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The illusions of Web design

The illusions of Web design
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First Published: Fri, Jun 17 2011. 01 15 AM IST
Updated: Sat, Jul 02 2011. 05 09 PM IST
Content publishers make much of the design of their websites. Most major newspaper, blog and other publishers constantly agonize over how to improve their Web design. And there are several metrics to measure this improvement: how many visitors do they get at all, how many come back frequently, how many look at ads, how many click on ads, how many leave comments, how many share links through email or social networks and so on.
And often when popular sites unveil design changes, the announcement is usually followed by a whirlwind of analysis, criticism and sometimes even online activism. In 2010, the BBC unveiled a substantial redesign of its popular website. Expecting the inevitable backlash, the website tried to soften the blow by sending out plenty of feelers and sneak previews. It didn’t help much. Critics lashed out. But the new design stayed.
Both consumers and producers take the design of their sites very seriously indeed.
But profound changes may be afoot in the way people catalogue and consume content that may require a rethink of the established norms of design and development.
While RSS feeds and feed readers have been popular for perhaps a decade, consumers are now using even more sophisticated tools to curate content. Tools such as Instapaper and Readability combine a bookmarking service with a reauthoring function that strips Web pages of all unnecessary content and advertisements. This “clean copy” can then be read on devices such as mobile phones, tablets and e-readers. Other services such as Flipboard or Zite for the iPad convert RSS feeds into rich, interactive magazine-like layouts. Apple recently announced a new multiplatform reading list function that will work like Instapaper.
Content consumers are slowly beginning to get farther and farther away from the physical source of news. While attractive Web design may draw them once to your site, subsequently readers are going to draw content through these tools.
This can have profound implications for publishers. First of all, this negates the effect of most content-adjacent advertising. There is a double-edge sword here: repeat visitors—one of the holy grails of Web publishing— are now increasingly likely to pull content automatically through tools.
But everything boils down to this: how do publishers make money? Do you fence in your content? Or let it fly?
One thing is certain. You are better agonizing over content than design.
Does Web design matter? Tell us at views@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Jun 17 2011. 01 15 AM IST