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.
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.
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