Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Unusual site, good information

Looking at the Webby winners was useful, a good place to see what's appreciated most about the hottest web sites -- the most seductive food sites, most reliable news sites, the best personal sites. It's an amazing trip through a creative landscape. Here's one that caught me: Adobe's Design Center, and in particular, its Think Tank, with an article dated March 21, 2007 called "Just the facts: how technology is changing the news." Basically, it talks about how our news consumption habits are changing with the availability of new tools and ways to get news.

Rather than bring readers into a lab to study how they read, they went into their homes and watched their first-in-the-morning news consumption behaviors, and followed them on their morning commute to work. Researcher Liz Danzico tells us:

While the way we access news is still very much in flux, an important pattern seems to be emerging. Whereas once readers would rely on one or two major news sources for their information, they’re now relying on a synthesis—they’re relying on aggregators, RSS, e-mail alerts, and Digg to inform them. No matter what the channel, one trait is consistent: readers are aggregating their own news, requiring news and information when, where, and how they want it.

Here's a (too tiny, sorry) chart showing priorities for readers they studied. The cutline under the chart explains: "An early version of how we determined the attributes that are important to readers as they consume news. Results of our observations were charted to determine what the patterns were across people in our target audience."

Finally, her current assessment of what's important to news consumers:

* Transparency
While the distribution of content is widespread, more than ever before, people are demanding transparency. While they don’t care much about where they read their news—whether they’re getting it on the elevator billboard on the way to work or from their favorite blogger—they want to know that the source is trustworthy and the content credible. The only way to judge that is through referencing sources. Those sources can be made credible via a recognizable brand name, such as Business Week, or public ratings, like those on Digg, but transparency about where the news is generated is essential.
* Constructability
Neatly packaged stories from a single source are not what people want; people are demanding tools to bring together different sources, perspectives, worldviews, and fidelities of news. One of our research subjects, for example, cuts and pastes news headline that appear on her Yahoo! homepage into her browser search field. She’s constructed an experience that may be awkward, but it works for her.
* Timeliness and Timelessness
The freshness of data was critical to each person we observed. Checking the timestamp on stories, especially in news aggregators where people have a number of sources to choose from, was routine for many of the people we talked with. The fresher the story, the more reliable it seemed.

What we didn’t expect to find was that stories retained their relevance over time. More than a few people e-mail articles to themselves, print articles out, or convert articles to PDF so they can keep the story for reference. The arc of a news story, therefore, presents a sort of “dromedary effect”. News from the wire is perceived as important because of its newness; news that is old is perceived as important because of its reference-ability; but news somewhere in the middle (and this timeframe shifts with one’s consumption frequency) isn’t perceived as useful.
* Perspective
Twenty-nine percent of all online news readers say they get their news online because they can access a wider range of viewpoints. Half of them say they prefer getting news from sources that do not have a particular political point of view. [3] Following on the transparency trait, it’s crucial for people to understand a source’s point of view, their editorial perspective. Not only does that inform how people are constructing their news sources (they put together a fair, or left-leaning, or right-leaning news portfolio, for example), it helps them judge a single story from a suite of different perspectives.
* Engaged Action
Not surprisingly, the so-called Web 2.0 tools are often mentioned in our research. These tools aid and encourage users to assemble their own news source out of various components.
* Secondism
Many of the people we spent time with gather news from multiple locales. Although they live in New York, their mother lives in London, and their team works in India. They want to aggregate updates and perspectives from both their primary and secondary locations—as well as having instant access to global headlines.

Last note: Danzico was doing the work for a start-up news site called Daylife.