I’m not even going to pretend to be objective in this post — I am absolutely in love with the new BostonGlobe.com. The site, which launched today, is a whole new online brand for The Boston Globe, whose content formerly only existed on the all-encompassing Boston.com.
But it’s not just the design that I’m in love with. I’m in love with the idea of starting fresh — no rules, no old elements to retain — just a brand new site with a clean slate. And The Globe didn’t hold back; they’ve rethought how news should be presented in a way that no other major news organization has had the opportunity to do.
Here are some of the more noteworthy features.
Full-width design that changes dynamically
Unlike most news sites that are constrained to an exact-pixel width, bostonglobe.com takes advantage of the fact that people are viewing on different devices and browsers. If you scale down your browser size or view the site on a mobile phone, for example, you’ll see that the content shifts the way it displays and still looks beautiful. Readers won’t have to pinch and zoom to read articles on their phone, but instead have an experience custom tailored to their devices. It looks beautiful full screen, on a tablet or on mobile.
As Dan Kennedy at Nieman Lab noted, this might be a blueprint for newspapers to be able to skip Apple’s 30 percent cut through paid iOS application subscriptions. The problem is best shown through the situation The Financial Times is currently in:
Two months ago, Apple imposed new App Store rules that required developers to sell all product subscriptions through iTunes, with Apple taking a 30 percent cut of the profits. Developers lashed back, foreseeing that these restrictions could affect their revenues. Apple’s olive branch was that those who didn’t want to share profits had to remove in-app links to sites where subscriptions and products can be sold.
But because The Globe’s website is written in HTML5 and dynamically resizes based on the browser/device you’re using, there’s really no need to create an application. And because the site will soon be accessible only through a paywall, they can retain ownership of data about their subscribers and keep all the money.
Ability to “save” news items
In a move probably meant to create a more personalized news experience, users can save content items to read later. It’s like a Globe-specific Instapaper. Users can hit the big red “Save” button on any article, and it gets dropped into a tray at the bottom of the site. You can easily call up the tray, access articles you’ve saved, then mark them as read once you’re done. You often only hear about Instapaper in circles of plugged-in techies, so I’ll be interested to see data later on how often this functionality is used by the everyday reader.
A clean article page with big, beautiful art
Article pages on newspaper websites have often fallen victim to the Christmas Tree effect: You place a few ornaments on the empty branches — a few ribbons here, some tinsel there, some bulbs on the blank branches. Next thing you know, the article page has widgets and buttons thrown into every nook and cranny you can find.
We’ve known for years that most readers reach articles through search, so the article page needs to be an entry point to the rest of the site. In a way, the article page needs to serve as its own little homepage. The Globe redesign has come leaps and bounds from the article pages on Boston.com. It’s clean and open, features big photos and multimedia, and contains multiple points of entry for other content.
Users can access other articles from the list in the sidebar, related links on the right side (the only inset box on the page) and a listing of articles at the bottom of each story. Sharing buttons are limited and the page is clean and wide with huge, beautiful photos and separate tab for displaying large videos, when relevant.
Changes are beyond aesthetic and into mindset
With the launch of the new design, The Globe also announced that they will be offering free work space for start-up tech companies in hopes that outside entrepreneurs can help come up with new ways to present the news:
The tech initiative is centered in a part of the building previously occupied by the Globe’s classified advertising department. Classified ads once generated a significant portion of revenue at most newspapers, but as more readers turned to online services such as eBay and Craigslist, print classifieds declined sharply and the once-humming department grew quieter.
Now the space is coming alive again, with whiteboards, stacks of 40-inch video monitors, and a host of laptops, smartphones, and tablet computers. The people using the equipment are mostly of a generation raised on pixels rather than ink. They are veterans of Microsoft Corp., the Cambridge video game maker Harmonix Music Systems, and the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, among others.
I’ve talked before about how newspapers should be more like tech startups, and getting a bunch of entrepreneurs into your building is a great way to try to absorb some of that culture and begin to change mindsets and workflows.
I applaud The Boston Globe. They took a big risk by creating a whole new site, when their already-existing Boston.com already attracts more than 6 million unique visitors per month. They ditched the old and really started from scratch with the new — and I’m sure we can expect more changes post-launch (comments, for example, aren’t built in yet). I’m certainly not calling their new site the end-all solution for newspapers, but seeing such a large organization step out of the comfort zone sure is refreshing. Now let’s wait for the numbers to come in.