From Social Design to Modular Innovation in News

Every week I read thousands of blog posts. Here, for your weekend enjoyment, are some highlights from my recent reading, for you.  Have a great weekend!


On Starting Up…
Hacking the VC presentation to success.


On Design & Product Experience…
From the masters… succinct social design principles.


On Modular Innovation…
Saving the news industry through Modular Innovation.


What are you reading this weekend?

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy


The Product Guy’s Great in ’08

Christmas-Bell The Product Guy had a great 2008, sharing and exploring products, their experiences, and many innovative startups and the founders behind them, while getting to meet and speak with many of The Product Guy’s steadily growing readership.

And, as 2008 comes to a close, let’s take a brief look at the top 5 posts of 2008 (by popularity) on The Product Guy, starting with…

modular innovation#5 Modular Innovation 101

Modular Innovations lead to users’ information that is Portable, Shareable, Interoperable, Customizable, Redundant, Accessible and, basically, their own. Here The Product Guy explored the various flavors and concepts behind Modular Innovation.

Trends and other primordial indicators of the emergence of Modular Innovation can be found in many products that are out there, or in development, today on the Internet. This year demonstrated a clear evolution of existing online products, and an emergence of many others, implementing and embracing, to a ever increasing degree, Modular Innovation.


01_amazon#4 Overgrown Amazon

As part of the series exploring the quantification of product User Experience via Quick-UX, the Aesthetics of were explored.

Every single feature does NOT have to be crammed into the interface. A smart minimalist design will provide just enough of the core functionality up front, and allow for the gradual introduction of deeper features and extras as the user interacts with the product. is a great example of poor Aesthetics.


Configuration#3 Quick-UX. Quick Heuristics for User eXperience.

In 2008, I introduced the world to a process I use when quickly evaluating products. In subsequent posts in 2008 (and more to come in 2009) The Product Guy continued to provide examples and elaborate upon the underlying concepts and variables that make up Quick-UX.

The Product Guy’s introduction to performing quick, quantitative assessments of product/user experience.


pbwiki#2 Best Free Online Wiki Announced!

With so many wiki choices available, how do you choose? The Product Guy explored and ranked the free, hosted wikis available to both the individual and company.

And, just as PBwiki was about to achieve their own personal user base milestone, they too were recognized as the best, free online wiki.


00_yahoo_homepage#1 Yahoo News. #1 Online News Site.

Yahoo News represented the first news web product whose experience was studied in a 4 part series on the pros, cons, and suggested improvements (some of which have been implemented) of the top websites’ User Experiences.

Based on popularity, Yahoo News, at the end of 2007, was #1. And in 2008, this article delving into Yahoo’s News experience was the #1 most popular article at The Product Guy.


Happy New Year!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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The Top Online News Experience is…

windows_on_monitor_thumb1_thumb1[9](part 5 of 5)….well… keep reading to find out.Over the past few weeks we have all looked at both the Enjoyable and Unsatisfying sides of the top 3 news websites. For those who use them, each individual has found within their favorite source the right mixture of both compelling experience and content that brings them back again and again.Before dubbing the victorious online news experience, I would be remiss to not point out some of the most pressing changes and improvements that all current and prospective news product users would be ecstatic to see…

Yahoo News’ To Do…00_yahoo_homepage

  • Stop concealing the customization options. Allow for easy and obvious customization of the order and inclusion/exclusion of the content on the page.
  • Everywhere, except on the homepage, there is a feature that allows for toggling between headlines only, include summaries, and include photos. However, just like the other customizations, it is very poorly placed — very easy to miss. Yahoo, to help people who are in a hurry, place this feature in an easier to find location and extend this handy feature to the homepage.
  • Eliminating the ‘old style’ feeling website, reducing the aggregator-information overload would go far in improving the overall user experience and enhance the Desirability and Usefulness factors for Yahoo News.

CNN Online’s To Do…00_cnn_homepage

  • CNN has a plenty of good ideas they are working with, but needs to clean up the rough edges of
    • Accessibility is not mentioned enough in reviews of products’ user experience. In this area, CNN does a good job on the article pages, allowing their readers to resize the text with an easy click of the button. This type of functionality should be extended beyond the article pages to all aspects of the site.
    • Page layout and use of whitespace, when used well, can allow for the UX designer to convey a large amount of information within small confines. The page layouts and their usage need to be better utilized to reduce those regions of the page where there is excessive whitespace or labels that unflatteringly wrap to additional lines. Whitespaces (and awkward text layout) distract from the content of the page, often causing the eyes to look at regions of nothingness wondering what article was meant for there.
    • would also benefit from more dynamically loading elements throughout the website. The fewer additional pages that need to load, the faster that the information can be accessed, the better the UX.
    • Better labeling of links that navigate away from to external, non-CNN branded websites and search (that searches the web, as opposed to, by default) would further help reduce unnecessary surprises within the CNN online experience.’s To Do…00_msnbc_homepage

  • In general handles customization of the news experience very well. Customization would benefit from the following improvements…
    • The customization of the news can be found to be scattered all over and requires a great deal of scrolling up and down repeatedly. Allow for a centralized means by which all of the settings can be adjusted
    • Controlling the number of articles to view per section gets too prominent a placement on the page. This is a nifty feature that is easy to use, but surely there exists more useful information or functionality that can be presented in its place (with the control of the number of articles being relocated to the centralized settings control).
  • The Topic links, located in the rightmost region of each page sub-section, present an experience inconsistent with the similar topic selectors within the Explore box at the top of the homepage. When clicking within the Explore box, the article content is dynamically displayed – nice and quickly, no page loads. When clicking one of the Topic links, the user is navigated to a brand new webpage.
    • Enable the dynamic loading of the articles associated with each Topic within the subsection associated with that topic. It will greatly enhance the usability, utility and overall user experience of
  • The dynamic aspects of the news experience can also be further enhanced, through the usage of dynamic mouse-overs for articles. When a mouse lingers over an article for more than a few seconds, a balloon containing some summary information about the article or other related actions can be displayed — empowering the user to take a peak, and deciding the best use of his/her time — deciding which articles call for more/less engagement.


The winner is MSNBC’s online news experience which made excellent use of layout, user control, and dynamic elements – all of which I found maximized the user experience, most especially the Desirability and Usefulness. Of course, everyone has their preferences, their own personal news site winner, and the role of user experience fits into everyone’s decision differently — individually valuing how much weight goes to UX, and how much weight goes to the content or reporters, is unique and personal to everyone.


Does it all really matter? Today, these three news sites remain popular and strong. But, for yourself, or perhaps some or many of your friends, the primary source of news is niche blogs and news sites, frequently accumulated through one or a collection of RSS feeds. Share what parts of your favorite online news experience you enjoy that lead you to prefer one news website over another.

The question, the issue, that the top three, Yahoo, CNN, MSNBC has to solve is how to compete with all of these alternate (and often more expedient) news sources.

How do you see the news sites evolving to compete with the alternate, more flexible, more in control of the users, sources of news?

Will they be able to adapt? (or fade away)

More Information

Enjoy & Discuss & Share!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

MSNBC. An online experience.

windows_on_monitor_thumb1(part 4 of 5) Yahoo News, CNN, MSNBC. Each online news organization presents a different spin on the visual and interactive presentation of the news.Website: MSNBC Online
Briefly: MSNBC’s website was found to be the #3 online news website in December 2007. (read more)

What’s Enjoyable?

  • The primary and category homepages (e.g. Travel, Health, etc.) have simple, clean, and consistent layouts.
    • They provide a minimalist feeling, making for easy skimming of the content.
    • Within the sub-category sections of the pages the link color, mouse-overs, and gradients provide good contrast for eye-easy reading and highlighting.
p01_msnbc_primary p01_msnbc_travel
  • Customization and its impact on the elements on the page(s) is both obvious and easy to use.
  • The category tree allows for the peeling away of the layers of the news-“onion”, gradually displaying more articles within the categories of interest, dynamically and without the need to load (or navigate to) additional web pages.

What’s Disappointing or Unsatisfying?

  • The colors in the page header and footer make those regions of the page very hard to read and, in turn, use.
  • The advertising displayed can be overly intrusive. For example, the ads right in the middle of the text flow of the news articles are too much (and annoying). Don’t you (MSNBC) already have enough ads on the pages?
  • Customizing the desired order of the sections on the page can be a slow and clumsy process. The placement and behavior (one move up or down at a time) are both contributing factors.
c03_msnbc_customize_layout_A c03_msnbc_customize_layout_B

    Until then, think about & share…

    I’ve now explored, in detail, the top 3 online news experiences, Yahoo News, CNN, and MSNBC. Stay tuned to find out which one (or two?) stand out as the best online user experience.

    Subscribe now (click here) to make sure you don’t miss out on the conclusion of this series comparing and contrasting the top 3 online news sites (Yahoo News, CNN, and MSNBC) along with my declaration of online news experience champion.

    Tune in to see if you agree with me — or want to argue a different perspective.

    More Information


    Jeremy Horn
    The Product Guy

    CNN website. What’s so good about it?

    windows_on_monitor (part 3 of 5)

    Briefly: CNN’s website was found to be the #2 online news website in December 2007. (read more)


    What’s Enjoyable?

    • CNN’s presentation of the full news articles can be found within a very friendly, clean, USEFUL, and easy to read and use interface. This interface…
      • Clearly indicates when the article was last updated,
      • Provides enhanced accessibility via the placement of on-page buttons for controlling the text size,
      • For some articles, can be found to also contain nifty, dynamic, tab-like elements for the exploring of more related information about the current topic without having to navigate elsewhere, and
      • Presents a bulleted list of story highlights!
    • The prominent placement of the news video component is definitely appreciated by those visitors that are looking to either quickly browse through the latest full-motion news updates or dive into the video aspects of the site.
    • The page header allows for (1) the easy navigation of the various sections of the CNN news product, as well as clear identification of the current section, and (2) identification of the latest ‘hot topic.’ With many of the other top online news experiences with such clumsy navigation interfaces, CNN deserves the positive recognition for its solid implementation.

    What’s Disappointing or Unsatisfying?

    • Unlike many other news sites, CNN provides very little in the way of customization, and no customization of the determination of sections to present, nor their display sequence (a fairly common feature).
    • The non-Home sections of the website exhibit inconsistent layouts and poor use of whitespace. Often the whitespace presentation results in the sense, or feeling, that something is missing or broken on the page.
    • The composition of text on the page can, at times, seem disjointed or incomplete. A simple example can be seen on the homepage in awkward wrapping of the article’s age, as well as in the example below…

      The third of the top 3 news sites, MSNBC, will be the focus of my next blog update.

      Until then, think about & share…

      Which website experience do you enjoy more Yahoo News or CNN? Why?

      Subscribe now (click here) to make sure you don’t miss any part of this series exploring the User eXperience within the world of news websites as well as other upcoming, insightful posts from The Product Guy.

      More Information


      Jeremy Horn
      The Product Guy

      Yahoo News. #1 Online News Site.

      windows_on_monitor(part 2 of 5)

      Website: Yahoo! News
      Briefly: Yahoo News was found to be the #1 online news website in December 2007. (read more)


      What’s Enjoyable?

      • The homepage is loaded with dynamic elements that make it easy to get MORE information into the initial page and reveal even MORE information QUICKLY without having to load more pages.



      • What content is included or excluded, as well as the order of the different types of content, can customized to the user’s preferences.



      • On most pages a there exists a feature that allows for quick (no re-loading or loading of new pages), dynamic toggling between ‘headlines only’, ‘include summaries’, and ‘ include photos’ empowers the user with the ability to quickly skim information and control how many details the individual wants to see.
      p03_yahoo_toggle_headlines p03_yahoo_toggle_photos p03_yahoo_toggle_summaries

      What’s Disappointing or Unsatisfying?

      • The style of the site feels outdated and the layout tends to evoke feelings of information overload.
      • It is great that the pages can be customized, but the ability to customize and the knowledge of what one can actually customize are buried and extremely easy to miss.
      • Near the top of the pages is a ‘more stories’ widget that is both unnecessarily animated and presented in style mismatched with Yahoo News’ overall look-and-feel.

      Tune in for my next posting, where I will be turning my attention to the #2 news site: CNN.

      Until then, think about & share…

      What parts of the Yahoo News website experience do you love (or hate)?

      Subscribe now (click here) to make sure you don’t miss any part of this series exploring the User eXperience within the world of news websites as well as other upcoming, insightful posts from The Product Guy.

      More Information


      Jeremy Horn
      The Product Guy

      The News is Improving

      windows_on_monitor(part 1 of 5) Yahoo News, CNN, MSNBC. Each online news organization presents a different spin on the visual and interactive presentation of the news.
      00_yahoo_homepage 00_cnn_homepage 00_msnbc_homepage

      Most everyone has their favorite resource for getting news online. Perhaps it is the content, or the extension of the TV experience with which you are most comfortable, that pulls you in the direction of one particular news site over another. But, what about from the perspective of each online news product’s User eXperience?

      As of December 2007, the top 3 news sites are: Yahoo News, CNN, and MSNBC.

      The Yahoo News, CNN, and MSNBC websites provide their respective users with different online news experience advantages and disadvantages.

      Over the next few weeks, I will explore, discuss, and compare the top 3 online news sites, Yahoo News, CNN, and MSNBC, and share with you which, among these three, I find to be the champion of User eXperience in online news.

      Next, I will be looking at the first of the top 3 news sites, Yahoo News.

      Until then, think about & share…

      What online news experience do you most enjoy?

      Subscribe now (click here) to make sure you don’t miss any part of this series exploring the User eXperience within the world of news websites as well as other upcoming, insightful posts from The Product Guy.

      More Information


      Jeremy Horn
      The Product Guy