You’ve got Mail, dot net

Birmingham Mail - Birmingham news, Birmingham City, Aston Villa, jobs

Interesting interview on with Steve Dyson, editor of the Birmingham Mail, where he makes some points about the future of local journalism – more of that later I’m sure – but the main thrust for us now is the launch of a new Mail website So, set AdBlock to stun, and let’s go and have a look:

I think it’s universally accepted that the icbirmingham (and other ic.. sites) are pretty poor, for navigation and layout at least, even if the content is there – so it’s nice to see a fresh screen layout with obvious catergories and – which comes as a shock – pictures!

Yes, there are quite large banner ads, but so far I’ve not seen any that pop-up over the text – that’s admirable restraint, far more than The Guardian, for example, shows. Good going.

One problem that illustrates the peculiarity and the difference about content online is the journalists/subs use of “today”, “tomorrow” etc. in headlines – we don’t have the context online that we have with the physical copies “is that today’s Mail?”. Use of airy times online, where content can stay on a page for longer, means that “FOUR unsigned Midland bands are battling it out in Birmingham tonight” can’t work.

There are RSS feeds, loads of them, in sensible catergories – they’re not publishing full content tho’, which is dissapointing. It needs to be a very catchy headline/summary to pull me to the main site, but we can understand how it can be difficult for a print-based business to think of monetarising feeds from the off. Columnists’ feeds in full would be a nice easy way to break them in gently – an ad at the bottom of feed content isn’t obtrusive, and can be really targeted.

Not even publishing full content on the site is a little more of a mistake: “For more on this story, read today’s Birmingham Mail.” is a dreadful phrase that appears at the bottom of some of the news items. This is quite a big omission, particualrly as the web becomes this huge searchable archive. People hitting old pages need to see the full text – imagine the google searches that will bring you to the Mail site, but if you find precious little content you’re not going to click – bye bye long tail ad revenue. A compromise would perhaps be to flesh out with the full story the next day?

There’s use of tags, which is good, and good tag and related tags pages as a way of browsing. I’m not sure everyone’s quite got it yet, a page about a sausage tasting is tagged “sausage tasting” – is this going to be a regular one? (As an aside the tag page for sausague tasting doesn’t have any stories on it – a technical issue to solve I think.).

The blogs are quite hidden – not in the main navigation, only at the bottom. So far there’s no commenting on stories, but there are forums.

One hell of an improvement overall, go have a look and tell us what you think.

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