Monday, August 09, 2010

Harder than it looks

I've had a few people ask me what I think of the Telegram's new website. I've been kind of reluctant to comment on in, at least in part because I can't think of too much more to add than what Geoff Meeker has already written. But I'll still add my two cents worth.

First of all, I don't understand the notion of "soft launch", which is what the Telegram is claiming this is. Yes, it's being done during the summer, when traffic is presumably a bit lower. Still, I'm assuming several thousand readers hit the site one morning and found it's completely changed and not working. If you're like me, well, you're going to be pissed and frustrated. I stopped going to the site for days, just because every time I did go, I wanted to punch the screen because so much wasn't working and it was too damn hard finding what I wanted. Of course this is just what you want in the volatile and shrinking market of newspapers, even online ones.

The notion that this is a "soft launch" isn't really going through your mind. I quipped on Facebook that this was a website designed to drive people back to the print edition of the paper. That's how bad it was the first week or more it was launched. Why not do what other sites do (I'm thinking Empire Avenue off the top of my head, but there are many others) and launch a closed beta and invite certain people to play with it (offer them a free subscription for a few months as a reward for their advice) to make sure it works before unleashing it into the wild?

"Soft launch" strikes me as code for "screwed the pooch" launch. Hell, I was still getting dead links from stories off the main page as recent as this weekend. Plus, if the rumours I've heard are true, and people have lost their jobs from the launch, well, that should give you some indication that things went very, very badly right from the get go on this.

Look, I honestly do have some empathy for the people involved in this. People who have never tried to work and design a website have no idea - none - what a motherfucking beast they can be. And yes, I am cursing because I've been involved in a couple of website redesigns and there were days I was asking co-workers if they had a gun. Not to kill them (tempting, but no), but to put myself out of my misery.

People seem to think websites are leprechauns or something. Magical little beasts who will appear out of nowhere and perform tricks for you, no problem. There are thousands, thousands of ways for things to go catastrophically bad for you when trying to launch one of these bastards. If you want a good site, one that works and looks good, be prepared to shovel money at it and get the best people. Otherwise, well, you're asking for a world of pain.

I don't know what went wrong with launch of The Telegram's site. I'm sure they'll get it fixed eventually. I'm sure it'll be all right, even if nowhere near the gold standard for these things - The Globe and Mail's site. However, one day if someone starts doing a book, article or a website on how not to launch a new journalism website, someone is going to point to what The Telegram has been doing the last few weeks as an example of what not to do.

Last Five
1. The luckiest - Ben Folds
2. How's the world treating you? - Allison Krauss and James Taylor
3. Polyester bride - Liz Phair*
4. Slide away - Oasis
5. No Kathleen - Ron Hynes*


Megan said...

Ah, so THIS is why Geoff's RSS feed hasn't been working.

Bruce said...

It is hard to be surprised that the site sucks; the Telegram is behind the 8-ball on many things.

You can also see how they got there; the reality is that few newspaper web-sites make a cent. Worse all they do is drag readers away from the print edition.

You can see a bunch of 50-plus guys in a board room, who already struggle with email, wondering why they are spending a fortune on a web version of their paper that makes nothing. Why throw money at it? Get the in-house kid to do it...with predictably disasterous results.

Someone in that shop is no doubt arguing that if the web-site actually was good enough, then it would could maybe be the gateway for all news about Newfoundland, or could capture some of that youth market, or re-capture the classifieds they have lost to Kijiji and eBay and so on. Maybe then it would make some money!

Instead, they half-ass it, and just succeed in pissing off the readers they already had.

WJM said...

Given that the new format was rolled out across Transcontinental, if anyone was fired over the fiasco, I hope it was someone higher up in the company than the Telegram itself.

The weekly papers had this inflicted on several weeks earlier.