Prototyping a Global News Dashboad

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A News Portal?  Haven’t We Tried This Before?

Back in the ‘90s, Time Warner had tried to put together one of the first general news portals on the World Wide Web.  With some immediate success, the portal leveraged branded content from their incredibly deep stable of media outlets that included Time, Life and Sports Illustrated.  The URL became one of the first true brand names on the Internet: Pathfinder.com and the effort was so important to Time Warner that they refused to let the individual periodicals have their own web addresses (example: People.com).  Instead, management wanted users to go to this new destination for all of their news–but there serious dilemmas at hand.  How would the portal be programmed?  How would revenue be distributed back to the individual brands?   How could the individual brands continue to grow name recognition on the Web if they were under the Pathfinder.com umbrella?

In the end, Pathfinder.com only lived from 1994-1999 and is reported to have lost somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 million and saw a large share of employee turnover.   You can easily imagine managing editors vying for prime promotional spots on the Web page, trying to eek out millions of dollars from an online news revenue model that hadn’t (and still isn’t, in many ways) materialized.  In the end, just uttering ‘Pathfinder.com’ could send shivers down the side of any digital editor or business development team and the word ‘portal’ became a term to avoid in your strategy decks.

 

 

What’s Changed?  Why Now?

It’s easy to flash back to those memories of Pathfinder.com when the idea of bringing all content from a news organization under one roof is suggested, but times have definitely changed and there are definitely some clear examples of applications and news organizations that are doing it right.  Let’s take a look at some of the things that have changed since the ‘90s and why creating a prototype for a BBG-wide portal for our content makes sense:

 

1. Programming is removed from the picture; real time, filters and algorithms reign supreme

In the Pathfinder.com example, editors would pitch their stories against each other in order to get the main photo spot on the homepage (see below).  When starting to conceptualize how the Global News Dashboard would work, we wanted to empower the user and downplay editorial programming.  First, we wanted the Global News Dashboard (GND) to be real time, meaning that our content would be up-to-date and would serve as a destination that users would hit first in a breaking news situation.  Therefore, our default view showed the most recent information.  Next, we allowed users to get the content that they wanted to see, so we added filters to filter in content by requested region, source and media type.  Users could also filter content on ‘most read’ filters or to see only content that was denoted as an ‘editor’s choice,’ which is selected by our digital producers and writers.

 

2. Enter Mobile Apps, Flipboard and Google Currents

Sure, it‘s arrogant to create a single URL and promise users that it is the only news source they will ever need.  But we as information consumers have changed our habits.  Web sessions have shortened over time and now that we have moved over to mobile platforms, the intent of our news experiences sway between targeted information searching and casual browsing.  For the latter, we have seen the rise in use of news aggregation apps like Flipboard and Google Currents. Flipboard masterfully collects content from multiple sources and presents it in a smooth, magazine-like experience that is personalized by recommended content from your own social graph.  Google Currents is more like a RSS reader on steroids, letting you pick and choose which sources you want to sift through, but, again, providing a fun, interactive presentation.  They point is that users that are short on time and on the go are engaging with one-stop news aggregation sites.  The Global News Dashboard prototype was built to adapt to mobile layouts in order to give those users a great experience, no matter the device.

 

3. Imagine the breaking news, multi-language news portal

The Global News Dashboard prototype currently only serves English language content, but imagine the power of being able to read breaking news from around the world in multiple languages, and, more importantly, from unique, local perspectives.  The BBG currently serves up content in more than 40 languages.  The Global News Dashboard could bring local views and social interactions from around the world together, and, with the help of translation services, make all of these voices heard and understandable to all.

 

The Global News Dashboard is in beta now and we look forward to learning about how it will be used and how it can grow.

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Randy Abramson

Randy Abramson

Randy Abramson is the Director of Product Management and Operations for the Office of Digital & Design Innovation. Follow him on Twitter: @randyabramson.

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