The big “tech” news this morning concerns the redesign of the USAToday website. The design is cleaner but the news and buzz is about all the community features, which TechCrunch has succinctly summarized:
- User Comments: Every article now has user comments.
- Most Popular: Read articles based on popularity rather than in the order assigned by USATODAY editors. Articles are ranked by Most Read, Most Commented, Most Recommended (see below) and Most Emailed.
- Digg-Like Article Voting: Click “recommend” on an article and the vote tally increases by 1. Highly recommended articles appear under the “Most Popular” tab.
- Profile Pages: Registered users have their own page that aggregates their comments, recommended articles and other content.
Topix, the Washington Post, NY Times and blog sites like the Huffington Post, among others, have already proven the ability of news sites to generate comments and community.
There’s a difference between adding rich community features, some of which will be used more than others, and seeking to become a social network. I don’t believe USAToday is trying to be a social network – its demographic isn’t the MySpace generation. However, the community features will help engage audiences and add a needed, more dynamic element to the site.
In truth, there’s probably a little social media overkill here. On the list of things I don’t like are: how the section navigation has been de-emphasized, the fact that the page goes on vertically for miles (no heat-map testing happened I guess) and that the new site appears to be somewhat more complex than the old.
Don Dodge of Microsoft reviewed the reactions and reader comments on the site and finds that the overwhelming majority don’t like it:
I read all 130 comments (at the time of this post) from readers and they were brutal; “hate it”, “what were you thinking”, “awful”, are just a few of the comments. Only 10 out of 130 had anything positive to say. Wow!
I would infer that loyal readers are disoriented. But as USAToday learns what community features are being used and which are not, it will have the necessary feedback to refine the site. The effort and direction are worthy — if imperfect — and Gannett should be applauded for putting some “stakes in the ground” and taking steps in this direction.
More from LostRemote with an interesting update on how USAToday is “struggling” to manage user comments. This is the challenge of opening the floodgates as they have.