programming
could be in the future. SPON provided the public window for some of the
results of EPS 'storyboarding'. Each
of the three SPTV/EPS pilot programs was accompanied by special pages
within SPON presenting the full range of research results, links and hypertexts
relevant to the topics. This information was posted in advance of the
broadcast and remained there up to the next program change. SPON, being
one of the most frequently visited commercial website in Germany, also
registered good ratings for the EPS pages.
On the other hand, even before cooperation was terminated, the good will
of the SPON was severely handicapped by a shortage of personnel - this
branch of operations, which since has become very profitable, still being
underfunded and neglected by DER SPIEGEL at that time.
c) Producing Science TV Programs on National Public Television (WDR)
Since May 1998 the EPS project has initiated cooperation with the Westdeutscher
Rundfunk (WDR), Cologne. In contrast to the situation at Spiegel TV, where
a science format was to be developed, cooperation with the WDR centers
on an already well established popular science TV program called 'Quarks&Co.'.
The bi-weekly program of 45-minutes is produced at a large live studio
and features a well known science presenter. Internet-elements have been
an almost regular feature, although they are presented in a conventional
way, i.e. the presenter manipulating a conventional browser on a computer
screen. Cooperation includes further development of the EPS-storyboard
technology for research and Internet presentation (see below). The main
effort, though, has been to develop and design a 'virtual window' - an
interface - between the 'Quarks&Co.'-studio setting and visually attractive
sites on the Internet.
Production of this TV-Internet-Interface is in the hands of company b,
a subsidiary of Europäisches Filmzentrum Babelsberg, the new high
tech media center near Berlin. Company b, so far, has produced one 3-D-Animation
interface for 'Quarks&Co. which was experimentally used in one broadcast
in November 1998. These experiments will continue in 1999.
d) Producing Science TV Programs on Local Public Television (TV Münster)
In addition, EPS has initiated cooperation with open channel 'TV Münster'
(range: 150 000 households) in order to produce up to five experimental
EPS-science programs (Campus or University TV) at a grassroots
level. Again, using the internet as a source, as a communications medium
and as a 'subject' is at the center of these efforts. The German Research
Network (DFN) is supporting this work in view of its plans to further
university TV productions along the lines of Internet TV. Here, too, 'company
b', Babelsberg, is going to provide models for professional
'shells' in order to enhance what might be produced and aired at the grass
e) Summary: Current Structure of Activities Towards an Internet-based
Media Presence of Science
Our general aim of contributing to the 'broadcasting of web science'
has led to an interconnected structure of activities: a) producing storyboards
not only for pre-production and communication, but also with an eye towards
providing the narrative structure for TV-Internet and possibly Internet-TV
programs; b) producing (animated 3-D) interfaces (TV-Internet) that can
be integrated into TV-Program formats into 'shells', into Internet-presentations,
into all-purpose-storyboards', providing eventually a visual user
guidance system into various areas of scientific knowledge. The tasks
presently pursued by the partners - WDR, TV Münster, company b, German
Research Network, the EPS team at the IFS - all merge in the function
of furthering the presence of scientific information in mass culture.
The Internet plays an integral part in this task, as it is the fastest
growing medium for intra-science communication and presentation of content
and for inter-webbing knowledge and the socio-cultural context. The
Internet no longer is simply a technology, but a cultural phenomenon beginning
to impact on the quality of mass culture in general.
5. Applications: Storyboards and
The 'storyboarding' technology was basically developed for pre-production
communication purposes so that partners could visually - at one glance
- represent and discuss the state of research and conceptualization; check
on the filmed and edited sequences; assemble information on the various
sources of visual material; establish expert contacts; circulate text
drafts, treatments and scripts; explore locations etc. The venture of
interface design was a logical consequence of this work, leading, as far
as TV production was concerned, into the (costly) world of 3-D-animations.
The emphasis was not on software development. We used the most simple
and widely available methods - which was inescapable because of our partners
in TV who were just beginning the leave the analogue world. But in addition,
a wide documentation of work in the field of the topology of the internet
was undertaken, various solutions and best practices were discussed with
our partners, especially WDR, company b and DFN
Storyboarding and interface design, in the context of popularizing science,
can be viewed as a strategic action to find and develop concrete narrative
structures for true science stories'. Together both strategies
of carrying narrative methods into the digital environment might eventually
lead to 'webbing
the broadcasts' (see below).
The storyboarding technique is well known in film production, where -
in 'comic book' form - all the necessary information needed for cooperatively
shooting a film is sketched out, either to develop the general plot or
to find practical, camera-oriented solutions for a given scene or sequence.
In short, the film is pre-told in still pictures. And by now there exist
various softwares for this type of storyboard.
We applied the general idea of storyboarding to our needs, i.e. to essentially
pre-tell the intended science program or 'story' to all concerned (partners
at different locations, interviewees, even the European Commission) and
then to organize program production via the Internet. We wanted to include
as much diverse information on a given subject as possible: texts, images,
sounds and moving pictures available on the net - and making additional
material available on the net. Eventually some of these storyboards developed
'a life of their own', independent of program production. Thus storyboards
could be seen as an independent form of net culture: telling (science)
stories the Internet way.
On one level we did nothing more than to use the existing technology
of hyperlinks and browser plug-ins to connect what we thought would be
fitting into a story or program. On a second level we not only connected
various resources but we gave them a meaning that was not there before.
We told a story, we connected and linked resources, put them into a context
that was not intended by the original publishers, but which made sense.
We commented on resources we found, we ranked them - giving them attributes
with the help of icons etc. Thereby we began producing reference sites
on a given subject, which moved from link collections to narratives that
could be used for educational purposes as well as for the pre-production
of TV programs.
storyboards of EPS-IFS as they stand to-day do not represent
a final statement on the subjects, but a work in progress, which
is constantly adapted to the actual needs of the project and program
production. In fact, we still experiment with ways and means to
present these storyboards to 'outsiders'. Right now we have some
storyboards simply outlining possible aspects eventually to be covered
in a film. Some just constitute a background for negotiations with
the editors and authors of the films and programs. Others try to
catch the visual essence of films already edited etc.
One major effort by the IFS was directed at moving away from 'hand to
mouth' pre-production routines and to develop tools, centered around computer
mediated communication, for quick research, interactive co-operation in
a multimedia setting etc. This resulted in a simple 'storyboarding' technology
that could hold and disseminate all information being accumulated by the
EPS-partners within a single, interactive frame of representation.
This type of storyboard was used with Spiegel TV, Spiegel Online and
also with the WDR - because mass media production routines as we encountered
them there (mostly pre-digital) did not permit any more elaborate use
of such largely unproven methods.
second type of storyboards was implemented in the process of
editing the material shot for the experimental programs at TV Münster
- with far less rigid production schedules. Stills from the raw
material were digitized, arranged in order of their appearance in
the final film and displayed on a website. As with the original
storyboard of ideas and scientific content, these purely visual
storyboards were eventually hyperlinked to resources, other images
or films, sounds and texts. These storyboards could then be used
to discuss the possible editing versions in a collaborative working
environment, making suggestions about the order of images, the corresponding
filmscenes and narration.
Working with local crews from TV Münster and with local scientists
and researchers we can sense that software development and artful design
of 'scientific storyboarding' would be a boost to the ability of scientists
to tell their own story effectively to the public. All of them have a
working knowledge of internet presentation and - moving from there - one
could really achieve a 'media qualification' for scientists interested
in the public role and impact of science and scientific research. In fact,
they could be enabled to produce their own storyboards for further use
and adaptation in TV, Internet-TV etc.
b) Interfaces TV-Internet
Interface culture is part of everyday life. Packaging is an element of
communication. Interfaces, portals, windows are the mainstay of internet
interactivity. Advanced TV channels like CNN or MTV are beginning to emulate
the interface world, preparing for interactive television and pre-formatting
user/audience navigation habits.
Science reporting in TV should have yet another motivation for developing
interfaces TV-Internet. Interface design is progressing to a stage where
its "more limber, loose fitting metaphors" will serve as a "corrective
to the forces unleashed by the information age" (Steven
Johnson). In other words, self-presentation of science on the Internet
must be increasingly aware of the 'cognitive mapping' functions of interface
design - and results of this awareness should spill over into the presentation
of science in other mass media, especially television.
It is here - for the purpose of organizing, selecting and interpreting
knowledge - that interface design becomes part of cultural heritage and
must be seen as a medium "as complex and vital as the novel or the
cathedral or the cinema" (Johnson). Interface software, in addition
to being a system of protocols, is becoming a form of cultural practice.
Starting with our above storyboards and exploring ways of presenting
the topology of cyberspace, we have begun to look into the possibility
of TV-Internet interfaces. At this early stage this amounts to generating
interest for this idea within the television industry and to produce demos
showing how 'windows' could be opened into the world of science on the
Of course, television has developed some spectacular animated portals
into the world of 'data superhighways'. But these designs usually have
little to do with the real workings of the Internet. On the other hand,
the Internet is frequently presented as a blurry of small images flickering
on a computer screen with someone sitting in front of a PC trying to make
things work. This is neither aesthetically nor practically very useful
nor in any way attracting people to use the Web for themselves.
To overcome these shortcomings EPS, together with company b, European
Film Center Babelsberg, has been experimenting with TV-Internet interfaces,
trying to symbolize the Internet, its netlike inter-connected topology,
virtuality and functionality. Eventually a format was developed to represent
the Internet on a huge screen that was fitted into the live studio of
the WDR-TV science show 'Quarks & Co'. Thereby, the Internet
became an integral part of the studio.
The presenter of that show simulated interactivity with the enlarged
'Internet topology screen' containing keywords, paths etc. The search
and surf process, though, was pre-produced. The main purpose of this first
TV-Internet interface, which so far has been used once, was to establish
routines between the 'digital artists' at company b and the producers
at WDR / 'Quarks&Co.' The 3-D-animation sequence was very costly to
produce, 'analogue' production routines at the WDR were brought into disarray
- but this interface, now in place, will be used in further programs that
merit the inclusion of attractive internet material.
Some elements of the interface design for WDR were influenced by Plumb
Design's Virtual Thesaurus and Natrificial's Brain software. (see
c) Integrating Storyboard- and Interface-Technologies for Use in Educational
Another path opening up is the use of these techniques for enhancing
the functions of websites within a university teaching environment. We
have, as a spin-off, used websites in several large seminars (50-200 students,
all with internet access) for coordinating, communicating and presenting
seminar content. We found, that 'mass media aesthetics' that work for
the popularization of science also work for teaching - since all students,
just like anywhere else, are immersed in mass culture and understand that
While the cultural background is the same, the technical requirements
for developing 'interface culture websites' for teaching purposes are
much simpler. By starting here, the next step, 'broadcasting the web',
might eventually be easier.
A technology for 'website teaching' would include an ergonomic user-interface
(integration of different media types, performance of a semantic interface),
a mix of different communications technologies (mailing-lists, netnews,
groupware-solutions on the basis of data-bank or HTML etc.), a maximum
of platform-independency for allowing the use of software in heterogeneous
environments. Such a website would divide into three modules - coordination
(emphasis on screen design), communication (mailing lists, web-based discussion
groups and netnews, IRC, collaborative work with HTML) and presentation
(homogeneous interface, integration of video, images, VR-environments,
6. 'Webbing the Broadcasts' - the
Internet as a Media Resource Platform
The 'broadcast quality' of the Internet, in spite of rapid advances,
will not be up to the quality of other mass media for some time. EPS has
tried to contribute to the presentation of Internet content - as it is
- within mass media television. Another basic idea was that by webbing
science content, which still makes up the most fascinating aspect of the
Internet, it could be demonstrated that the flexibility of net operations,
in the long run, will deeply influence to 'interactivity' and content
flow between the different media or 'broadcasts'.
At the heart of this process of content management are, we feel, techniques
and methods like electronic storyboarding (for narrative purposes) and
interface design (for intelligent aesthetics). Eventually, on the basis
of this, Internet operations can develop into a resource platform for
all the media. In an abstract sense, this is a trivial observation. But
in practice, as we have learned, it is very difficult to carry through.
Steve Johnson: Interface Culture: How New Technology Transforms the Way
We Create and Communicate. Harper 1997.
Design's Virtual Thesaurus