In the same month both the West Sussex County Times and West Sussex county council have revamped their websites.Â The council have gone for the big band and changed their live site, while the local paper launched the new version as a beta site alongside the old one.Â Having said that, they quickly ditched the old one, but still call the site ‘beta’.
So.. any good?Â A few observations.First of all, I prefer the council’s approach because they didn’t mess with the RSS feed.Â The County Times changed their RSS feed twice during the changeover.Â I think that re-launches are best done in a big-bang manner anyway.
As for the council’s website itself, it looks OK.Â Â It looks a bit busy, but then all council sites do. It comes with the territory.Â They all have information on so many different topics and try to cram links to as many of them as possible onto the front page which they sort of have to.Â They don’t know what any particular visitor might want and if they are following some sort of rule of thumb about nothing being more than x number of clicks from the front page they are going to have to flood the page with links.
Given the limitations of the job, the site is quite well laid out,Â but it is just as quick to find anything out by using the search function, which is pretty effective.Â Â I was able to get to their terse and unedifying press statement about Mark Hammond with one click.
It is not a stunning design, but I have never seen a local council site that is stunning and easy to use.
The County Times has the same problem as the council: it is a local newspaper and there all local newspaper sites look quite similar, partly down to them all being owned by the same few companies who use the same tempalte for all their titles.Â Â Even without that, all newspapers have certain constraints and readers have certain expectations of what they will look like.
The CT site doesn’t look too bad.Â It is clearer than the old site and looks prettier – though that is always a subjective matter.
There is plenty wrong with it still, but there are good reasons for the things I don’t like.Â Â For example, too much of the front page content is ‘below the fold’.Â Â One reason for this is the amount of space used by advertising, which I’m guessing is unavoidable given the economics of local papers.Â Â I’m sure the same reason will account for the biggest drawback, which is the lack of content.
All newspaper websites have the same dilemma: put too much on it and there will be no need to buy the paper, put too little on it and it is not worth using.Â I don’ t think the County Times have got the balance right yet.Â In the printed version of the paper there are all sorts of stories that don’t seem to get anywhere near the website.Â The full page about the Hugls’ vitis to Hiroshima last week, for example, or this week’s article about the affordability of homes in the district.
I can see how they do not want to reproduce them in their entirety online, but I think they are missing a trick.Â They could put a very short summary online, with a note saying ‘read the full story in this week’s paper’.Â Â I will admit that when the Argus does that it can be very annoying and frustrating, but that is only because I don’t intend to buy a copy, but it might work to generate sales – perhaps more for a weekly paper like the CT than it would on a daily like the Argus.
If you read through the web site you could easily assume that the paper is just full of stories about cars crashing on the A24, thefts from garages and barns and the odd fire, and be unaware of a lot of the content that is more news feature than news.Â The newspaper itself isn’t perfect but it is a lot better than you would know from the website.
So, the main verdict must be that the website is a very poor advert for the newspaper.
Putting in some of the extra content, even just as ‘teaser’ articles would fix that.Â As a twist, perhaps the full text of articles could go oline at a later date so that the site was useful as an archive resource.Â That would make the site useful for all sorts of people, while also serving as a reminder that there is a lot more to the paper than car crashes and rural burglaries.Â For an example, the housing development at Broadbridge Heath by Berkeley Homes has been a hot topic in the area for a couple of years, but search the site for “berkeley” and you do not get a single relevent result.
It is the same with the sections for columnists and opinion.Â Go to them and the only content is last week’s column by Francis Maude.Â Why not all his previous columns?Â Why not the countless columns by Henry Smith, Philip Circus and Morwen Millson?
As it happens they are in there somewhere.Â Search for “equitable life” and you will get Maude’s column from August 2008 about that topic.Â So you can search for older columns, but not find them by browsing.
If looks were everything, I would give the site a qualified thumbs up, but the content and navigation let it down.Â Where it matters the site is just as bad as it was before.Â I wold be happier if they had left the website alone and modernised the paper edititon, by moving to a more practical format.
With all the decorating I am doing I will admit that it is useful to have some sheets of paper as big as 58cm x 74cm but for all other purposes it is unwieldyand impossible to read easily.Â I can think of no good reason to persist with the old broadsheet format that all the daily papers, bar the Telegraph, have ditched.
In other news: the design and content of skuds.org remains as crappy as ever so I am well aware of the glass house from which I am lobbing my bricks, thank you very much.