The first thing to keep in mind is that people have instrumental needs for their media use. This makes sense, if you think about it…they have a reason for making the effort to use the media. There are standard news values – things like timeliness and proximity. These are part of the instrumental need for information. What happens when we move into interactive media? Well, we look at three different needs.
People want to FIND things
The first is that people want to find things in real life. I might want to find a restaurant to eat at, or a place to get my oil changed or a new suitcase. So there are some things that will make a site more or less useful for me to find things. With a restaurant, I may prefer one that is close to where I am located now, or one that is open at the time when I search, for example. A site that can let me tell these things easily, I’m going to like.
People want to LEARN things
The second is that same informational need we would think of when we are looking at traditional mass media. The difference is that traditional media are PUSH media. The communicator decides the message and then sends it to the viewer/user/reader. Interactive media are a mix of PUSH and PULL media. So your news site can tell me that Tony Abbott is the prime minister of Australia in a story, pushing the information, or you can search for it, pulling the information out of a database. So satisfying users means pushing things people want and making pulling as intuitive as possible.
People want to DO things
Finally, people want to do tasks online. A lot of these tasks are social. Sharing information with a friend, for example. Information might be “Here’s a cute photo of a grumpy cat” or “My coffee was too hot this morning. First world problems.” One other task that is increasingly moving online is that people want to buy things.
People DON’T want to pay for information
They want to buy shoes and toys and electronics, but one thing most people don’t want to buy is information. Unless information is unique in some way (uniquely good in the case of something like the New York Times, which has made a paywall work, or uniquely available in the case of some very local news sites that also use a paywall), people will migrate to wherever it is free. So monetizing online information has become increasingly tricky.
My next few posts will talk about making content work in this new world.