This week CBC unveiled its newly designed website, which looks prettier but falls short of the mark of being CBC 2.0.
It’s easy to see the drivers for this redesign. The website is first and foremost a way to promote the broadcaster’s offline content (radio and TV), but they are also wrestling with the need to serve up the ton of online content they can make available to readers across Canada.
It’s a dangerous balance which seems to have already alienated many visitors, but they are moving in the right direction. More white space, bigger headlines, and prominent graphics make it a much snappier site. Better yet, they have finally begun integrating their site with the blogosphere, with links to Technorati and blog posts which connect to the news items.
They’ve adopted a portal approach, which is at the same time perfectly sensible and unfortunate. While it helps organize the information, it also turns the front page into a soup of information, most of which any given user will not use. It also stratifies the webpage, which is a bad thing when it involves scrolling three screens to browse for what might interest you:
- At the top is the local weather – a great idea.
- Under it, there’s a set of simple, easy-to-find navigation tabs – also good.
- A large, splashy promotional banner, advertising a rotating selection of 5 CBC TV and radio programs, fills the rest of the screen ‘above the fold’ – they should get rid of it, as people hate scrolling to get to the real content. Beside this is a useless list of top searches which should also go, or be placed on a dedicated search & site-map page if for some reason one forgets that people are always looking for weather and sodoku.
- Under that, large graphics linking to the top story in each of the news, sports, and arts & entertainment portals. These define 3 columns for the top 3 headlines in each category – they should consider starting the page with this, although I’d recommend reducing the prominence given to the sports, which is now front and center.
- Then there’s the ‘mystery meat’, a selection of miscellaneous items belonging to no real category. They are really just clutter – they had them on the old site too, and should have axed them for this one. Hint – if you can’t give a section of a webpage a decent title, it should go. (At best, they deserve a small box with rotating content which collects them together)
- To anchor the bottom of the page, there are two large boxes telling you what’s on CBC radio and TV, and offer links to schedules – a good idea, but the titles don’t let you click through to the radio and TV portals, even though you can click on the news, sports and A&E portal titles in layer 4, above.
- After that, there’s localization: a set of 3 local headlines and geographical categories for regional content – since these are very important to most people, these should be given a higher placement on the page.
- Last comes two column lists of headlines: most blogged and most viewed – an excellent idea, and with good placement.
- The footer contains the usual corporate stuff, although you’d think a simple link to ‘About the CBC’ would be enough for the front page.
Gosh, nine strata over three screens of content. How much of it is useful to you?
If the CBC really wanted to make the audience drive the content of the main page, they would do something similar to other Web 2.0 portals like Netvibes. These allow users to construct their own page using modules of information. If that is too adventurous for a broadcaster hobbled by bureaucracy, then I offer this simple solution…
Treat the front page like a page that has content and is an end-destination, instead of a page promoting offline material. Most people go to CBC.ca for news – local and otherwise. If they want something else, they are willing to click about as long as you don’t make it hard for them. So, put the news up front and make it pretty. Everything else should follow in slide-show graphics smaller than that now occupying the bulk of the main page, and linking to portals instead of individual stories.
It’s a given no-one at CBC is going to do this, because they are driven by different priorities. This means it is up to the audience to control how they get their information. Here are my 3 very simple recommendations that will help you get what you want from the CBC website.
- Bypass the main page and just bookmark the CBC News portal, which is chock full of content.
- Use a browser with an ad blocker. Firefox has ad-ons which can help you cut down on the advertising clutter. Thanks to them, I haven’t seen a banner ad on my iBook in months.
- Avoid visiting the website entirely. No, really. If you are a no-nonsense news junkie, this is the way to go: just collect the RSS feeds that serve the content you want. Once you’re outfitted with a feed reader like Google Reader or Netvibes, you only need to go to the CBC website to check for scheduling information, streaming audio, and the weather.
- Get your weather elsewhere. Oddly, neither the CBC nor Environment Canada offer RSS feeds for the weather. An official with the latter told me they are working on getting an RSS feed, but that was months ago. For now, they only have a hurricane alert feed. Still, if you click across the pond and enter your city into the World 5 Day Forecast form at the BBC Weather website, it will generate a daily RSS feed for you.
How well do these strategies work? Enough that I didn’t know they’d changed their website until several days after they rolled it out, when a friend told me about it over the phone.
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