Updated Pal-Item website disappoints

For more of my commentary on life in Richmond, Indiana check out RichmondMatters.com.

Last week, the Palladium-Item - Richmond's daily paper - launched an updated website. Here's my initial review:

Good:

  1. The site clearly continues the paper's commitment to encouraging conversations and interaction between people who track what's going on in the community. As I did in 2006, I commend them for this.
  2. The abuse reporting system in the forum is more robust. As I understand it, if a particular comment is reported as "abusive" by three or more people, it will cease to appear in the conversation thread. In the past, users could report abuse but action had to be taken by an administrative user.
  3. The system for recommending stories published on the site allows users to see what's interesting to fellow readers.
  4. With their new blogging system, any user can create a blog. While these user blogs aren't featured like the ones maintained by the staff, they are a good platform for a kind of conversation that's a little different from forum posts.
  5. The use of customizable profile photos (or whatever image a user chooses) alongside posts gives the conversation the potential to feel a little more personalized and authentic than when there were none.

Bad:

  1. The site is slower than snail snot, and it's not just the server side of things. It appears to be using a ridiculously complex Javascript system for generating pages, and demands more client-side computing power than ever just to print some text and images out on a page. There's Web 2.0, and then there's UCK.
  2. The new site continues and increases the trend of control by non-local Gannett Corporation staff who have no connection to our community that isn't based on a profit motive. Locally-based Online Editor Jason Truitt has apparently less control over the site than ever.
  3. In moving to the new system, the paper is apparently leaving behind all of the existing forum conversations. As unhelpful as most of them were, it's bad form to just nuke years of posts (though they're still available for the moment - ready your crawler bots) and expect people to invest in a new space that may be nuked just as easily.
  4. With their new blogging system, any user can create a blog. I'll just leave it at that.
  5. There appear to be no e-mail notifications that you can receive if you want to follow the conversations around a particular story or discussion thread.
  6. Related, the site makes pretty poor use of RSS feeds when it could have done so much more (though they do seem to be updated in a more timely manner).
  7. The site navigation is weird and seizure-inducing. Key menus appear and disappear, key content sections change without warning, and I think there are at least seventeen gazillion links you can click on at any given page. Okay, I counted, it's 222 links for the front page...who the heck has the time?
  8. By virtue of being slow, hard to use, and utterly confusing, the site offers less value for Palladium-Item advertisers. To whatever degree their focus has been shifting to an online presence that replaces traditional revenue sources for print media, this has got to be a big step back.

So, on the whole, I'd give it a big thumbs down.

The update has got to be frustrating for the local Pal-Item staff. It seems like some over-zealous Javascript jockeys must have known someone who knew someone at Gannett headquarters, and were awarded a big fat contract for updating the websites of this and other media properties (apparently this system is being rolled out at other papers around the country) with a bunch of pseudo-social networking features. Unfortunately, someone forgot to think about things like usability, good interface design, fostering true dialog, getting user input...you know, those kinds of things.

And so we remain a community where the presentation of local news, opinion and public conversation is increasingly managed and dictated by people who have never been to Richmond, Indiana, and in a way that is less and less useful to those of us who are here.

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