I’m not much of a design expert (notice the canned theme) but the benefits of good site design are undeniable and perhaps even essential to attracting users. (I say “perhaps” due to the aesthetic disaster/commercial success that is the Drudge Report.) Even more desireable is a design and functionality that allows users to personalize their news content. Most sites have at least something going on, but I wanted to highlight two that have stuck out to me.
First, there’s Spokesman.com, official Web site of the Spokesman-Review. I was floored when I saw this site in beta. The design itself isn’t exactly unique, but I’ve yet to see anything akin to their navigation on another news site. Hover over the nav bar underneath the front page logo and you’ll be invited to browse content by topic (news, sports, business, etc.), time (today, this week, live stream, etc.), place (Spokane, Idaho, world, etc.), or media type (video, photos, audio, etc.).
I like it because it’s a subtle way of telling visitors to “tell us what you want to see,” rather than telling them, “here’s what’s important.” This is the Internet—Web users come from all over and what’s important to me (visiting for multimedia, general presentation, etc.) probably isn’t important to a native Spokanian (missed his Thursday dose of news; wants to know what’s up).
Insanely simple, yet it solves a common complaint (at least what I see as a common complaint) that authors’ work isn’t aggregated/archived in one place. It also puts a personalized brand on the reporter, to a degree, or a least to a degree greater than what the average byline offers. This is a win for anyone who visits the site on a regular basis:
- Readers can follow their favorite writers and know where they are in cyberspace if they want to interact;
- Writers have a convenient space to aggregate all their information—no need to have 10 tabs open in a browser when all your notes and thoughts for the day are collected on one page;
- Editors can keep up on who’s doing what and how much. That may sound a little Orwellian, but it’s only fair for an editor to nudge someone who isn’t pulling his/her weight in the social sphere (kind of like if he/she wasn’t contributing enough column inches to the print edition).
It’s also great for keeping track of what’s working and what’s not. Think the Indy Star isn’t keeping track of how many people subscribe to Mr. Gammill’s Twitter feed vs. his live bookmarks, his blog, etc.? I think not.