Monday, October 26, 2009

The New CNN - Marriage of Site and Social?

Very early this morning I heard John Roberts and Kiran Chetry introducing the new CNN website on American Morning. Even at the early hour it sounded interesting, so I checked it out.

CNN's web designers seem to have brought as many different types of content to the home page as possible. It has latest news and features -- both headlines and videos, most popular (newspulse), a whole banner of editor’s picks videos in a banner across the middle of the page and topic boxes with links to stories. I think that sounds confusing, but it’s well organized and easy to follow. Take a look for yourself.

It was the personalization and social features that I was most interested in, though. There are more, but here are two that I investigated. I set up a profile, personalized my weather for Boston (easy), tried to upload a picture (didn’t work), and followed some topics, which John and Kiran said was easy. I didn’t find it so, at least initially, but as you can see, I did make it work. I wanted to follow Tech and thought I’d get latest headlines. All the RSS feeds to that macro level of topics are still there, but that wasn’t what I was looking for. What I found was that I had to read an article; at the end there was a Follow This Topic button. Hitting that button usually gave me several keyword-type choices which then showed up on my profile page. The topics are rather micro for my taste, but it will be interesting to follow them for awhile and see what shows up. You can follow up to 12 topics, which on the one hand is enough to keep up with, but on the other hand may not give the reader much of a perspective, given the small scope of most of the topics.

I’m not an iReporter, but I was interested in what’s happening on the citizen journalism front. What was new to me was the concept of “vetted” iReports. These reports have been checked (for correctness, acceptability, they don’t say exactly what) by CNN editors. One assumes that’s an attempt to give credibility to citizen journalism. On the iReport main page they have an Assignment Desk where readers can get story ideas while in search of their 15 minutes of fame. That’s interesting, but I don’t think it’s the real purpose, for CNN or for local news sites. News happens and often reporters aren’t on the scene, but people with their phone cameras are. With that in mind, CNN just launched an iPhone app so people can upload iReports directly from 3GS iPhones. Events and breaking news seem to be the whole point!

As I looked as this I was reminded of a section of last year’s Razorfish FEED report (now hard to find but is on SlideShare). The chapter on usability/Dr. Nielsen is what I was recalling and here is the provocative quote:

The New Building Blocks

Jakob says:
People don’t read your websites; use a different editorial style and make your pages “scannable.”

We say:
Throw away your concept of primarily designing “pages” as building blocks and start designing experiences. (slide 20)

I think that’s what CNN is trying to do. Call it engagement, call it offering experiences, it may be a guidepost on the road to the future of the web. It’s an experiment worth following.

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