Newsvine celebrated this holiday weekend with the launch of their redesigned user columns. Beautifully designed and extremely functional are only some of the accolades that can be bestowed on Newsvine's latest improvement. However, the redesign also raises some questions about information architecture and the future of advertising on Newsvine.
Mini-Review: More fun with Modules!
I spent the greater part of Saturday tweaking the look and feel of my column with the new module system. Not only did I encounter small problems, but my head started spinning with possibilities of whats in store for Newsvine and how this redesign will affect different aspects of the site. As I stared at the screen like a kid in a candy store and started moving things around, frequently checking my column page to see the results, repeatedly hiding and showing modules, a few bugs in the system reared their ugly heads. Maybe it was because lots of other people were doing the same thing, or the Internet isn't instant (as much as I'd like it to be), but several times modules on my column page would not be where I put them in the customizing section, things would be hidden when they were supposed to be shown, etc, etc, etc. I'm chalking this little bug up to the woes of using a hot-off-the-press web feature. After weaning myself off Newsvine and tweaking my column every 10 seconds, I noticed things returning to normal. Thank you, Newsvine, for a small reminder of how patience is a required virtue in life.
With the exception of that small hiccup, I focused on the meat and potatoes of every great web site: content! Being able to separate, emphasize, and/or tone down my articles and seeds is fantastic. Not only does it give authors the ability to put their original content front and center, it also offers the converse. User columns have suddenly become multi-functional. If you prefer seeding to writing, that can be the focus instead. Or you can move both, and have articles you vote on being the center of attention; creating an up-to-the-minute trail of your activity on Newsvine. Safe to say, I'm excited to see how users cater to their strengths and utilize Newsvine to it's maximum potential.
Another feature I'm happy was implemented is the "Latest Comments" module. This gives users the ability to show off the entire spectrum of their contributions to Newsvine. Personally, there are lots of times I've been on the fence about writing a great, lengthy comment or elaborating in an article that maybe should just be a comment. This puts my indecisiveness at ease and centralizes all my commentary (especially if I write something particularly striking in a comment and want more of the world to read it).
The headline module raised the first questions in my head about how this redesign will be treated down the road. After figuring out what to put there, I experimented with some special characters to give my column a little more personality. Newsvine's efforts to let users make their column more their own is admirable to say the least. Although, how far will they let users go? Will we be able to put images in our headlines in the future? How long will the headline module exist in it's current form? It seems like prime real estate for advertising to me.
The recommendations section is another fantastic Newsvine innovation. With the exception of being able to change the layout of your column, I'd say that the recommendations module is the 2nd most important addition in this redesign. An important aspect of any prospering web community is the sharing of information and ability to give perspective to who you are, what you do, how you live, etc. Unless a user is a fantastic, gifted writer and gives insights about themselves every chance they get, the only real way to figure out who a person is on Newsvine was through their bio. Safe to say, web bios are limited. Being able to list the books, blogs, and news sites I read breathes new life into my column and enables everyone reading to know a little more about me.
My only qualm with this feature was, while I was building my lists, "Books" and "Blogs" seemed to change places. Originally, "Blogs" were listed first, "Books" second, and "News Sites" third. Halfway through, "Books" jumped to the top. It made sense in my head to have "Blogs" first. Not only is "Blog" alphabetically before "Book", but my currently recommended list of blogs is more content-rich than my list of Books. It's a small quirk that might only bother me.
The Advent of Bad Column Design
Producing great content on the Internet is only half the battle. If you fail to present such content through a great interface, the impact of your message could be forever lost (or until you don't get the results you're looking for and redesign). A great feature about Newsvine was that everyone's column looked, basically, the same. The column design was expertly integrated into the overall site and even if users didn't contribute top-notch content, everything was still accessible, readable, etc. On the flip side, the generic column interface forced users to produce quality content to differentiate themselves.
The new dawn of customizable column interfaces has draped Newsvine with an air of uncertainty. How will users react to the customization power? Will more columns be harder to read than before and bury original content? As I mentioned earlier, it's up to the user to design his or her column with their desired focus in mind. What happens when you encounter someone who creates great content, but designs their column so all the reader will see is comments, seeds, or votes? With all the possible negative aspects of this foray into customization, this could be an opportunity for users with less design sense than the next to sharpen and hone their skills. Being able to look at other columns to see what works and what doesn't can give people guidance and ideas about how they want to layout their own content; turning possibility into profitability.
Ads, Oh Where Art Thou?
Many of us are eagerly anticipating the launch of Newsvine's advertising system. My curiosity is almost unbearable. Not about my earning potential, but about how advertising will rear it's hopefully-not-ugly head on this great site. While I experimented with Newsvine chat not too long ago, a few users and I threw ideas around about what kind of advertising we will see. Text? Text and images? Flash? Animations? How will the advertisements be geared: focus on current events or the content of the page they are being shown on? Will users be able to purchase their own advertisements, ala Facebook? So many possibilities.
Even more important is how the ads will be placed throughout Newsvine's design. Clicking on the Federated Media "Advertise on Newsvine" link gives you sizes of ads available for purchase on Newsvine. The first, and most obvious spot is the banner on the very top (728x90). If features for Newsvine continue to be plugged and not replaced by banner advertisements, I would be shocked. Secondly, the 120x600 size seems ideal for the beloved left-hand navigation column within articles and other pages of the site. The 300x250 (and most expensive) advertisement size is the most puzzling to me. Is Newsvine going to be inserting ads into user-generated content or only AP-generated content? Will these ads solely be for pages generated by tags, sections, etc. or be inserted, as modules, right into our columns? This is the biggest hurdle in my opinion, how Newsvine will properly integrate advertising that won't diminish their most valued asset: users. The Newsvine community has enjoyed a luxury on today's Internet: an ad-free, amazingly functional, and well-designed web site stretching at the seams with content.
A greater pitfall Newsvine might encounter is how this will affect their brand. What draws people (and business and advertising, etc.) to social sites like Newsvine is the content. Knowing that great content exists all over, will advertisers be drawn to Newsvine if all they see are poorly user-designed columns? Also, if Newsvine relies on their users to produce great content that brings in traffic, what will happen when a poorly user-designed column is the first impression Newsvine gets on any potential business, user interaction, page views, etc, etc, etc.
A Bright Future
In light of the recent upgrades, all my reservations and speculation aside, Newsvine has really outdone themselves. I'm merely exploring possibilities the future holds. Great design and great products are the result of constraints being applied until exactly what you need is found. Hopefully, these suggestions and questions will not only help the Newsvine team but the amazing community it fosters.