MSNBC.com has quietly launched an experiment that re-engineers how Web stories are consumed. Here’s Craig Saila, an interactive designer at MSNBC.com, describing the changes:
The primary goal is to showcase what msnbc.com has always done best: rich, online journalism. As a result, the design integratesinteractives, photo slide shows, and videos directly into the page. For too long, mainstream online journalism has often come from the print mentality: text, supported by some pictures.
The new msnbc.com design concept aims to thread these elementstogether into one cohesive story by featuring interactive journalism in ways not previously possible. In fact, just linking to any of the media elements allows the page to change its core layout. One view might showcase the words of Pulitzer-prize winning investigative reporter Bill Dedman, another view highlights the richly visualized Moody’s data produced by msnbc.com’s team of renegade cybergeeks.
In addition to the way the page actually changes based on how you link to it, there are a number of navigation features sprinkled throughout, the most prominent being a little navigational dashboard at the bottom that lets you browse the various media included with the story: From text to pictures to video.
It’s a pretty disorienting experience at first. But we’re bound to see more and more experiments like these, as designers start unlocking what Ajax can do. And the strategy is certainly spot on: Nielsen has moved away from page views as an attention metric, in favor of time spent on a page. MSNBC.com is trying to make richer content easier to find and harder to ignore. The site plans on tweaking the system, and then rolling it out in larger sections. Does it work? Is it too complicated? Will the complexity drive away viewers? In a time when there’s an increasing push for more simplicity and less functionality on websites, is this a matter of giving people too much, too soon? How would you tackle the problem?