Saturday, March 03, 2007

Risky Business...

USA Today launched its re-vamped Web site today. New features include a photo carousel for major stories; tabs to navigate between headlines, blogs, and links to other news outlets; readers can scan the day's most popular stories and even share their comments with other readers.

As with any major change, there are kinks to work out. The photo carousel is supposed to feature the day's most important stories. Current headlines include stories about: tornado damage in Alabama (fine); college basketball (I'm sure that's important to some people); the new Jake Gyllenhaal movie (this trumps the Atlanta bus crash?); and a review of the new Volvo S80 (I won't even go there...).

I think the new navigational tabs are a great idea. It appears the headlines tab (the default tab when you go to the USA Today Web site) features important hard news stories of the day. The "most read" tab, as you can imagine, is primarily fluff. Perhaps this is a good compromise in force feeding readers important headlines while allowing them easy access to the celebrity fodder they want. However, it appears USA Today is having second thoughts about linking to stories from competing news outlets; the "Across the Web" tab is nowhere to be found. I'm interested in seeing if they ever follow through on this idea.

Probably the smartest move is to allow readers to comment on stories. Canada's "The Globe and Mail" has been doing this for some time now and I think it works well. Exchanges between individuals leans toward intellectual discourse rather than thoughtless rants and raves, and I imagine reporters find it helpful in enterprising story ideas for the future. USA calls it 'network journalism' -- the idea that reporting can drive readers and readers can drive reporting.

In general, the site is more interactive and arguably more visually appealing. Reader feedback is low, but I'm sure that will change within the next few days. Above all, I think the revamp is a brave move since most people are naturally averse to change. Let's look at one reader's response. Dane Sergeant wrote:

"Goodness, what a shock. I really like the old page better. Where is the shortcut to the scores? Now, I have to click on sports to get them. Not good! I could care less about comments. I hope you listen to reader feedback and rethink this design."

Wait, Sergeant doesn't care about comments? If I'm not mistaken, he just made one.

Either way, I expect most of the changes will stick since USA hasn't moved too far from its original format -- a smart move, in my opinion.

Check it out for yourself