Tuesday, 27 April 2010

New sites, new misery, same old mistakes...

It's something I've been looking forward to, I must admit.
The relaunch of the thisis template for Northcliffe's huge network of sites has been unveiled.
And while you would always expect some technical difficulties with any launch, despite probably having some time to sort themselves out, either nationally or regionally stupidity cannot be accounted for.
First up though, the layout.
In a word; confusing. The new-look, Flash-designed headline panel - designed to eliminate the old issue of ridiculously small images no doubt - is just annoying. Combined with the ads encircling it, the Flash is just overwhelming, not focusing the reader's eye on anything, instead making you recoil in horror as too many things change at different times.

So, off to a bad start.

If you do manage to find a story you want to read and catch the Flash in time to click on the image or a headline, what we are presented with doesn't fill you with joy.

The layout seems unstable somehow, although I'm not really sure why. I think it could be the way the template alters to allow portrait images (again, a response to the hugely underwhelming display of images previously). It just means the layout seems flimsy, unreliable...

Also, what is that ad doing way out on a limb on the right-hand side of the page? Madness.

But my biggest issue - and one that could cause Northcliffe some serious issues I would guess - is the image caption.

Now, I understand this is probably automatic (I believe the 'sending' of stories is done automatically now, so just what are these 'Digital Publishers' doing?!), however to upload such an in-depth caption from the default image file is probably not a good idea.

How long before some hapless subject's phone number appears? Or a hilarious caption comment by a photographer taking the piss out of someone or something goes live to millions?

The whole automated system, as many of us have learned, is dangerous. Yes, it may save time and money (in theory) but how long before a court case outweighs that saving?
Now, it's early days for the new look, so I'll leave it there.
But, technical issues and unfamiliarity aside, the first glimpse of these sites immediately brings to light the problems brought about by Northcliffe's latest money-saving drive.
There is no creativity, no personality, to these sites. Now, while this is probably one of the main reasons newspapers are still going, it has been completely ignored in the digital sphere.
I'm sure AND (Associated Northcliffe Digital, if that's what they're now called..?) would argue that the flexibility is there in the back-end to stamp each publication's personality on the sites, but...
...you've just got rid of web-only people and replaced them with unskilled digital publishers who wouldn't know HTML from HIV, or a jpeg from an iphone. So what are we expecting? A sudden boost in quality from thisis?
Somehow, I doubt it... But watch this space.
On that bombshell, I'll post some funnies found this week.

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