Categories
Featured Interface design Journalism Social Classification

The Notification Homepage

My Facebook Homepage

This blog post was written for, and published on the Online Journalism Blog.

The last year has seen social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn updating the design of the homepage to turn it more into a notification page: the homepage as a place where you can see what your friends are doing. Your virtual center of the network.

These updates let you know what your friends are up to, but they also let you know what your friends like or share. The social networks often work as recommendation networks as well.

New technology, new business
Google added relevancy and order to hyperlinks and is very useful for the active searcher: someone who’s looking for something. Social networks add relevancy to hyperlinks you’re not searching for. The networks provide you with new information and new articles recommended by virtual friends.

Both are in a business that was traditionally the business of a news provider. Google gives you insight and background information. Social Networks keep you up-to-date and recommend information.

Does this design shift also affect the future design of news websites?
The average news website probably publishes around a hundred articles every 24 hours. We can’t and don’t want to read all the articles a news website publishes. We need filtering mechanisms.

News websites add hierarchy to the news by presenting the most important things first. But this is a mass hierarchy. It’s not personal. The sorting is based on what the news website thinks will interest most people. And this works very well for the most important news.

The news website is a large pile of stories. Is this still in the best interest for a reader? His or her most valuable asset is time. Sure there is some news you need to know about, but you get to know about the important facts through your social networks as well.

And if you know the facts you can learn more by hitting the search button. The news website is still a database with a single entry, the frontpage. This makes it vulnerable in a distributed environment.

Distributed environment
The future of information presentation (at least for the long tail of information) will probably be user-centered. Mobile devices are extremely user-centered. Successful access points like interfaces and devices provide readers with the most relevant information.

Time is our most valuable asset and the reduction of noise is a serious proposition for any new service. News itself is relevant, there is no question about this, but how do you deliver your content in a distributed environment?

Type of environments
There are different environments.

1. Get your content on other platforms through syndication or API’s. The problem is monetization, although you could distribute the news and link back to your website with hyperlinks in the text that link to more in-depth coverage.

2. Your content on your platform with a personalized presentation based on your own network or an external (social) network.

3. The current form of presentation where your content is on your platform presented in your hierarchy.

What can you do as a news website to be more relevant? Should news websites learn from the design of social networks and move to a more user centered approach? The New York Times is already doing this with Times People and with EN.nl (the project I work on) we created a personal selection based on your reading habbits.

Your Thoughts
What design elements that originated in social networks do you think could very well be applied to the basics or every major news homepage? Or what are the arguments not to implement this kind of functionality?

– Share articles with your friends
– See on what articles your friends commented
– See what your friends are reading
– See what news is happening close to your friends
– See news topics your friends subscribed to
– Discuss an article only with your friends

Categories
Featured Interactive Storytelling Journalism Live Web Notes

Making the web more live

CNN Breaking News
The web is becoming a more live medium, the medium itself isn’t changing it is how we publish to it. I think the ‘live web’ is the most exiting development since the rise of social networks. You write a Twitter notification on your mobile phone, post a picture to the web or stream a live video with Qik or Seesmic. Often recording is publishing.

When you write a blog or create a podcast your entry has context in itself. It has a start and it ends. Most postings on micro blogs don’t have context in the messages. The context is in the stream or in time. For example Twitter messages often make sense in your personal timeline or in the conversation within your personal network.

Twitter and Qik are just the first services. Realtime platform independent micro services, that distribute contextless fragments of information are here to stay.

This sense of a ‘live medium’ is something that is changing the web as it is and how we use it. It will change search, or at least sorting search results and it will change reporting news.

A service like Twitter makes news travel fast. This makes it the #1 breaking news source for a lot of people. Why? Because it is reporting as it is happening. It isn’t always right, but it is reporting, open for conversation and correcting itself. It is live coverage and it is a storytelling experience.

News on the web is presented like news on paper. This is good since text on the web is – apart from certain screen specific style rules – the same as on paper. An article is written, checked and published.

Spreading the news
These services like Twitter are making reporting news a more public process. For example if something happens the first people who notice are there when it happens. Uploading messages, pictures and video, to a personal community or group of friends.

With Twitter people start repeating (or retweeting) messages distributing the news among followers and informing a very large audience within minutes. This is the signaling part. It’s not about being a citizen journalist. It is about telling your friends what you are doing, or what you are seeing.

The signal reaches the audience at the same time it reaches the journalist. A journalist has to check the story, is it true? Should I publish about this or wait until it is checked? The reader is expecting that his favorite news website knows more about it and visits the website after hearing about the news. Often resulting in a bad user experience, since there is nothing on the news website about the subject.

What is the role of journalists and media in this? Should they directly report serious rumors? Should they check for more sources. I don’t know. It has to be somewhere in the middle I think. A situation where journalists are producing with updated versions.

CNN
I think CNN is giving this a very prominent place on the CNN website. Maybe because they are from television and reporting breaking news is what they are good at. They are using storytelling mechanisms on the website. Reporting what is happening right now, and directly updating it when the story turns out to be something different.

These are the breaking news messages CNN showed last week. I heard the news about Hillary ending her campaign through Twitter and CNN was one of the few news websites with the news on it.
CNN before
CNN message before

CNN after
CNN message after

Your thoughts
What are your thoughts about this? When should news be published on a web site and should we adapt the design of news sites to make space for a more storytelling ‘as-it-is-happening’ approach? Or does this make news websites vulnerable for misinforming the audience?

This blog post was published on the Online Journalism Blog