Dutch site reinvents what news looks like online

Recently my attention has been drawn to the Dutch news website www.en.nl. Wilbert Baan, interaction designer for the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant, told me he wants to see “what we can do with news, social networks, wikis and more.

“I think you might like the experiment we are doing,” he wrote.

And bloody hell was he right.

The first thing that strikes you about the site is the bar chart across the top of the page, replacing the traditional masthead. This is a newsriver:

Newsriver concept

Down the outside column is a list of articles from the past hour:

En.nl article newsriver concept
That’s culture shift number 1.

At the bottom of the page you will find recent images, social bookmark sites, most commented articles from the past 24 hours, most important and most viewed.

Culture shift number 2 is the list of incoming links to this article – something built into the very fabric of blogs (pingback) but so far either anathema to mainstream publishers (“send our readers elsewhere?”), or difficult with current content management systems.

And with one simple move the site demonstrates it’s part of the conversation.

The ‘most important’ list is also worth looking at. How did they decide what was “most important?” I asked.

“We are using around ten variables to decide what’s important news. The variables we’re using right now are pageviews, visits from external websites, unique referrers to an article, comments, votes (4 options) and the press agency urgency variable (3 options; normal, high, very high).

“By showing it next to the most viewed we can easily see how it works and adjust the settings to make it better. It’s not perfect yet, but it already works remarkably well.

“We could extend this even further (tags, edits, tag removals) or skip some. All the variables are connected to points, we can set a default amount of points to a variable and define or redefine the value for the website.

“We also made a tag sniffer at http://www.skitch.com/wilbertbaan/8733/en-tag-sniffing – it scans the text on certain names and auto tags the article.”

Wilbert’s next step is building a community that can contribute to make this website better with ideas or criticism. The newspaper is already conducting a conversation with readers on a NING social network where users can contribute new ideas and discuss the website (in Dutch), but clearly this is just the start.

“For example we could connect a popular social network to the website and use what your network reads to alter the presentation of the news. Or make section pages, or a frontpage?

And all this is possible because of a Holovaty-esque focus on the power of databases.

“The most important object is the database,” he writes on his blog. “We designed the database from a view that almost everything is possible with the data. We store a lot of information that might be valuable in the future. This allows us to experiment freely with the design and think up new features. The database is the most valuable asset of a news organization.”
And this means they can do “Almost everything. We can make mash-ups, feeds, aggregated pages. Hook in to social networks, extend the wiki functionality, and more. Technically everything is possible.”

Keep an eye on this one.

UPDATE: Wilbert writes: “We have added feeds for every tag, latest news and breaking news. We have also added a personal feed that can be created by selecting the tags you like or don’t like. Very rudimentary, but it is a first experiment with personalization (My feed: http://en.nl/en/my_rss.php?editorId=3) and you can take it anywhere you want.

“With these feeds we are encouraging developers to experiment with news sorting and make their own interface or mash-up.”

Read more posts about future newspapers here

18 thoughts on “Dutch site reinvents what news looks like online

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  4. wilbertbaan

    @david. Good point. For now the website is a closed system. We use the full ANP (Dutch press agency) feed and don’t filter.

    We are looking at how we can sort the amount of information (100 articles a day) and make a (personal) relevant selection for the readers. If we have a stable solution we can open up the system for more articles from different providers.

    To work with different providers we have to create a system that filters relevancy and duplicates. We could also allow the users to write new articles (we already got this question from user).

    For now we are experimenting with a wiki version where we ask people to contribute on a low level. Correct spelling mistakes, change headlines, add tags, photos or video.

    The big advantage with a press agency is that they cover all the news, and that it keeps the focus of the website on news. This makes sure the website is always up-to-date and complete. It gives us time to experiment with sorting and relevancy first.

    In short; yes we are open to content from others. If we can sort it on relevancy and if it contributes to the readers experience.

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  8. Richard Kendall

    Very interesting, a dynamic sense of immediacy and relevance, for copy and images, interaction and community.

    A good example of democratising the content.

  9. Nieuwsblik

    It’s a nice experiment. An earlier version of the site en.nl (from about 8 years ago) has failed.
    Now it is a kind of news feed, depending on the visitors to add the real value.

  10. Allison White

    I like the design of the site but some of the purpose of the features aren’t readily apparent and I think it is more than just the language barrier. I wonder how easy it would be for newer internet users and the like.

    However, it is a great idea about customizing news feeds and all the graphs. I just hope the feeds aren’t too limited.

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  13. andre veilleux

    Hello from Quebec. We would like to create a site similar to this wonderful dutch site. we would like to contact them to know if they would be interested in selling their software to us. But i cannot read a word of dutch. Could someone put me in relation with them?
    Thanks. Andre the french canadian guy

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