Mike Propst User Experience

AOL Seed

Freelance recruiting and user-generated content sourcing system

Roles Information Architecture UX Strategy Product Strategy
Tools OmniGraffle Photoshop HTML/CSS

AOL's User-generated content initiative. No longer active.

The problem

Paying writers an increasing amount had started to eat into the profits that sites like Engadget, Autoblog and TUAW enjoyed when they were new. The issue was that writers in the early days wrote for the fun of it, and got a little bonus pocket money. None were full time. With large payouts for professional writers, the money wasn't there. So the idea was proposed to go out to the public. The proposition was simple: you write something for us that gives us ad revenue, and we give you a byline and a little money.

The process

At this point, there weren't many people anywhere who knew more about publishing content online than the AOL team. So we used our knowledge, coupled with UX best practices for a different, less-tech-savvy audience, to generate the idea and rapid prototype for a simpler writing system that fully integrated with the AOL CMS News Desk. This later became Seed.

NOTE: These screens show a pre-branded, hypothetical design that was presented to the executive team at AOL before official development began, so they are essentially what you might call "rich wireframes." The branding was executed by the AOL Media team in New York but adhered pretty closely to these layouts and interactions.

Seed ended up being a briefly successful initiative that was promoted heavily at SXSW that year, but ultimately AOL decided not to maintain it for various reasons.

Selected Images

Marketing Page

As this page is largely a branding and marketing endeavor, it's the only screen that changed significantly, although the base pitch remained similar.

Sign Up

Though we pushed for less fields and a simpler way to sign up, ultimately we lost the fight to account creation.

User Dashboard

Proposed idea for a user's home. We used features from the internal CMS to gauge what people might want to see and track.

View Assignment

Assignments were created by the editor of a site using the News Desk feature of the AOL CMS.

Write Content

We eventually stripped down the WYSIWYG editor even more — this aimed to be the simplest possible writing experience, while knowing that most users wouldn't be familiar with web-based editors.

Add Metadata to Content

While we had some good text analysis and AI tools in place to measure reading level, topics, and other features, the tool still required some user intervention to verify.

Preview Content

Users get a last chance to read over and polish their content before submission.

Interest Survey

Helps users get targeted content assignments sent to them.

Rate Content

A feature that didn't make it into the final product was a peer-rating system for content. Using a simple "game" method, users could help improve content even when they weren't writing.

User Profile

User can edit more detailed profile information and set granular preferences for notification of new assignments in areas of interest.