Start with the basics. I am a Boston Globe Sunday subscriber, and as it did with me for the New York Times, the soon-to-be subscription-only online edition of the paper will keep me a subscriber. The new Globe site doesn’t blow my doors off, but it’s enough to give me something easy to digest during the week along with my Sunday coffee ritual.
So – they’re keeping me. Mission accomplished.
What do I like? For $3.99/week ($3.50/week if you want to get the Sunday paper, too), there is a lot there – the layout is clean and easy to digest, although I am slightly disconcerted for some unknown reason by the fact that the online font is the same as the paper’s font. The much-touted adaptive technology does convert well for various screen sizes, and the tablet reading experience is quite pleasant, although I’m sure I haven’t found all the appropriate gestures to move through the paper on an iPad.
All in all, it’s clean and nicely designed, with easy navigation, and a minimal number of ads, which I actually notice. So help me, if that changes *and* I’m paying for the privilege of accessing this site, I will walk and never look back. I have been an infrequent visitor to Boston.com in the past because I detested the floating, dropping ads that swamped the already cluttered screen, and didn’t like having to close all the pop-under ads after I was done.
Visuals are big and bright, and the way more stories pop up at the bottom of the page, while not quite as elegant as their brethren in New York do it, gets the job done. And with the font, if you’re a local, you know you’re reading the Globe.
That said, there are some things that I found less than perfect.
First, and well noted, was that on day one, every visitor to the new site had to register to see any stories, which, while they were free, was a very effective way to ensure that thousands of people didn’t check out the site. Even links from social media, which are supposed to be sharable with non-subscribers, required a registration, which was a turn off.
Of course, there are a number of bugs – Steve Garfield notes a video one in a Twitter conversation with the Globe account – which has been impressively active in responding to tweets and answering questions. There isn’t much in the way of video, which as a former NECN-er is something near and dear to my heart – and which in NECN’s case is likely due to the fact that we have been providing Flash content to them, which probably doesn’t play well with the adaptive technology. (That’s a bug that should get addressed soon.) And there are no comments, very limited (and I’m assuming hard-coded) related-stories feeds, and some other features that I am assuming are coming that will enhance the Globe experience.
One of the questions I had when the site was going to launch was whether it would be a non-dead-tree edition of the paper that sat for 24 hours and was replaced, which would make it a marginal product. I have been pleasantly surprised that as news develops and Globe reporters file and update stories, those stories are appearing on the site. That also opens up a possible opportunity for developing story coverage, where one could link out to Boston.com coverage of a developing story, giving the BostonGlobe.com user a chance to get even more updates from a scene while a reporter was getting his more finished product together.
But there is one issue with the updates, too, and it’s more of a pet peeve. The stories are date-stamped, but not time-stamped, which makes it very difficult to figure out where in the process of a developing story the reporter’s piece fits.
Some of these issues come together in the tragic story of a toddler found dead in a van outside a Dorchester day care. The main piece, by Brian Ballou and John Ellement, is clearly from this afternoon, but you don’t know an exact time. The “Big Story” video is time-stamped today, from Brian Ballou, but it also contains stills from yesterday and makes time references to “about an hour from now”, except we have no idea what “now” is. (The other issue is that the piece is on a page labeled ‘multimedia’ that has no other information of any kind on it, except the headline.)
I get that the idea is to differentiate the Globe stories from a standard site – and that works when the paper shows up on your doorstep in the morning. You don’t need timestamps because you have a general sense that stuff happened yesterday, they printed it overnight and poof, it’s there when you bite that AM bagel. But on-screen, the time element isn’t really optional. You need to be able to put the stories in a time context, and frankly, the fact that the Globe reporters and producers are updating the site regularly demands it – even if the timestamp only applies to the stories updated on that day. I hope to see that one fixed.
Thinking back to the Moby Dick Project meeting I attended in July, there are a lot of things the site can do better. Give me context and background. Let me comment. Continue to improve the sharing features and help me share some of the things that make the site worth paying for. But as a design goes, it hits a lot of high notes and does make the reading experience a more enjoyable one.
There’s a lot of speculation as to what the new site will mean for Boston.com, the Globe and the Times Media group. I’ll leave that alone for now, except to say that it does give current subscribers a very good reason to stay, and may attract some number of new subscribers who might occasionally buy a Sunday paper now.
As the bugs get fixed and more polish gets put on the product – and I would like to see an iOS app – ultimately, it will be a question of journalism. If enough people decide they can live without the Globe’s product, and that other sources fit the bill, it will be impossible to attract subscribers, and I don’t think a $3.99/week online subscription qualifies as a new business model for journalism.
But they’re keeping me around.
Editor’s Note: I didn’t use the abused word ‘paywall’ once. Until now. But one note about that $3.99 versus $3.50 if you want the Sunday paper, too. There is a rational reason for that irrational pricing. If I stay a Sunday subscriber, I prop up circulation and help sell circulars and other Sunday ads that are the most lucrative pieces of ‘paper estate’ the Globe has left. It’s worth that $.49/week to keep me counted in both the online reader and hard copy subscriber columns.