Mashable is amongst the most popular websites on the internet for news, information and resources related to digital media. Founded in 2005, the site reportedly receives approx. 20 million unique visitors every month and is considered amongst the most trusted source for happenings on the web, social media and technology front. The site recently went in for a redesign. The most drastic change was brought about to the homepage, where the entire news feed appears.
On the surface, the site looks classier and modern than before. With a cleaner and wider design, minus the typical ads column, focus on the content seems enhanced. Mentioned below are some of the key pluses:
1. More visual content - With images for every story, that too larger in size, the page looks more attractive and contemporary.
2. Infinite scroll - Pagination has been replaced with an infinite scroll which is a good idea for such a feed-based site as pagination breaks the flow and slows down the browsing.
3. Responsive - A nice feature with specific focus on mobile and tablets. The 3-column design automatically jumps to a 2 and 1 column layout as the window size goes smaller.
With such elements and characteristics, the redesign seems to be a step in the right direction. But as you spend some time using the site, certain issues with the new design - particularly the interactivity - come to the fore. I’m putting across few points that have struck me as problematic:
1. Did I miss something? - With the full-width utilization and a 3-column layout, the page now throws much more content at the users. Since the columns aren’t aligned horizontally and have content in varying sizes, it becomes difficult to scan through them together. The problem is further accentuated with an infinite scroll, and one consistently feels ‘missing out’ on certain content on the page while scrolling down. For people looking out for interesting stuff on the page (irrespective of how it’s been categorized here), this doesn’t work at all. The pinterest-styled layout works for visual content, but not so well for mixed-media (image/text) content here.
2. What’s important? - As per the rational provided by the Mashable team themselves: the column on the left presents the new stories, the middle column shows stories that progress to being popular, and the third column shows content with the most social engagement. Seems like a sound logic at first. But what this also implies is that the column on the right - which is visually most attractive - changes the least often as the most popular stories are few. And the column on the left - which presents the stories in the visually least important fashion - is updated most frequently. For people (like me) who are looking for interesting and fresh content, and come back to the site multiple times a day, this doesn’t work as the focus isn’t on what’s new.
3. Ads everywhere - Rather than a dedicated column for ads, here the ads appear spread out within the 3 columns. This makes sense from a push-advertising perspective, but not from that of an end-user as these are irritating to see everywhere. They also break the flow of browsing and make the user jump between columns, further adding to the problem 1 here.
4. Content indicators removed - In the earlier design, the story titles included certain tags to help identify the content in the story. These have been removed now, though it’d been nice if they could have been retained in some form.
Such interactive issues makes one see through the initial sheen of the redesign and wonder that if it does not help the users go through content in a more efficient and engaging manner, then how truly successful can it be considered. The current design is definitely visually more attractive and driven by latest trends in technology, graphics and marketing; but a context-driven user-centred perspective seems missing here in this exercise.
Inspite of definite improvements, the design needs more thought and consideration from the aspects of user’s informational needs and reading patterns. An eye-tracking exercise could be extremely helpful here to better understand how and when are the users moving through the story columns. It is unlikely that the new design will change anytime soon since it is a humongous effort for a site like Mashable, but here’s hoping for certain iterative improvements in the time to come.