Content Channels

First of all, full marks for getting high page rankings and integrating all sorts of lovely flash advertising and web 2.0 features like the google user pop-in, user comments and article sharing, plus filters, subscriptions, related stories and gazillions of regular ads, without really compromising the page download, but, really, where's the content gone? This is the regular, non-member, non-CEO, non-attaché, non-content view of a regular forbes.com page and if there was ever a web 2.0 version of the blink tag, this is pretty much it. There's so much going on here that it takes a while to even fathom where the content is. I mean, obviously its in that slot under the header and next to the left navigation, but with so much distraction (ads doing what they do best), it takes a while to orient yourself. Its a bit like trying to focus on the horizon when a boat is pitching uncontrollably and you're just about to take a second look at the lobster thermidor you had for lunch. And there's no handrail. And no boat.

Its probably unfair to pick out Forbes, as there's any number of article-based sites out there which adopt this style of page format. I say, 'adopt this style', but what that really means is 'crams as many ads into the available space', even if they are those circular ads which are published by, and point to, yourself. I guess I still hanker after solid design frameworks and excellence in user experience, but as the channels on the internet converge with the channels on TV and other media, it's predictable that the demands for return on investment drive the content model. Perhaps I should be tipping my hat to the page designers who manage to actually squeeze some content into these pages, notwithstanding the requirements for ad placement, cross-marketing, subscription targets and everything else. That is a real user experience challenge, albeit not one I'd like to have to take on.

As we begin to talk about 'content channels' for sun.com and how we surface rolling content on our existing navigation and page class pages, we are in the (probably) enviable position, from a user experience perspective, of owning not only the whole page, but also the content channel itself, so we can build it pretty much anyway we see fit, within our established web design framework. Maybe it would actually be easier to know that for given page types, we are only allowed to utilize a space 200x200 in the 3rd column using specific technology and hosted on a 3rd-party server that only allows you to add clear text and a 60X60 graphic - but easier isn't necessarily better.

Mind you, we haven't designed for the sun.com content channels yet, so its difficult to pontificate about the relative merits of total ownership of design against paid-for content services, although, naturally, that won't stop me.

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