by Melody Joy Kramer (@mkramer) (tinyletter) with contributions from my better half A — who prefers to remain offline, Max Temkin, Chad Kouri, Margot Harrington, Melissa Harris, Beth Corzo-Duchardt, Veronica Corzo-Duchardt, Veronica Berns, Chris McAvoy, Tania deLuzuriaga, Kim Bellware, & Henry Birdseye.
Last September, I went to Chicago for a conference. On the third day of the conference, I slipped away to my friend Max’s apartment on a mission. The mission was to gather together a lot of very smart people who don’t work in news — and ask them to design a new news homepage.
By news homepage, I mean any way for a user to first encounter content. A push notification could very well be the new news homepage. (Related: Ways to think about push notifications.) An app is a news homepage. An article or a newsletter is a news homepage. If you listen to the news, Overcast or Soundcloud or the iTunes store may be your homepage. YouTube can be your homepage. Homepage, to me, is simply a shorthand version for any of these things. You can substitute any of the words I mentioned for homepage below.
There are lots of ways to think about a news homepage. We’ll start with the basics. 1. You can have a list of stories curated by a person, arranged by topic, the way the New York Times homepage does:
2. You can automate this process and feature algorithmically-generated cards, the way Vox properties do:
3. You can have a news website that was created for one story: the homepage is the story and the story is the homepage, like this piece called The Most Northern Place (h/t @ETeare) or this piece that the Awl made, which was located at theholenearthecenteroftheworld.com. (h/t @substockman) or these single-serving sites (h/t @esd)
4. You can arrange content like an email newsletter (Quartz does a nice job of this.)
5. You can publish a homepage in reverse chronological order, so that the newest stories are at the top.
6. You can geotarget and localize material based on where someone is located. NPR does this, with localizing a member station for you to listen to. (See also: Plague, which adds anonymity and a gaming component to this.)
7. You can figure out the last time someone visited a site, and adapt the news on that site for that particularly person. (Example: Melody last visited the Washington Post on Tuesday, and since then, the Washington Post has published three large investigative pieces that Melody should see, because of her interests or because they cost the Washington Post a lot of money to produce and shouldn’t spend the same amount of time on the homepage as a quick blog post.)
8. You can show a person news, podcasts, or information their friends have recommended. (like on Nuzzel, Knomad, a Facebook news feed, Twitter, or Medium’s homepage, which shows you articles people you know have recommended in some way.)
8a. Even more curated news: If you don’t want the firehose, you can now see one website or article someone you know or trust has recommended per day (This.cm) or websites/articles favorited by people you know or trust (stellar.io) or news articles people you know have bookmarked (delicious.com, pinboard.in.)
9. You can arrange material by emotion or activity, like the way Songza currently does. “Stories that will make you happy,” or “Podcasts to listen to while cooking breakfast.” (Remember, no one listens to audio in a vacuum.)
10. You can aggregate lots of news together, from lots of different sources and display them based on an algorithm. (Google News does this.)
11. Information can go horizontally as well as vertically, like with FOLD.
16. You can think of a homepage as a way to get really quick summaries or updates of the news, if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t have a lot of time but wants to stay informed. (Cir.ca, Gist, Clipped, Bit of News bot, etc.)
“Okay, okay, Mel,” you’re probably thinking. “These are all well and good — but I’m fully aware that all of these exist. You’ve shown me nothing new.”
Okay fine. Now it’s time for some homepages or ways to think about news you haven’t seen before….because we made them up. (And by we, I mean me, my better half A — who prefers to remain offline, Max Temkin, Chad Kouri, Margot Harrington, Beth Corzo-Duchardt, Veronica Corzo-Duchardt, Melissa Harris, Veronica Berns, Chris McAvoy, Tania deLuzuriaga, Kim Bellware, & Henry Birdseye.) For demographic purposes, some of us are journalists, some are designers, some are scientists, some are academics, and some of us work at Cards Against Humanity. As you can see, putting people together in a room who work in all different fields (and adding a bit of liquor) sparks some pretty awesome ideas….
Here’s what we came up with:
17. The homepage that changes on a hourly basis, shown visually through a clock or circle
18. The homepage categorized by things that are awesome. (Like the Awesome Box, but for news.)
19. The homepage of interconnected stories, displayed as nodes
20. The homepage as a choose your own adventure story, based on how much information you want to know.
21. The homepage as audio cone for people waiting at bus stops. (The homepage as accessible news for anyone who happens to be in public space.)
22. The homepage as time-sensitive, and aware of your interest and preference for medium.
23. The homepage for people who want to see research or related research along with news written for a lay audience.
24. A homepage for ex-pats who care about local news from lots of areas. (Related: Ex-Pat news.)
25. Homepage as treasure map to explore topic areas
26. Homepage to allow you to see the world through someone else’s eyes for a day (or maybe many days in a row.) Pretend you’re living somewhere else for a day.
27. Homepage or news as gamified experience, based on how many stories you’ve read.
28. Homepage as a series of book spines that you can choose from. Or choose a book, and related news will be provided based on the book you choose. (Yo Jeff Bezos, this would be an easy tie-in for you.)
29. Homepage as a random experience, based on some action you take.
30. The homepage that’s medium agnostic, and gives you quick or in-depth news.
31. A homepage (and an algorithm) that surprises or enlightens you!
32. A homepage that finds stories that connect two seemingly unrelated topics. The Kevin Bacon 6-Degrees of News Stories, based on linked data.
33. A homepage that shows you what noteworthy people are reading.
34. Grindr for news. Or Tinder for news. Basically, swiping images to select stories.
35. News orgs pay other sites to display their headlines on sites, like the way you can see Zappo’s ads following you around the internet like cookies. Basically, a way to show the news in that way.
36. Pick a topic, your amount of time, and your level of knowedge. Bam!
37. Stories from where I’m from / Stories from where I live now. (Related: Ex-Pat news. Public media, I’m looking at you. )
38. What if the NPR homepage looked like Reddit and showed you who was on duty? That’d be cool.
39. This is after I was a little inenbriated but the gist is this: the stories ask you what you learned, and share those facts as headlines to future people who would see the those facts instead of the initial headlines — but there would be some mechanism built in to make sure they were legit (crowd voting?) At least, I think that’s what I was thinking. Apologies for the handwriting.
40. A homepage that provides a story, context, relevancy, background, and evergreen related stories.
41. A homepage based on the weather or the calendar. You know, habitual things. What should I read today, based on the weather?
42. You take one story. You zoom in (perhaps to the individual) and zoom out (perhaps to larger economic / political / social issues.
43. A homepage that provides headlines and then links back or shows you all of the sources that were used to substantiate the article, so you know exactly the way the reporter sourced the piece before clicking. Perhaps this also provides additional background reading material.
44. What’s the TIL of this topic? Perhaps that leads me into an article that will lead me down a new pathway. Think about Wikipedia’s rabbit hole.
45. A homepage or story that asks for future sources and has a better way to interact than a simple comment / annotation section. Asking a direct question means people know how to comment, or how to structure their comments.
46. News stories often focus on the trials and tribulations of specific individuals. But what happens if you zoom out and show the systems and contexts in which those individuals are embedded?
47. Putting a story in context by giving the reader the ability to find out more about the people or places in the story. Making a web from a story. Building out. Structuring data.
48. The homepage as peer pressure.
49. The homepage as a contextual timeline.
50. Homepage that ensures you’ve read something before sharing it. (Note that homepage here can refer to podcast, article, a news app, a homepage, an aggregation, or a text. The idea is that every bit of content is a potential homepage.
51. The backside of card 50.
52. The homepage that doesn’t overwhelm you, because it shows you 3 stories (one local, one national, one international) plus the option to see more related stories.
53. A homepage that is just a really good news search engine.
54. A homepage that aggregates your hyperlocal neighborhood news, with local news, and then news from other places. Basically, a place-based news site — with the ability to cater to time limitations.
55. A homepage that lets you focus because it takes away everything else as soon as you click on a story, so you can fully focus on the piece you’re reading.
56. Melody Joy Kramer’s ideal homepage, which is based on how she consumes the news. (Question to ask yourself: how do you consume the news?)
57. First, pick your piece based on your mood.
57a. Depending on your mood and your story selection the story will give you a little more info. A condensed version, if you will.
57b. If you decide to open the story, you get more of the story.
57c. As well as links to other stories that are of the same emotional quality of the story you picked.
58. All stories, linked to background and summaries, which then link to more contextual information.
59. This is one of my favorites. It’s self-explanatory.
60. News embedded in a game! I LOVE THIS.
61. What do the people within a block read? A mile? Two miles? My city? My state? My country? Can I see other blocks? Other countries? Is this creepy? I’m not sure. It’s in my handwriting.
62. No one listens to audio in a vacuum, my friends.
63. News placed on a Google map. EveryBlock, but for news.
64. A news story that explains everything you see on a graph, chart, or other data viz. You click on each portion for a full explanation, in words — in case you prefer words to pictures.
So you might be asking yourself, why we sketched these out?
- To say: People who don’t work in news think a lot about the news.
- To say: People who work in news should talk to people who don’t work in news. (Related: my series, Talking To People Who Don’t Work In News About The News.)
- To say: If you’re trying to come up with new ideas, invite people in who DO NOT work in your profession.
- Also: It was fun.
- I thought it would be helpful. Thinking about human-centered design, algorithms, and structured metadata is good for lots of fields, not just journalism. All of this stuff is applicable to libraries, software, civic tech, teaching, etc.
- Diverse people + diverse backgrounds = ideas you haven’t thought about yet. (That’s why it’s good, from a business perspective, to make sure your entire company doesn’t look the same.)
- To hopefully inspire you to think about one of these, or to conduct an experiment like this. What if you gathered together a group of people and asked them to sketch ideas before building? I’m not talking about hiring a third-party to do this. I mean, the people building the product should be interacting with the audience — in person, not through data. Real people — the people who read or listen or interact with your stuff.
If you’d like to talk more about this or any of these, email email@example.com. ☺ Have a good one! Mel
Melody Joy Kramer spent the majority of her career in public media, where she directed, produced, edited, and wrote stuff for several shows, including Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me and Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Most recently, she worked as a digital strategist at NPR, where she launched and then directed projects that helped NPR make better decisions and build audiences online and on-air. She is a Poynter columnist and a 2014–2015 visiting Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, where she is working on new ways to think about membership. Mel blogs at www.melodyjk.com, codes in Python, and tweets @mkramer. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org and she writes a TinyLetter with stuff she’s thinking about. Please subscribe.