If you like your news straight up, just the facts, gray lady style, skip this story. MSNBC is launching some new toys for its news service that let you scan headlines in creative (and goofy) ways, and even play games with them. They're all part of the MSNBC NewsWare service.
Spectra is the service's new headline viewer. You select the categories you want to see, and it throws them up in an orbiting view for you. Each category has a color associated with it, which presumably gives you some subliminal clue as to where each headline fits in your consciousness. Unfortunately, you cannot select the stories in the orbital view directly to learn more about them.
The color coding also gets used in what may be the dumbest news gizmo I've ever seen: The application can connect to your Webcam and throw headlines up on the screen based on the color of what the camera is seeing. Wear a red shirt and you'll see a lot of Top Headlines. Green: Travel or sports (depending on the shade). Want to see latest videos? Hold an orange up to your camera. Really, you can't make this stuff up.
Other developments: The NewsBlaster game, where you have to shoot like-colored orbs that release headlines, which you also have to shoot for points. What fun!
The most sober of the new products is the NewsScroller widget, which lets you select which categories of news you like (using the same GrrAnimals colors of Spectra) and which you can then embed in your social site, blog, or start page. The widget does, though, let you select the importance to you of each news category, and will give you more or fewer stories per category to match. That's pretty smart.
I completely support experiments in data visualization. Because by trying more things, we learn what not to do.