In an evolt.org article posted earlier today, Peter-Paul Koch advocates using the W3C-sanctioned Document Object Model (DOM) in new, innovative ways in order to empower users to create their own interfaces to Web sites:
Basically, since the W3C DOM allows us to completely rewrite the page according to the wishes of the user, we should design web pages in a new way. We no longer need to take serious decisions about how the site will work, how the navigation, the forms and the other elements interact with the users. Instead, we can offer the user a way to create his/her own web page, with exactly those elements and that interaction he/she wants, likes or needs. Thus one web page can look completely different for two users.
Koch presents a DOM-driven example page -- an item-entry form that replicates itself infinitely, based on how many items the user wants to add. He also cites the International Herald Tribune's site as "the best practical implementation of the unique possibilities of the W3C DOM so far." (The IHT uses the DOM to give users limited control over how news articles look. For instance, users with DOM-compliant browsers may switch between a three-column view and a one-column view.)
Heeding Koch's advice to start thinking of good DOM uses, I have two ideas I'd like to see implemented on news/information sites:
- User comments within articles. Let people insert text anywhere in any story. This could be limited to a paragraph level -- i.e., user comments only appear between text paragraphs -- or, more radically, within text itself. (Any kind of comment would be acceptable: fact corrections, editing corrections, opinions, sarcastic remarks, you get the idea.) Importantly, make it easy to distinguish between "official" content and user-provided content. Make it easy to turn comments off and on. Give each comment a "type" -- "additional fact," "opinion," "correction" -- and enable users to show and hide the comments by type. (e.g., "Show me just the corrections, and no opinions." Or, "Show me just the witty remarks, not the sarcastic ones.") This would turn a single story into a multilayered experience, with different parts accessible via different clicks.
- User-manipulated stories. Let users reorder the facts in a hard news story. We journalists value highly our news judgment -- that is, we like to think we know which facts are more important than other facts -- but we shouldn't be elitist about it. Give the people a voice; let them call us on it, right on our site. (This ties in with recent comments about users "building their own internal narratives" over at Hypergene MediaBlog.) Log individual users' changes and manipulations, and present an alternative article, created on the fly, based on "collective user judgment." Do the same with the home page, but on a broader (story) level instead of a factual level.