Magazine article Editor & Publisher

What Exactly Is Interactivity?

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

What Exactly Is Interactivity?

Article excerpt

Recently, I've been examining a lot of news Web sites as one of the judges for this year's EPpy awards, Editor & Publisher's annual competition for best news Web sites. After reviewing some of the entrants for the category of "most interactive," I fear that quite a few news site publishers don't understand what it means to be a truly interactive site.

Yes, a site is interactive if it contains a database that its users can interact with to find information specific to them. For example, a local crime database that shows recent crimes reported near a person's home when an address is input, or an election results database that delivers results based on a person's address. Yes, online polls are interactive, allowing Web site users to enter their opinions on issues and compare their answers to other site visitors'. Web site features like electronic "postcards," where users can send personalized e-mail greetings to other Internet users, are interactive. Several sites I reviewed cited as interactive the IPIX 360-degree, user-controlled photos that they make available.

While those are all nice features for a news Web site, they are only "interactive" in the sense of letting the user interact with the content. In my view, for a site to be truly interactive, it also must facilitate communication (i.e., interactivity) between human beings. The Internet is clearly a two-way medium, so the sites that excel at interactivity are those that bring people together; they facilitate communication between Web users, and between Web users and Web site staff members.

Here's a list of the elements available at the "ideal" interactive Web news site.

Discussion forums. This one is so obvious that it requires almost no explanation. Yet a surprising number of news Web sites still don't support discussion areas for their users. If you don't have a series of discussion boards on your site, your users are going elsewhere to converse online, and you're missing an opportunity for repeat usage. Some content areas are simply not complete without a discussion forum. Do you have a pro sports team in your market? Then let its fans talk online via your site. Sports forums are typically the most used discussion areas on news Web sites.

Live chat. Another no-brainer, but many sites don't include chat areas.

Reporter e-mail addresses. Every bylined story should have the writer's e-mail address to facilitate reader feedback. I also recommend writer biographies so readers can get to know your staff better.

Article feedback mechanism. The truly interactive site will solicit reader comments at the end of every story. Readers use a Web form to write comments which are posted at the end of each article. (An alternative approach is to take the end-of-article feedback comments and place them on a central feedback Web page. Comments are grouped by article, and each story on the site has a link at the end to the user comments page.)

Personal Web pages. The best interactive sites that I've seen allow users to create their own Web pages, hosted by the news site. The sites provide form-based page-creation tools that allow a user to create a basic page without having to know HTML; the user simply types information into form fields and has the option of uploading photos or artwork to be included on the page. …

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