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New designs on news

During my career, I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of some pioneering moments in online news: from bring national magazines online in the mid-1990s to introducing reader comments to mainstream news sites in the mid-2000s. This week marks another: msnbc.com has embarked on a revolutionary rethink on how to report news to its audience.

The most conspicuous element of this is a radical overhaul of story page designs. Beyond the aesthetics of the design, which, as is expected, has its detractors, there’s a whole new narrative being told.

As first experimented with last spring, the new story pages are built to allow editors to easily tell a robust story with all the tools at their disposal: text, inline photo slideshows, interactive data visualizations, rich video (which is also viewable on the iPad as HTML5), timelines, votes, and, of course, discussions. Ads have been integrated in a way that allows a sponsor to tell their story in ways that compliment the editorial, as opposed to fight it. In the process, msnbc.com has put an end to using pageviews to artificially boost traffic at the expense of user experience

Behind the scenes, some of the smartest people I know have built pages that follow the best Web technology practices today. Powered by a custom developed MVC platform, the Web pages are rendered with HTML5-ready markup using microformats and object-oriented CSS, and enhanced with highly-refined JavaScript. Despite being optimized for the latest browsers, the pages are usable in Internet Explorer 6, as well.

In the coming days and weeks, as both the editors and audience get comfortable with using the new story pages, you can expect to see some interesting experiments and enhancements being made. Some will fail, others will show new ways to convey the news on this medium.

But this is only part of the story.

The other is how mainstream media is about to revolutionize the way it does business.

Obviously, there’s only so much I can share, but I’ll post an overview of some of these changes over the next weeks.