Yahoo, Guardian, NDR are succeeding with user-informed products
Product Initiative Blog | 09 February 2022
Remaining relevant as newsrooms evolve is crucial for the future of the media industry. Building customer-informed products is key to that relevancy.
In Wednesday’s INMA Product Initiative Meet-Up, editorial and product leaders formed a three-person panel to talk about building customer-informed products: Claus Hessling, a data journalist at NDR in Germany; Chris Moran, head of editorial innovation at the Guardian in the UK; and JR Dawkins, senior product manager at Yahoo in the United States.
NDR’s coronavirus tool
Hessling started off by demoing a tool he created that stemmed from a successful section of NDR’s Web site. He recognised users were clicking on the part of the Web site they created that showed coronavirus stats with a map. It showed how the virus was affecting towns and neighbourhoods. Users were seeking out this section to get updates on the virus.
“Then we came up with the idea of why not create a product out of it where people can actually use it on their own tools, so we found a way,” Hessling said.
NDR integrated it into Apple IOS Messenger and Facebook Messenger where users could enter their zip codes and get back basic info on things like hospitalisation, how many people got the vaccine, and number of deaths.
“It’s working really well because it’s building upon habits people already have and building upon tools people use, so they don’t really have to go to us,” Hessling said. “It’s built in their daily life and the apps and the environment they are already using.”
NDR found about 20,000 people use it daily, is a good number for their regional public broadcast company.
Yahoo’s content future
At Yahoo, JR Dawkins is tasked with reimagining the news side of the Web site with a focus on what Yahoo can and should look like in future. Verizon sold off Yahoo’s digital side late last year, and they are finding new freedom in once again being an independent company — embracing major changes and a full company wide reset.
“One of the hardest things for a company that’s been around really long is to say, ‘Let’s get rid of some of these legacy items we’re holding on to because these legacy items are currently generating revenue.’ If we pivot, change, or explore new things, there might be a small dip in revenue as we redirect,” Dawkins said.
Yahoo is exploring ways to look past previous success of a landing page with news from everywhere, Dawkins said: “Now we’re looking at what do we do ‘future forward.’”
He recognises Millennials and younger readers are leaning toward very targeted searches and prefer to pick and choose what they read over a landing page. The product team is looking at potentially integrating user-generated content in conjunction with journalist content, he said. They’re also looking at personalisation and customisation. This is less about what people are clicking on and more about personalising the interface and allowing users to consume it the way they want, he said.
INMA Product Initiative Lead Jodie Hopperton, who moderated the Webinar, asked the panel what indicators they look for as a sign of what people want and signal to their businesses that something might be a candidate for interactive or personalised treatment.
NDR: Hessling says NDR doesn’t have a clear process right now to determine this, and their idea for the coronavirus product came from a conversation between a couple of people about the success of the map on the Web site. “Within 10 minutes, we had the idea and we tried it out.”
Yahoo: It’s a different story for Yahoo, where Dawkins said they have a lot of data and see trends in what people are looking for.
“Something like Finance News Live was not intentionally planned out,” Dawkins said. “They decided to do a full day of finance coverage on video, and the traffic and the response to that was so out of this world, they were like, ‘Maybe we should make this a regular thing and always do live video eight hours a day.’”
Dawkins encouraged companies to try these one-off experiments, which users may want more of. Desktop consumption is on the decline, and it’s crucial to meet users where they are on mobile. Yahoo started beta testing different layouts to see how users respond. They have the data and trends, and now they are testing it out in the real world.
Dawkins shared an example at Yahoo where interactivity meets common sense:
“If you’re reading an article and it mentions a company, and you’ve viewed finance in the past, we might show you the stock symbol and the current trading price of that company in the article,” Dawkins said. “You can tap it and choose to go deeper into that company’s finances if you’d like to.”
The Guardian: Moran believes you’ll find success by keeping your user in mind while making decisions.
“There’s sort of a debate on when you should make something interactive,” Moran said. “To me, that’s just about user need and the expertise of the visual journalism team. One of the gifts of digital is you can put the user in the middle of the story. They can identify who they are and how events relate to them. The data around it can help you know if you’re on fertile ground. But fundamentally a good idea is going to be a good idea based on whether or not you can offer something valuable in return for the interaction.”
The panel ackled the topic of weather and whether it’s relevant for the media industry today. Moran says your phone is really good at giving you the weather and at some companies, weather sits next to news solely because it used to be at the back of the newspaper.
“In that environment, 30 years ago, that was incredibly helpful to people. Today it is probably less helpful for you,” Moran said.
The Guardian has weather as a little widget on the top of its homepage.
“I’d argue probably its design is more to delight than really inform or form a daily habit,” Moran said. “It’s there, we hope it’s useful, but we don’t think about it much beyond that.”
Hessling says weather is considered a commodity now since everyone has it, however he does see validity in weather apps that can show you when to get to your kids’ school to pick them up without getting rained on.
Hopperton asked the panel next about news quizzes. NDR found after a while people weren’t using them but did find value in this example, Hessling said:
“We were doing one data-driven news quiz. We had a study where judges were asked, ‘Someone did this, how would you treat this person in court?’”
NDR gave the possible sentences to the users, and they would compare their sentencing to the professional judges.
“We had this interactive tool where they could play and see where they landed,” Hessling said.
They actually found big discrepancies in some cases between users and judges, which in turn gave NDR a lot of additional news coverage.
Where product, data, and editorial meet
Yahoo is looking at ways to be more collaborative between the product and editorial teams, Dawkins said: “When it comes to editorial, we’re leaning more into what are the things you want to do that you feel like you can’t do right now.”
Yahoo is looking at how the product team can help editorial based on news surrounding specific months and events.
When it comes to measuring success, The Guardian’s Moran warns it’s not always fair to look at the metrics and blindly apply them: “Look at as much data as you can, and then apply a large amount of common sense on top as to whether or not it’s worthwhile.”