I’ve played the virtual stock market game for at least the last eight years. It’s a game for stock pickers who don’t want to risk real money but still want to try their hands at picking stocks. Last year, I had a “sure thing”. I was convinced ADSK (the ticker symbol for AutoDesk, Inc, a software company based in California) was set to fall in price. I shorted the stock at $76.34, which means I bet against it. In other words, when the stock went down in price, I would make money.
But, I did not make money. Today, the stock is at $106.20, which means I was wildly wrong. Yet I still play the stock market game. Why? Because of the thrill of picking a stock that soars 35% in one day. This moment of euphoria is the Holy Grail for traders and is immortalized by the ubiquitous “ticker tape” on any financial news show or website. These news sources are constantly scrolling through dozens of stocks to let the audience know how a particular company’s stock is doing that day. For example, a ticker symbol might read MCD $150.68 ↑0.57%. This means that MCD (the stock exchange shorthand for McDonald’s) stock sits at $150.68 per share, up 0.57% on the day.
The price of a stock is the statistic to know. It’s like batting average for a baseball player or GPA for a student. Though it doesn’t come close to telling the entire story, it’s a reliable vanity metric that people can use as a benchmark. With this in mind, MarketWatch.com displays the stock prices and daily changes prominently on its website.
The first thing a user sees on MarketWatch in the current price and daily change of the most notable stocks, indexes, and commodities. Today, prices for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, an ounce of gold, and a barrel of oil are displayed prominently to give readers an overall feel for the mood of the market.
These numbers tell a story. Today (June 14th), it’s a rather bland story. All of these benchmarks have moved less than 0.50% on the day. Without having to read any articles, a reader can already ascertain that there is no major unexpected news or events occurring in the US financial markets today. This is a great use of user-centered design by MarketWatch. By starting with broad information in an easily digestible format, readers are able to gather the overall shape of the financial market that day within ten seconds.
Today’s Top Story
A reader can gather more specific information by scrolling down the page. There are dozens of articles linked on the first page, but there is clearly one that is most important. The article nearest the top of the screen (underneath the ticker updates) features a large image and headline text twice as large as any other on the page. This article tends to focus on one of the important benchmarks represented at the top of the page. This article focuses on more specific details about just one part of the overall market, but its subject is usually still important enough to gain widespread attention. The editors realize that a front-and-center article about an obscure and insignificant company or event would be of little value to most readers.
Buy or Sell?
Because MarketWatch as a company is not trying to get you to buy a particular stock or other asset, the rhetorical strategies employed on the website vary. One article suggests that it’s time for the smart investor to buy gold. On the very same page, another writer argues that it’s best to avoid buying gold at this time. How can both opinions be represented by the same company? Because MarketWatch doesn’t benefit one way or another from its readers buying gold. Each writer has his or her own agenda when it comes to promoting certain stocks. MarketWatch’s purpose is much different; its goal is to present intelligent information and opinions to people interested in financial markets.