Boxplots to the rescue
Microsoft and innovation

Not-so-hot news boxes

NewscomtopstoriestxtOne of the lovely Web-enabled technologies is the real-time "Hot News" tickers, which show us stories in order of their popularity, an example of which is shown on the right.

Like tables of numbers, lists of text are not the easiest to read so we look for enhancements that can aid the scanning process.  New.com has taken an usual approach: clicking on "graphic" brings the reader to a "box chart".  We're told that the bigger the box, the "hotter" the story, and the redder the box, the more recent the story.Newscomtopstories 
This graphic has a few problems:

  • Our eyes naturally flow to the darker colors, which in this case represent the oldest - some might say stalest - stories.  It'd help to reverse that color scheme
  • The arrangement of the boxes forces our eyes to criss-cross the page width while the original list involves only one direction
  • It is unclear how the size of the box is related to the "heat" of the story.  The several examples I saw all have two stories on the left and multiple stories cramped in the right column.  Am I observing a natural law of news story popularity, or an arbitrary sizing decision?
  • "Heat" and recency are correlated concepts: the older the story, the more time it has to accumulate readers.  Interestingly, the News.com crew noticed this problem, and their remedy is to include all new stories in the past 72 hours as "hot".  That represents a source of injected correlation!

Redonewscomtopstoriestxt_1The junkart version is a less ambitious "enhanced" list: the list is ranked by how hot the story is, contains bolded keywords to help readers pick out themes, and uses a different bullet for stories published in the last 72 hours.

 

The choice of keywords is a delicate balance between being a reading aid and being a nuisance.  Here, I just picked out "proper nouns".  I can imagine many other possibilities, least of which computer-generated keywords.

I'm sure there are better ideas out there.  If you send me your charts, I'll post them here.

Userredo1hotnewsUpdate 1: Peter Forret sent in this alternative.  He prefers to emphasize the "heat" index rather than recency, using font size and color as the cue.  I have to say I'm not a fan of different shades of colors as the lighter shades often strain my eyes.

Comments

Liza

i love this !!!

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