Interaction on business news websites

I’m writing an essay at the moment for my Editorial Leaders course I’m doing at UCLAN.

I’m trying to figure out how people get news from websites, what tools they want and what might make them stick around for longer.

Over the past few days I’ve been putting together a spreadsheet looking at the interactive features used by business news websites in the UK.

The study is based on the 2006 study of American newspapers by the Bivings Report. Most of the categories I have kept the same, although I’m adding some that were included in the South African version of the study (undertaken by my tutor at UCLAN, Francois Nel).

I have also added three more categories: the first is the use of interactive tools such as maps to illustrate a story. The seond is that the site provides a clear list of names and contact details of the editorial team to allow for transparency and accountability. The third is a check to see if any are on Twitter – I know it’s not yet a mass communication device but I think it’s a good indicator of those who are thinking about the development of the market.

The first [second] draft graphs I have drawn up are is below – I’m hoping I haven’t missed out too many things (click on the graphs to see them full size):

Use of interactive features by UK national and regional business news websites:

:Interactive features used by UK business news websites

So, what do you think? There’s an indication that regional news is a little behind the nationals when it comes to interactive features – but some regionals, such as The Post and LDP Business are catching up.

I think there are a few limitations with the categories that are provided and naming individual elements of interactivity does not necessarily give you a strong insight into the experience of the user (e.g. there’s no point having video if no one can figure out how to get to it).

So, how is your experience of a news site improved, or indeed made worse, by interactive tools?

Also, there are a lot of new tools that have now emerged since this study was first done in 2006. As news websites are still not adopting all the features listed in the Bivings Report, it is still valid, but I’m interested to know if there are tools that you think this study is missing. One I’m quite impressed with is the article history feature The Guardian now uses on the bottom of its stories.

Also, are there any similar studies out there?

At the end of it I have to make some sort of conclusion about what works, what doesn’t and what tools newspaper sites might use in the future.

[Edit: Further to comments on Paul Bradshaw's blog, similar studies were conducted in 2006 in Italy, New Zealand, South Africa and in the UK.]

20 thoughts on “Interaction on business news websites

  1. o.k, Well I´m really not the idea persona to respond to this, but I’ll give it a shot.

    First of all, one of the main problems I’ve seen on news websites (I’m a Social Comunicator) aren’t the web tools they use or the way to use them, but the difficulties to get to them. Normally these kind of webpages, due to the enormou amount of info that they constantly manage, have real big usability problems, in other words they don’t normally think in the user when the page is being designed. Many buttons or links and hipertexts in general are confusing, and th search tools arent’t as specific and clear as they should be.

    The same goes to the pages in general, well there designs are normally saturated and really give a sense of something that is just out of ones reach, in other words, its easy, really easy, to get lost in them adn end up in “places” that one never intended to go to at the first place.

    So yeah, b asically I think that one of the main problems with these sites its the lack of usability studies, all though some tools may be difficult to use, but normally people end up getting the hang of them if they are really interested.

    Hope this helps, actually don’t nknow if it’s what your asking for but hey, I gave it a shot.

    P.S: There is a friend of mien that could really help you, she has worked in news websites as a repoprter, and has studied many sites around the usability issue, she lives in Chile, and at the moment she is not connected in the internet, but if she apears I’ll ask her if she can give some info on this topic and direct her to this site of yours.

    See ya and good luck

  2. OK – my 2p’s worth in 2mins……not sure this is what you were asking for!

    On a day-to-day basis, as a reader who has a busy day job, the feature I value most is the “daily email” of top stories, containing the headline and a brief synopsis of the story. To avoid having so many of these that they lose their time saving effectiveness – I’m subscribed to two daily emails and one weekly summary.

    Over a keyboard lunch, I’ll very often venture a little further outside the confines of the stories within those emails – but if all else fails, thanks to a quick email scan, I can have half a clue about what is going on the world.

    When researching a particular topic, the other thing that I would most value, but am frequently left disappointed with, are news site search engines. Sometimes it is like they’re just not plugged in and produce bizzare results, other times of course, as you didn’t read the story on the day, they want you to pay to read the archive story. Not sure I get the logic of that. The Birmingham Post/Mail search engine on icbirmingham.co.uk used to be really good – but just lately, it fires up stories in all sorts of order….even thought it is powered by Google????

    Blogs, well, I’m only just discovering those :-)

    The other things are just toys I don’t really have time for at work – that is not to say they couldn’t be useful, but if I were to spend time at work watching videos and getting involved in news forums, well, people would start to ask questions. If I sit back and scan through the printed edition of a newspaper on anything other than a lunch break, people appear to think I’m slacking!

    One other thought – on that graph “popularity” seems to indicated how popular it is with news outlets using them. Is there any data on “popularity” according to the audience?! I’m guess that these tools should be based on the needs of the market, not just implemented because they are technically possible?

    Am trawling google for “do people use/want interactive features”….

  3. Hache, Hemminac,

    Thank you both! Both great responses, I really appreciate them.

    @Hache You raise a very important point. Userbility is an issue that often gets looked over because people are so excited by shiny new tools such as video.

    @Hem – what you wrote was fantastic. As a reader of The Post you’ve given me the best insight ever into how you access our news and how we might better serve you in the future.

    What you’re descibing we call “day-parting”, people wanting news on different formats at different times of the day. Out of curiousity, do you ever access news websites once you’ve left work?

  4. Confession time. The email bulletins I subscribe to are from: BBC News (Business, Technology Education), The Independent (theirs has proved to be up-to-date and reliable) and the Times Higher Education (work thing!).

    The Post & Mail are on my desk in printed form – I tend to direct others to the websites if I find something juicy.

    Yes, I access news websites once I’ve left work – I am an absorber of random information and facts – read in a completely random way! If there are links embedded within stories I can read away on all sorts of tangents. I find the quite linear structure of a paper/magazine/book quite boring in comparison. (sorry, slightly off the biz news topic).

    The BBC news website is my favourite. It is just so well laid out, uncluttered and easy to navigate, it is my first internet port of call for news. That is kind of lazy on my part – but if there is anything that’s really interesting, I’ll read about it from several sources.

    Oh…and no luck here finding any kind of market research on audience responses to interactive features on websites. Although as with any innovation, the market might not know what it wants until it knows what it possible – it does seem odd not to find some kind of market-based evidence to support the rush for interactive features????

  5. I tend to get most my news in 3 ways
    1 – Podcasts 90% of my tech news comes this way and increasingly more sports and current events. Really easy to digest when commuting

    2 – Rss feeds from all sites I am interested in. I find this a brilliant way to scan all headlines and just go to the actual site if there is anything of interest. Saves loads of time for me but does mean I don’t spend much time on individual sites anymore.

    3 – Twitter – quite often I find interseting sites or services through tweets. I found you through Phil Cambell twittering he was on Bambuser and then I saw you on the front page!

    From my perspective this is great as it saves me loads of time but it does mean I don’t stay on any one site for very long. I am not sure if this helps or not. Good luck with the essay!

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  8. Wonderful – I’ve blogged it at OJB and on Poynter’s tidbits.

    My own news consumption is hugely RSS dominated, although I also use email heavily. Twitter informs my consumption – I’ve created a filter for tweeets with links in them. And delicious – both the most popular page and my delicious network pages are among my homepages.

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  10. Good research idea, and your findings give us a quick answer on which papers are interactive and which are not. But the presentation should be able to tell us more.

    In my opinion, you use too many colors, and I don’t see a pattern in how the categories are color coded. Do you have a color system at all?

    I mean, why are categories like the three RSS feeds in so different colors? And why don’t you try to keep similar categories together. Eg. email, mobile phone and rss feeds. They are all subscriptions aren’t they?

    With your colours and classification it is hard (alomst impossible) to see what kind of interactivity each site are focusing on. I believe it will be much better with just a few color groups indicating the main interactivities (eg. multimedia, direct contact and subsrciptions). Inside each colour group different categories can be presented with different shades instead.

    Good luck!

  11. Hi Stig,

    Thanks for your comments. I agree with you completely.

    I am afraid the answer to why the colours are as they are is purely down to my lack of knowledge of Openoffice.org Calc.

    Although I can create a graph, I can not seem to choose which colours to display.

    If someone could help me with this, or suggest another software package (pref. open source) that would do a better job, I would really appreciate it!

  12. OpenOffice Calc will do the job….this site seems to show how to change the colours *before* you create the graph.

    http://searchenterpriselinux.techtarget.com/tip/0,289483,sid39_gci1171394,00.html#

    I’ve only got MS Excel here at work – but I’m sure Openoffice should also allow you to right click on the chart block you want to change and edit the data series colour somehow…….

    http://www.learnopenoffice.org/CalcTutorial23.htm

    …..suggests that!

    Will check @ home later if nobody else has the answer…..I’ve got O/O Calc installed there.

  13. Right….to change the colour of the chart in Open Office Calc

    * Left click on the data series you wish to change the colour of, until you can see little blue squares on all the corresponding data of that colour. (otherwise it won’t work!)

    * Right Click

    * Select “Object properties”

    * Select the “Area” tab at the top

    …and from there you can change the “fill” colour of that data series.

    Unfortunately, the colour choice isn’t that big….but at least you could get rid of the worst offenders/group the shading.

    And if none of this makes sense….twitter so!

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