The people who run the Charlotte Observer’s website rolled out a new beta site recently at charlotte.com. It appears that they want to be a one-stop portal for all things in and around Charlotte, North Carolina.
I’d love to hear what you think about it. Here’s where I’m at with it.
They’ve had the charlotte.com domain pointing at their charlotteobserver .com news domain for over a year, and when they threw the switch to split the domains, there was some confusion. They predicted that the switch might cause some confusion, so they had an information box slide down when you hit the home page. The informational box was a good idea, but I think the execution could have been better. They needed 2 sentences in big bold letters, instead we got 4 paragraphs of various font sizes – which I think meant nobody read it.
If I decide to try out the site by clicking on the top “What’s Happening” story, I get taken to an interim page where all I get is the first paragraph or two, I have to click again to see the story I asked for on the homepage.
The reason that’s frustrating is that it’s not the way the stories in the other column respond. Clicking on a story in “Currently Popular” takes me directly to the full story.
So now I decide to tell the webmaster my gripes, so I click on the big blue box that asks for feedback. Nothing happens, I click it again thinking I missed it. Nope, the box is not hyperlinked. I click the next largest graphical element, nope, not linked. Oh, I see it, it’s the smallest text on the page.
The Charlotte team may not have been aware of it, but that is saying to me, “We don’t really want your feedback.”
They use the awesome Get Satisfaction product to manage the customer service part of the site, but they don’t use the default side tab (like on this very site) that has become a standard on so many web2.0 sites. I think adding the default tab and fixing the user-interface problems would be an easy win.
The next step is the actual management of the charlotte.com customer service page. It’s not easy to do community management, especially for the newspaper industry, which is more used to supporting their advertisers than their readers.
Readers are a fickle bunch. They don’t care about problems, they care about themselves. If you’re going to put up a button and encourage feedback, you best set aside resources to engage.
As of right now, this comment has been sitting unaddressed for 4 days.
The comment is actually pretty accurate, it does have a simple generic look to it the first time to browse to it. Letting this comment sit unanswered, while 4 additional people click the “I agree” button is not managing your community effectively.
A missed opportunity on the site is the streamlined login. They allow users to log in a plethora of ways, but I didn’t even notice until someone else pointed it out to me.
Much like the Get Satisfaction default side tab, alternate login methods have a default look, and charlotte.com has decided to ignore them, for no apparent reason.
When I click the tiny Facebook icon in Firefox, I get a warning of 5 windows opening – eek!
Then when you are officially logged in, the site takes on yet another look, and now the default Get Satisfaction tab appears.
There are other minor tweaks, like every page having the exact same title tag, no usable meta tags and almost no searchable content.
That’s what BETA is all about… listening, acknowledging and tweaking.
Let me know what you think.
UM… this statement – right at the beginning is the root of all their problems: “It appears that they want to be a one-stop portal for all things in and around Charlotte, North Carolina”… really? When do they plan on telling/showing me this… after I’ve viewed their help section video on ‘How to navigate charlotte.com’? (which BTW – the help link on top is broken… you have to use the one in the footer). The first thing any good designer should know… if you have to show people how to use a site – you’ve failed.
Here’s a free tip… when I think of Charlotte, NC 3 things pop into my head immediately: Banking, NASCAR and the Panthers. I can’t imagine I’m too far out in right field in understanding what Charlotte is known for but – in my case – you lost me at hello.
I’ve seen ‘alpha’ sites with more thought put into them.
Yea, agree with UM – this site is trying more to push people to the charlotteobserver site still. I get a popup first and then a main banner telling them where the other site went. Nobody cares about that, put a small link, they’ll see it. The lack of main headers and as you said, “not managing your community effectively” is enough to dump it. They just threw something up with some autofeeds it appears. Not a fan…
Phil Buckley says
I think it’s important to keep in mind it it still in BETA, and they are looking for feedback, so let’s not write them off yet.
With that said, I might brand this more as an alpha. I agree that there is not the kind of sharp focus that a site like this needs. There is also an attempt to still hold the reins of what gets included. It’s a sticking point with all news agencies, they love the idea of crowdsourcing, just not the idea of giving up that much control.
I think the add a feed button should pretty much be a rubber stamp for content unless it’s clearly spam or porn. If they want to engage the community, they need to let go a bit and let the community drive.