If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t believe it: the Yukon News is alive and breathing on the web. The tale of this publication’s long journey to the new media party is far too tawdry to tell publicly. Suffice to say its arrival has been a long time coming. Unfortunately, they’re a tad late, arriving at that point in the festivities when everyone else is a bit too drunk, things are getting sordid and there’s really not all that much punch left in the bowl to enjoy.
Despite its fashionably late status, congratulations must go out to the developers of the online publication, as its been implemented extremely well. Geof Harries and his gang of geeks at ADI Interactive did a splendid job of making the beast breathe. And I have to give myself a little pat on the back for a decent initial information design effort that guided that team.
Is it perfect? Of course not, it’s v.1 (even though Geof disbelieves in v’s on moral grounds). But it’s an excellent online publication, certainly the best in the Yukon and possibly the best community newspaper site in Canada (I was the web site judge for a community newspaper awards event a few years back, so I’m well aware of the other travesties).
The primary complaint I have is the colour of the site. It reminds me of a roadside diner in Middle America, the sort where you find cracked formica tabletops, mismatched cutlery and a grouchy stoned chain smoker at the grill cranking out endless plates of biscuits and gravy.
Regardless of its qualities, however, it’s unfortunate that the visual design of the site is so remarkable. A couple of people involved in the development of the site have mentioned to me that the interface draws a lot of feedback, good and bad. However, a web site is about information, not design, so the fact that the colours draw attention away from the content should be considered a problem.
Of course, I really don’t have to even look at the interface if I don’t want to, since the News is publishing an RSS feed. But it took me several visits to even notice the little RSS icon snugged up in that top right corner where the eye never strays, plus it’s an unusual icon in an unusual colour. I’m used to seeing the small rectangular text-based button () in a more prominent location. Plus, I’m not sure anyone other than those geeks “in the know” will recognize the funny little picture for what it is (I certainly didn’t).
The other thing I’m disappointed with is the late delivery of information on the site. Here it is, early Friday morning (about 9am), and the site still displays Wednesday’s edition. A major qualm I have about living in the Great White North is the lack of a newspaper on my doorstep at 5am every day. Here’s an opportunity to provide northern readers with an early edition but the News seems bent on late delivery. It’s the web, folks, information can go stale before it even goes online. Post it fresh, please.
So it’s easy to whine and there are the gripes — what’s to like? Well, to be a tad self-congratulatory, I think the general information layout that the interface is based on works well. The current week’s issues along the top and the more administative stuff organized into tabs along the left breaks up the information flow nicely. It certainly needs some nips and tucks here and there, but general functionality is terrific.
And really, that’s where the News site shines is in the user experience department. Because the information design is sound, the interface developers seem to have been able to really focus on the site’s use and engagement model. As a result, the site’s easy to use, organized intuitively, and information is superbly easy to access.
The login feature has been particularly well implemented, permitting visitors a solid taste of information prior to being bugged for credentials. Additionally the account set up process is smooth and easy to use. Unlike other sites that have implemented a method of user account setup and authentication, it’s not easy to get lost or confused by the process on the Yukon News site. Plus, required credentials are minimal and the whole sign-up process takes very little time. And, hey, it’s free — so what is there to complain about, really?
A particularly well implemented aspect of the site is the rudimentary dynamic pagination and column capabilities on the individual story pages. It’s so well implemented, in fact, that one wonders whether we really have any need at all for software like the Times Reader.
The story pages will actually adjust column widths, column counts, and page content on the fly as the user adjusts the window size. It’s very cool. The only drawback is the automated adjustments appear to be made based on empirical rather than experiential parameters, so it’s not always an effective output. For example, on my widescreen display the page can expand to a maximum of three very wide columns where a fourth column would be helpful; and the pagination often breaks sentences. But there’s no doubt that it’s an extremely effective and helpful feature.
Another excellent feature that attests to the developers’ attention to functional detail is the site’s ability to effectively print. If users access their browsers’ native “Print” menu item the News site will output a plain, text-only print-oriented page that’s perfectly suited to paper. However, it may take some time for users to discover this excellent function; implemented as it is, it’s almost a site easter egg.
On contemporary news web sites it’s standard for stories to carry functional engagement links or buttons, at the very least “Print” and “Email”, as methods for alternative viewing of the story. Visitors are now accustomed to seeing these on other news sites. Their absence may lead users to believe that this output functionality doesn’t exist on the News site.
Won’t users just access their browser’s native print capabilities? Probably not. The other standard assumption that users make about the web is that print output sucks. Many users have simply developed an avoidance mechanism to printing web pages that don’t offer the functionality built-in.
It’s been a long time coming but the Yukon News finally has a web presence. While it isn’t pretty and doesn’t break any new ground, the overall implementation is well-planned, excellently designed and superbly implemented. I daresay it even gives the dishevelled Globe and Mail site a run for its money.