WSJ: “No Summary” is Not Better than No Summary

Jared Spool

October 5th, 2008

Like many of today’s news sites, the Wall Street Journal features a box on its article pages that shows other popular articles:

WSJ.com Recommended Article list

Because titles often don’t communicate what’s in the article, the implementation gives users a chance to see more by providing a summary as a tooltip-style pop-up.

WSJ.com article with a summary tooltip

However, it seems someone has been slacking off, because in today’s list, articles come up with the text “(no summary)”.

WSJ.com

Three things about this jump out at me:

  1. I don’t typically think of the Wall Street Journal as an organization that slacks off, so the missing summaries feel wrong to me. (Maybe this is all part of Murdock’s plan—first, eliminate the summaries, then eliminate the meaningful content? Worked for the Post. Bring on the Page 6 girl!)
  2. On the development side, someone wrote a piece of code that says, in essence, “if there is no summary in the content management system, substitute the phrase ‘(no summary)’ in the tooltip.” That took more effort than just leaving it blank.
  3. Similarly, on the development side, it looks like nobody put in an error message when the article is published that said, “You haven’t included a summary and that’s going to make us look silly. Want to rethink that?”

Of course, it’s unlikely that the person pressing the publish button ever goes and sees what pops up in that tooltip. (Ironically, if they’d actually published it as a synopsis that appears with the title, instead of putting it in a mouseover action, they’d see the problem right away and fix it.)

This is one of those little things that reduces the overall quality of the experience. And it’s also a great example of what happens when you spread the design contribution across different roles: developer, visual designer, and editor in this case. All three have to execute perfectly to succeed, with no checks & balances to ensure that’s actually happening.

Seems like we need to learn something from this…

2 Responses to “WSJ: “No Summary” is Not Better than No Summary”

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  2. Patrick Says:

    You forgot about #4. Perhaps the person using the content management system that WSJ is using saw the “Summary” field and thought to themselves… “I don’t have a summary.” Then went in and put “(no summary)”. Still drives your point home, but thought it might be a different perspective.

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