The Future of News

Ryan Thornburg

Posts Tagged ‘interactivity

How to do article comments, make UI decisions. Firefox style.

Data — which were once know casually in newsrooms as “facts” — are invaluable when making decisions about your site’s user interface, and when explaining your decisions to an often impolite customer base. Here’s a great example from Alexander Limi of the Firefox Web browser’s user experience team.

I’ve been wondering why Firefox 3 doesn’t have that cool little RSS subscription button in its address bar anymore. It used to be there. Now it’s gone. A quick search for rss address bar firefox 3 brought up a link to the Firefox support site. There another Firefox user had posted an obscenity-laced version of the same question I had. And the question yielded this reply from Limi:

“Because the RSS button is the least clicked button in our UI. When you want to use it, you know that you want to use it, so we don’t need to show it all the time. It’s still available, but in the bookmarks menu instead. Unfortunately, most people don’t use RSS. I am a big RSS user myself, but I’m in the minority. — Alexander Limi, Firefox UX Team “

Brevity. Politeness in a response to rudeness. And… facts. (Alexander: if that whole “working at Google/Mozilla/creating your own internationally known open-source CMS thing doesn’t work out for ya, you’ve got a job in my imaginary newsroom anytime.)

1. Unlike too many newsrooms I’ve seen, Mozilla appears to be making user-interface decisions based on … well, data about the users’ experience. If you’re making decisions in your newsroom based on an editor’s war stories, a designer’s favorite color palette, or even an expert’s advice, then stop. Use smart guesses for decisions that can be easily reversed, but base your big decisions only on cold, hard, relevant, current data.

2. Note the empathy. “Brother, I’m with you on the RSS thing. But you and I are weirdos and/or not everyone is as smart as us. So, we do things for them.” I tell my students that newswriting isn’t about self expression; it’s about selfless express. Same with user experience.

3. This should be point 1. But this is a real response, from a real person, with a real name, and with some level of authority and responsibility. This isn’t from the “Department of People Who Deal With User Complaints”. So I trust it, and am more likely to trust the brand.

4. No whining. There’s no “You get the dadgum browser for free, so eat your vegetables and like it. “There’s no deleting the obscenity from the original question. No scolding. Just a factual, brief and polite response. And all of those things increase my trust in Limi. He’s a social Big Boy and that causes me to presume that he is a Big Boy in his work product as well.

If comments aren’t working on your news site, following Limi’s formula will start you back on the path to success.

Written by Ryan Thornburg

June 1, 2011 at 8:52 am

Leaders — Political and Editorial — Need to Work the Network

The News & Observer in Raleigh today picked up an op-ed I wrote about the need for winning political candidates to follow through on their gestures of online community connectivity. (Hat tip to WCHL for the idea…)

But this challenge isn’t unique to political leaders, it’s also one that journalists must meet and a gesture on which they are following through even less.

Hooked on the promise of the free advertising inventory generated by online comments, more and more newspaper Web sites are deploying  some type of online discussion technology.  What they aren’t deploying is the kind of human  resources that are needed to foster and develop online conversations. Why do most comments on news articles follow Godwin’s Law? Because there is little or no authentic conversational leaders. There is no human being making connections between people and ideas and, um, fact.

Just look at this recent survey of online journalists in North Carolina — online community management ranked as the skill that these editorial staffers said was least important to their jobs.

Here are my quick thoughts on how news organizations should begin to approach online comments.

Written by Ryan Thornburg

November 26, 2008 at 2:53 pm

One Pager: Building Community Online

Several participants from the N.C. Newspaper Academy earlier this month in Chapel Hill wanted to know more about dealing with comments on articles. At their request I’ve created another in my series of simple one-page “how to’s” of online journalism.

The other One Page guides from this series can be found here.

Written by Ryan Thornburg

May 22, 2008 at 2:32 pm

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