Cronkite: HQ Trivia for News

The internet is where constructive discourse goes to die.

On Facebook, algorithms determine what content we see based on past behavior which separates us from perspectives that could challenge or broaden our worldview. On Twitter, discussions often devolve into disaster. 280 characters are too few for nuance and too many for trolls.

The choice is often between living blissfully ignorant in a filter bubble or getting caught up in a shouting match with strangers.

Part of the problem is that none of us are standing on common ground. Without a shared understanding of the facts, it’s impossible to have a conversation about opinion.

Scott and I have spent the last 10 weeks exploring what it would take to create more “media moments.”

Back when everyone was watching Game of Thrones on Sunday nights (instead of binging on HBO), the office on Mondaty would buzz with water cooler talk. When Walter Cronkite was the most trusted man in America, there was shared fodder for informed discourse.

We’re missing that.

In conjunction with the Stanford d.school, we ran through a design thinking sprint and ultimately prototyped a live-news app called Cronkite. In this post, we’ll explain our process of how we came to this solution.

We consume news for two reasons. One: to feel informed. Two: to have something to talk about. But it’s hard to talk about the news when we’re rarely reading the same sources at the same time.

We determined that in order to have a shared media experience, the content creator would have to produce the news in a way that was unmissable by design. Thankfully, as we began to think through possible solutions, we found a model in an unlikely place—HQ Trivia, the live-streamed gameshow app.

There were a few things we loved about HQ. First, unlike online news which serves us an endless supply of new information, HQ lets us feel a sense of completion. The daily quiz show is over in less than 10 minutes, and we can return to our lives. Second, it’s social. The social norm of the hundreds of thousands of others participating in real-time makes each event feel special. Although the broadcast mirrors the intimacy of a FaceTime call, the experience also scales. Lastly, it’s fun! We loved the visual brand and the episodes’ tone. With all of the stressors of daily life, HQ felt like a respite.

We had a goal and a model. It was time to start prototyping.

Initial prototype

In true d.school fashion, our initial prototype was very lo-fi. We wanted to build the minimum working version of what Cronkite could be, so that we could start testing it with users.

Our research question was: How might we build an HQ Trivia for new? We loved those shared media moments when HQ users would discuss what was on last night’s episode, and we thought the mobile context was perfect for creating an intimate, scalable newscast.

We made a few key decisions in building our first rough prototype:

  • Visual/Communication Design: We wanted Cronkite to be informative, but not too high-brow. Visually, we chose bright colors and flat design to convey a sense of creativity and accessibility. Because we were targeting a younger audience, we chose to mix in pop references like slang and emoji with issues that matter. (Inspirations: HQ Trivia, Buzzfeed News, Vox.)
  • Behavior/Interaction design: We wanted to make sure app didn’t have too many bells and whistle. We opted for a streamlined flow so a user could get to the newscast as quickly as possible. In order to pair intimacy with a sense of community, we wanted the newscast to feel like a one-on-one conversation with the host, while still hinting at the social nature of viewing the newscast in concert with people from around the world. (Inspirations: Periscope, FaceTime, Strava.)

Feedback/User testing

We believe the content of Cronkite is the most important piece to the success of the app. Prove the concept, and the design will follow. We wanted to experiment with content using existing tools that best mimicked our planned interaction flow. Here’s a sample of the user journey we tested with our rough prototype:

  • 5:50 pm— Participants received a 10-minute warning text message.
  • 6:00 pm— Participants received a video link (to Periscope or YouTube).
  • 6:01–6:04 pm— Participants watched video.
  • 6:05 pm — Participants received a short survey.

In order to test this ‘works like’ content prototype, we recruited 36 people with a mix of gender and ages. Our first content test was whether our focus group prefered live video over apre-recorded video. Second, we testeed whether a deep dive on a topic worked better than a quick overview of the day’s headlines.

Users were divided on our two research questions. But the feedback, users gave us issues we didn’t expect proved to be even more valuable. A sample of the feedback from Day 1:

Key takeaways from the research include:

  • Viewers liked the concept, but wanted the videos to be shorter. Even two minutes of undivided attention was a lot to ask .
  • Viewers wanted the segments to be recorded. HQ is a live competition that requires time-based coordination. There is no equally compelling reason for Cronkite to be one-time only. “Shared media moments” did not connect with most actual users.
  • Logistics and coordination are hard. Every change needed to be pressure-tested. From errant text messages to delayed video streams, we had more issues with our tech than our content.

Next Steps

Based on this feedback, we would propose a few changes to the app, including:

  • An on-demand model of content delivery. Instead of live, we want to give users the opportunity to view the content whenever they see fit. (Inspiration: SnapChat.)
  • Clear comment functionality on the video screen. We want to give viewers a clearn sense of community, so it’s essential to still weave comments into the viewing experience. (Inspiration: Facebook live, Periscope.)
  • Shorter videos. When we said 2–3 minutes, we produced 3.5 minute videos. We want to aim for 90 seconds.

Though we do not plan to move forward with Cronkite, our learnings will color how we think about media design in the future.

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