HarkTheHerald.com, the site of The Daily Herald in Provo, Utah, makes up for its substandard design with a handful of innovative, mostly database-driven features. Some thoughts:
- The site looks and reads like a blog, and that's a good thing. The home page and section fronts simply list all stories in their section (from what I can tell, the home page serves as a replica of the print edition's front page), with a headline, byline, date, short blurb and a few links: "Read More", "comments?", an icon for a printer-friendly version and an icon for "send this story to a friend". Can they get more blog-like? I thought it was a blog the first time I visited the home page. It might not be sexy, but its usability is outstanding.
- The horizontal navigation bar is a list of the days of the week, starting with Sunday. The current day is highlighted, and the other days are linked to their respective content, which means a user always has seven days' worth of content immediately accessible. It's simple to use, but, because the days are always listed from Sunday to Saturday, the days get counter-intuitive. For example, when I visited the site today, Monday was bolded; but clicking the Tuesday link, which is directly to the right of the Monday link, took me to last Tuesday's content. It's obvious that a news site can't print tomorrow's news, but the way this navigation is presented suggests that.
- As far as I can tell, most of the content on this site is from the print edition. Therefore I assume the site doesn't change much throughout the day. Why, then, is auto-refresh set on the home page and every section front? (See my previous post on this topic.)
- Users are encouraged to post comments on each story; comments are embedded at the end of each article. This is a great move on the site's part, a feature that other news Web sites wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole. My only beef is that a user has to click "Post a comment" to get a new page that prints the article all over again (strangely, in a different font size), without the previous comments and with a form for posting. Why not put the form right on the first page, right under the other comments? Clicking to bring up another page is an unnecessary step.
- All the photos on HarkTheHerald.com seem to be in a database, which leads to some pretty cool -- but possibly controversial -- stuff. Photos in articles are only thumbnail versions; clicking on a photo brings you to a larger version with caption. From that page, you can click "previous image" or "next image" to get another image from that particular issue. (What determines "previous" or "next"? Probably just the order in which they were entered into the database.) It's a cool, sticky way to get people clicking. Plus, "back to thumbnail view" takes you to a thumbnail page of all the photos in that particular issue -- again, in no significant order. Thus, at a glance, you can see all the photos from a single day. (Everything's powered by an open-source PHP script that anyone can download.)
It's a very cool feature, but it presents some journalistic pitfalls. Namely, by lumping all an issue's photos and comics together on a single page, the chance of inappropriate combinations is high. I pondered this possibility this evening, and, sure enough, on today's photo index page, an obituary photo of a dead man sits directly next to a photo of a Navy SEAL aiming a gun. Utterly tasteless:
- In addition, from the photo detail page, it would be nice to see which story a photo goes with. Cross-linking stories and photos can't be too difficult.
- Users can also easily navigate the photo archives using a breadcrumb navigation scheme at the top of the photo detail pages. One example of computer logic winning over human logic, though: On the year index pages, month names are listed alphabetically instead of chronologically. It made me do a double-take, several times.
- The site's staff page is a model to be followed. Each staff member gets an extended bio, photo and list of favorite links. That's followed by an e-mail address and a link to a Web-based contact form for people who don't have e-mail access. Then, to top it off, a phone number. Some sites don't want you to contact their reporters. Others, like this one, are much friendlier.
- Finally, there's a slick handheld version -- and its story pages double as the printer-friendly versions for the normal Web stories. Great reuse of content.