Posts Tagged ‘ design ’

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.

Evolution, creationism, intelligent design & the huge lack of proof for any of it.


Or more accurately:

Evolution, creationism, intelligent design and the huge lack of proof —as far as any layman can understand— for any of it.

I recently read a Guardian article by Oliver Burkeman about how the way we live our lives now may have an effect on the longevity of our descendants. However, the article was interestingly couched in the Evolution versus Creationism debate and it sparked my interest. Burkeman describes the incident in 1960s Maryland, at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in which, having found a day missing, thousands of years in the past, one of the astronomers remembered a passage from the bible where Joshua asks God to stop the world for a day, which God —being the thoroughly good egg that he is— obliged. This, of course, proved the existence of God and his omnipotent powers of creation and, indeed, cessation.

So the Adam & Eve thing—and I understand this may be opening a can of worms here so feel free to correct my patchy knowledge. God creates a man (simples) and a woman (no mean feat) and everything’s wonderful until Lilith (the woman) wouldn’t ‘lie beneath him’. I’m lead to believe that this is both metaphoric and literal. So she gets packed off for having to much free thought and possibly a more exciting view of sex than St. Peter (the alcoholic woman-hater responsible for the transcript of some stories passed down orally—chinese whspers, anyone?— for 200 years that regular folk call ‘the Bible’). So God, not wanting the only man alive to be lonely or possibly for the purposes of procreation, makes Eve from one of Adam’s ribs, conveniently giving Adam the option to blow himself should Eve decline (at her own peril, evidently). Anyway, skipping to the end part, Eve persuades Adam to eat the apple of knowledge, God throws his toys out of the pram and exerts his almighty autorita to kick them out of Eden. At which time the only man and woman created stumble ashamedly into a village full of people, who probably also had clothes on.

‘Nough said.

Now, the Big Bang Theory (which is explained in great yet understandable detail here), that’s science, right? (As opposed to psyience perhaps). We’ve all heard of e=mc2,but to the lay person, the average joe who is not so good at maths or algebra, let alone physics or astrophysics, it’s about as much mumbo jumbo as Adam & Eve. Of course, there’s Evolution too. Dinosaurs and such. But seriously, for the layperson, that too is a lot to get your head around. A rather amusing video regarding what is termed ‘the Atheist Delusion’ is here. It puts in perspective the whole debate, assuming it doesn’t offend you first.

Natural selection is simpler. As Oliver Burkeman puts it:

In the way it’s generally understood, the whole point of natural selection – the so-called “modern synthesis” of Darwin’s theories with subsequent discoveries about genes – is its beautiful, breathtaking, devastating simplicity. In each generation, genes undergo random mutations, making offspring subtly different from their parents; those mutations that enhance an organism’s abilities to thrive and reproduce in its own particular environment will tend to spread through populations, while those that make successful breeding less likely will eventually peter out.

…From two elementary notions – random mutation and the filtering power of the environment – have emerged, over millennia, such marvels as eyes, the wings of birds and the human brain.

Simples?

Not any more, apparently. Research has now shown that the relationship between genes and the environment is not actually one-way, i.e. genes produce random mutation>  the mutation is either suited to the environment and stays or unsuited to the environment and gets the boot. As David Shenk points out, according to new research, it is two-way. Environments can shape genetics too, such as the viruses that make up part of the human genome.

And here again we have a lot of confusing evidence that as laypeople it becomes hard to understand. It comes down, perhaps, to who you trust, what makes the most sense to you, the individual. After that, it’s just getting on with it. However, in the light of the studies mentioned in the Burkeman article, it’s worth remembering that the effects your environment has on you does not extend just to you. Stressed chickens whose abilities are impaired breed chicks with those impaired abilities, even when they’re raised without stress.

In the words of David Shenk:

If a geneticist had suggested as recently as the 1990s that a 12-year-old kid could improve the intellectual nimbleness of his or her future children by studying harder now, that scientist would have been laughed right out of the hall.

Not so now. Although on the brightside, your grandchildren won’t have these traits/impaired abilities as they are only affective of the first subsequent generation.

So think happy thoughts:):-

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