Monday, September 17, 2012

Gannett unveils its beta website for USA TODAY, a mix of the worst of the old site with some good new ideas

Beta websites are, I suppose, of value in testing out new systems, for making sure that what looks good on the designers desktop still is fine on everyone else's screen, as well. But betas are also launched when the management team is divided in its opinion of the look, feel and functionality of the new website.

If Gannett's team isn't divided in its opinion of the new website for USA TODAY, I certainly am.

The beta site, launched this weekend, seems to combine some of the worst elements of the old site – still live at its URL – along with some interesting new ideas.

The new site keeps the row of RSS driven headlines right up on top and substitutes a somewhat larger photo story box for the existing one. It's a very conservative and disappointing start to the new site.

But the home page does add some elements on the left and right of the page which are both new and of interest.
The real changes are found once you click on a story or click on the arrows that take you to different sections. Rather than describe the changes, it's probably best that you either check out the site yourself, or watch the short video below:

The beta website is definitely just a beta. How can you tell? Where are the ads?

If Gannett really were to launch an adless website for USA TODAY that would truly be radical – and they just might. But I doubt it.

I think I'll let the designers chew on this beta site a while before letting myself come to any conclusions. But if I have one big impression of the new site it is this: the articles look like they were designed for a tablet, with the same action and layouts seen in a tablet edition.

Is this an improvement over traditional web navigation and design, or merely a result of the design-once for multiple devices approach that I dislike so much.

The new beta site looks as if it were designed to be read exclusively on a tablet, and it seems to actually work best in that environment.

If the digital team intends for the new site to replace USA TODAY's existing iPad app, that would free up the team to create a new tablet edition that has a completely new business model. The existing app is free of charge and is run of the RSS feeds of the website making it redundant.