I wish I could count the number of times that a fantastic idea was killed in two seconds via a focus group session with readers. Often, the idea was new and different, but I was often sure that readers would have eventually grow to like it if given enough time.
In focus groups we react to what we are familiar with. That is the first reaction that emerges, and, usually it takes an active and outspoken member of the focus group to present his/her idea, and the crowd follows. I have seen myself lowering my eyes, and shaking my heads behind the mirrored walls of a focus group the moment I saw what was a good idea evaporate.
The Financial Times has decided to make changes to its website while consulting the readers along the way, a sort of on-going focus group to help shape the look and feel of the website. For the next generation site, called NextFT, the FT is going slowly, but with the audience by its side, commenting and offering suggestions that turn into instant tweaks.
What are those readers saying?
“The faster you can get people to news that’s relevant to them, the more they’ll read, and the more they read, the better the chances they’ll continue to subscribe.”
“NextFT has a new section called MyFT that lets people follow specific topics and writers and they’ll populate a “MyFT” feed.”
“Among the design changes to NextFT — a new logo, simplified navigation and mobile-responsive design given half the audience is coming on mobile devices — is video. While other publishers are blowing up the size of video players to goose video views, NextFT pushed the video lower down the page and replaced one big unit with four smaller ones.”
Will this approach replace the traditional focus groups? Perhaps not, but I would like to see the evolving critiques taking place while the website is constructed as a much better way to rethink navigation, hierarchy, content preference and design.