Overstimulating a User

Sounds kind of sexy, right? Overstimulating the user? Well, it’s not. It’s not sexy at all, it’ll lead to the systematic exodus from the usage of your app.

in case you don't know what the Wikipedia User Contribution page looks like

This weeks talks from Shazna Nessa (Director of Interactive at the AP) and Mohamed Nanabhay (Head of Online at Al Jazeera English) highlighted some very important problems inherent in my idea. I’ve never been in a newsroom, though I have worked with journalists to some extent. Still, information about the pace of a newsroom led me to start thinking about Newsle from the journalistic perspective.

With the mass of information coming in from citizen journalists, the “drop everything” attitude of breaking story time, and the speed at which teams in newsrooms are pumping out graphics, I started to wonder how I could simplify my idea to be beneficial to someone who simply doesn’t have time to fiddle around.

I’ve been thinking that Newsle’s target audience is engaged news consumers, and obviously, those people are either journalists or citizen journalists to a great extent. Considering the “taking the best of the past and bringing it into the future” quote from Shazna, it seems that the tool needs to give users the ability to reuse, which means giving them the ability to remember. So implementing features that allow that audience to keep a history (á la Wikipedia Contribution listings) is sort of necessary.

Newsle can serve as information, research and source gathering for journalists from the get-go because crowd sourcing is generally self correcting, so the information they pull is surely verifiable.

I’ve now worked into my project a more succinct ability for journalists to collaborate, by introducing the ability to form group bins. In addition to having geo locative bins (as I talked about in my first post), I think it would be worthwhile to have collective bins, where an organization can have multiple people categorizing and linking trends and stories. This form of bin would be a “closed” bin, giving the organization the ability to control the categorization. Public tagging and organization of these stories would not show up in the organizational bin.

I also think that the idea of empowering people

“to tell stories that are nuanced and sophisticated”

as Mohamed put it, is at the heart of my idea.

My new problem is how to engage those users without overstimulating them.

I drew out a super rough and simple interface solution. The more I think about it, the more complicated it gets. There are more and more features which seem necessary and the amount of clicks that it takes to get to the center of the tootsie roll pop seems to be escalating. I’m dealing with that problem by dreaming up an interface that makes it easy to access all of those features without actually clicking around much.

The idea keeps growing, and I’m trying really hard to simplify, minimize, focus. Here’s a video!

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  6 comments for “Overstimulating a User

  1. July 28, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    RE: beneficial to someone who simply doesn’t have time to fiddle around.

    It’s an interesting conundrum… On one hand, there is little time to fiddle, but on the other hand if the thing you hope a newsroom would fiddle with shows real time savings, it opens more people up to fiddle with it?

  2. cole
    July 28, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    laura, maybe i can help with the design it in code part. where did you hit a wall?

    -Cole

    • laura
      July 28, 2011 at 5:24 pm

      Oh, I’m not stuck, it’s just too big for me to code at the moment. I haven’t got the GUI worked out, so designing in code would be me coding and then editing for days on end. But YOU are awesome for offering!

  3. July 28, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    Hello,

    FWIW, my approach to this problem is to divide up my audience, or rather, let them divide themselves. Most people just want to read the news. They don’t want to get involved by commenting or curating or anything else. Equally, the people who do want to do that type of thing do it because they want their voice to be heard. They are the active 10% of users and they need the other 90% as their audience. So I try to keep it as simple as possible for the casuals, while letting the more more enthusiastic users gradually trade simplicity for power.

    Now, plug time! I’d be very grateful if you’d cast your eye over my thoughts on working semantics into news. Your project seems to be the most similar to mine, and I’d be interested to know what you think. Frankly, I’m desperate for any feedback.

    Thanks, Michael

  4. July 29, 2011 at 12:34 am

    My advice, coming from a journo background, for your thinking (can’t offer much code condolences) is never take the human factor out or make it difficult to comprehend. When writing a piece of software for journalists make sure the journalism part is easy and as humanly natural as possible. Think: what part of this is machine readable only e.g. huge amounts of data, and concentrate on making that the killer feature. But make sure everything else is as simple, user-friendly and understandable as possible. Don’t separate the person from the machine. Make them understand it.

  5. August 1, 2011 at 11:50 am

    Engaging a user without “overstimulating them” is a valid point. One that I’m struggling with to a certain extent, as well. As with anything, there is a threshold, I think. There will always be those readers who just close the tab and move on.

    In terms of feature overload — I think you should try to prioritize some key functionality. Maybe conducting some user testing about what factors people most want to be able to change in their news aggregators, or a more detailed survey about how readers use Google Reader, for example (how are their folders structured, what is the integration of Reader into their daily news consumption)?

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