Besides my usual website activities, I tend to pay a lot of attention to the nature of the websites, and like to explore what’s been popular and what’s not. For personal interest as well as research for potential new projects.
In particular, I’ve had an interest in news sites in particular. Be it, full articles, or just headline/link aggregators. I tend to look at a lot of sites and have a my own opinions on whether a site “works” or not.
I think for the geekly oriented, Slashdot probably represented one of the first regular news site that many of us visited with any regularity on the internet. It’s no secret that MacRumors was modeled after Slashdot’s look and feel… and for good reason. Slashdot made sense. Stories posted in reverse chronological order with the “best” stories posted to the top and moved down sequentially. I suppose it didn’t have to happen that way… but that’s the popularized format (and I’m not necessarily saying Slashdot established it, but it was my first real exposure).
The problem is that there’s a lot of the new sites I’ve seen is that I feel don’t make sense. But it wasn’t until I read a blog post about the relaunch of a site called Topix.net that I’d ever seen it articulated.
In researching how their site “sucked”, they actually did focus groups on their site. And what did they learn? That their pages “didn’t conform to any standard web page metaphor”.
People don’t lean forward and squint at web pages to figure out how they work anymore. They instantly recognize — within 100 milliseconds — which class of site a page belong to — search result, retail browse, blog, newspaper, spam site, message board, etc. And if they don’t recognize what kind of page they’re on, they generally give up and hit the back button.
Now, this isn’t to say there isn’t room for innovation, and doesn’t explain the skyrocketing success for a site like MySpace, but it does make you reconsider when trying to launch or design a new site.
It also explains some frustration that I’ve run into when trying out the newest Web 2.0 sites that pop up every day. If the site doesn’t immediately make sense, I don’t generally spend too much time to try to figure it out. No matter how great your site really is, capturing the attention of your audience is your first hurdle.