Backstory: an idea for putting the news in order

By Matt Gelfand, Joyce Rice, Ben Running, Will Royal and Mike Swartz

Our team set out to answer the question of "How might we better help readers understand stories by improving the context?". Over the two day SNDMakes hackathon in March 2014, we built Backstory. It's a visual and structural prototype that got us thinking about how we present the news. Read on or demo the prototype.

Stories are collections

One of the key concepts is that stories are really collections of individual updates. When we read a new story, we want to know its relationship to the bigger picture. Each story as presented on the homepage is really just and entry point into the context of the larger narrative.

News on a timeline

The idea is that each story is really a topic with an initial event and a series of updates. While reading one of these updates, the reader is always in the context of the story's narrative arc, and can easily figure out what happened up to the present point in the timeline. Unread or new stories are called out, giving the user a quick way of seeing where they are in the timeline.

Multiple levels of engagement

The goal of the UI is to give readers a lightweight, engaging way to interact with a story. Users enter a story's timeline at the point they last left off, and have the ability to either move forward to read new information, or dive into the backstory to see past updates.

Users can engage with events and topics on 3 levels - A scannable list of headlines, a summary mode with a thumbnail and brief description, and a complete article mode, showing the full text of a story, video, photos, and other media.

Switch your context

We also developed a concept of 'flipping' the timeline. If a reader wants to experience the story from the original event up until the present update, a quick button tap reorders the timeline from the first update to the last.

Find stories that matter to you

We had a lot of ideas about how a reader could find different stories or hop frmo one story to the next. Each story would have key players that allow the user to pivot to a different but related narrative. And by logging in, a user could subscribe to stories that matter to them or see what their friends are tracking.

We had a ton of fun making this thing, and want to thank SND for organizing an awesome group and giving us a great challenge. Find Backstory on GitHub

Demo the live site!