GrokSurf's San Diego

Local observations on water, environment, technology, law & politics

San Diego news websites revamped, but with a few glitches

Posted by George J Janczyn on December 7, 2009

As part of their recent website redesigns, the San Diego Union-Tribune and the Voice of San Diego implemented a new system for naming URLs for their stories. My experience is that U-T’s site has problems redirecting users trying to access legacy URLs. The Voice also has a minor issue with that, as well as difficulty with its calendar.

Legacy URLs are the original URLs for older stories that appeared on the previous website. Without a redirect from the legacy link to the new URL, the result is a “404 Page Not Found” error message.

“Page Not Found” is bad for the user and bad for a website. The frustrated user may not be inclined to do extra digging to find the article; instead, (s)he may abandon the search and go elsewhere.

I checked some of my old blog posts that cited articles in the Union-Tribune, and many of them led to a 404 error. When I reported the problem to the U-T, they told me I should change the “www” to “legacy” on the bad links.

The U-T said they are working to get redirects operational. I think those links shouldn’t have broken in the first place. Not ensuring functional automatic redirects before implementing a new website suggests haste in getting the new product out. As of today, I’m still getting those 404 errors.

The Voice of San Diego for the most part seems to have redirection working though I did encounter a dead link the other day. They indicated to me they are still working on the issue. For a while their calendar wasn’t working. Although it’s up now, it contains very little information and calendar navigation is messy and difficult to use. They’re not alone in that though–I think event calendars just inherently defy good design and perhaps website owners don’t think they’re worth the trouble. One thing is sure–calendar widgets on the cheap aren’t going to get you very much.

The U-T also has problems with their search function. For a few days after the new site rolled out, my search for “Sanders budget” turned up no hits at all for 2009 and almost all searches failed to sort results by date correctly. The date sorting problem seems to be fixed now, but the search utility still does a poor job of locating documents. Today, the “Sanders budget” search on U-T’s site listed only 6 documents for all of 2009. The same search on Google gets 91 documents–for the last month alone (site-specific searching is available on Google as an advanced option). It makes me reluctant to use U-T’s search at all.

The Voice of San Diego redesign is still morphing. Sunday morning’s home page devoted a huge chunk of space at the top to a marquee slideshow, a technique I consider superfluous. By afternoon the slideshow was near the bottom of the page, visible only after scrolling down.

Sunday morning version

Sunday afternoon version

 

The Union-Tribune allocates a generous amount of screentop real estate to advertising, some animated, also an unwelcome distraction in the way it competes with the news.

 

A major change in Voice of San Diego’s site was to enable comments on all individual articles, but unlike the U-T, anonymous comments are not permitted. While the U-T requires commenters to sign in through Disqus, Facebook, Twitter, or OpenID, it’s still easy to maintain anonymity. On Voice of San Diego you can use a pseudonym for your comment display name but your profile page will show your real name. The reaction I’ve seen to the policy against anonymous comments has been supportive because having to reveal one’s identity encourages responsible discourse.

Overall I’d say the changes to both websites represent an incremental improvement in appearance and functionality but there’s still lots of room for improvement. As for their journalism and editorial direction, I guess my opinion leaks out between the lines on some of my other blog posts from time to time!

 

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