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Friday, July 12, 2013

Thoughts on the relaunched HeraldTimesOnline.com

Posted by Scott Tibbs at 4:30 AM (#)

The Herald-Times unveiled its new website on July 1, part of a move by Schurz Communications to move all of their websites to the content management system (CMS) software developed by TownNews.com. A lot of users are very unhappy with this change, especially as it affects the comments.

For the most part, the functionality for reading the news is unchanged. You have to be logged in to read articles, and the vast majority of HTO content is behind a paywall. The major annoyance is needing to log in every time you close your browser. The old HTO allowed you to stay logged in for two weeks, so this is annoying. The other inconvenience is that only one device can be logged in at a time.

This is a limitation of the software, rather than an intentional decision by HTO management, but it is a terrible limitation. It is not uncommon for a family to have a couple desktops, a tablet and a couple smartphones. Now, if you are logged in and someone else logs in on a different device, you get kicked off. This would have been fine in 1997, when it was common for a family to have a single desktop that connected to the Internet via dial-up. In 2013, it is ridiculous.

Another minor annoyance is that every HTO archive story back to 1988 now has a different URL. That is not surprising, nor is it a major problem, but it is unfortunate that HTO could not keep the old addresses intact.

The biggest change, by far, is the comments. All of the old comments have been wiped out and the functionality of comments in the new CMS is drastically different than before. A few changes:

  • HTO commenters can have only one "handle" per subscription, as opposed to two. So a couple where both husband and wife comment on stories are stuck with one username.
  • All of the comments are on a single page, as opposed to ten comments per page on the old system. For stories with a lot of comments, this can get annoying and difficult to follow.
  • The comments take a little longer to load.
  • In the previous system, comments would appear as soon as the commenter hit "submit" Now it can take several minutes for comments to appear after they are submitted.
  • Comments are threaded, so it is possible to reply directly under a comment.
  • It is no longer possible to read comments (the most popular section of HTO) without being logged in.
  • On a user's recent comments, there are no hyperlinks to the stories where they commented.
  • It is now possible to directly link to a specific comment.

There was some discussion over whether the H-T should preserve the old comments. While this would have been nice, I do not believe the H-T had an "obligation" to do this. While I realize some people put a lot of time and thought into some of their comments (some comments in a LTTE thread were longer than the LTTE itself) it is generally understood that your content on another website is subject to that website and not permanent. If you wrote an especially long comment and you want to preserve it, save it in a text file.

What is unfortunate is that the Herald-Times already had a really well-designed website, developed in-house by HTO staff. The comment system, the ease of reading and finding news articles, the ability to save articles and the extensive archives were all user-friendly. Say what you will about the content, but the Herald-Times' website was a step above most other newspaper sites, including major papers like the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and (closer to home) the Indianapolis Star.

It is unfortunate that Schurz Communications has mandated the Herald-Times adopt a content management system that is vastly inferior to what the H-T web staff built in-house.

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