Where you go wrong with interactivity — and 4 ways of getting back on track


It is soon 21 years since the first Web page was created.

Sure, a lot of things have happened since this early how-to-do-the-Internet-manual, but more on design side than on the user experience. Why are we still offering mass communicating, static tools to our interactive hungry audiences?

If you want to impact, change things, create – or simply interact with others – browsing around international news sites is one of the most disappointing experiences you can find:

  • You are allowed to comment – but you cannot alter the content (even when you pertinently know that it is wrong).
  • You are allowed to choose between free or premium material. Under the same brand. But rarely blend your own cocktail. Nor create your own design.
  • You are allowed to – at best –add a smiley (but you cannot say if you opt for the angry one because you dislike a certain opinion, the writer, or someone quoted in the article/clip). 

Ladies and gentlemen of the news media, why is interactivity so bleeding difficult?

You can call it “digital first” or “online first” as much as you want. You are still losing the battle against the disruptives if you do not open up your operations towards the crowd (and unleash the power within it).

Now, enough with the bickering. Voilà! Here’s the constructive, pepping coach talk on what you already should be doing: 

  1. Dazzle: Greet your logged-in/paying visitors with a totally different – and more rewarding – experience than the one they get on the free site. When you read your mails, you get a psychological reward, when your brain notices how the unread list diminishes and the little red add-on to the mail-icon disappears. How can you create a similar reward for logging in, for passing the digital subscription threshold?

  2. Open: 

    • Offer Wikimedia parts where the audience are welcome to co-create the content with the journalists.

    • Start “live” customer-relations function – and a “live” communication channel with the newsdesk.

    • Create niche forums where you let them loose together – or let them create their own.

    • Show what ad-opportunities there is and let them place their orders directly – like the format at my previous employer Norran — crowd-source anything from content to long-term story planning.

  3. Do-it-yourself: 

    • Create easy drag-and-drop features, giving the audience the right to assemble their very own content pack.  

    • Add different content “layers,” for all user moods between stressed/not-interested to loads-of-time/severely hooked. This should include a range of choices between the surface “scan mode” (pictures/clips/micro stories) and the “nerd mode” (where you get extra-on-top like all pictures, all social media mentions, the full report etc.).

    • Publish raw research material and invite the users to help out, just like The Guardian did with the MP:s expenses back in 2009. Hunting down corruption and mismanagement together with professional journalists is exciting!

  4. Add fun: The gaming industry is skyrocketing, but you still have not been able to move away from comic strips and Sudokus towards something more appealing to a generation who grew up on Playstation and Xbox.

    And no, interactive crosswords is not sexy enough!

Five years ago, I pitched the idea to a Swedish regional media group to create an interactive comic strip, portraying local public figures, entertainment and sports stars. You could drag and drop from a range of characters, a range of backgrounds and fill the bubble with your own texts.

All proposals would be up for a daily audience vote – and the winning creation would run in print.

I am sure you can think of number of other even greater ways to hike on the gaming trend – and on people’s innate wish to enjoy themselves. If you can, invite the audience in on the quest. Co-create the new features with your crowd.

Earlier this weak, while inaugurating Interactive Institute’s new Uppsala studio, focused on Open Innovation, I had the privilege of listening to Dr. Eva Diedrichs, European expert on Innovation management.   

She used the term “innovation pipeline” – stressing the necessity to always have the right number of innovation projects planned. Not too many – since current staff would never be able to handle them. Not too few – since that would mean a stagnating operation.

I love the metaphor. And I wish you good luck filling your innovation pipeline with some stunning interactivity projects. Building relationships. Building success.

Need some inspiration?

Check out our Inside Explorer below – an interactive tool that enables the exhibition visitor to get the archeologist experience first hand. Or check these 30 great examples, compiled by WebDesignerWall

But remember, interactivity doesn’t have to be something technically complicated, best handled by the ICT department experts.

It is about curiosity. The wish to communicate.

It is about respect. Actually caring about what the readers/customers can bring to the table.

It is about generosity. Truly wanting to give the users an amazing and individualized experience.

And, most importantly, it is about building lasting relationships.

Would love to hear your best stories on this topic. Let’s practice some interactivity and share experiences below!  

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