“When the redesign first launched, a some key features simply did not work – which is no way to introduce readers to something new,” writes Gawker Media boss Nick Denton. After the jump, he describes the fixes made in response to reader complaints.
From: Nick Denton
Subject: Scrollbar and other fixes
To: “All Staff”
Date: Monday, February 28, 2011, 4:46 PM
There’s a public post going up this afternoon on the reader feedback and the fixes we’ve made in response. I wanted you to see it first.
This one is pretty high level. And it doesn’t include much about other refinements we have in the pipeline. (We want to deliver to readers rather than making promises.)
For instance, there’s nothing about the Top 7 template — an extension of the left pane which will show the splash and six other popular or important stories rather than the four stories that are displayed by default right now.
That will reduce the amount of time editors spend making packages — and it will allow us to run a marquee ad across the whole width of the site, something clients have been asking for.
And we’re moving down the logo bar a tad so that we can run both site and sponsor logos at up to 105 pixels, including 35 pixels above the bar and 35 pixels below. The whole logo bar will be fixed to maintain branding and navigation wherever the reader is on the page.
Obviously, the reduction in traffic from Google — as from most design changes — has been significant. It doesn’t affect readers of the site — but it does have a disproportionate effect on uniques. Search optimization of the new layout is a top priority.
Tom is in Budapest working directly with the tech team there. But he will be sending an email update later this week with more detail on these and other changes — as well as general improvements to the performance of the sites, the ad serving and edit systems.
Till then, here’s what’s going out to readers…
I should first explain the radio silence of the last couple of weeks. We’d wanted to respond to feedback not with promises of future improvements but with actual fixes. So that’s what I’m doing now — but I regret any impression that we weren’t listening. Without more verbiage, the main changes you wanted:
1. THE SCROLLBAR
The most important remedy is the introduction of an internal scrollbar to move up and down the headline index on the right. We had thought mouse scrolling (via scrollwheels or trackpads) and keyboard shortcuts were enough for story navigation — an overly optimistic expectation to say the least. News web sites may indeed become more application-like and readers may grow accustomed to swiping instead of scrolling. But they’re not there yet, as the extensive criticism of the sidebar made clear.
We got ahead of ourselves — and now we’re rowing back.
You’ll see that the headline index on the right now has an internal scrollbar — much like that you might find on Twitter or Facebook. You can pull the bar up and down — or use the arrows. The reverse chronological headlines also scroll infinitely. That means that when you get to the bottom of the headlines, more will appear automatically. You can keep going as far back as you want. If you click on a headline, the story will open up on the left but you will not lose your place in the flow. It works really nicely. Try it.
What if you want to see the stories that are popping? You can see the most popular headlines by clicking the flame icon at the top of the headline index. But a lot of people liked to scan back through earlier headlines to see which stories were generating discussion or traffic. So we’ve marked popular stories — those with more than 10,000 views or 100 comments — as we did on the old site.
2. FINDING THE BLOG VIEW
For devotees of the traditional blog view, we had preserved a version of the site in which the story excerpts (not just the headline index) are arranged in reverse chronological order much as in the past. But it wasn’t obvious how to set that option. So you’ll see a button at the top of the page which allows a reader to switch back and forth. And — in case you miss that — there’s also a reminder which appears at the top of the headline index. We’ll be making further refinements to the blog view and will continue to support it as long as it has significant readership.
3. RESTORATION OF COMMENT NOTIFICATIONS
Yes, we thought that commenters could do for a few weeks without the fancier functionality such as reply notifications. We had a rollout deadline to meet. And we were developing an even snazzier solution, a message inbox that would not only show replies but also give commenters the ability to continue the discussion on the page rather than clicking over to each thread.
Anyway, that wasn’t ready. So we should have at the very least restored the basic reply notifications. I hadn’t realized the extent to which the most avid commenters relied on that feature. It’s now back. If you’re logged in you’ll see the notifications in a pop-up in the top right of the page when you log in.
We are also planning to allow a reader again to “heart” another commenter — and to see that person’s best contributions so that they can track discussions across many posts and forums.
4. PERFORMANCE IMPROVEMENTS
So where does that leave us? Some people say we should be flattered that readers have such an intense relationship with the sites. That people typically hate even small design changes; and this was a big one. That an overhaul is always painful — and particularly so on the web, where critics are amplified by the medium itself. The logic — that we need to showcase our strongest stories and visuals, not merely our most recent — remains as powerful as ever.
But the transition was definitely more bruising for readers and our own staff than it needed to be. When the redesign first launched, a some key features simply did not work — which is no way to introduce readers to something new.
We’ve made more than a hundred bug fixes and user interface improvements and continue to work through the list. So, more updates later. Please do continue to send your feedback and suggestions through to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, do check out the infinite scroll of headlines and other changes to the user interface. And then, after that, we hope you notice the user interface less — because you probably came here not for a discussion on web design but for the stories. And that’s what we’re here to deliver, splashier than ever.