AOL’s redesigned Patch websites make a play for neighborhood groups

Patch’s new site design went live in five Long Island, N.Y., towns Sunday evening.

The new design is less newspapery, Patch creative director Abel Lenz told me Friday, when he, chief content officer Rachel Feddersen and Patch CEO Jon Brod gave Poynter a demonstration of the site design. There’s an anchor spot up top for editor’s picks, but all the rest of the content flows down a center column, much like Advance’s sites in New Orleans, New Jersey and elsewhere.

But there’s a key difference between a reverse-chronological blog view and Patch’s new design. Patch readers will be able to follow certain topics — e.g., sports, government, local businesses — and they’ll also be able to create groups on Patch whose updates will feed in among the local news they’re interested in: A blog, or a private group, or a public one for a kids’ soccer team, in the example they showed me. If the site of a game changes, for instance, Lenz says, that “story” will show up in your feed.

Click to see a bigger view of the new Patch homepage.

I asked Feddersen if Patch was going to be competing with Yahoo Groups, where all the local Listservs I follow are hosted; “We expect this is going to serve the towns well,” she replied. I also asked how this would affect staffing. “We want to keep that important voice of the editor on the site,” she said. “We just want to welcome other voices on there as well.” Bringing in more content, she said, “is gonna make their job easier.”

You don’t have to register with Patch to read it, and the editor’s picks stories will always remain at the top of the homepage, Lenz said. The new site’s designed to work well on mobile platforms, and apps are due out in November. The Long Island sites will beta-test the design before it rolls out to 50 more Patches at the end of this year, and all Patches will have it in the first quarter of 2013.

A sample Patch group page. Click to view larger version.

Steven Jacobs at Street Fight explains the strategy:

“When you live in a town, news is almost on a continuum,” Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Chief Content Officer at Patch, told Street Fight in an interview, “There’s hard news — journalism with a capital “J” that only an editor can create. Then there is news that is ‘news to you’ because your child’s soccer practice has changed fields. These are all pieces of information that change where you physically go throughout your day and are super-important to your daily life.”

Laura Hazard Owen at paidContent explains the new competition:

It’s unclear at the moment whether they’ll find enough at the new Patch to switch from the services like Facebook that they are already using every day.

Mona Zhang at 10000 Words addresses the financial imperative:

The new site will not change Patch’s business model of local, regional and national ads plus commerce, and Brod says the new site “positions us to really make further strides in our commerce initiatives,” the details of which he said he couldn’t get into.”

At a second quarter earnings call in July, AOL said Patch was expected to bring in $40-50 million this year.

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  • Steve Brueck

    I’m a blogger on 10 Patch sites and I don’t like the new design. Very poor design to have one column flow on forever down a page. Everything is jumbled up and mixed together like there is no organization. Images are very child like and cartoonish and lends no credibility to the site.

  • Anonymous

    You’re drinking the Kool-Aid, Andrew.

  • Anonymous

    As a competitor of two Patch sites, I love the new redesign. Roll it out faster!