Site review:

Written by Adrian Holovaty on September 5, 2002 is the Web site of the Edinburgh Evening News in Edinburgh, Scotland. A few comments:

  • As news sites go, this site's design is outstanding. Color is used to guide the eye rather than irritate it. Font proportions reflect information architecture and set up a hierarchy. Photos are nice and big, but not too big. It all works together to form a distinct, credible-looking site. (I've pointed out before that there's a direct link between smart Web design and site credibility -- and credibility is something all news sites should strive for.) My only complaint is that fonts are set using pixels, which means users of the world's most popular Web browser (IE) won't be able to make the teeny text larger.
  • Navigation is outstanding, too. Main inter-section navigation is in the left rail, and some sections, like Sport, break out subcategories a la On a story page, the right rail contains a convenient list of other stories in that section, with the current story bolded. Makes everything nice and easy.
  • The " network" drop-down menu in the upper-right of each page makes an innovative use of CSS code: In browsers that support it, the actual drop-down choices are color-coded. This makes the menu prettier and more usable; it's easier to scan the categories (News Sites, Classifieds, etc.) because they have a different background color. I'm sure they're not the first site to do this, but I've never seen this technique done before. Very cool. (A complaint, though: Using the drop-down requires JavaScript and has other problems, as detailed in point three in this previous site review.)
  • The scrolling news ticker on the home page and some section index pages is unnecessary. How many people actually sit there and wait for the headlines to scroll? This is more gimmicky than useful. Web tickers died about four years ago.
  • A beef with teaser blurbs on the home page and section fronts: It's somewhat annoying and jolting that the blurbs are clickable. I often like to cut and paste text, but that's made very difficult in this case. Also, although IE6 turns the cursor into a link-aware "pointy hand" when mousing over the blurb, my primary browser (Mozilla) just displays the normal text-editing cursor, leading me to believe this text was not a link. In other words, in my Mozilla browsing experience there was no obvious visual clue that clicking the text itself will make something happen. (If you squint your eyes just so, you can make out a slight background color change when your mouse hovers over the text, but it's so slight it's worthless.)
  • On the home page and section fronts, headlines display in the status bar when you mouse over them. This is irritating, because users expect to see a URL in that area. (Perhaps the developers did this to cloak the site's ugly URLs?) And redisplaying the headline in that spot is about the least helpful thing you can do; if a user moves his or her mouse over a headline, what's the point of displaying that headline a second time?
  • The printer-friendly pages have a cool feature -- again, one I haven't seen anywhere else. On stories with photos (like this example), there's a "show images" checkbox that allows you to toggle images on/off. What a smart idea. It gives ink-conscious users a chance to print only the content they want. (I know I, for one, have cut and pasted text into Notepad just to avoid printing images.) The best part is, it's smart enough only to include this feature on stories that have photos in the first place.
  • The search engine is outstanding. From my experience, a good test of a search engine on a news site -- or blog, or any other regularly updating information site -- is to type in a few keywords from the very latest breaking story and see whether it shows up in the results. Unfortunately, search-engine indexing delay (the so-called "Google Gap") is the norm, but passes the test with flying colors. Each search result includes a snippet of the content, with matched terms highlighted -- an outstanding feature not implemented by many news sites, or Web sites, period. My only complaint is that "sort A-Z" and "newest first" are far apart and not easily noticed.


Posted by Rob on September 5, 2002, at 5:03 p.m.:

Okay, I'm going to offer my comments on the design, since I agree with most of your points regarding functionality. When I visited the site, I was bothered by the color scheme. I couldn't put my finger on it at first, but I think it might be that the colors on the site are fairly soft and don't generate enough contrast. The text is done in a dark grey (#333333 -- or #333 in your fancy-schmancy CSS shorthand), and the rest of the site is a weak mauve. Worse still, the color shifts on the page are just enough to make you wonder whether your eyes are going. Evidence: the brown highlight bar in the Top Stories box. The subtle (#eeeeee) highlight behind the blurbs bothered me, too -- the effect is reminiscent of viewing a JPEG with a badly-matched background color. It's still better than that horrible portal-ish Plain Dealer site, though.

Posted by Rob on September 5, 2002, at 5:14 p.m.:

Also, have you considered organizing into departments? Maybe you could start a section strictly for site reviews, or at least archive them in one place.

Posted by Adrian on September 5, 2002, at 6:34 p.m.:

Sounds good to me. I'll categorize entries and provide archives for each one. What would the categories be, though?

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