Okay, after five days of the new site, let's evaluate:
The old site was great wasn't it? Wasn't it? I mean, I knew where everything was and I could navigate it in my bare feet! It was perfect. So why did they change it?
I could hit the front page, see if anyone had posted anything new on the main page, check the fanposts, scroll down to the fanshots, then I'd hit links, read comments, etc. Because I'm also an "author" and an "editor" I'd also check twitter, maybe put up a story or work on a piece I'd been preparing.
Of course, there were things that didn't work well. Lawler's Law, Steve, Lucas and I were always texting and emailing, trying to stay on top of things and trying not to step on each other. In the offseason it was no big deal, but during the season we were always vying for space on the front page. I like to make sure my posts saw plenty of time in the first slot. Plenty. It was annoying when someone would throw a fanpost on top or something I thought was somehow lesser than my own brilliance. (Yeah, arrogant, I know, deal with it.) Of course I'm not alone, I'd get annoyed-sounding notes from LL about putting posts on top of his "Daily Clipper" stuff... or I'd get a cool email from Steve or LJ.
We learned to game the system a bit, by changing time stamps to keep stuff on top, or dumping dead "game-threads", but it wasn't a great system. And the site was kind of a mess. The big graphics advertising packages, the popups I'd accidentally trigger. It was loud, graphically inflexible, and ugly. But it was comfortable, and it was ours.
But more than anything else, the great strength of Clips Nation has been the site's membership. It's never really been about the author's opinion on the front page, very often the stories and articles are simply trigger-points designed to foster discussion and argument. You want author's single-minded opinions you can get that elsewhere, from the newspaper beat writers, or from Clipperblog. Those guys are terrific writers who often put up stuff I wish I'd written. But that blog's really not designed for comments. For whatever reason, it's never been a place with a community that actively engages in deep, heated, friendly, or un-friendly discussion like Clips Nation.
So, the last few months SB Nation, the parent company that owns Clips Nation (and 300 other sites) started making noises about changing the site, making it more "graphical" and "magazine-like". It would be better for them, because it would make it easier to jump in and out of the national or regional sites. It would make our articles and voices more available to other sites as well. It would allow us, blah, blah, blah... I never actually heard what they were saying. Just like the Clips Nation site we were working on, I would figure it out when it got there. And as long as they didn't mess with the threads, I didn't really care.
Finally, they made us take a video training course. I dragged my feet on that, until Steve sent me a stern note, and finally I flashed through the course while I did other stuff. (It's called multi-tasking). I'm happy to report that even though I left high school many decades ago, I can fake my way through a course as well as the day I turned sixteen. It's in my blood. Then SB Nation put up a beta of the site. I finally made it over there about last Friday. The cover page was pretty and I still had time to work some other stuff out -- whoops... the new site went live three days later.
I had some trouble getting around at first, but everything's there if you look for it. Yeah the counters are still a bit broken and the fonts and colors are a little different, but most importantly, the threads are unchanged. The site is still about discourse and sometimes disagreement... the guts of the joint, the thing that makes us cool, is still there.
But the old comfortable shoes have been tossed in the trash and now we've got to get used to a new pair. Change is never easy. You want to see what the original Clips Nation looked like? Go here (special thanks to C. bestclipfan). Steve says everyone complained when that site changed as well... and it was plug ugly.
So what's different, what's working, what's not working, and how will it change down the line? I'll take it FAQ style (with the first two issues ganged together):
- There's a lot of SB Nation content on the front page, especially in the lead story section.
- There's no author's names on the front page so we can't tell where stuff is sourced or who the hell wrote it. Well, there was always SB Nation content on the front page, and yes, a lot of it we skipped. But right now only the lead story has a byline, so you can't tell who wrote it or whether it was written for Clips Nation or SB Nation. This has probably been the number one complaint heard across the SB Nation community, and I'm pretty sure we'll see it changed. In an effort to clean up the graphics, SB Nation wanted big, clean pictures. Eliminating author's names should be cool with everybody, right? Well, no. It's not, not with me, anyway.
Of course, I personally made the problem worse, by telling Steve I don't want anything I write in the graphical front page (the "cover" area). Then, later, I flip-flopped and complained that the only thing on the cover was SB Nation stuff. And Steve said, "That's what you wanted, you did that." Which of course is true. Anyway, we should see this matter fixed. Soon, I hope.
- The comments numbers, the one's I've read and the new ones, don't work. Very annoying, but seems to be improving. This will be fixed.
- In the threads there's too much white space, the fonts are bad, margins to wide, the unread comment color is wrong, etc. They've already fixed much of this. I think this is one of those cross-platform issues. And it seems to be different on different machines. On my laptop in chrome, everything looks pretty good. On my desktop, also running Chrome, the type's too grey. I squint a lot.
- The site doesn't work well on IE8, or the iPad, or the Blackberry, etc. OR it works great on portable devices but not great on other machines. I think it's pretty critical to SB Nation that the site works on ALL machines, especially portable devices. But they don't seem to have the resources to beat it all out at once. I don't use a smart phone (you can't type on them, you think you can but that's not typing) so I haven't faced any of these problems. But... I'd caution patience on this one. I know SB Nation wants their stuff to work on your phone.
- There's no home button. This one made me nuts until Steve calmly told me to just hit the Clips Nation logo and it would work THE WAY IT ALWAYS DID... like a home button. Oh.
- The fanshots are too far down the page and are not long enough. And there's no separator between the recommended posts and the fresh posts. Well, the fanshots were always too far down the page. But... on our site, we need the list to be longer. It's a platform-wide issue, other sites are complaining as well. I think we'll see it changed, hopefully soon.
- I can't find anything. The front page is too confusing. Is it confusing because it's new or because it's really confusing? B both I think. You're confused (I'm confused) because we're used to a certain, reverse chronological order thing. And that's still there, beyond the cover page.
The first couple of days, Steve and I were playing with the format (well, Steve was anyway), trying to figure out what works best (there are several choices for how the cover page works... you can go here or here to see more about that). Then there's the "river" which essentially works like the old site... though (Steve and I) can change the order of things in there too. That might be a good and bad thing: We won't be fighting for the top space anymore because we can more easily move stuff around. More importantly, better stories can go on top (those will inevitably include anything I write) and dumber stuff (Lucas' stuff) can be allowed to wallow at the end of the page. But it might be a little confusing because the freshest piece won't be on top. Steve thinks we should run it chronologically... and then perhaps we'll bump the good stuff up to the cover. (Once they get the bylines fixed, I'll be good with that.)
- I like the old way where there was a paragraph or two about the story, then the jump. Yeah. On the cover page, that a problem for me too. But I think we'll better figure out how to write "headlines, blurbs, and summaries" as we go along. In the river stories, it's not as big a problem, but there's only so many characters that will fit. I think we'll figure it out as we go.
- There's still a lot of stuff on the front page that seems random or old. I think that's s a problem for the editors (yours truly) and SB Nation. Steve and I will figure it out or SB Nation will. For the moment, it's pretty easy to ignore.
- There are other problems you might not notice, like I can't delete duplicate fanshots, can't, there's just no button for it, promoting fanposts and fanshots to the front page is laborious (but once I get them up they look great). I can't put fanshots in the lead graphical stories. They might never fix that. Not sure. I'm also not sure if I can put promoted fanposts up there... but that's because I haven't tried yet.
I'm sure there's other stuff I haven't noticed, so go ahead and put them in the comments and we'll either find a solution here or Steve will take it to SB Nation. You can also go to them directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.