WATDR: Guardian.co.uk

What are they doing right?
I decided to start a series of posts about the changes I'm seeing in the news industry. After years of providing stale online information, it seems this business is now in the business of trying to capture your attention. The newsroom is now asking themselves “how can we get people to come to our site” rather than relying on the belief that “people will come to us for the news”.

With growing competition and freely available news on the internet, it seems more apparent that online advertising is vital to the success of journalism and publishing. Besides excellent written content, usability and aesthetics are important for capturing this tech-savvy audience. In this world, you'll need water to survive.

Let's begin with the Guardian.

Unlike many news websites I've come across, the use of space is exceptional. I doubt information overload is a problem with the Guardian and their team has made several wise and risky decisions. Rather than putting everything imaginable on the homepage, your intuition can drive you to where you want to go. For a website that someone that may visit everyday, a smartly designed site with an increased click-count can be negligible. Overall the site seems to have a very inviting feel to it.

Homepage Layout

The homepage actually has a four-column layout. In the left-most column you have the headlines for today. I would be surprised if the top headline didn't appear at that top-left edge. From that edge, various links and images branch out across the page in nicely compartmentalized units. It's very easy to tell where one point of interest begins and ends on the page.

Caption Space Saver

I am not sure what to call this, but I like it a lot. To save space, captions are displayed as you hover over certain images (mainly in the middle-right column).

Simple Menus

The menu is minimalistic, behaving quite nicely. I was surprised to see that there were no hidden sub-menus eagerly waiting to appear. I kind of like that! But I'm sure there are management teams that disagree with this simplicity. Many whom I've come across want to throw everything into menus to keep the click count low. The balance between intuition and click-count will vary from team to team, or country to country in this case.

For those that insist that every page has 1 or 2 clicks to every other page, it may be worth it to consider a site-map drop-list. I feel that I don't see many of these and they work surprisingly well. On the Guardian.co.uk, this site-map always appears at the top-right corner of the page.


Also, at the top-left corner of the page are accessibility options. I like how it takes little thought of my own to find the mobile version or increase/decrease the font on the page (although I would use keyboard shortcuts for that). One thing that I am not a fan of is having the Log-in/Registration links on that side of the page. It's far more common for that to appear in the upper side corner of the page. I would have preferred that the Guardian.co.uk followed the majority here.

Extremely Easy RSS

Did you know that you can type “/rss” at the end of any URL to receive the RSS version of any page? Yes, you can get an RSS feed for nearly anything including stories and the homepage. What's amazing is that when you get the RSS for a story, you'll retrieve many of the associated stories and media files for it. For example, today's big story is about the shooting at fort hood: Fort Hood gunman Nidal Malik Hasan shouted 'Allahu Akbar' as he opened fire. Within this feed, we also get stories and links for:

I think that's pretty amazing that the Guardian is so open with providing this data.

Combined Topics

An interesting idea is to provide to users the ability to create sections. On the url you can combine multiple topics with the plus-sign... And sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't! In the above picture, it works but doesn't return any results. Unfortunately I have a hard time getting results when I combine topics and it seems like topics must come from the same section. But I really, really like the idea and I recently added similar functionality to SignOnSanDiego based on tags (though I don't think stories are actually being tagged correctly since I left).

Btw, you can get an RSS feed of combined topics just by adding /rss at the end. Pretty nifty!

Story Detail Layout

Stories look beautiful at the Guardian.co.uk. Notice how the lead photo is enlarged and centered. I expect that and not enough news sites do it. And below the lead photo rests the story's text with ZERO nudging. That is, there are not parts of the story pressed in left or right. I like that because my eyes are trained to read in that manner. Oftentimes you'll have pictures or additional info that that wrap the text around it. Example (from another site):

When this happens, your mind momentarily breaks a pattern. It was used to looking exactly at a certain edge when reading the next line. Sure, it's not a big deal but I think it matters more than most people think. People should be able to read as easily as possible. I want to know, actually not even think about, where I should be looking. The story's text should flow as illustrated by the Guardian.co.uk.

Colorful Topics/Categories/Highlights

I enjoy the presence of the colorful topics at the top left of the story. I think it looks great and clicking on certain topics helps you drill down into other sections. It behaves like a sub-menu that's tied into some folksonomy architecture.

Also notice how directly below the headline are story highlights. I'm not sure whether or not CNN or the Guardian invented this, but it definitely helps me digest stories within seconds. In a few years, I expect every news organization to provide a similar bulleted summary.

Which paper should I look at next? I'm deciding between The Houston Chronicle or The Detroit Free Press, mainly because I like their domains.