An interesting navigation idea

Written by Adrian Holovaty on December 11, 2003

I recently had the pleasure of meeting two visiting online journalists from Sweden's Sydsvenskan. While discussing the Swedish online media landscape, one of them, Andreas, introduced me to Aftonbladet, a popular newspaper site.

What's notable about Aftonbladet is its unusual navigation scheme: The site's home page content, a complete index of the day's news, is repeated nearly in full at the bottom of individual story pages. (See this example story page.) Hence, as Andreas demonstrated for me, reading the news is a matter of clicking the top headline, reading its story, scrolling down that article page, clicking the second headline, and so forth. There are a few exceptions -- some story pages display only the section index, not the home page -- but, for the most part, the Back button is rarely used.

At first, I thought this was an awfully inelegant and inefficient example of duplication, but navigating it seemed natural to Andreas; he seemed to enjoy it. Maybe it's not as bad of an idea as my instincts suspected.

Comments

Posted by Douglas Bowman on December 11, 2003, at 2:35 a.m.:

Not sure what to think. My first reaction is that it seems like an incredible waste of bandwidth and server load to repeat that much content on most pages. I'd feel sorry for users on a dial-up connection, especially since the site is rendered with multiple nested tables. For the example page you link to above, the HTML alone is 72K. Then I start wondering about a user's sense of location when browsing a site like this. It attempts to completely remap traditional ideas of site hierarchy and user interaction. Hitting the back button (when/if used) after clicking a link from a page that looks like home page content might not necessarily take one back to the home page.

After thinking about news sites extensively last year while redesigning Wired News, I can appreciate thinking about users who often enter a site, arriving at pages other than its home page (through external links, news readers, etc.), and giving them a broad range of content from which to choose after skimming through a story. But this seems like overkill.

I also wonder how their setup affects search engine indexing of content. Whether it's harmful, beneficial, or has no effect.

Posted by Adrian on December 11, 2003, at 2:51 a.m.:

I brought up the bandwidth question with Andreas, and he said it wasn't a huge deal because of the relatively large broadband penetration in Sweden. That's pretty decent reasoning, I thought, but you're right -- there are other technical disadvantages such as server load and general slowdown of page rendering.

Great point about search indexing. Certainly the Googlebot must get confused when it sees the same story index across dozens of pages of a major news site. The Google algorithms might interpret it as dishonest search-engine optimization and punish the site's rankings, or then again it might not.

Posted by Anil on December 11, 2003, at 1:19 p.m.:

It seems to me that a compromise might work better here. By all means, list the rest of the headlines, but maybe in a less space-intensive format and without all the images, etc. I suppose it would start to look like the "recent entries" list on a weblog.

Posted by Chris Heisel on December 11, 2003, at 1:40 p.m.:

Good or bad, I think the online publishing industry has created de-facto UI of "pages that let you access content" and "pages of content". The home pages links to stories, stories link back to home pages and to other content, etc.

I would find it confusing to essentially have the home page repeated at the bottom of every page.

Personally I've been using the back button less thanks to tabbed-browsing. Fire up a news home page, middle-click all the links I'm interested in... let them load in the background, read story, Ctrl-W, move on to the next...

Posted by Scrivs on December 11, 2003, at 3:51 p.m.:

Kind of sounds like the navigation for my blog. If anything it allow for quicker navigation I believe.

Posted by Dris on December 11, 2003, at 6:01 p.m.:

Hmm... That's actually kind of nice. There's a certain "flow" to navigating something like that. Read what first caught your attention, and at the end of it, continue to the other items. Of course, repeating the entire block like that is pretty inefficient, but a simple list of headlines would suit the same purpose. Quite nice, actually.

Posted by Niket on December 11, 2003, at 6:47 p.m.:

Personally, I like the way BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk) does it. There are links to other sections on the left, links to the realted news stories and external links to the right and a drop-down list of other news in the same section at the bottom. It just gives me the best user experience.

Other things I love about BBC's site is that the images don't overwhelm me; and they keep paragraphs short and to the point. Yes it uses tables for layout; but hey, with such well-thought design, I am not complaining.

Posted by Keith on December 11, 2003, at 10:35 p.m.:

Wow, information overload - that is one busy page. I wonder how they came to that solution and the user needs that drove it. I think the back-story on this one would be interesting.

I've never seen a user who was afraid to use the back button myself and I've seem some pretty lost users. I also would imagine that, on this kind of site, that folks wouldn't really have a problem going back to the home page or index to find the most recent stories.

I understand the use of making a few links available to those users who come in "through the back door" but I think in this case it might be quite a bit too much. To me, and I had an idea of what I was getting into, the difference between home and content is really burry.

Then again I don't know their audience or their goals so it's pretty hard to judge. I can imagine that a "power user" or frequent visitor might find this helpful, but my guess is it would be a bit rough on someone new to the site.

Interesting if nothing else.

Posted by Tomi on December 12, 2003, at 4:27 a.m.:

Talking of experimental user interfaces for newspapers, try this Finnish newspaper (demo page). (Click the arrows on top to navigate.) It combines the benefits of a physical newspaper and its electronic version.

Posted by Alan Pyne on December 12, 2003, at 8:49 a.m.:

A similar approach is used in the design of many WAP portals - primarily, I suspect, because of the longer page latency. In my experience, this type of structure does affect how the content is visited, encouraging more section-level exploration (I'd be curious to see the site stats).

I agree with Dris - psychologically, I feel more like I am threading a path through the content space - always moving forward - rather than taking a step forward, a step back (to main page), another step forward, etc. I would guess that having the links at the bottom of the article rather that in the usual navigational areas is largely responsible for this.

Posted by David House on December 12, 2003, at 3:21 p.m.:

"top" link will do for me. I'm used to scrolling back to the top, so I wouldn't like this. I can see its appeal, though.

Posted by Joe Clark on December 12, 2003, at 7:58 p.m.:

Also been done by Xblog, though they apparently stopped. Back in the day there was an article written about it, now not readily Googlable.

Posted by owen on December 16, 2003, at 6:22 p.m.:

it seems workable but the google inplications are a bit terrifying. But it works and works very well. Apparently every page the use visits would infact appear to be a home page - which would instigate the scrolling. Since it seems that users have stopped clicking navigation links because it distracts them what they are searching for. hmmm....but I the google inplications would have to be worked out.

Posted by patrick h. lauke on December 17, 2003, at 9:50 a.m.:

argh...too busy, too garishly done, and the navigation scheme is confusing if nothing else...

they could have the headlines, for sure, but not that whole amount of info...

Posted by Lou Quillio on December 18, 2003, at 12:32 a.m.:

Aftonbladet doesn't do anything for me, but it's interesting to think about the design freedom that an insular user-base brings. Designing only for Swedish-speaking online-newspaper consumers is the true liberator; broadband penetration in Stockholm serves mostly to justify Aftonbladet's absurd page weights. If it gets away with all that visual noise and complex nav, the "small world" effect probably accounts for it most. Things change when you're not designing for the whole world.

Maybe one of those things is that you can experiment without paying a user-experience price. Where else they gonna go?

But here's a hybrid news-site device:

What if nytimes.com placed a discreet checkbox in each article capsule on its home page? By POSTing my selections, a daily "read file" could be presented as links at the bottom of each article page. Related articles citations would also be available for addition to my list as I trace through current selections. Novice users could ignore the whole thing, or gain part of the multi-tab benefit that we take for granted but, frankly, most users can't/don't/won't exercise.

Anonymous user-metrics value could be enormous. Registered users might persist their "read files," driving paid-archive sales. Targeted advertising is enhanced in either case, as is community. There's a whiff of Amazon here.

Perhaps user-selected "next article" links at page bottom is a smart middle ground. A convenience, sales platform and gentle obligation all at once.

LQ

Posted by Peter on April 4, 2004, at 4:34 p.m.:

Good or bad, I think the online publishing industry has created de-facto UI of "pages that let you access content" and "pages of content". The home pages links to stories, stories link back to home pages and to other content, etc.

I would find it confusing to essentially have the home page repeated at the bottom of every page.

Personally I've been using the back button less thanks to tabbed-browsing. Fire up a news home page, middle-click all the links I'm interested in... let them load in the background, read story, Ctrl-W, move on to the next...

Posted by youngfrank on May 4, 2005, at 7:29 p.m.:

hmmm..

I actually prefer the Finnish newspaper link...(link posted by Tomi -- http://media.keskisuomalainen.fi/naytekappale/page1.htm)

This is really intuitive for a print rag.... user interaction is innately natural.. section headings across top...cursor highlights with bounding boxes on mouseover.... this cant fail...

it just feels natural... meanwhile user is exposed to ads..just like their flipping thru the hardcopy, so no discernable cognitive dissonance

i had a swedish roomate for 2 yrs ..and Aftonbladet is king over there... but the demographic over there is techonologically way ahead of US markets... broadband everywhere, ericsson, cellphones... their really proud of their tech prowess....

hell they can buy sodas fro a drink machine with a cell phone... at high schools nonetheless.....same with petrol...

early adopters all of em..

Adrian, i'd love to hear you contrast aftonbladet with keskisuomalainen

thanks

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