Monday, July 30, 2007

Ohio Dot Com Goes Web 2.0

For months we've heard that the Akron Beacon Journal was planning to revamp its website, As promised yesterday, the new site rolled out today:

The major changes are better navigation, some new widgety things on the front page, some tools for allowing people to post their own content and some new blogs. I'll deal with the first two this post. The blogs and community news features need their own post later tonight.

Navigator, Navigator

The site already provided a navigating experience far superior to the Plain Dealer's diabolical It seems like three quarters of the time I get lost in the labyrinth and Google my way to my destination.

The new includes a Departments bar on the top that drop down menus when the cursor rolls over them. It saves some steps for a reader with a definite destination. It always bugged me to have to click onto the News page, then click Breaking News to get there. Now it's accessible from the front page.

So far it looks like the website is spotlighting harder news on the front page. Usually it's sports or a Jewel Cardwell-style feature that gets top billing on the home page. We'll see what happens down the line.

The forum commenters don't like it. No really -- people commenting in the forum who have something negative to say. I know -- just shocking.

The most serious complaint is that the new font is too small -- usually remedied with a key stroke or two. Aside from that, people are kvetching because it's new. They'll get used to it. It also sounds like Internet Explorer is having more difficulty reading the CSS than Firefox -- I've been having no problems. This is pretty much the opposite of the usual situation.

Something Widget This Way Comes

Taking departments out of the sidebar frees up some high-value real estate. Top billing on the sidebar goes to a Most Popular Stories list -- an obvious choice, but a good one. Below that is a list of the paper's blogs. Given the daily traffic blogs generate, it makes sense to offer a prominent menu. Blogs are among the most difficult things to track down on

Below the meat of the home page -- the center column field where the day's top stories appear -- is a community events calendar. Just dead solid obvious to offer that service, but few papers do. Moreover, the calendar allows people to input their own events. Personally, I wish it was associated with just because I like that site. Alternatively, it would be cool if the service would allow people to embed the feed onto a blog or website.

That's below to the right. Below to the left is a small box currently offering a link to a contest for free tickets to a show and below that a window for the latest news video offerings. So far, in the numerous times I've surfed by today the window hasn't slowed down loading which is my usual complaint.

Aside from that the site it taken up with fairly non-obtrusive advertising and a menu at the bottom labelled "Inside" That menu gives the paper a low-key chance to promote a story -- like the current lead there about marijuana grow-out operations in suburban houses.

Overall, the look is cleaner and the navigation is a bit better. More importantly, the site has added functionality -- all that citizen input stuff -- without bogging down the page with a slew of new link lists. Offering that many additional pages while making navigation easier rather than harder is an accomplishment. So congrats to the ABJ.

Now they just need some readers.