Here are some of the web 2.0 elements that I spotted:
- More then a Website - a Web Community: USA Today didn't just build a new website, they built a new online community that has a completely new experience. The website is no longer a site that you go to when you want the latest information and then leave - it's become a community that many web users call home. You can now register (which includes uploading an image) to become part of the community which entitles you to create a profile, add friends and leave comments which leads me to the next web 2.0. theme.
- User Generated Mania: USA Today allows its community members to leave your own comments on actual articles. The success of this is clearly evident with close to 1000 comments left for article that covered the tragic shooting at Virginia Tech. From scanning through the comments, USA Today has provided a forum for its members to cope with this senseless act by allowing visitors to have their say. You can equate leaving a comment to lighting a candle or dropping a flower off a memorial - it isn't much but it's something and the least that we can do.
To demonstrate the importance of these comments USA Today actually profiles some of them in a rotating header image on the home page. Readers can recommend comments that they like and also report those people that abuse this feature.
In addition, the USA Today community allows for its online readers to rate articles to guide readers as to which articles were actually enjoyed by others in the community.
- My blog, your blog, OUR blogs: As a community member, you can write your own blog on USA Today or you can read one of the various "expert blog" on the USA Today website. They have The Weather Guys, American Idol chatter, and a sports blog. The effect is that you feel like your really one with the USA Today website as you can try and copy the experts and comment on their articles as well as write your own.
- Simple, Boring, EFFECTIVE RSS Feeds: If you're still one of those people that could care less about RSS it's time to get serious about it if you produce quality content on a regular basis. On USA Today, you can subscribe to blogs, articles, videos - whatever you want. They also have a section called "Other Voices on the Web" which is an RSS feed of articles from other sites. In this section, USA Today has republished articles from blogs and other sites from around the web.
- Interactive Features Keep 'em Coming Back: If you and your spouse want to have your own celebrity name like Bennifer or Brangelina, check out the Celebrity Couple Name Maker. (My wife Allie didn't mind "Chadlie"). These type of interactive elements that ask for user input keep people coming back to your website.
PS - To the families and friends that have suffered from the recent tragedy at Virginia Tech, I would like to know that we are thinking about you up here in Canada.