Redesigns 2: CNet’s ho-hum design, good blogs

The second notable redesign today is at Reviewing this design is a little more difficult, because it’s harder to spot what has changed. The yellow is still there, now actually looking a little orange. The front page is still a total mess, and it’s still impossible to find an individual headline there. The URLs are still impossibly long and impossible to remember.

But there are three killer features. The treemap view of the hottest stories on is brilliant, as is its placement as a sidebar on every story. It’s interesting to watch popularity change in real time, too, as the current hottest story (Network feud leads to Net blackout) gets hotter. I hope that CNet thought about the effect that this treemap has on their most viewed statistics, or they might just be getting into a self reinforcing loop here.

The Big Picture is even cooler, at least at first. This moving relationship map between stories is fun to use to explore the Related Stories that CNet has long featured at the bottom of every article. Two things are keeping me from being hyper-enthusiastic about the feature, though. I don’t always understand why the connections are drawn the way they are, or what popularity has to do with the relationship between the stories. Second, like all such spider graphs, the relationships are really hard to read once too many of them appear on screen.

The third feature has the potential to be the most controversial among bloggers. That’s because it’s yet another Top 100 list of blogs that are “worth reading.” The results are interesting, especially the Blog 100 Stream (recent posts from all 100 blogs in river of news format). Even if is flooding that river right now. I’d like to see more interactivity though. Agree or disagree? What would have been cool would be if CNet partnered with Bloglines or Kinja to allow readers to build their own lists, not just talk about them.

Final note: I wholeheartedly approve of’s shift in focus from Tech News First to News of Change. In 2005, focusing on technology means focusing on law, politics, and the sciences as well.

In fact, the only obviously dumb move I see from this redesign is the My News feature. I’m not going to take the time to customize my view of, folks. I’m putting that time into my RSS reader instead, because the payback is better.

Overall score: Intentions A, execution B+. Great features, but the basic page design, particularly on the home page, could still improve to make finding information easier.

Redesigns Part 1: Salon misses an opportunity

Two big sites unveiled new designs today. Salon (as pointed to by BoingBoing) and CNET’s both rolled out new user interfaces. I’m a little mixed on the design effectiveness of both, but there are a few interesting corners in the mix too. I’ll write a quick post on CNET but want to focus on Salon’s moves now, because frankly they annoy me more.

First the graphic identity. It’s cleaner, but some of the elements, particularly on the front page, appear unanchored and somehow floating—as though the former black boxes of the design were containing the content and it’s now just kind of drifting around the page. There’s not a good sense of an underlying grid. Take a look at the community sidebar for an example—it seems to bear little relation to what’s going on around it. I’m also getting lost in the headlines on the left—too much bold text, not enough visual separation or something. It’s hard to scan. Finally, the new design and branding doesn’t carry through to all the content, particularly Audiofile. Visual design: A for intentions, B- for execution.

I also don’t appreciate the “ghetto-ization” of Salon’s blogs, which are now (especially Audiofile and War Room) the major daily draw for me. While they’ve moved into the main column and feature updated headlines, they’re only small text links in a mass of illustrated spots and thus easy to overlook. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Salon’s other articles. I still click through on the RSS feed for some other articles, such as today’s Fall of the Rovean Empire by Sidney Blumenthal and last week’s article on the implications of the Vatican’s crackdown on homosexuality in seminaries. But for me Salon’s steady, unglamorous RSS feed (OK, it’s actually RDF) is much better at making their content findable than the redesign. And the link to the RSS feed is now gone from the front page! It’s not even in the meta tags, so you can’t use autodiscovery. This is brain dead. Discoverability: intentions A, execution D.

Finally, functionality. I like the addition of the font size controls and the print and email links. But they aren’t on pages that don’t have the new design. Intention B+ (page tools are ok but not revolutionary, really. How about telling us about your most emailed articles with those stats you’re collecting through Hotbox?) and execution A-.

Overall score: intentions A, execution C-. Not a good way to start your next ten years, folks.