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Living Can Kill You

New threads for stories

Nine weeks ago, msnbc.com began work on a new story page design concept to improve the ways news events are covered.

The resulting design, which launched today, was one of seven explored by the Creative Development team during the past year, and it pushes the limits of what a site with more than 40 million monthly visitors can do. The pages also test the limits of what modern browsers can do as the designs rely heavily on client-side processing to affect the appearance of the page itself.

The primary goal is to showcase what msnbc.com has always done best: rich, online journalism. As a result, the design integrates interactives, photo slide shows, and videos directly into the page. For too long, mainstream online journalism has often come from the print mentality: text, supported by some pictures.

The new msnbc.com design concept aims to thread these elements together into one cohesive story by featuring interactive journalism in ways not previously possible. In fact, just linking to any of the media elements allows the page to change its core layout. One view might showcase the words of Pulitzer-prize winning investigative reporter Bill Dedman, another view highlights the richly visualized Moody’s data produced by msnbc.com’s team of renegade cybergeeks.

These designs also push the boundaries of what the Web industry typically considers “page views.” Though better than the “hit”, those in the industry have long known pages views can be inflated with unnecessary clicks while genuine content updates go unmeasured. The solution is capturing the intent of what a page view is: a substantive change of the majority of the content within a user agent’s viewable space. Working with audience measurement firms, msnbc.com designed the template to balance the needs of the business with the user experience desires of its audience.

No longer do visitors need to load an entire page just to read a few hundred more words; the page now adds it to end of the text you are already reading. Want to view a slideshow? No pop-up windows need to be unblocked; you simply view it on page you already have loaded.

The effort behind the scenes to enable all this is substantial. A number of very smart people worked many long hours to develop these templates. An entirely new JavaScript framework (dubbed Quilt) was built to allow the page to “know” what content and data was visible to the viewer. The video player was rebuilt to connect more intimately with the content on the page. The interactive producers built a suite of new tools to tell their stories more effectively in these pages. The design team continues to experiment with end-user experience.

Most importantly, though, millions of people reading the news will get a more comprehensive view of the stories of the day. This new journalism platform launched using msnbc.com’s in-depth coverage economic in The Elkhart Project as a base. Over the coming months, expect the design to evolve and spread across the site. In the meantime, your thoughts, as always, are welcomed.