I made the mistake of going to a website today. It’s understandable, of course — everybody does it, from time to time — and I’m sure I’ll forgive myself, eventually.
I don’t mean just any website, of course, I mean a publication. A place where a business publishes interesting things that I like to read.
I couldn’t hit the Reader button in Safari fast enough. In fact, I couldn’t hit it at all, so stunned was I by the flickering colorful circus the page presented. It was like angry fruit salad on meth.
A post on Xark! today discusses why newspaper website comments suck and what might be done to “unsuck” them. The synthesis of why they suck is that newspapers don’t allocate enough time or staff resources to participating in the conversation and, when they do, newspapers take the wrong approach to community management. In short, there is generally a lot of room for improvement.
Upgrading newsroom culture is one part of it, I believe, but the right tools have to be in place first so that participants in this new culture shift doesn’t run into barriers of frustration. I think strides can be made on both the frontend and backend of a news organization website. As a part of the user experience, comments shouldn’t require user registration but rather should be able to “sign in” with Facebook Connect or OpenID, or leave a comment with an email address to be verified once. If someone wants to add information to the discussion anonymously, I think that should be a submission form separate from the comment thread. The web is a global commons where news organizations should be facilitating intelligent conversations.
A Twitter idea that I want to make sure gets archived somewhere so that I can build it later: it would be really cool if, as a reader and news consumer, I could indicate graf by graf on an article whether “I already knew that” information or “this is news to me.” For someone reading a lot of the #swineflu coverage, it seems as though most of the articles are largely rehashed information that I’ve seen elsewhere. Empowering the user to give feedback as to whether they’ve heard the information before will allow the news organization to focus more on providing new and unique coverage.
This data generated by ranking the freshness of information would immediately begin to build profiles of what the reader knows. If they’re logged in, the news organization could put this information on what they’re indicating they know and don’t know in a database, start aggregating it, and then feed the reader related links and stories on similar topics. Related information, however, would now be determined by both topical metadata and a virtual profile of their knowledge base. On the front end, the data that the readership is contributing could go towards a rating of how “fresh” the article is. If the organization were really forward-thinking, the content of the article could then depend on this profile of how much the reader knew.
Voilà. Another new format for news.