Friday, January 25, 2008

UK's Independent tries to evolve

Posted by Paul Bradshaw 12:18:44 PM
The Independent's New Site: The Real Change Isn't Technical
The Independent's new site design offers many good features -- but that huge banner ad space up top is overkill.
U.K. daily The Independent has relaunched its site. (Here's the official announcement.) At first glance there's nothing spectacularly new or innovative. However, a deeper look reveals some intelligent changes -- particularly on the business side. Here are the headlines:
  • RSS feeds more prominent. There's now an orange feed icon for each home page section.

  • Also more prominent placement for: "Most popular" content (read, e-mailed, commented), videos, podcasts, blogs, ("Just posted" and "Catch up with our experts"), photo galleries, polls, etc. Which is as you'd expect.

  • "Editor's Choice" is even more prominent, appearing just below the top-level navigation. In comparison, "Most popular" lies below the fold. The "Day in a page" drop-down menu (presumably for people who missed the news that day and want to catch up) remains, but moves to the bottom of the home page.

  • Sharing and usability. There's the now customary "Digg it / Stumbleupon / Facebook / delicious" box on every article (plus "change font size / print / e-mail").

  • "In the News" navigation option reveals the big stories of the moment. Not as striking as Sky or The Guardian, which can include those stories as a navigation choice in their own right.

  • Open House: An "online debating chamber where our diverse stable of columnists and commentators come together to discuss the issues of the day -- and invite you to join in." Looks like an attempt to clone commentisfree.

  • New IndyBest microsite brings together "The Independent's ever-popular weekly 50 Best features and the daily 10 Best series." Are they annoyed ShortList came up with the idea first?

  • Weather now is more customizable.

  • Niche news. This is the most noteworthy change. The Independent now targets niche markets with new online-only sections including Art & Architecture, Fashion, Gadgets & Tech and Health & Wellbeing.

  • "Offers" classified ads now has its own page and navigation button, as does Student. Also, Environment now makes it to the Inde's top level of navigation -- just as The Guardian prepares to invest in its own environment coverage.

  • Mapping. The Inde's property service and automated quotes from Xelector now are integrated into editorial pages.

...The final verdict? Clearly the Inde has its business head screwed on, while managing to tick all the boxes a newspaper should have been ticking last year in terms of technology.

Editorially, however, it's still trailing its broadsheet competitors in terms of making the most of the possibilities of the medium. The Telegraph is doing exciting things with databases and Flash, and The Guardian excels at blogging and podcasting.

Still, at least The Independent prints links to other sites in its newspaper -- something its competitors have never done well.

For the record, here's what the Inde looked like on January 4, before the revamp.

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