USAToday’s online version of its newspaper — USAToday.com — has been one of my old reliables on the Internet for years. With new websites constantly popping up trying to get popular attention, USAToday.com has been like web comfort food for millions of web users.
Always reliable. Always there. Colorful. Easy to find and digest top mainstream news and pop culture stories. Just the right amount of news to give readers an idea of what’s happening today in the USA.
Just like their newsprint version.
That’s their brand online, too.
Or, it has been, up until USAToday.com’s new “makeover” this weekend.
Change and the Internet seem to go hand-in-hand. Change is inevitable in business. Like yesterday’s Jointblog posting, you have to find ways to “move forward“. Which is what USAToday.com is doing…moving forward to something they call “networked journalism” (a concepted apparently created along with BuzzMachine’s Jeff Jarvis).
According to USAToday, this new design will allow readers to comment on every story on the site, create profiles and blogs, upload photos and interact a lot more.
Here’s their official announcement:
Big changes are coming to USATODAY.com. Starting this weekend, you’ll have more interactive opportunities, see a dramatic new design and find a new way of thinking about the news.
USATODAY.com’s aim is to create a community around the news, one that connects readers to reporting. In its 25 years as “The Nation’s Newspaper,” USA TODAY has always tried to listen to a variety of readers and understand what’s important to them. As the next logical step, we’re building the nation’s newspaper into the nation’s conversation….So, watch the site. Change is coming, and you can be a part of it. (click here to read the rest of the USAToday announcement.)
Why the change? It’s not like USAToday is also changing their newsprint editions. Their previous online versions were designed to look and feel just like their newspaper. Not anymore. Perhaps that the point, considering the overall newspaper industry’s long, slow decline: change to read less like their newspaper and more like online readers.
For years, “The Nation’s Newspaper” has served its brand function with excellence in this noisy, distracted mediaworld. It’s fast, colorful and easy to read, perfect for commuting on the train or the shuttle flight (or even extended reading on the toilet — come on now, admit it). And USAToday.com became one of the top websites in the world, built on the same principles: fast, colorful and easy to read. Something you’d want to check out everyday. Sometimes several times a day.
In the past year, web traffic has gone down, according to Alexa (see graph). Which, ultimately, must explain why USAToday is making a change. However, I still don’t get the reason for their change. It doesn’t make sense. Despite some traffic drop-off, they still are the 525th most-trafficked website in the world!
March 5th update: Looks like the public is giving a collective “thumbs down” as of Day 3 since the changes. USAToday.com has slipped down to a one-week average of 649 most-visited in the world…and down to 856 for yesterday. What will Monday rankings look like when they are updated on Alexa tomorrow?
Now they’ve done a makeover…and, as a consumer and a media trend watcher, I’m less than pleased with the results so far.
Even on my high-speed broadband, this redesign is clunky and slow-loading for all the graphics and code they’ve packed onto their pages…including most crucially their homepage.
Is a makeover really going to bump up that traffic ranking when they’ve just made their site’s usage more difficult?
I’m sure there are bugs and fix issues to work out. Change and moving forward is important and needed. And sometimes it is unavoidable. If you must change, protecting the brand still remains critically important. And ideally, the changed user experience will prove better.
Right now, I have to wonder: Is USAToday.com now trying to be a brand they’re not?