Despite its name, The Coral Project is not focused on marine biology. Rather, it’s a collaboration between Mozilla, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, and it’s funded by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Its ambitious and worthy goal is to “improve communities on news sites through open-source software”—basically to elevate public discourse via great design and technology. The team is hiring a UX strategist and I talked to its head of design, Sarah Sampsel, about that opportunity. Sampsel is Director of Digital Strategy & Design at The Post, but she has been a part of the Coral leadership team since last year, when it won its grant from the Knight Foundation.
What’s the idea behind the Coral Project?
We really believe the experience of commenting on a news story is broken. The conversations are fragmented, often noisy, and they’re spread out across the web. Tacking on a comments thread to the end of a story is just scratching the surface of what we should be doing to allow readers to play a bigger part in the conversation.
Readers should be able to participate in and contribute to productive discussions about current events in more meaningful ways. They should be empowered to manage their own identities across the sites they participate in and have access to data that will help them understand who’s interacting with the content they create.
On the flip side, we want publishers to have the tools to better understand their contributors and control the level of discourse on their sites.
What makes this a great opportunity for a designer?
At this point, the Coral Project is a blank canvas. It’s an amazing opportunity for a designer to come in and help shape the vision of what we ultimately create. There are so many directions something like this could take and at this point we need to establish a process for generating user-centric ideas.
Can you describe at a lower level what you think the work will look like?
Coral will be a platform, not unlike WordPress (though of course we’re not trying to re-create WordPress). We’re designing open source software that has to be incredibly flexible, that has to scale across many organizations.
That means we’ll need to create administrative and account management solutions for both publishers and users. We’ll need standardized solutions for commenting, soliciting user contributions, displaying text, videos, photos, etc.—and this is where it gets interesting. The consumer-facing side, the tools and solutions we offer, that’s all ripe for disruption. We have a chance to come up with new ideas, components and opportunities for users.
What kind of designer will thrive in this job?
The major requirements are a passion for journalism and a drive to understand and develop communities online—how they work, how they’re evolving, how they fit into the news and journalistic space.
It’s an ambitious project, so we’re looking for a candidate who would be a very strong advocate for the user. A hands-on product designer who also has lots of experience conducting research and user testing to inform and validate decision-making. A person who is self-motivated, deeply interested in designing tools and platforms, and genuinely curious about solving problems for online communities.
It really is a unique opportunity to fix the community and commenting issues that plague all media organizations. The partners are Mozilla, The New York Times and The Washington Post, so it’s an opportunity to reach millions of users.