SNDMakes Boston addressed the challenge of improving news content. Based on the initial design studio and research, our team’s persona was a news reader who was exhausted by a a constant stream of negative news, amplified by the robo-generated related stories that didn’t let you “change the station” when you needed to.
What if, we thought, there was a mechanism to tell the news site that you were reading that you just wanted to read something fun? We envisioned a guide, which we called Catbot, that would do just that, and developed a prototype.
Upon entering a site, the reader would see this menu at the bottom of the story:
The four “tracks” were an expansion of the original idea. Maybe you wanted to read things suggested by the author of a piece — something a little more interesting than what you could get from just reading the “by this author” link? And the marketing folks among us immediately spotted the opportunity for a sponsored track.
After choosing a track, the stories you read would show your choice at the top, and allow you to change topics.
There was no user testing built into the event, so unfortunately, we couldn’t get feedback beyond what other teams could give us, which was positive. At this time, I still feel pretty good about our idea; we made this prototype in October of 2014. Since then, Netflix, Spotify, and NPR One have admitted that human curators are the secret sauce behind good recommendations, and the Engaging News Project has demonstrated that readers are less engaged if you make them read negative news that doesn’t focus on solutions. Catbot lives on!