What is it: User Picks is basic popularity ranking of top 10 headlines, updated every twenty minutes. The catch is that it’s only the 10 most popular stories from the CNN.com home page. See example.
Right: At least CNN is admits a list like this has value to their audience.
Wrong: First, it’s impossible to find. We first read about CNN’s much-touted “User Picks” popularity ranking of top 10 headlines about two weeks ago on News.com. However, we could never find the feature. Then we read Staci Kramer’s piece on OJR, and decided that maybe we were just dopes. It’s there, you just have to dig. Take the Pepsi challege. Go to CNN and find “User Picks” in less than one minute. It took us 15 minutes to find it. We tried the search engine. Failure. Only got a PR story about the redesign, which contained no links to these features. Tried the site map. Oh wait, there is no site map. If you still can’t find it, click here for help.
Second, in it’s current form, User Picks is not useful. It’s basically the same links on the front page, just resorted. Were’s the value in that? On three separate tests, we found 8 of the top 10 user picks appear on in the “above the fold” first 500 pixels of the home page. You might as well just read the home page. This example shows the popular list overlayed on the home page.
In the aforementioned OJR piece, Mitch Gelman, senior vice president and executive producer of CNN.com explains the User Picks theory: “By monitoring what our audience is most interested in, we’re able to be more responsive.” Oh, now we get it. User Picks is really for the editors, not the users.
We recommend: If CNN were to deploy the top 10 user picks across the entire site, now there’s some value. It would provide a true portrait of what netizens deem interesting on CNN.com. On that list, sports stories such as “Bonds/Giants advancing to the NLCS” would surely make the Top 10. Interesting that CNN chose this route, considering that they already have an excellent popularity ranking system already in place. See example Powered by Clickability, it shows Most Emailed, Most Saved and Most Printed, sortable by Day, Week and Month. Always nice. What would be even more interesting: CNN should provide 2 RSS feeds - one being editors picks and another would be most popular viewed across all stories. Which would you rather have flowing into Amphetadesk or NetNewsWire?
Related post: The Sorting News: Yahoo! lets readers rate stories