As I have been saying, this is the year when we can expect innovation from top media brands, and today we've got something to talk about. USA Today has unveiled a wide assortment of new features and tools that will make its online property a much more social and interactive experience. Comments, recommendations (based on what people say they like and what actually read), avatars, community, personal pages ... it's a complete rehaul, and I like it.
Still room for improvement (see Steve Rubel's post), but it's a sign of what's to come from other brands in the coming year. Based on what we've been hearing at hubbub, I can tell you that you ain't seen nothing yet.
UPDATE: Stowe Boyd posts a more skeptical note, and makes several very good points. The most important, in my opinion, is the question whether media properties can expect people to participate in so many social environments. Stowe:
...I think that this approach -- where every major media outlet rejiggers itself into an ideosyncratic, relatively closed social application -- is ultimately annoying.
Sure, USAToday (and WSJ, NYTimes, etc.) want to be 'destinations' where people 'go' as opposed to just winding up as RSS streams. But will we actually go to these places? Especially if there are dozens or hundreds of them? How many news apps do you want to sign up to? And if you wanted to have a social experience around news media, wouldn't you want it to be open? Like the blogosphere?
Beside, I think the long range trend will be toward more flow and fewer static page-oriented applications. What I want is a social news application not limited to the content of any particular media company.
Whether or not Stowe is right about the "long range trend," there's plenty of evidence that the trend is already in motion. The trend, in fact, may be the reason why media brands are rushing to create these social, immersive, sticky sites. Perhaps there's a bigger challenge that media brands ought to take on -- creating brands that persist in a world where the only site is one that the consumer controls.
Another good read: Mathew Ingram.