New Houston Chronicle Page – Mixed Bag

Well, after this post I guess I can stop hoping for a link from Dwight Silverman. The Houston Chronicle unveiled its new web site design today. To put it diplomatically, the new front page is not very good. To speak frankly, I really don’t like it. The jury is out on the rest of the redesigned site.

While it was certainly not cutting edge, I liked the old Chronicle page because there was a lot of news on the front page. You could scroll down the front page and see links to most of the stories in all of the sections. Not any more. Not by a long shot.

My rough estimate of the real estate allocation of the new front page:

Menus/Site Info: 20%
Photos: 8% (including a tiny live traffic map- are you kidding me?)
Third Party Ads: 25%
Chronicle Ads: 5%
Polls/Forum List/Lottery: 10% (again, are you kidding me?)
Blog list: 5% (this is a good addition)
Classifieds/Jobs: 12%
News: 15% (that’s right- very little news content)

Lots of ads. Not much news. As bad as it looks in a regular browser, I can’t imagine how bad it will look (and how hard it will be to find the content) on a handheld.

There is some sort of a flash-looking thing that purports to provide “easy access to popular features,” but I find it to be exactly that- a lot of flash. If I want to see little boxes with little snippets of information, I’ll go back to AOL.

There is a News link at the top that takes you to a page with a lot more news content/links on it. This page, if it stays flash and ad-overfill free, may be the one to link to. I wish this News page was the front page.

It is obvious to me that the redesign has 3 purposes: first, to generate more page views (e.g., potential ad revenue) by making you click around to find the content you want. Second, to try to build some sort of community by adding blog listings and reader forums to the front page. Third, to highlight those parts of the site that make money (classifieds, etc.).

The bottom line is that the Chronicle dumped a useful design in favor of one that is less informative, less useful, too busy, and with a bunch of useless stuff on the front page.

Maybe this is a work in progress that will get better. But if the current design is any indication of where they’re headed, I am not hopeful that the end result will be an improvement over the old design.

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