, 2 Months Later

Since plans were announced to overhaul the website last November, the site’s had a tough go of it. They’ve had to go back on posting plans and had delays in getting things running the way they like. Shortly after the switchover, site contributor Noah Berlatsky posted an in-depth analysis of many of the site’s problems.

I mention that now because he’s just posted an update, two months later, that reviews what’s been fixed and how much is still broken. I share his feelings of growing apathy. As he says,

my initial disbelief and panic has largely given way to resignation. This is the we’re going to have; best to get used to it.

When a site that could be something great is this far behind-the-times, and well-meaning criticism (whether presented positively or meanly) hasn’t been answered or addressed, then you have to accept that that’s the way some decision-maker wants it. Or that someone doesn’t have the will, or the resources, or both, to tackle it at this time.

I share with Noah the idea that the biggest problem with the site is that everything’s all lumped together, with not enough tools to read only what you want and no strong editorial viewpoint or control. It’s all one big scroll, with not enough focus on the good stuff, and not enough guidance keeping it running smoothly and professionally. It’s too hard to find what you know is there and discover new good stuff. With so many other established, well-respected choices out there, you can’t rely on the tenacity of your readers to work through your overuse of flashing ads and confusing non-layout.

If Groth wants to slam online work for being “amateurish, shallow, frivolous” (as he did as a site welcome, a badly chosen introduction if ever there was one) and think that they’re going to show all those bloggers how things should be done… well, the contrast between those intentions and the actual site should be in the dictionary as the most obvious example of “hubris” I’ve seen in a while. Gary, your baby was out-of-date before it launched. Your contempt for online work shows through in the lack of effort put in here, with the site ignoring common best practices apparently through ignorance that there even were such things.

Other gripes: I object to having to register to comment, because who wants to take the trouble? And why can’t I subscribe to comments in some fashion, so I can keep up with discussion (and build their traffic counts)? Also, I have just discovered that all of the links to specific Journalista and TCJ posts I have put up over the years go just to the front page of the new site, so I’m ticked that I have to spend a couple of hours editing them all to find and correct the particular links.

Another contributor, Ng Suat Tong, is even harsher than Noah.

The site does not so much lack content as a strong editorial hand – something which is just as necessary in an online magazine as it is in a print venture. The lack of this coupled with the poorly conceived website design is disrespectful to any writing which does appear on … A website which treats single line blog entries and articles running into a few thousand words with equal weight and respect is clearly one which doesn’t warrant any serious writer’s attention or approbation.

But whatever we say about them, that they have these criticisms posted at their own site says an awful lot in their favor.

Update: (2/20/10) Yesterday, Gary Groth posted a response. “We want to reassure readers that we are aware that there are technical, navigational, and other problems with the website, and that we are working nearly 24 hours a day to fix them. Rest assured that we’re just getting started.”

5 Responses to “, 2 Months Later”

  1. Bill Randall Says:

    Hey, Johanna. Very nice post. I might point out that the Hooded Utilitarian is now on TCJ’s site, but in its own little bloggy neighborhood. If God took TCJ home today, I’m sure Noah would move HU to a new home.

    That said, if one needs a roadmap to schadenfreud, you’ve shown the exact path by contrasting Groth’s site intro with the execution. Design defines content, after all.

  2. Caro Says:

    Hi Johanna — does have a comments feed link up under RSS at the very bottom of the left sidebar. It’s broken in Chrome but seems to work fine in Firefox.

  3. Johanna Says:

    Caro, I should have been clearer — I was referring to a way to follow only comments on a particular post, not all comments posted to the site. But thank you for pointing that out. That seems to be the way I learn most things about that site: comments to posts criticizing it. :)

  4. Caro Says:

    OH! Oops! Ok, yes, I know exactly what you mean…

    I did manage to get HU comments delivered to my email account with a jury-rig setup involving FeedDemon and the Mozilla email client. Works great, but it isn’t one-click and I have to set it up a thread at a time. It would have been swell if had made it work without my hour of tinkering.

  5. William George Says:

    It might be better if TJC were to switch to a “web magazine” format like rather than follow the personal blog format they have right now.




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