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Where we are with

Moby Roelandp Vijzelgracht
This is an update about the EN website. In my holiday developer Ayco released a new version with a frontpage and some other special features.

Frontpage now has a frontpage. In the right column we are personalizing news based on your reading behavior. EN takes the tags from the articles you have read and uses these to scan incoming articles.

The order of the frontpage is created by how the site is used by its readers and the impact of the news given by the press agency. It’s a dynamic presentation created out of a mix of variables from discussion, to pageviews, to urgency, to incoming links and a few more.

The frontpage also shows you two lists and a picture that are personal to you. In the right column it shows you a short list containing articles that might interest you. You see a second list with articles that are read in your network and you see a third picture that is a photograph from the news that might interest you.

The other thing we created are related articles based on the distance between tags, using a tag-relation table. This distance can create clusters of information that might be interesting in the future to create groups, but it also generates related articles in a much more refined way. Two articles don’t need tags in common to be related to each other.

Where is this heading
For the last weeks we have been using the partly personalized frontpage and we are noticing that is works pretty good. You don’t miss the big news, but you do get a more personalized presentation and you see what your friends are reading. It works this well that it might deserve a more prominent presentation on the frontpage.

For example I don’t read much about soccer and instead of a soccer picture at the bottom of the page (which a colleague had) I did see a picture of a Dutch politician at that moment more relevant to me.

Personalization is good, but of equal importance is the social aspect. News is always about sharing and talking about it with your friends and colleagues. At this moment we have created so much different parameters that it gives us more options to sort information than we could have ever expected.

How to build a community?
So how should we build a community or create interaction with your friends or like minded?

Facebook is switching its homepage to a notification page. It shows you what your friends are doing (screenshot). The most exciting pages of social web services are the pages that show you what is going on in your network. This makes the service less a service you go to, but more a circle around you. Flickr does this with recent uploads from your friends, LinkedIn with your contacts switching jobs all the time, and Twitter is all about it.

Survival of the fittest
Why shouldn’t a news website be user centered? I was kind of sceptic about this idea at first. Since we claim news isn’t something that is personal. But it is. A newspaper is becoming more and more something that is personal. With less time to read we scan the headlines and only pick the articles we like. First you read the things that interested you. If you have time left you start to read articles that are second choice. This isn’t something new, only with less time to spend on the medium we stopped reading our second choices.

Make it small
The most interesting social websites that create a social experience are user centered. Can this be done with news as well? And more important does it add extra value to the news? Why would someone use a certain news website, when news is omnipresent? What can you add to something that has ‘no value’ based on content and originality? Besides usability, the only thing you can add is choice. What is the focus of a news website? Will it report left news more prominent? Is it more about gossip? Will it present news as it evolves and before the facts are all clear or will it wait until the guessing is over?

Here are just some thoughts about how a more social and personal experience could be designed. These are small steps towards a user-centered news website.

1. To create the feeling you are in a network you need a feed with updates of your network. What are the people you know doing on this website. This could be updates from your friends (design screenshot) about what articles they favorite, read, commented on or edited.

2. There could be a shoutbox that enables you to talk about the news (design screenshot). Just share thoughts. You could say that you don’t think the stock market will recover soon. Just thoughts so other people in the network can get to know you and see what topics are hot. Or those thoughts can also be relevant to a cluster of news instead of a single article. Like the talks you have in a bar of café.

3. Create the website only around you and your friends. For example it could be possible to look at the website and only see the comments your friends made on articles. You could choose to discuss the news only with your friends (making it more personal) or to switch your friends off and discuss it with the world.

4. Use your reading behavior to help you find other interesting things. EN could use your profile to aggregate all different kind of sites and recommend articles. For example if you are reading a lot about the stock market. EN could go to a service like Technorati get the blogs that write about topics you like and use the Technorati relevancy to sort and recommend you blogs or further readings.

5. Use article meta information to connect to other websites and automatically enrich articles on EN with this information. For example find pictures about a news event made by people witnessing it.

6. These are all options easy to create in EN from a technical point of view. Help me out. What is it you think that is interesting and makes online news reading a more social experience?

One reply on “Where we are with”

Forgot to mention that a big usability update (kill some darlings and make the website incredibly clean and simple to use) is also on the roadmap.

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