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December 21 2011

05:13

New Poynter eye-tracking study focuses on tablet design and user experience

Tablets have been around for a while, it's time we finally learn how people use them.

Well, SND STL was amazing and is finally in the books. After a little recovery and catch-up-on-reading time, I’ve found my next side project: The Poynter Institute’s new eye-tracking study, focused on tablet design and user experiences.

I remember when the previous eyetracking studies were released it was kind of like this kid on Christmas morning. I’ve regularly referred to them and re-read them throughout my career and now to be involved in the project now is amazingly humbling and exciting. The group involved in this round of research is like my fantasy journalism design team: Sara Quinn, Dr. Mario Garcia, Jeremy Gilbert, David Stanton, Rick Edmonds, Regina McCombs, Roger Black, Rusty Coats, Andrew DeVigal, Jeff Sonderman, Jennifer George-Palilonis, Michael Holmes, Damon Kiesow, Miranda Mulligan, Tor Bøe-Lillegraven, Nora Paul, Robin Sloan, and Matt Thompson.

Our focus this time around, tablets, are an interesting beast because they seem to marry dynamic and interactive content of the web with the portability and “lean back” nature of print or even TV experiences. Often lumped in with mobile devices, tablets are similar, but very unique in many ways. Mobile is always with you and very utility, speed-driven; tablets tend to be portable within the house and workplace, and early research shows that people tend to consume more content and for longer periods on them than either mobile or the web.

We’re going to look at design challenges such as which view do people people prefer to consume content in most frequently – portrait or landscape.  Even in those two options, I suspect the behaviors from users on an 10-inch, letter-box shaped device like the iPad may differ greatly from those on a 7″ tablet, like the Kindle Fire. Or the type of content they’re consuming will likely also change the results, from my personal anecdotal experience (and what I’ve observed in others), I tend to read text more frequently in portrait mode and video in landscape no matter what device. But that’s just anecdotal.

There’s lots to learn and this research will offer ‘more than a hunch’ solutions to help us all improve our products. Specifically, we’ll focus on some of these issues and questions, which Sara spelled out in her original announcement post:

  • Tools and tasks: How intuitive can tablet navigation be and how long does it take to successfully complete a task?
  • Satisfaction: How happy are users with an overall experience and how does that impact their perception of the credibility of the source?
  • Comprehension and retention: Which forms help people to understand and remember what they have seen or read?
  • Business and revenue: What strategies might work for news organizations? For advertisers? For consumers? How might editors set up a newsroom to create content for a tablet product?

How you can help right now

  • Your questions - Share your thoughts, comments and suggestions on the Poynter Eye-Tracking research page on Facebook and follow along there to learn more about what we’re learning.
  • Funding – The Knight Foundation and CCI Europe is helping kick in money, but the more funding, the more extensive research we can do. Please contact Sara about this at: squinn [at] poynter.org.

 

November 03 2010

18:00

Election night video streams: How TV-like is too TV-like?

If the 2008 election coverage was a coming-out party for social media, then last night was to some extent a party for live-streamed video. On news sites large and small, national and local, the red-and-blue infographics you’d expect to see stretched across homepages were often broken up by boxes of straight-from-the-newsroom, live presentations by reporters. Two biggies in that group came from two biggies in online news: The New York Times, building off of its TimesCasts experience, offered an occasional, from-the-newsroom live-stream — a first for the paper — while the Wall Street Journal, building off its daily NewsHub video, featured a constant, six-hour-long event.

Both “broadcasts” had a Wayne’s World-but-in-suits feel to them: fairly casual, conversation-oriented, and, most of all, markedly lo-fi in setting and aesthetics — a kind of cable-access-channel-like response to the ZOOM! POW! PLEASEPLEASEPLEASEDONTCHANGETHECHANNEL! pizzazz of cable news proper. It was a bit of a back-to-the-future move for news organizations that largely marketed last night’s coverage not in terms not of personality — “let Dan Rather guide you through election returns” — but of platform: “We have X graphic!” “Tune in for X interactive!” On cable channels, the anchors and reporters and news analysts and commentators were often framed not merely as authorities in their own right, but also as hosts for a pageant-like parade of pretty new technologies. (Check out CNN’s awesome new Hologram Wall! And, oh yeah, some reporter.)

The video feeds suggested a reverse of that: On the webcasts, technology became the conduit for the personality. The video brought bylines to life (so that’s what Jim Rutenberg looks like!); it humanized the otherwise extra-personal data and narrative that pinged around the papers’ sites last night. And while there’s something to be said for the lean-back experience of effortless immersion that is watching election results, as opposed to reading about them or hearing about them, online — for news audiences, passivity itself can be a selling point for content — it’s an open question how much room the web has for such straight-from-cable thinking when it comes to the content that lives on it. Which is to say, the content that’s created for it.

Last night’s webcasts, as informal as they felt, also had the feeling of trying to be cable news without actually, you know, being cable news: They took the mores of the visual medium — analysis, punctuated by banter, interrupted by breaking news — and adopted them. Instead of adapting them. The attempts to bring a new dimension to election coverage was certainly admirable, as most experimentation generally is. But they also begged an open question: With the web’s increasing ability to act like television…how much should it act like television? Why try to out-TV TV?

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