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Art meets news on Universe

Who says you have to view online stories as lists of headlines or search results? Try Universe for a unique perspective on events.

The "shapes" view, an intergalactic tag cloud. CNET Networks

Who says you have to view online stories as lists of headlines or search results? I recently wrote up several different sites that help you visualize search results in new ways. Now there's an interesting experiment to visualize news as well, called Universe.

An art project more than anything else, Universe uses the Daylife news database (and a user-supplied search term) as its source. Then it displays news in a unique and strange formats. The "stars" view, for example, shows a scrolling field of stars and constellations. When you click on one (without any indication of what it is), you go to a screen with your star's term in the center of the screen, surrounded by a roulette wheel of words or stories related to it.

Stories orbit a key term. CNET Networks

Other visualizers pull out quotes from stories, show personalities (the "superstars" view), or display timelines of stories.

In many of the views, you don't know what you're going to get until you click on a link, which adds the "myth" of the news, as designer Jonathan Harris apparently intended (see CNET story).

I'm pretty happy with seeing my news as a list of headlines, but I'm old-fashioned. The mythic Universe of News, like the Digg Swarm that shows what that galaxy of users is looking at, is a very entertaining way to look at content, and it provides a visual context to stories that no table of text ever could.