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The Best User Feedback Comes From Watching and Listening

Oct 12th, 2010


Amanda Hickman

Cross posted from PBS Idealab.

ProPublica used DocumentCloud to develop an excellent story they published Friday. I’d planned to write it up, but Krista Kjellman Schmidt, the news applications editor who worked on the story, put it much better than I ever could have. Here’s the opening of her post:

On Oct. 8, we published an investigation examining how a judicial opinion in a pivotal lawsuit brought by a Guantanamo detainee vanished, only to be replaced weeks later by an entirely different opinion. At the center of our reporting are two documents representing separate versions of that same opinion: the original opinion written by Judge Henry H. Kennedy, and a second opinion quietly put in the original’s place more than a month later.

Read the rest of the post to enjoy the tale of these two important documents. What Schmidt doesn’t mention, however, is that I just happened to have been camped out in ProPublica’s offices last week while she was putting the story together. House guests and a nearby demolition project conspired to drive me from my home office, so I had an unusual vantage point on their story.

At one point, while I was savoring an excellent apple cake (I should decamp to Exchange Place more often!), I overheard the news applications team comparing notes on how best to prepare thumbnail images for a chart that was to accompany the investigation, and I realized that we had failed to alert our users to some of the bells and whistles under the hood of DocumentCloud.

For instance, we’ve got those thumbnail images ready already. No need to break out firebug and manually resize graphics!

Which brings me to my real point: The only way we know what our users need from us is by watching them try to use DocumentCloud and listening to them describe the use cases at the outer edges of what we’d expected.

Discuss The Best User Feedback Comes From Watching and Listening on PBS’s IdeaLab.