Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Rise of the Content-Free Internet, Among Other Things

I've noticed a terrifically discouraging trend in the last few months: the Internet has less and less content. The focus of the content has also changed, and much for the worse.

I like reading Deadspin. For years, it's been a hell of a sports website--funny, brash, almost muckraking, and sometimes doing investigative pieces that no one else would even think of doing.

It's part of Gawker, though.

Gawker seems to be hell-bent on doing nothing on its websites other than advertising and referring people to content on other Gawker websites.

Here's a recent example of what Deadspin looks like now:
Sports post
Ad ("sponsored" post)
Sports post
Ad ("commerce team")
Relationship post
As ("sponsored" post)
Sports post
 Link collection (to other Gawker sites)

That's three sports posts out of nine pieces of content. 33%. So you go to a genre-specific website, and you see content in that genre a third of the time.

What the hell?

Then there are the websites who redesign themselves into complexity oblivion.

Here's an example. I've always enjoyed the NBC sports-specific sites Pro Football Talk, College Football Talk, and Pro Hockey Talk. They presented information in easily-readable format, and I read every word of content on those three sites for years.

Very recently, they redesigned those sites, and they're damned near incomprehensible now. There was such an outcry at Pro Football Talk that they backed out the changes. Here's what all these sites used to look like:

You can click on that to enlarge it, but the basics are that stories are stacked with full text. it's very, very easy to read, and there's no real navigation necessary--all the news is in one panel, and you just scroll down.

To me that's damned good website design, because it makes it easy for me to read everything, and I do.

One other note. While the posts do have pictures, they're small, so the page loads quickly.

Now, let's look at Pro Hockey Talk, which used to use the above design, but now has completely changed:

Oh, crap. What the hell is going on here? You have a big "Top Story" panel, then below that you have "More Top Stories", then beside Top Stories you have "More Headlines", then next to THAT you have "Fantasy Player News".  On the far left, you have a bunch of promos for other NBC events that I don't give a crap about.

You have to click on each of those panels to load the set of stories for that particular panel, so instead of having information in one panel that's scrollable, you now have information in FOUR panels.

It's freaking gibberish.

What the new design has made me do is just look at the top-level article summaries instead of clicking through to read everything, because it's annoying. So I read far less content than I did previously.

What I can't understand is how the people who design websites somehow evolved into using the kinds of guidelines that produce messes like this. Instead of presenting information, websites now seem to be intent on hiding as much of it as they can.

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