Google SVP Jonathan Rosenberg wrote a lengthy essay which celebrated Google’s role in making the world’s information accessible. He’s now made it publicly available (with suitable edits, he says).
One section spoke of the role of newspapers in this information and technology-rich world. It’s worth repeating as is creates a vision for what should be possible in a modern news organisation which was properly focussed on its readers.
The experience of consuming news on the web today fails to take full advantage of the power of technology. It doesn’t understand what users want in order to give them what they need. When I go to a site like the New York Times or the San Jose Mercury, it should know what I am interested in and what has changed since my last visit. If I read the story on the US stimulus package only six hours ago, then just show me the updates the reporter has filed since then (and the most interesting responses from readers, bloggers, or other sources). If Thomas Friedman has filed a column since I last checked, tell me that on the front page. Beyond that, present to me a front page rich with interesting content selected by smart editors, customized based on my reading habits (tracked with my permission). Browsing a newspaper is rewarding and serendipitous, and doing it online should be even better. This will not by itself solve the newspapers’ business problems, but our heritage suggests that creating a superior user experience is the best place to start.
Quite a challenge for content-obsessed news organisations, but one which is worth taking up.