Website analysis: The Times Online [short version]


screenshot of The Times found on flickr

The Times is aimed at the market sector ABC1 age 25-44. This is supported online by the homepage job advertisements for £32,000-£100,000pa managerial staff. Giddings’ (2009) study showed The Times’ news agenda to be focused on business and politics unless breaking news presents itself that is of a different nature, e.g. war developments and natural disasters. On his website, Jakob Nielsen describes 113 homepage design guidelines, similarly Vincent Flanders‘ website proffers two checklists; the first containing 149 ‘mortal sins in website design’ and the second 82 ‘potential mortal sins’. These, among other experts, will inform the analysis of The Times Online.

Searchability

TOL is the first result on Google, Metacrawler etc when entering the terms ‘times online’ or just ‘times’, but is only the twelfth Google entry when searching for ‘business news’, which could be detrimental in terms of readership volume. The site is also amenable to ‘spiders’ such as Google’s. Intrasite searchability is good as TOL has a search engine in the same place on every single page and the text inside it scrolls to allow the user to see what they are writing. The exception here is the inability to view (e.g.) yesterday’s edition as a whole.

Usability

TOL appears technically stable and crash free. Items are quick to upload (average two seconds). All tested hyperlinks worked and no dead links/404 pages were encountered within the site. Loading time for video and audio were both within a few seconds and videos have to be activated by the user, they do not just start playing automatically. Videos are primarily and secondarily sourced. Video loading/buffering/playability/audio&visual quality are all very good (where primarily sourced). Two exceptions to functionality were found. Firstly, the hotels review map is overlaid by the central column of text, making both illegible. Secondly, toolbar for the archive viewer (which displays manoeuvrable GIF files) did not work on repeated testing.

Navigation

The site is overall easy to get around and full of useful links, though navigation is mainly rooted at top tabs, with other links spread throughout the rest of pages. Sometimes the latter are relevant to the main article, sometimes not, but perhaps this incongruity is part of what gives TOL its stickiness —and stickiness is what any website needs to achieve. Generally, it takes the minimum number of clicks to get where you want to be, there are neither too many hyperlinks nor any Mystery Meat Navigation, though the fact that links do not change colour once they have been visited is potentially disorientating.

Another major negative point is the lack of a site map on the homepage or in fact anywhere on TOL. Using the site’s search engine brings the following first result,

problem with … website software… unable to offer … Site Map … assure you that we are trying to redress this … we suggest … the site search underneath the Site Map link… (Webmaster, September 19, 2008)

The suggested action is fruitless and TOL’s attempts to redress this situation have apparently been underway for 18 months, but the Webmaster has neglected to update this notice.

Design

Presented in a functional and pleasant colour scheme, TOL essentially has the same 3-column design format throughout though these columns do not finish at the same level. Well-timed rolling headlines relevant to selected top-bar category are at the top right of the page —albeit in the same font as body text— and top stories are easily identified. There are no background graphics, the contrast is totally readable and there is no underlined text that is not a hyperlink, though the reverse is not true. There are too many pictures, the colours of which sometimes clash with each other, adverts often flash distractingly and are sometimes garish, though their content is relevant to TOL’s target audience.

While not too packed in and indeed spacious in smaller categories such as Classified, layout is largely not aesthetically pleasing and is jumbled and non-optimal (see navigation, above). TOL would perhaps have done better to have a clear RHN rather than/in conjunction with the long page of sections that have to be searched through to find points of interest and the narrow column, currently centre, would have been better placed on a side.

Content

The expected (and delivered) content of TOL is concurrent with Giddings’ (2009) findings and is racially and politically correct. Within this remit there is a good selection of commercial/journalistic stories that are well written, using appropriate multimedia, however, as noted in relation to navigation, the signposting leaves something to be desired. Articles can be very long, but content meets the needs of readers and is appropriate for them, readability is equal to the knowledge of readers and acronyms and jargon are explained.

Interactivity

Interactivity on TOL is easily possible as comments and trackbacks are enabled at bottom of articles and blogs, but there appeared to be no forums —even after a Google search— until one appeared in the Sunday edition regarding airline fees. When clicking this link, however, an article comes up, the breadcrumb says ‘travel news’ and the debaters who contributed are all field experts or Times writers. Despite comments being enabled, this is not what one would expect from a reader forum.

User generated content

UGC includes pre- and post-moderated discussion boards, chat rooms, have-your-says, Q&As and blogs with comments enabled (Thurman, 2008), though this last is more interactive than UGC. The TOL does have UGC, but it is often hard to discern, for example, most of the blogs are written by TOL writers. There is some UGC is in the Arts&Ents section in the form of a debate and in the Letters subcategory. How to submit letters for publication is made clear in the appropriate subsection and this form of citizen journalism at least does seem welcomed.

Conclusion

At first glance, The Times Online looks fairly up together and professional. The informational architecture is functional, apart from the jumble of the homepage, but it can be seen that TOL is not updated as regularly as one would expect, nor maintained as thoroughly and there are flaws in their multimedia that render certain aspects of the site unusable.

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    • Andrew Giddings
    • May 4th, 2010

    Hi,
    I appreciate the citation and the link. I also enjoyed your article; impressive work.

    Best wishes,

    Andrew Giddings, http://www.journoblog.com

    • Hey, thanks very much!
      And thanks for doing the research for me to cite :):-

      Best,

      Geo:):-

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