USAToday: Anti-Social Readers?

March 5, 2007

My USAToday profile.

After reading many negative comments left by users on the USAToday site complaining about the site redesign, I thought it might be good to take a step back from the bleeding edge of Web 2.0. While I still give a thumbs up to USAToday for taking the leap, it’s worth asking if these new, social features are useful to, or even wanted by USAToday’s users.

Some careful criticism is appearing on blogs. Bruce Clay feels that news should be delivered in an objective manner, without the distraction of reader opinions. WinExtra considers the push to make everything social inappropriate. He’s especially critical of the redesign.

I wonder what percentage of mainstream users really want to “get social” on the web – especially through a newspaper. Certainly, the vast majority of readers are passive – content to sit back and receive content, preferring to access news quickly so they can get on with their lives. A smaller group of people wants to participate with the news via comments. An even smaller subset wants to participate via ratings, blogging, and content creation.

Think about it this way: out of those who consider themselves “music lovers,” the vast majority are content to listen. A minority takes up an instrument, and an even smaller subset joins a band and writes songs. Place a guitar in a music lover of the largest group, turn on the spotlight – and watch them run the other way.

So I don’t believe these user complaints are simply a matter of unfamiliarity or bad design. The social-opinionated-creators are early adopters who are already heavily involved with Web 2.0, and likely write blogs (like myself) – hence the many positive reactions to the redesign in the blogosphere. But I’d say it’s a safe bet that the vast majority of the mainstream population is not of this ilk.

I still give USAToday a lot of credit for making these changes, especially because it points a road ahead when the alternative of just fading away is so grimly real for many newspapers mired in the world of print. But now that I’ve thought about the redesign again and played around with its features, I’ll be surprised to see the majority of their current readers taking advantage of them. They’ll have to attract new ones.

I, however, plan to do my part. I just created my very own USAToday profile.

Additional Reading: Scott Karp, Paris Lemon, Mathew Ingram, Charlene Li’s Blog, Wisdump


  1. Bryce says:

    This seems like a common trend. The people who make sites forget they aren’t typical users of the sites they make. Web 2.0 is great for those on the bleeding edge (such as teenagers with too much time on their hands, as evidenced by Digg and Slashdot), but does your mom get it? Probably not. Web 2.0 is still in beta (or gamma, perhaps) and probably isn’t ready for a site like USA Today.

  2. webomatica says:

    True, Bryce. I was thinking maybe part of the success of MySpace and FaceBook is what you mention – the target users are people with lots of free time and energy. Even me, someone who is into the technology only has time for maybe 2 or 3 of these social sites – in addition to this hapless blog of course!