Site review: newstimes.com

Written by Adrian Holovaty on September 18, 2002

A few thoughts on The News-Times Online Edition, a news site covering western Connecticut, U.S.A.:

  • The left rail is absolutely jam-packed with navigation choices, which left me overwhelmed and, well, scared. (How could I possibly ever have the time to visit every one of those sections?) It's a good thing to have lots of content, but it's not smart to bombard users with every navigation link imaginable. It would be better to drill this list down to 10 or 15 "core" sections and build up those section pages. As an aside, what's the difference between "NEWS" and "SECTIONS"?
  • Also, some of the links wrap to a second line with no visual clue tying the two lines together. For instance, I clicked on "E-News," thinking it was some sort of tech news page. Instead, it turned out to be a community events page. Bewildered, I moved my mouse back over "E-News" and discovered that I had actually clicked "Community E-News," which had wrapped over two lines (Community / E-News) and, hence, appeared to be two separate links. It'd be much easier to distinguish the links if they were bulleted or graphically separated (as on edinburghnews.com, which I reviewed recently).
  • And one more quibble about the left rail: The purple "WHERE TO GO" image is utterly unnecessary. I really wish I had those 1,613 bytes back.
  • Speaking of circular purple images, the one on the right atop every page is also unnecessary. It repeats five navigation categories from the left rail. I suspect it was put in as a shortcut to the most popular sections on the site; that in itself suggests the left rail is inefficient and should be reexamined. Also, on that purple circle, it's hard to tell which word your mouse is over, because they're so small and close together with no means of distinguishing the moused-over word.
  • The "your town news" box in the upper right of each page is a good idea, though I suspect many people don't see it because of banner blindness. Here's a peculiarity, though: If I choose a town, say Brookfield, and click "go," the resulting page doesn't identify itself as a Brookfield news page -- not to mention the "your town news" box resets itself to the first option in the list (Danbury). Therefore it's easy to forget exactly what you're looking at.
  • Date formats such as "2002-09-03" are database-friendly but not user-friendly. This format is used throughout the site. It's particularly confusing because, in the example I've given, it's not revealed whether "09" is the month or the date. (Different people use different date schemes.)
  • The "Add to Favorites" link at the bottom of each story won't work for everybody. That's because it uses IE-only code; in Netscape, Opera, etc., nothing happens when you click the link. The site would be better off only displaying that link to users who had the appropriate browser. Here's the HTML and JavaScript code to accomplish this:

    <script language="javascript" type="text/javascript">
    <!--
    if (window.external) document.write('<a href="javascript:window.external.AddFavorite(window.location, \'\')">Add to Favorites</a>')
    -->
    </script>


    (Everything between the <!-- and --> should be on one line.) This snippet of code will output an "Add to Favorites" link in Internet Explorer and display nothing in other browsers. (NOTE: It's not good practice to use proprietary code -- that is, pieces of code that utilize browser-specific functions -- so it would be best to avoid this feature entirely. I only present it here for people who are dead-set on using this IE-only feature.)
  • Finally, in the "Things I Thought I'd Never I'd Say In A Site Review" department, there is a Smurf. Yes, at the bottom of the home page lurks a friendly, red-capped blue cartoon figure who, when clicked, will give you your "exciting new Smurf Name." I'm not sure what this has to do with usability, news Web design or journalism, but I can tell you this: From now on, I answer only to "Litigious."

Comments

Posted by Chris on September 19, 2002, at 12:54 a.m.:

So who else visited the site just to learn their Smurf name? btw, you can call me: Deadly Smurf

Posted by Phil the Smurf on September 19, 2002, at 11:15 a.m.:

I am reborn as "Phil the Smurf", bow before me.

BTW the left rail is indeed a travesty of design.

Posted by Son of Smurf on September 19, 2002, at 12:34 p.m.:

Perhaps the Smurf thing is some weird kind of psychological experiment. It's certainly hooked the enlightened readers of holovaty.com, so who knows what kind of havoc it's wreaking on ordinary users from Connecticut.

Posted by Liti' on September 19, 2002, at 1:14 p.m.:

Seems like a huge ploy to sell newspaper subscriptions to the children-of-the-'80s demographic, judging by the "Get Two Free Weeks of The News-Times Home Delivered!!" conveniently underneath Papa Smurf.

Posted by anonymous on May 19, 2004, at 11:51 a.m.:

We smurfs are not amused at your cruel critiques.

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