Free minds and free markets

reason.com is the website of the reason monthly print magazine. They are a non-profit organisation promoting the freedom of minds. The website covers politics, culture, and ideas through mixture of news, analysis, commentary, and reviews. making a principled case for liberty and individual choice in all areas of human activity.

The title of the homepage is “reason.com” – not very good. The website also needs meta descriptions and keywords as well. Do some seo urgently please.

As I visited the the homepage, I saw the header advert banner above everything else. Then I saw the main navigation and the logo beneath it with the slider news on the side. I thought that was strange as I expected to see the logo quite early. I also missed the slider news… It looked ok design wise but I wasn’t sure if it served its purpose. How about making them move automatically?

As I started scrolling down, I started reading the main content area. I wasn’t really satisfied with the squashy content as they occupied only 50% of the body width. The other 50% went to the ads. The ads weren’t aligned properly either as I scrolled further. Since there wasn’t enough space for the text, they were forced down further and I had to scroll alot to reach the bottom of the page. I felt that the “Get reason email updates” should be higher and not at the bottom of the site.

One important element of a successful website is consistency. Some links from the main menu actually linked elsewhere or to pages which had different look and feel.


fig 1. subscribe page did not have a proper header.

The website was wordy in all aspects (typical of a news site) but I really hoped to see more graphics. The homepage and the category pages could have thumbnails to accompany each post. They could also run some promotions to attract more subscribers.

Conclusion

I like the motivation behind reason.com and I appreciate what the people behind the scene is doing but I feel that their online presence deserves more. The site needs a fresh layout especially the homepage. Advertisements are critical but they need to be placed strategically and not affect the user experience. Attention needs to be paid to tonnes of empty spaces after the content. Think of ways to spice up the site using strong images, competitions and promotions. Good luck.

Automotive news and car reviews

thatsauto.com is a website designed to provide news on automobiles. There are also sections in the site that provides tips on buying and selling cars. The website looked relatively new to me and I am sure the author would want to add more content to the site to attract more people.

Form and Function

Upon arrival at the site, I was greeted by big “fast company” image (as seen on the screen shot). The rest of the images seemed to be 425 x 283 px. I thought the author should consider using smaller thumbnails and also be more consistent with image sizes especially on the homepage. The first impression is important.

The headers seemed to be a bit messed up. Slicing up the header banner up into tables is not a good idea today. I also thought that “News – Reviews – Recalls – Advice” were clickable but didn’t turned out to be so. The homepage also had a lot of empty spaces especially on the right. The footer seemed to be quite out of place and the w3c link linked to a page full of errors.

Clicking on the links in the homepage brought me to the blogs. The blogs was running on wordpress and obviously had better space management. Like the homepage, the blogs didn’t have a proper and consistent header banner as well. After looking at the homepage and the blog, I was wondering why the author didn’t run the whole website in wordpress but rather chose to have a blog running separately within the site. The picture gallery was again linked to a page with a different look and feel. Having separate apps running different parts of the site might be quick and easy to set up but poses usability issues.

Aestehtically, the site was plain and boring. There was not enough news and images to keep me entertained.

Conclusion

The domain name is good. The author should consider using a central cms (possibly wordpress) for the whole site and put in more effort to build up credible content with quality images. There are a lot of people interested in cars and I am sure that with enough effort, the site can gain more fans.

Purpose needs to be stated

Introduction

OKCBiz is an online magazine about the people, events and happenings in Oklahoma city. Well, it took me a while to figure that out and I am not even sure because there is nothing in the site that tells me what the site is about.

Form and Function

I don’t even know what OKC stands for as there is no explaination. I thought the words from the publisher is closest to what I am looking for:

“Now in its eighth year, OKCBusiness is the product of a great deal of teamwork, much as you practice and experience every day in your own business and life. This publication evolved through the participation of readers, advertisers and staff alike as feedback from all quarters finds its way into the pages of OKCBusiness. The new OKCBusiness magazine is the result, hence its new name: OKCBiz.”

The website looks corporate and the layout does seem to fit well for an online magazine. I thought the logo is well designed – simple, elegant and stands out from the content. The big confusion comes when people start reading the content. There is nothing in the site that tells people what the site is for and why it exists. I think more work can be done to the HTML title. “OKCBiz >> Home” is simply not good enough. Of course, this might not be the author’s fault but due to the inflexibility of the content managment system in the backend driving the site.

I knew okcbusiness.com could have something to do with Oklahoma because I have seen the word being used a few times in the articles; I knew that it is some sort of magazine because I saw the word “subscribe to magazine” on the top right hand corner. I think most people will want you to tell them what the site is about and not them finding out for themselves. Perhaps I am not part of their community, but I don’t think there is anything in the site that tells me to stay longer.

The graphics and layout is standard. However, the font headers looks abit funny on my firefox. I also think that the footer needs abit of rework as the center alignment doesn’t seem to work well visually. Having “obtain permission, contact us” as a single sentence is bad (fig 1).

The line separators need to be consistent as well. Personally, I dont like thick lines (See fig 2). The rest of the graphics looks OK. The thumbnails for top stories could be resized so that they are the same width and height? This is not a bit deal but does add abit of professionalism to the site.

Using bullet list for the top menu seems too simplistic for an online magazine? I also think the upcoming events section can be done better. Having all events in one page doesn’t sound like a good idea unless there is some sort of filtering and searching system. What if there is a need to look for an event in Jan 2006? If there are 5000 records, the user will have to search through many pages. The event links in the home page also points to the same section in the same page (using html anchors might help here?).

Conclusion

I think alot more work is needed to make the site more professional. To be fair, I believe that the site is new and we need to give it abit more time to prove its worthiness. If it is going to be a content rich site, then it is heading in the right direction by having many navigational categories and articles.

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fig 1. centralised text in footer.

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fig 2. inconsistent line separators.

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fig 3. coming up events all link to same page?

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fig 4. using ip address for ads looks dangerous.

WRAL: A busy but competent website

Introduction

WRAL.com is an interesting name for a website and one that’s easy to remember. The website itself is easy to remember too, remedy with excellent navigation, design, layout and functionality combining to create a positive news reading experience.

Form

WRAL has absolutely packed the links into their pages while maintaining ease of navigation. With strategic use of headlines, boxes, main headings and positioning, it is very easy to find your way around the site and choose what to look at. As is usual on news websites, a lot of information needs to be passed onto the reader and it’s fortunate that WRAL managed to handle this tricky problem. A main heading at the top of each page gives a summary of what is on the page and this helps the reader to decide quickly whether to read the page or not.

The WRAL.com logo with the tagline “coverage you can count on” is a good logo for a news website as it is striking, simple and memorable. Beside the logo (in the banner) is a transparent newsy image set on a gradient background which is subtle and appropriate. The colour scheme for the site is blues, greys and whites and this is quite suitable, as attention is focused on the text and other colourful elements (such as maps and images) that need to be seen by the viewer. Layout is handled well with left and right columns that branch into more columns on the left when needed. Consistent layout, navigation and presentation make WRAL a “trustworthy” website. Additionally, the cute corner on the top right which shows temperature, a map and subscription options is interesting to look at and a good example of what can be achieved in a small space.

Function

WRAL is an immense website with a lot of helpful aspects that haven’t yet been implemented on some of the other major news sites. Traffic reports (and maps), TV Guides, weather reports, sports, business and news coverage, restaurant ratings, consumer section, horoscopes, contests, lottery results, events, health & lifestyle section and an entertainment section will no doubt keep viewers interested for hours. Advertising is usually expected on news websites (they are prime real estate) and WRAL has quite a few ads, but at least these are non-intrusive and kept to the top, right and bottom. It was pleasing to see there were no popup ads.

Loading times are fast and the pages and subdomains are organised well. The coding is a combination of xhtml, javascript and css and has no obvious issues. I am not sure where the page script came from – the words “Do not alter anything below this line!” lead me to believe the script came from somewhere else but it’s hard to tell as WRAL might have had a head webmaster code the script for the team.

Conclusion

WRAL is a fine example of how a news website should be done and I highly recommend a visit, especially if you are an aspiring news website designer. The amount of work that has gone into this website is astounding and inspiring (although I suspect WRAL has a team of web people working on it) and readers can certainly look forward to a superior news experience. I had only one question about this website – call me an ignoramus, but what do the initials WRAL stand for?


Sitecritic.net award

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fig 1. Traffic Maps

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fig 2. “Cute” Corner

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fig 3. WRAL Logo

ABC News: Too much information

Introduction

News websites seem to take great delight in bombarding the reader with lots of information and links on the first page, cheap and the ABC News website is no exception. The problem of information overload can be overcome by sectioning text appropriately and making text easier to read and less complicated.

Form and Function

From a design point of view, advice the ABC News website looks like many other news sites in that there is a lot of information which is sectioned into “Top Headlines”, “Hot Topics” etc. There is also the traditional top and left menu bar and some advertising thrown in for good measure. Where the ABC News website is different is evident on the first page where the length of the page is extraordinary and needs to be broken up. The prominent news box is a good idea, but the page numbers and < > underneath may confuse some readers who are not sure what these items are for. Also, please note that some information is cut off on the “Entertainment” and “Nightline” pages!

There are too many bolded and coloured images (eg, “video” and “photos”) in the block text which can confuse readers. These could be toned down by making them into grey normal text (not images) with an underline showing the link. This might also help to get the text sitting on the same baseline instead of the images not positioning correctly with the text.

The first page itself doesn’t look evenly balanced, as the top banner, logo, left menu and left column don’t match up widthwise. Lining these up would make the first page more eye-pleasing. There seems to be a few different fonts on the page (eg, the left column and middle blocks of text) and this problem could be eliminated by the use of a cascading style sheet to make all text on the website have the same font. Headlines and so on could have another style.

There is no need for another “Search” function below everything else in the right column on the first page, since there is already one up the top.

While the website is consistent in layout throughout, the different (and bright) colours used on different pages for the categories looked too contrasting and made the pages too different to each other. Having the same colours, font etc on every page would certainly help address reader confusion as the eye would skip over the same detail, in search of new text, therefore accessing the new information quicker.

I liked the way the word “advertisement” was presented and how the advertisements did not detract from the news. Well done on putting the ads in discreetly. Readers really hate those pop ups!

Navigation is straightforward and considering the amount of information contained, loading times were adequate.

Conclusion

Overall, the website structure was fine and there are only a few design problems to worry about. Getting the information overload less complicated-looking and easier to read and search through would help the reader immensely. Most news websites have to face this problem and only a few have actually mastered it – so best of luck!

www.abcnews.com.1

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BBC News website

Introduction

The BBC, ailment the British Broadcasting Corporation, case aka the Beeb or Auntie to its friends is the UK most important media organisation funded through licence fees producing TV and Radio programmes for the UK and internationally. The volume of what the BBC produces is truly gargantuan, with eight TV channels and eleven main radio stations, plus local programming and more commercial channels broadcasted internationally, and all this has to be represented under one website. So how does it stand up to the challenge?

Form

Two of the most important factors are, as always, navigation and branding, but the site also wins with a good search option, functionality, and surprisingly few dead links. Let’s start with the branding, at which the BBC have been traditionally – and necessarily – excellent. Their logo and navigation bar is visible on all pages, and each channel (eg. Radio 4) and classification (eg. Arts) has their own bar with its own logo and look which holds consistently with the BBC brand. Each of these sections has their own complimentary colour scheme – funky colours for Children’s pages and more muted colours for the ‘serious’ stuff such as news. The consistent layout style helps to keep everything cohesive while allowing each area to maintain its unique feel and does this without falling into the trap when using content management systems of looking boxy and bland.

Function

With the volume of content – and the Beeb have decided to be enormously generous with both current and archived material – the navigation of this site is absolutely key, and the BBC’s answer has been to use a number of approaches. The major sections are always available at the top of all pages, as is a search box. On the left side of the page, a navigation bar is present and options change to fit with the context of the page. The right hand side of the window provides useful links for recommended programmes. In true British Institution Tradition, filing has been fully embraced and one of the most useful features is to be able to browse from an a-z listing of programmes, both current and off-air. The keyword search feature works very well, though this is a section where the branding of the site seems to fall down, looking a little incongruous and clunky by comparison to the rest of the site.

The site’s best feature is the Radio Player, which opens in a new window and allows you to stream live or archived programmes using the free-to-download RealPlayer media engine. This works very smoothly, and contains its own navigation, making it incredibly easy to jump between channels using drop-down menus and a-z listings. Streamed TV clips of news, weather and programming is available though a similar method, but is less successful and the quality can be quite low. Well-maintained forums and a great deal of further information on programmes offer a feeling of depth and community to the site – check out www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/archers on the famous Archers radio series – there’s even an interactive map on the fictional village of Ambridge!

Conclusion

This is an excellent example of how to manage a massive amount of content effectively, bringing together a disparate range of programming and genres under one well-branded umbrella. The generosity of content ensures browsers return to the site regularly, and additional features really go the extra mile. As a victim of its success, some areas might be missed due to the size of the site – make sure you visit the Collective area – www.bbc.co.uk/collective which is a fantastic site on contemporary culture in the UK.


Sitecritic.net award

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fig 1. Progessional layout

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fig 2. Arts section

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fig 3. Another section

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fig 4. Another section