Scoring the news

The one thing I don’t like much about the current crop of online bot news sites is that it’s hard to tell how important a story is. Sure, Findory, Google News and NewsBot all have top story sections. But you can’t really quickly find out how “top” a story is. Did it just beat out a news peace down in the technology section? Tough to tell.

Amazon uses sales rank as a super easy way to see how well an item is selling. NewsBot does offer a popularity score which is cool–kind like Amazon sales rank but in reverse with higher scored items more important. But it’s pretty de-emphasized (I didn’t notice it at first) and higher scored items can show up lower on a page (to be fair, probably a beta issue).

There’s a number of sites out there that are experimenting with using different sized fonts to give you the idea of how well scored an information item is on a page. Take NewsMap. It uses Google News as it’s data source and shows you the importance of stories by enlarging the font of headlines. The larger the font, the more important the story. It’s a pretty interesting concept. This notion is somewhat similar to a post I made about using quote tagging to help eyes parse web pages easier by calling out or bolding key sentences or article excerpts on a web page–similar to call outs on a newspaper page to help convey story content quickly.

There’s a number of sites experimenting with differing font sizes to communicate importance:

  • Craig’s List uses varying font sizes to indicate the size of various Craig’s Lists in different cities
  • Flickr uses different sized fonts to allow photo bloggers a quick method to scan how large it’s most popular photo categories are
  • Extisp.icio.us varies font sized according to number of bookmarks contained in a user’s del.icio.us bookmark categories. Here’s mine

I’m not sure if varying fonts would help automated news sites communicate story importance or simply clutter the sites. But I do think figuring out a way to visually weight story popularity for quick scanning and comparison is a potential feature that users would find interesting. Additionally, it could also help differentiate auto news sites from their editorially controlled counterparts by making it fully transparent how top stories are selected.

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