Birmingham Post Website – Feedback (v.1)


This is a paraphrased collection of feedback provided on the blog to the post “Anyone want to help design the Birmingham Post website?”

I have tried to give a flavour of what was on the site (and elsewhere) in ten points.

The full comments can be found on the blog and by following the trackback links at the bottom of the comments sections.

1. Easy viewing

This was the most commonly repeated request and frequently involved the use of RSS feeds:

Paul Groves said he would like to see, “easy, quick links to stories and features”.

Daz Wright wants us to simplify the homepage: “Much less attention to selling us services like dating and horoscopes will make people revisit giving you the opportunity to increase ad revenue.”

Ease of locating stories within the main site is important to dp.

Plenty of nice URLs, suggests Tom: “seriously, I want to go to /edgbaston and get my local news.”

Jack Kirby would like RSS feeds that segregated stories by location: “Some kind of ability to pick up local (constituency level) as well as city-wide stories in feeds would be useful.

Jon Bounds agrees, adding that we also need category-based RSS feeds and urls such as /football, /music and /art.

General reads all his news via RSS and would like the choice between subscribing to a feed with just a headline and synopsis and one that features the full article text.

2. Regular updates

Get content up fast says Jon Bounds: “News is about immediacy, why ruin the advantage of the web by holding back stuff until it’s hit the dead trees.”

When it comes to blogging, “do it properly or don’t do it all,” says Paul Groves. He adds that simply reprinting columns that have appeared in the newspaper is not good enough. Bogs need to be fresh material and regularly updated.

This is an opinion shared by Jon Bounds: If there are to be things labelled up as blogs then they should actually be blogs, written, comment moderated, and engaged with by bloggers themselves. Not just c’n'p’d from elsewhere, or tossed up and left to rot.”

Simon K adds that the site should be more than just an adjunct to the print edition to build up readership.

3. Easy to share

“Make it easy for readers to place your work in front of their friends,” says Craig McGinty

Make sensible decisions with sharing, says Jon Bounds: “It’s all very well adding buttons to ’share this on digg’, as it’s easy to do, but will a Post story have any digg traction (answer, no). Pick these links carefully, delicious, Facebook, Email this, Up Yer Brum - but not the big worldwide geek sites.”

4. Easy to search

A “top notch” search function would allow us to de-clutter, says dp, who would prefer the homepage to be simply “a banner and a search engine”. It would also save the user time searching for a story in vein.

General also stresses the importance of tagging, so does Paul Bradshaw .

5. Accessibility

Making sure that readers can access the site with whatever web technology they choose is important.

Nice clean modern web standards, accessibility and browser support are important, says Tom. “I want to be able to access the site on an iPhone or on a Wii,” he adds.

6. Use video wisely

“Video is nice, but unless your employing people to film, edit it and share it properly it won’t be worth it”, says Tom. He wants to be able to embed our videos and expects us to publish them on YouTube.

Tom also suggests creating a weekly video podcast of all of the stories you’ve published.

Video and audio are not “must haves”, for Jon Bounds. But, if they are used, they must be a “coherent part of the web experience”. He adds: “If there’s video or audio content out on the web, link to it or embed it, don’t try to produce everything. That said, the odd picture would be nice.

“Get in a videojournalist. It’s a real job,” says TomS

7. Be careful with comment

While it’s a “web dream” to allow comments on every story, Jon Bounds warns against it: “the reality is that it’s a legal shitstorm for large organisations to do. How much does comment on breaking news improve the site?
 “I prefer a clean break - you can comment on the comment pieces (which are much more like blog posts), but not on news stories.”

But Todd Nash disagrees: “I think that comment sections on individual stories can work. This is what they do for my local newspaper back home it can produce interesting debate.”

8. Value internal and external linking

Daz Wright says Birmingham desperately needs a site that “brings together news about Birmingham on the Internet”.

“There’s more of us and we know lots of stuff that you don’t,” says Tom, adding that if we link and credit external blogs and photos on flickr, we will build a better relationship between The Post and the online community.

dp suggests a “linklog” of other people’s news: “A news ticker of local blog/pod/videofeeds would be a nice touch.”

General wants us to make sure our articles are “richly linked”, asking for a list of related links (I am assuming both internal and external) on the page. 

Journalists should be book marking webpages related to their story, says Jon Bounds: “then they can either be pulled into the text of the story (in context, an ideal) or listed or even just linked to (”see more on this story on delicious”).

“Give each Jouno a page which aggregates their stories and syndicates in any online stuff they’re using for their news gathering - delicious, Twitter, Flickr, etc,” says Pete Ashton.

TomS suggests we could pull ultra-local stories off from the Birmingham Mail website.

Don’t do this in isolation, says Daz Wright: “Birmingham has got some very good community sites and quite a few people that have been doing this for a number of years. Learn from them.”

Craig McGinty quotes Jeff Jarvis: “do what you do best, and link to the rest”.

9. Adverts

Anything BUT the ones that scroll over text, agree General, Paul Groves and Jon Bounds.

10. Look to the future

 Build in the capability to use up-and-coming tools.

Jon Bounds highlights Geotagging and APML as two of the next big things (the following is quoted in full):

  • Geotagging. It’s a simple way to add location data (latitude and longitude normally) to stories - or anything else. It’s just data without some way of accessing it (and at the moment people haven’t progressed too far from laying it on maps), but it’s important and will become more so.
  • APML. Stands for Attention Profile Markup Language, and is an attempt to make the data that most sites collect (about the user’s preferences and behaviour) standardised so they can be shared and used - to push only relevant content. Advertisers love this by the way, as they can really target then.

So far so, geek nonsense - but what if you combined the two. Let’s just say I live in Moseley, am a music lover, like arts, but I’m not bothered for politics or health news (not true, btw, but bear with me) - now a story about a doctors surgery in Great Barr wouldn’t interest me much, but I would care about news of a new practice in Kings Heath. Having geo data and attention data and combining the two would mean the most interesting an relevant news for the user - a customised paper for all, automatically.