Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Back in the room

I've resurrected my Blogger account after more than a year in the wilderness.

It's quicker and easier to post here than my personal site, the Textpattern set-up isn't quite as accessible as Googleopolis's own Blogger, so here I am, and now I'm off to bed.

I seem to have a knack of going to bed later when I'm more tired? A rare gift?

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Above or beyond the fold

For years the mysterious ways of allowing for the fold in web design gnawed away at me. Should this element be so low down? Should that list be above the fold? Where exactly is the fold for different users and browsers?

I try not to worry about where the fold will fall, and what might lurk beneath too much, as common practice, in recent newspaper website design in particular shows there's plenty of room below the fold for content.

Common design sense still dictates as long as the vital page components are clearly visible near the top of the view port, you should have some control of your visitors attention.

Milissa Tarquini writing for Boxes and Arrows states:
Branding must be above the fold. Navigation must be above the fold – or at least the beginning of the list of navigational choices. (If the list is well organized and displayed appropriately, scanning the list should help bring users down the page.) Big content (the primary content of the site) should begin above the fold.

Indeed as Milissa points out:
Because people think users don’t scroll. Jakob Nielsen wrote about the growing acceptance and understanding of scrolling in 19972, yet 10 years later we are still hearing that users don’t scroll.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Writing (upside down) for the web

Print journalism has its own established method of drawing readers into stories with cunning, witty headlines, leading to longer in-depth articles and reports, but online the method is turned on its head.

Online, less time and energy is spent reading long passages or articles, thus headlines and opening paragraphs should bring to the front the facts; the who, what, when, where of the story.

Inverted Pyramid

The inverted pyramid is a writing style where the summary of the article is presented in the beginning of the article. This approach makes use of the “waterfall effect” well-known in journalism where writers try to give their readers an instant idea about the topic they’re reporting. The article begins with a conclusion, followed by key points and finally the minor details such as background information. Since web users want instant gratification, the inverted pyramid style, as supported by Nielsen, is important for web writing and for better user experience. From Smashing Magazine, Usability tips

Writing for the web

When creating, editing and designing content for the web, get the message across as quickly as possible.

To do that, say as little as possible, and put the most useful and relevant content first.

Speak plainly and openly and use a tone of voice that's appropriate to the audience. From Web design from scratch

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Successful newspapers online, the quest continues

Online newspapers are gradually finding their way to more successful times, as publishers unveil redesigns across the globe tap into best practices for design and usability, and the key areas of multimedia and interaction with the audience.

Here are some choice quotes that show the last remaining barriers to success for newspapers online ventures: Friday’s Five: Top Misconceptions by Newspapers Online by Erin Teeling at bivingsreport.com:

"Largely, the web is an untapped resource for newspapers."

Littering a homepage with buttons and links distracts people's eyes and prevent them from focusing on anything. Newspapers are better off leading with a couple of big headlines and pictures, letting a strong navigation do the rest of the work."

Unless you really have something superior to offer, registration barriers are only going to hurt your traffic."

Newspapers can compete in online classifieds. But to do so, they need to revamp their systems for creating ads and make them much more user- and web-friendly."

- I would say that the classified market is a real tough one, where combining the print and online products in an efficient and effective way for the mass audience is the golden ticket.

"Barriers to entry to the online world–costs and technical requirements–are dropping everyday. The Web is getting easier and cheaper as we speak."

- As for the technical side of putting together websites, true there are countless tools online, many free, that can aid and enhance a new newspaper website. But for an existing site, with much aged backend coding and elderly databases, the path to web 2.0 is a long, time consuming and potentially expensive one.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Ultimate question for the survival of newspapers

Newspaper websites are picking up the pace, attracting more and more visitors as their print brethren are struggling to keep slip behind. The key is that web content is largely free, thus relying on online advertising and/or support from print revenues.

As independent.co.uk adds:

Three-quarters of the visitors to the Telegraph website do not currently buy the paper. They tend to be very desirably 15 years younger than all those ageing faithful readers. Shouldn't a major objective of websites be to achieve conversion?

Web readers expect and usually get news as it happens, so what can a print version, that has deadlines offer? There needs to be extra value cross-references to and from the paper for both to survive and feed off each other.

My solution would be to offer stories up in short, concise format online, leading to, and heavily promoting a fuller, objective follow-up story in print.

But this would effectively mean newsrooms producing two versions of all copy, tightly sub-editing copy immediately for a web audience, then subbing a full version ready for the paper.

As well as creating more work the news team, shouldn't full stories be archived online? Repeat story viewings via search engines and related backstories all add to page impressions.

The only other strategy is to provide content in the print offering that cannot be provided digitally. Currently CDs, DVDs, books and wallcharts are the solution, but surely there's only so long this tactic can work?

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Web audience measurement

From: Measuring "engagement" online at Guardian: Organ Grinder:

Nielsen points out that publishers are having to look at different ways of assessing visitor numbers and usage, mostly because new technologies such as Ajax refresh page content without actually refreshing the whole page. That means the data would show a user had only viewed one page, but actually the content would have changed many times. Ah, the delights of web statistics...

Friday, 13 April 2007

Keeping online news fresh

What do people want to read about? Newspapers can tell when their front page leads return big sales spikes, or particular issues or campaigns elicit a lot of letters and feedback. Newspaper websites have far more understanding and hard figures backing up their decisions.

Online, the options are endless, what works and what doesn't, where, how and when your visitors arrived at your site can be measured in minute details. Most popular stories can be recorded, eye tracking enables designers to produce layouts tailored towards the sites audience preferences.

Measuring trends and activity

At work we are getting an upgrade to our WebTrends site analytics software, which will greatly enhance our ability to track success stories amongst our site structure, layouts and page elements.

I can see it being fascinating to pinpoint what choices we make are working across the site, but coupled with the danger of getting too caught up in the statistics and forgetting to get on with keeping the site fresh.

One of the key methods of keeping the site fresh in terms of content is breaking or updated news at pivotal times of the day. This needs to be habitual, keeping your regular visitors returning when they know there will be something new. Jodie Hopperton describes The Telegraph's similar strategy at editorsweblog.org:

The Telegraph in contrast has 'touchpoints' throughout the day which are in essence mini deadlines to ensure news is fresh at each of its peaks: before work (9am), lunchtime (1pm) and leaving work (6pm).

Landing pages

It is important to remember, unlike newspaper readers who more often begin their read via the front or back page, not everyone of your site visitors comes in through the front door. So it is important to make use of site navigation and to create relevant mini hub pages where more content can be found, encouraging more clicks from passing 'trade', Jodie Hopperton again:

The pattern of usage is different from print to web and many people come through search engines looking for specific content/stories rather than browsing whats on offer as you would normally do in a newspaper.

Another vital key for first time or passing visitors, particularly to localised news sites is a sense of community. Local issues and campaigns should be prevalent, and opportunities for visitors to get involved and have their say should be easily accessible, Hopperton once more:

Creating a community ensures that these readers come back to the site as a central point, it's a good way of guaranteeing a base readership (assuming that the site continues to provide the same level of quality).

Online content doesn't go out of date the same day

Stories online can become or stay popular for days after they were first published. Anne Spackman, Editor of Times Online comments: "even after 2-3 days, old news is still alive, particularly with multimedia."

We have frequently found popular stories, in terms of page views, several days after a story went live, when it was buried lower down headline lists. This gives more valuable feedback on what an audience prefers, it's certainly not a mandate for leading stories, but remembering topics and issues that generate interest is part of the editorial process in a digital news-on-demand environment.

Monday, 2 April 2007

Online advertising continues to rise

Online advertising now accounts for 11.4% of all ad spending in the UK compared with 10.9% for newspapers. Modern online advertising systems like DoubleClick enables advertisers to buy exactly what they want, when they want, directed at people more likely to be interested. This is one key benefit when selling ad space with more confidence to businesses used to buying print media ad space. You get exactly what you pay for.

There is never a guaranteed return on any ad spend in national or local newspapers, print advertising can be hit and miss, unless you are placed in targeted supplements or specific sections of a publication.

The web enables companies to target their customers like never before. The user practically asks for ads that are relevant to them, or at least the technology is there to enable sites to do it, the big search engines are prime examples.
Richard Wray and Katie Allen writing in Saturday 31 March's Guardian Business add:

In search engine media, the advertiser is the content itself," according to Warren Cowan, founder and chief executive of Greenlight, a search-marketing group. He said: "In search engine marketing users request the advertising they see. No other type of advertising has been able to tap into this type of 'user solicited' advertising".

Online newspapers should take up this opportunity, giving local visitors to their news content relevant local ad content, rather than random generic brands that may be of no interest locally or specifically to the viewer on any page.

Search advertising allows companies to vie for position on search engines, so when a user looks for cheap TV sets, a holiday, an iPod or a car, their brand comes out on top. Search marketing is the antithesis of traditional advertising. Traditional TV, radio and print advertising relies upon brands interrupting a connection between an individual viewer or reader and content meant to inform or entertain them.

As the Guardian article concludes, one area that has been contentious is measurement of web statistics. But the Audit Bureau of Circulations Electronic will later this month begin publishing online statistics to enable advertisers and web companies to be better informed about how successful sites are and audience reach.

Saturday, 31 March 2007

Multimedia news content tips

Steve Outing at editorandpublisher.com discusses ways to use news content online, but not just on originating sites. We have to move away from thinking of a newspapers output as a two-dimensional nailed down format, particularly in terms of multimedia content.

Apologies for using the whole passage en masse, but it all makes great sense to me at this current stage of newspaper evolution:

Newspaper companies increasingly are moving resources into producing video. Early adopters like WashingtonPost.com have been doing it for years, but now even small newspaper companies are trying their hand at video and going toe-to-toe with local news broadcasters -- or experimenting with new forms of video journalism.

If you're going to the trouble and expense of getting into video news, then make sure you spread it around; don't horde it on your own website and expect that to be enough.

Unlike some of the TV networks these days -- which send out the lawyers when one of their clips gets uploaded to YouTube by zealous fans -- newspaper companies should jump for joy that their video work can be distributed and seen by Youtube's huge audience. Think about getting your video work on multiple video services (there are lots of them).

Important, of course, is effectively incorporating your branding onto the videos. In caption fields, include the URL to get viewers to your website. Include a watermark logo in the video, and an intro that covers who produced this video, and perhaps sponsors.

Just as with newsworthy photos and Flickr, major news video can attract a significant audience on Youtube, et al. Newspaper companies should take advantage of what these online video services can offer in terms of exposure. And don't just tolerate your video work showing up on such services -- actively encourage and promote it!

Thursday, 29 March 2007

Keep your headlines simple

Newspaper headlines in print can be quickly associated and placed in context along with surrounding images, graphics and sub-headings. But frequently online only headlines are are seen initially, meaning their composition is a key to that stories popularity.

The same is true of headlines on newspaper websites or blogs. Headlines need to be sharp, informative and visually strong. Clever play-on-words or sweeping emotive language will distract the reader.

Newspaper headlines in print can be quickly associated and placed in context along with surrounding images, graphics and sub-headings. But online sometimes only headings or headlines are are seen initially, for instance in search engine results or news aggregator sites, meaning their composition is a key to that stories popularity.

Traditional print writing style inverts this informative pyramid style, teasing the reader with emotive language and sparse yet intriguing imagery. But online it has to work the other way. Readers will rarely read long passages on screen, so the most newsworthy facts need to sit in the first three to four paragraphs.

The BBC do this for their news, where the first four paragraphs you read on the BBC News website will also be displayed on Ceefax. An example of reusing content without having to repackage it.

At one point during the film's [Snakes on a Plane] development, New Line altered the title to "Pacific Air Flight 121". Only Samuel L. Jackson's intervention prevented this disastrously-bland alternative from taking hold. In an interview at the start of the year, Jackson explained "I got on the set one day and heard they changed it, and I said, 'What are you doing here?'...They were afraid it gave too much away, and I said, "That's exactly what you should do. When audiences hear it, they say, 'We are there!'"

When users read the titles on your website, do they say the same?

Taken from the Etre.com newsletter #010 - August 2006.

Just say no to 'hits' measurement

Working in the new media industry I still find it's hard to get people used to measuring online success in terms of 'page impressions' and audience in 'Unique Visitors' (meanings of these below).

I find myself regularly (irritatingly condescendingly) correcting people who talk of 'hits', here's a definition of why hits are dead as a measurement of a web sites success:

"Hits: Requests for any single file on a Web server. A hit can be a request for a Web page or any element of that page, such as an image, a style sheet or an external JavaScript. Therefore, "hits" is a meaningless statistic for measuring Web traffic. A large number of hits on a website might mean that a site uses a lot of images or scripts on its pages, rather than that many people visit the site. "Unique visitors" over a defined period should be used to measure a site's popularity instead."

Measuring website statistics:

  • Page impressions are the number of individual pages that are viewed on your site.

  • Visits are the number of times a person or computer IP address is logged as having visited your site, regardless of how many pages the look at or what they do.

  • Unique Users/Visitors are all the individual visitors to your site, if they visit more than once it still only counts as the same Unique Visitor of the chosen time period.

From the Online Journalism Review.

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

What will newspapers look like in 5 years?

Tabloids, supplements, give-aways, all have been tried to keep people buying newspapers over the last few years but news consumption is still in flux.

The tide is slowly turning against the printed newspaper, although it's death I suggest is not upon us.

The evolution and expansion of television and online news has given the public a constant output of rolling news coverage.

The printed word has its obvious limitations in the digital world, which leaves newspapers facing up to the possibility that their time as the news source of choice will fade.

That leaves newspapers with the job of producing websites that not only give users what they want, when they want it; as well as being a platform for expanding in the future; but also enable the editorial team to effectively and efficiently update the site.

The newspaper website

Newspapers in print, may have to trim down their output, while the quantity of constantly updated short sharp news is available online, a quality in-depth print product, filled with comment, opinion, features and measured commentary is published less frequently, maybe not even daily at regional level.

Part of the project for newspaper websites is a web standard design, layout, usability, accessibility and solid information architecture, but these depend on a clean and efficient backend of the site.

If old legacy code and creaky databases remain, producing interactive, multimedia friendly, well-designed pages will be hard, long and expensive work in the long-term.

The 24/7 editorial strategy

As revenue becomes tight at newspaper titles, staff and resources are cut and centralised, but the editorial team must remain strong and feel that they have some hope in a digital news future.

As The Guardian staff are now debating it sounds like a huge leap into multimedia 24/7 news coverage from working to print deadlines.

It is possible, with the right systems support and multimedia resources in place to streamline the editorial process, for the news team, with some realistic, quality training, can develop content skills to include relevant multimedia narrative tools to keep the modern news viewer's needs fulfilled.

There's no worn path for newspapers to tread in the digital world, so research, advice and a realistic approach is needed, along with a deep breath before making the leap!

The BBC are setting the standard for digital news as you would expect with the burden of making a profit lifted form their agenda, while newspapers, both national and local need to find their niches and their own distinctive voices. If they can do this efficiently and work out how to make some money along the way, then a digital strategy may keep them afloat.

Monday, 12 February 2007

The web still needs news editors

The growth of user generated content and socially driven news sites where users dictate the popular stories are numerous, but one ingredient remains essential.

Experienced editorial decisions about what is news will always be necessary. News providers on local and national levels will still be the gatekeepers, enhanced by the investigative blogger or dedicated and knowledgeable local citizen journalist.

These editors in turn gain feedback from what audiences of their own networks and the news aggregators find interesting and the cycle of quality news and more populist tabloid stories will happily continue.

Editors still have a very important function and that role will only increase in importance. They will be like a bartender at your favourite bar. People will go to them expecting the best information and as long as that information remains quality, those readers will continue to return.

Quote by: Jason Pontin; from: editorsweblog.org.

Sunday, 11 February 2007

Never assume understanding online

To assume is to make an ass out of u and me.

I'd never heard that until recently, no really. But when working in the online world, it is a pertinent phrase. Just because I know how to find things quickly with Google, or what software is required to open a particular file type (not that I can claim to know them all!), it doesn't mean the audience that I am responsible for will.

This goes for developers, designers, content producers and all that are engulfed in a digital world, we should never take our audience's level of understanding for granted.

Many are able to bring in aspects of the offline world into their work that enhances the usability of products or services.

But for some digital workers it is often vital to step back from a piece of work, or some web specific copy to imagine what someone who rarely dabbles online might make of what's been created.

It is eye-opening to realise how many people visit a search engine to search for... a search engine. Part of me sniggers, but the less sneering side realises that a large part of the population don't go online everyday.

Not everyone is up to speed with the latest 'coolest' websites or crazes; they don't get their daily fix of news online; they prefer banking in a more human-interactive environment; and aren't sure about shopping in a paperless, digital world.

It's a responsibility of anyone producing any content or work seen online: making something advanced or ultra-modern is wasted if your target audience are unlikely to know how to use it easily. Myself included!

Friday, 5 January 2007

England's Ashes pain ends, but what now?

Fifth Ashes Test: Australia win by 10 wickets and the series 5-0, yes 5-0, no draws, no scraps for England.

And so an end to my nights of listening to an session of Test Match Special before dropping off to sleep assuming there is some hope of a decent days work by our boys abroad, only to be woken by the morning news that we had blown another opportunity and that the game was all but up.

We all know what went wrong, with errors of judgement and poor performances along the way, but what for the future of the team:

Andrew Strauss: Obviously good enough, but needs to knuckle down more often and stop getting ropey umpiring decisions!

Ally Cook: Shows great promise, his mid-series Test century showed that, but needs to progress as he matures.

Ian Bell: Great improvements since the last Ashes, showed some guts on and off, could be a winner at number 3 if Vaughan doesn't return.

Kevin 'All or nothing' Pietersen: As the name suggests, it's a big impressive whackathon or not a lot from the shot-playing king.

Paul Collingwood: One monumental effort and some failures don't cement his place, but the lads got stamina and ability.

Freddie Flintoff: Never fully fit, too much responsibility, not enough support. By the end of the series he showed signs of his former self with bat and ball. He will be back, but as an all-rounder/captain, I'm still not convinced.

Gerry Jones: Can't be preferred to Read any more, unless he smacks a couple of tons early in the 2007 summer.

Chris Read: A fine keeper, but his batting has been shown up by the best. Surely his stop start career deserves another series to let him improve?

Matthew Hoggard: Dependable as ever, our bowling rock, get fit soon. Probably the only player to hold his head high at series end.

Jimmy Anderson: Personally I think he has shown enough promise to persevere with, some hanging around with the bat won't do him any harm!

Saj Mahmood: Personally he looks to ragged with bat and ball, and as for the schoolboy run out error of Warne in the final Test...

Harmy Harmison: Thankfully he ended the series in far better form than he began, unfortunately he began it in appalling form. Question marks still linger, but he isn't the worst tail ender.

Ashley Giles: An Tourus Horribilus for Gilo. As Warne put down the Ashes in 2005, an abiding moment for England will be his drop of Ponting in the Third Test. Hope he can put it behind him, but who knows how many opportunities he'll get now?...

Monty Panesar: He didn't set the world alight, but once he was rightfully given a chance he showed enough skill with the ball and courage with the bat to see him cemented as our first choice spinner.

Putting it in perspective, we were beaten by a very good, determined and experienced side, but now we need to address the shortcomings and power on this summer. By 2009, we may well have a more rounded side to challenge the new-look Aussies who should be without Hayden and Gilchrist by then.

Lets just forget the one-day series and World Cup, for I fear more of the current form will prevail!