Most Viewed/E-mailed/Ignored/Derided/etc.

Why do so many news Web sites offer the two-tab toggle between “Most Viewed” and “Most E-mailed” stories?

Let me quickly say that I think a reader-led remix of the news is a great idea. Online newspapers’ biggest problems is leaving so much good stuff buried. In this interactive mediabox we find ourselves playing in, it makes great sense to surface the material readers like the most. Liberate the news from the deskhounds who think they know what people want! Let the users vote with their index fingers! By offering these navigation options, newspapers are offering a more dignified version of Digg, so to speak.

[I should point out that some news sites still don’t offer such navigable lists at all. If any of you are listening, can you please drop me a note and explain, in 50 words or less, why the hell not?]

But why only those two ways to slice of news? There are a few good exceptions:

  • The New York Times offers three versions of “most popular”: e-mailed, blogged and searched.
  • The great Guardian (if you like online news and haven’t visited, you owe yourself the treat) offers “most commented” and “latest” blogs. Deeper on the site, it presents “what you’ve been reading”–a cheery phrasing of “most popular.”
  • The also-great Lawrence Journal-World&News dangles “latest news” and “most discussed” way high up, above the fold. The LJ uses these two link lists as the primary entry point to the site’s content. 
  • But by far the winner in the let-the-readers-rumble sweepstakes is USAToday, which has essentially turned its Web presence into a gloriously, brilliantly unsettling confection of editor- and user-driven content. Navigate by choosing “Top news” (editors’ choices, with reader comments and recommendations indicated) or “most popular” (users’ most read, commented, recommended and e-mailed). The Nation’s Newspaper, long derided as the colorful dimwit, has broken free from the MSM pack in its transformation for the new day. 

But why stop there with remixing? Why not:

  • Most popular in your zip code?
  • Most e-mailed by women?
  • Most subscribed to by people in your line of work?
  • Most lingered-over by non-subscribers?
  • Most popular with users with a higher household income than you?

Of course, none of these would fly [although the link lists that resulted would be fascinating to see]. It’s not that media companies don’t have that information about users, or couldn’t easily get it. But using it would not be a wise move. 

As Brother Google has discovered, the peril isn’t in collecting users’ personal information. It’s in trying to use it.

So go ahead, let the users remix the news. For now, just don’t let them know you’re watching.

Explore posts in the same categories: news, USA Today, wisdom of the crowds

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