In the last 24 hours Gawker Media rolled out an anticipated redesign across their sites. Lets just say the reception across the web has been less than positive.
For those not in the know Gawker has, since the launch of Gizmodo in 2002, become something of a blog powerhouse, with blogs catering to the internets most fervent niches of tech, gaming, sci-fi, cars, gossip & of course pr0n. Famously, last year Gizmodo had the scoop of the “iPhone4 found in a bar” which saw site traffic quadruple and Gizmodo barred from all Apple live events (and some daft legal business to boot). Io9, Gawkers sci-fi blog, also saw a significant traffic boost for it’s coverage of the “Montauk Monster” in 2008. Basically these guys are the big hitters in the Blogosphere.
Gawker’s redesign is summed up in this post by Gawker Overlord, Nick Denton (worth a quick read, if only for a view into how things are run at a top-level blog).
Nick’s main points with regard to the new design are:
“The blog scroll, long the central element of the page, is shifted to the right column, still prominent but subordinate; that reverse-chronological listing of the latest stories goes from about two thirds of the active area of the front door down to one third; and only headlines are displayed.”
“In place of the original content column: one visually appealing “splash” story, typically built around compelling video or other widescreen imagery and run in full. At its best, a splash will match in visual impact the cover of a magazine or a European tabloid newspaper; and exceed it because the front-page image can actually move.”
Along with this HUGE layout change several other changes were brought in, including:
• A rejigged comment format which has caused a stir amongst the commenting community, not in a good way.
• Removal of social sharing buttons bar Facebook sharing.
There is a sound reasoning to these moves. As Nick says:
“In order to keep video of the iPhone prototype at the top of the reverse chronological flow, Gizmodo actually stopped publishing for several hours. How ridiculous! In any sane medium, a story as powerful as that, one which was drawing more than 90% of the site’s traffic, would be given commensurate real estate; and it wouldn’t require a hack to keep the item prominent.”
“Facebook and Twitter are as much threat as opportunity. Let’s be frank, they have taken over personal blogging. The river of news that each provides is personalized, comprehensive and sifted by the reader’s social network.”
So Gawker, sick of being referred to as the gutter press are taking steps to be seen in an online context on the same level as their traditional media based rivals by making more of an editorial piece, deciding on that days hot story which needs most attention.
Initially I saw it a beta of the redesign whilst browsing on the toilet on my iPad. I naturally assumed, having never seen it before it was a tablet specific layout to compliment their mobile site. Mobile sites tend to, due to their nature have reduced amounts of content visible as this one did, I had a quick look but didn’t think to much about it and moved on (literally).
Yesterday, Gawker started to roll the redesign out over all their sites and the cries from social networks was anything bar positive. Ironically, it was on twitter, who’s social sharing Gawker has disregarded, I saw the most noise and that noise was clamouring for blood.
And it’s a fair cry. Having been mildly impressed with the site on my iPad when I saw it in my browser on my laptop I was having kittens. The new layout seems to be completely at odds with web UI architecture that we’ve been used to. Essentially, the meat of the site has been relegated to a sidebar status whilst we are forced to read what an editor deems the days most important story. 3 stories are linked beneath this story, these are apparently the next most important stories of the day.
Many an hour I have wasted slowly scrolling down each page reading the excerpts before clicking through to stories that interested me. No longer can I do that except, well, technically I can. Obviously ready for the backlash, Gawker have implemented a classic view button which they’ve nicely hidden on the top bar with only a graphic to represent it. (Denton’s twitter was yesterday mostly page after page of Denton telling people to click to classic if they don’t like the new layout).
It seems odd that this would be the route Gawker would take. Previously the most important or hot stories would be above the masthead of the page. Giving them separation and prominence whilst still allowing for the reverse chronological blog layout which has worked since bloggers started blogging.
The worst part to this is the relegation of content. We all know the maxim “content is key” as well as we all know the K.I.S.S rule and Denton has, in a fit of ego, decided that these key points are no longer valid in 2011.
Will These Changes Last?
Only time will tell. A former Gawker editor has already publicly said that he expects the layouts to fail and offered a bet that Gawker will have to either revert or change away from the new format by June 1st (interesting Denton himself has apparently taken up the bet saying that everything will hinge on their October Analytics).
Facebook has had a notoriously difficult time of it when launching revised page layouts – People as a rule do dislike change – but my gripes with Gawker’s sites lie in the organisation of content and the counter-intuitive UI whereas Facebook’s changes have rarely altered the content to a huge degree. Imagine the Facebook newsfeed suddenly being relegated to a sidebar whilst the most commented story of that day dominates the full page (and then imagine the outcry afterwards). It would be awful.
Criticising is easy to do.
Why yes, yes it is. It’s one of my favourite past times, but then so is Conversion Optimisation. My day to day at Blueclaw is spent analysing sites and suggesting improvements that would increase a clients conversion. To this end I’d like to offer Nick this quickly whipped up (whilst I was writing this post) concept. It’s a combination of your old layout and the philosophies of the new site.
I appreciate what you are trying to do with the main story of the day concept Nick, I just think that taking a page out of Wired’s book would help a lot more. Keep this main editorial area that you like so it fits with a base page fold (I’d assume 600px). This way you can keep your ‘iPhone exclusive’ front and centre on the top of the page when a user arrives on your front page but without sidelining your content and alienating users.
I also appreciate your idea of keeping the ads on the new site static. I understand this is an advantage print media has over online. The static positioning can hold the users/readers eye better and is part of the reason offline news advertising has higher rates. If you want I’d even suggest keeping your fixed position advertising so it’s on top of your comments, sharing & misc info section as the user scrolls. It’s the perfect place for it.
In the end only declining pageviews and click through rates will make Gawker change it’s mind. In the meantime I’ll be over at Engadget if anyone needs me.