Observations on current.com

So, you would think that a site that is so clearly aimed at a younger audience wouldn’t need to create a tutorial on how to use the site and participate, but that’s what Current.com has done.

It would be easy to assume that Current is just being condescending, but it’s not like the people behind Current are inexperienced. There’s some smart people running the site.

So, the next question might be — if Current thinks it’s net-savvy audience needs some pointers, why wouldn’t a newspaper.com?

As for the site itself: The first thing that jumps out at me is the navigation. The “explore,” “connect,” “contribute” and “watch tv” nav elements make it very obvious what this site is about. From a usability standpoint, Current.com is doing a lot of things right — there’s multiple ways to find content and people, and every piece of content is clearly identified by type (thumbnails have little icons in the upper right).

The FAQ is one of the most useful ones I’ve come across.

Current has also provided a place for uses to share tips on production and gear.

There’s no real point to this post … I just landed on the site and noticed some interesting things.

New Wicked Local

GateHouse Media New England launched a new Wicked Local last night.

For those not familiar the Wicked Local project, it was launched as a small-town “hyperlocal” experiment in 2006, before GateHouse acquired Enterprise Media.

Because of the success of the initial sites, we wanted to expand it to all of GHMNE.

That said, we also wanted to move the sites onto a unified platform of our own conception and redesign and restructure the sites.

Here’s a typical Wicked Local site today.

I think the design, by Nick Sergeant, is gorgeous.

Admittedly, the sites still need some polish. We didn’t finish “submit an article” and “submit an event” in time for launch (for business reasons, we had a hard deadline to meet), so these are mailto links. The UGC platform is also in early beta stages. We have a lot of tweaks, changes and additions planned.

One of the interesting discussions we had is what to do with www.wickedlocal.com. In the old TownOnline.com model (now completely replaced by WL), the home page was a collection of top headlines from all of the weeklies in the GHMNE group. This did not prove to be a terribily effective traffic driver. Since WL is a collection of 160 sites, not just one newspaper, the typical home page strategy of a newspaper.com seemed inappropriate.

So, what to do?

Hey! How about turn the home page into a blog?

Great idea!

I wish I could take credit for it, but that credit goes to Anne Eisenmenger, VP of Interactive for GHMNE.

The blog, too, needs some spit and polish yet. We’re also going to make video a key feature of the page once we work out some issues with that implementation.

I’ve only mentioned by name two key people involved in this project, but there were dozens and dozens of people involved in the planning and execution of this launch. Many, many people put in extra hours. Everybody’s hard work is greatly appreciated.

Rockford launches on new template

RRStar.com launched on a new site design last night.  We call this template the “Rockford template.” Previously, we launched a template on chicagosuburbannews.com that we now call the “Kiowa template.”

Next month, a third generation GateHouse Media template will hit the web.  I won’t tell you just when, where and what yet.
We will also continue to iterate on these templates.  We are especially eager to incorporate some upgrades to the Kiowa templates. Our plan is to have a series of highly modular, customizable and flexible templates for our newspaper sites to pick from.  We’re taking what I would call a very object-oriented approach with the idea that behind the scenes we have the benefits of being cookie cutter, but from a retail view (the side users see), no two sites really look the same. That will take time to develop and perfect, but we have a good foundation in place now.

There are, of course, issues with RRStar.com to tweak and fix, but as is our motto: “We’ll get there. It will be fine.”

We also have a long list of features and functionality to roll out that will help us archive our community-focused goals.  We’ll get there. It will be fine.

MaineToday.com reduces link bloat in redesign

One of the traps far too many newspaper.com sites fall into when redesigning is viewing the site as a newspaper.com site and not a news/community.com site.

Not so, mainetoday.com.

Clean and not overloaded with links. Joe Michaud and his team have put together a site that resists the temptation to put EVERYTHING on the home page. Compare it, for example. with Chron.com.

It’s a tough call for most news sites, because there is just so much important information to point people towards. As wonderful as the new CNN.com is, it’s still a pretty long home page.

The first thing a newspaper.com can do is drop all the section boxes on the home page — those long lists of headlines by sections. You’ve got your section nav. That’s good enough. Next, just be really disciplined about what you allow on the home page. This is more of a internal political issue than anything. Everybody in the organization thinks he deserves some representation on the home page. That’s just not good design or usability. Site managers need to enforce some clear guidelines. Finally, dump some ad positions. Besides text ads, more than two ad positions is way too much. One is ideal. Your advertising will be more valuable on an uncluttered page. (Yes, MainToday.com has three ad positions. Oh, well.)

This is what we’re after at GateHouse Media with our first round of templates. We’ll fill out this look with some more content modules next month. We also have two new sets of templates we’ll unveil in five or six weeks. Again, we’re going after a cleaner look.

Of course, it was also the design style I championed in Bakersfield. That was nearly two years ago, and it’s still an uncommon approach, which is why I find MainToday.com’s redesign noteworthy.

Another thing Michaud is doing that I think is smart is they’re rolling out the redesign over a period of time. Today is the home page. Subsequent sections will follow. A complete site relaunch is a bear and bound to lead to headaches. A slow roll out makes it less stressful to uncover unforeseen issues. Unfortunately, with the site launches we have coming up in August, we have no choice but to do a complete makeover. I envy Joe his more leisurely pace.

UPDATE: So I dashed this off quickly this morning after a first-blush take on the new site, seeing instantly that this wasn’t your typical newspaper site. On closer look, the site is even more of a portal site. It’s very much a community site. There is plenty of good stuff going on here with UGC, blogs and calendar. Mouse over the horizontal navigation. I’m not usually a fan of roll-over navigation, but this is an very interesting take on the concept. It strikes me as a pretty original concept. Given its context-driven nature, I can actually see it working.