Newswoman turned journalism professor Laura Ruel and new media maven Nora PaulÂ show how multimedia producers canÂ improve theirÂ projectsÂ byÂ askingÂ fiveÂ volunteers who’ve never seen the storyÂ to prescreenÂ it before release to see ifÂ they can click through without confusion.Â TheyÂ describe thisÂ process of useability testingÂ in an article published byÂ Online Journalism Review (OJR). They lay it all outÂ inÂ simpleÂ sensibleÂ steps like getting volunteers from the non-news staffÂ and using the same test computer for all subjectsÂ to make sure any rough spots are the softwareÂ and not a sticky mouse.
Ruel and Paul say their five-step process should take five hours and catch 80 percent of the potential glitches that tend to send confused browsers clickingÂ elswhere in cyberspace. They write:
“As we’ve said in the print world for years, if the presentation is aesthetically pleasing, but the user can’t find the information, then the design is useless. This concept is even more important in the world of Web design where clicking to a new site is even easier than finding a new magazine or newspaper.”
In the same veinÂ of new tools, OJR editor Robert Niles explains how journalists canÂ useÂ websites to solicit large numbersÂ ofÂ inputs from theirÂ audiencesÂ so as toÂ deliverÂ a sampling of opinion or experience that isÂ farÂ more authentic than anecdotalismÂ yetÂ quicker andÂ cheaper than the gold standard, random scientific surveys.
Crowdsourcing is the buzzword used to describe this middle ground in the search for verite. In his OJR articleÂ NilesÂ defines crowdsourcingÂ in the journalistic context as:
“the use of a large group of readers to report a news story. It differs from traditional reporting in that the information collected is gathered not manually, by a reporter or team of reporters, but through some automated agent, such as a website. Stripped to its core, though, it’s still just another way of reporting, one that will stand along the traditional ‘big three’ of interviews, observation and examining documents.”
It’s a concise piece that inspires and empowers reporters toÂ cast this wideÂ new netÂ when they goÂ fishing in the greatÂ seaÂ of public opinion.
Postscript: In a comment on the OJR website I suggested that when running future how-to piecesÂ the zineÂ might find a wayÂ for readersÂ to share any widgets or spreadsheets theyÂ create in implementing the project on their own website.Â If that is tooÂ difficult or riskyÂ because files canÂ containÂ malware, it’s still great toÂ see nitty-gritty stuff of this caliber and tone. I repeatÂ thatÂ here because theÂ e-publishing communityÂ needs to do everthing possible to get more how-to stuff out there, findable and actionable so we can put together the many skills and teams needed to make these new media.