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I'm an assistant professor at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, where I teach and research how news sites can better reach their audiences. I received my Ph.D. from the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri where I was one of the founding editors of MyMissourian.com, a citizen journalism site for Columbia, Mo. Before graduate school, I worked as a community newspaper editor in Southern Utah and Southern California.

Mayomo: Interactivity for interactivity’s sake?

Every once in a while someone will send me a site and ask me to review it. If I’m teaching online journalism that quarter, the task falls to my class, and in the last week, we’ve reviewed two interesting applications of online journalism. The first is Mayomo.com, a site who’s concept I like a lot, but my class and I had a lot of questions about execution. In fact, we wondered if this site doesn’t fall into the field of dreams concept that did Bayosphere and Backfence in.

Mayomo, which stands for “map your moments, is a citizen journalism venture that adds location to the equation. The site’s homepage prominently features a world map covered with flags. The flags mark where audience members have posted stories.

I like the idea a lot. We spent quite a bit of time zooming in on different parts of the nation where students grew up seeing what news had been posted. We were even intrigued by the land mass in the Atlantic Ocean that represented virtual worlds.

But what the class thought the site lacked, and what my research suggests might be the site’s eventual undoing, is editorial guidance. Other than the map, there is nothing to categorize the stories. I would love to see a featured story each day that suggests what to read and what submissions are successful. I’d also love to see the site take advantage of location-based services or even IP address mapping that would automatically zoom into your location if you’d like it to.

Without this kind of guidance I fear the site won’t be able to sustain its intriguing concept. My research suggests audience members need direction that builds self-efficacy before they’ll submit. In other words, the audience needs to think their submissions will be successfully received and used, and this revolves around the models they see. A good site needs to highlight interesting posts and underscore how posts will be used to perpetuate itself. This is also central to the mission of journalism, be it professional or citizen.

My class found a couple of other minor issues. Sometimes, the submissions don’t line up on the map just right. We found a few Pittsburgh stories in Ohio. It also has a underutilized timeline feature that doesn’t always make sense. However, this is a site I’d like to see succeed. Maps are powerful information sources. We’ve learned, thanks to tutorials by my colleagues Bob Britten and Grant Smith, that maps add needed context and help to build community. But they need a chief mapmaker to fulfill their mission, and so far, Mayomo isn’t providing it.

I hope my class exercise helps a bit. The site says it’s still in beta so maybe this is the kind of feedback its designers are looking for. I really want to see what they do with news from virtual worlds. They could really be tapping into a vibrant market. I’m surprised I haven’t seen anything about this on World of Warcraft message boards.

PhotoCredit: This screenshot shows some of the ways we dissected the site in class and the questions we asked.

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