Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Boston Globe's new website utilizes responsive design to allow site to adapt to device and orientation

If Proctor & Gamble put its laundry detergent Tide in a new container and raised the price, would that be a new product? or simply a new way to market the old one? That was went through my mind as I first looked at the new BostonGlobe.com website, an attractive use of web technology, and a huge improvement over the old site. But it is still the Boston Globe's website.

Using responsive design, the new Boston Globe website the reader to be delivered an attractive and appropriately oriented website no matter the device or orientation used by the reader. The site responds to an iPad user, for instance, switching the orientation of their tablet from landscape to portrait, or a reader making their web browser window larger on their desktop computer.
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“The important thing is, you pick up any device no matter what shape, size, or capability and it just works, said Todd Parker, of Filament Group, who along with Upstatement, worked on the new site.

While the programming of the website is getting the attention, the launch of the new website is finally an opportunity to give the daily newspaper its own branded website, while at the same time launching a news site that will eventually exist behind a paywall. The paper will charge $3.99 per week for access to the new site for readers who are not already print subscribers.

“We’ve never had The Boston Globe have its own front door in the digital space,’’ said Globe publisher Christopher M. Mayer in the Globe's own story of the launch. “It’s always been integrated with Boston.com. This was an opportunity to build something brand-new and to have it front and center and really do justice to the brand promise The Boston Globe offers to its readers."

Before the launch of BostonGlobe.com, the paper's content all resided on its Boston.com website. The new site, however, takes its content and headlines directly from the newspaper. For instance, both today's print edition and the BostonGlobe.com site's headline for the story of last night's Republican debate was "Rivals put Perry on defensive in debate", while Boston.com's headline is currently "Latest GOP debate affirms clear split".

Interestingly, both sites continue to suffer from the same headlining issues: headlines that do not fit their space and often have bad "widows". This is considered the norm online, though I know of at least one newspaper editor who would be rolling in their grave if they saw the current state of headline writing online (he insisted that all heads fit their space within a pica or two).

So is this a great new product or simply a new way to make a modern website? The jury is still out because the launch of this new site for the Boston Globe opens up the possibility of the paper transforming Boston.com into a different type of website.

As for the new site, the use of responsive design has its pluses and minuses: the use of the technique will allow iPad owners to have a more appropriate product, but as the headlines and photos are written and cropped for print, it is still a print product converted to digital rather than a natively designed product.

On my iPad, for instance, all three headlines above the fold have terrible widows, while the print edition, using the same headlines, appears well designed, tight. (As seen at right, above, the look is better in portrait where the "Perry" headline now fits.)
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Ultimately this is the problem with designing for print and then using whatever technology one can to convert that product into digital. Maybe the launch of BostonGlobe.com will allow the digital team to begin thinking digital first (to use that hackneyed term) with Boston.com.

As for the paywall, well, reader comments are negative, but that is to be expected. In fact, reading through them one would guess that a majority of the comments are from non subscribers meaning that once the paywall is up the tone of the conversations on BostonGlobe.com may change as these readers are forced out – and here is where Boston.com may be able to take advantage of the new site to convert itself from a news site based on a newspaper to a community site with news content. We'll see in what direction they go once the paywall is erected.

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