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Old 05-11-2006, 07:50 PM   #1
Bob Russell
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What WSJ thinks web readers want in a news site

Did you ever wonder what the big time news organizations are shooting for in a news web site? Well, those same sites are trying to figure out what readers want on a news site also. The Wall Street Journal presents a nice summary of what it thinks readers have told them to do.

Look at the impressive partial summary of the results (emphasis mine)...
"Readers want more context and background included in news reporting. They want new ways to receive their news, on next-generation handheld devices, for instance, rather than simply on a Web page. They want fewer ads – especially the kind that animate or show up in popup windows."

But why do I say it's what the "think" readers want if it's based on a survey? A couple of reasons. First of all, the answers in a survey don't always reflect the truth. One reason is the survey taker might misunderstand the question or make assumptions the survey didn't expect. Or maybe the survey taker thinks he wants one thing from a web site, but really wants another and just doesn't know it.

Secondly, survey results require a lot of interpretation, even when they are simply being summarized to be presented. Answers are seldom exactly the same, so they need to be classified. The compilation needs to tell a story, and make a conclusion. Just like book and movie reviewers come to different conclusions about stories, so do different people interpreting survey results. Sometimes, the bias of the organization receiving the results also affects the presentation of responses. For example, they may either have predetermined views that affect their interpretation, or in the worst case they may have plans already laid that they are trying to justify with the survey rather than being directed by it. Rarely will a company base an entire plan on survey info. They combine their own intelligence and viewpoints and experience with the survey information.

Nonetheless, survey results are always interesting, especially when you preserve snippets of the responses. Let's take a brief look at the WSJ results. Site warning... while this article is freely available right now, the WSJ is a subscription site, so there's no telling how long the article will be available. Especially after they see how I've cast aspersions on the information!

Some of the interesting conclusions are as follows. Readers want:
  • Filtered news, with just the best information
  • The site to be in the palm of your hand On a mobile device, with simple navigation.
  • Less ads But the bills have to be paid so that means other revenue sources have to be found.
  • New sources for top stories Consensus top stories and even user submitted stories.
  • More background information available with the stories. Reporters dig it up while researching, so why not make it available?
  • Multimedia content
Despite my natural cynicism with regard to the article, this is a great read. And I really enjoyed both the conclusions and examples, and the prominence of mobile devices in the writeup. Very nice!
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