With apologies to Chris Anderson: the web is not dead. In fact the browser may be the single most powerful app on your smart phone, not to mention every other screen you own. And it’s still far and away the best way to acquire news audiences.
The New York Times begins publishing daily on the World Wide Web today, offering readers around the world immediate access to most of the daily newspaper’s contents.
The New York Times on the Web, as the electronic publication is known, contains most of the news and feature articles from the current day’s printed newspaper, classified advertising, reporting that does not appear in the newspaper, and interactive features including the newspaper’s crossword puzzle.
Clay [Shirky’s] prediction assumes that news consumption will continue its shift from traditional media to the traditional desktop web, where the hyperlink rules and news consumers bounce from hyperlinked page to hyperlinked page and from site to site to site. I think that assumption is wrong. In 2011, we’ll see open acknowledgement of what has long been understood about the traditional desktop web as a platform for consuming news content — it sucks.
The desktop web has been a revolutionary platform in terms of access to information, the democratization of publishing, and the socialization of media. But as a medium for consuming news content, from a user interface and user experience perspective, it’s problematic at best and downright awful at worst. News consumption has begun a major shift from the traditional desktop web to apps for touch tablets for a simple reason — the user experience and user interface are so much better, as the recent RJI survey of iPad users reflects. Consumers are choosing tablet apps over the traditional desktop web based on the quality of the user experience and the overall content “package.”
Across the web, slideshows have become a shortcut to better traffic numbers; a shortcut that sites are now going out of their way to take. And increasingly they’re published because of the medium, not the message. The Huffington Post’s eleven-page presentation, “Simona Halep Breast Reduction Surgery PHOTOS: Tennis Star Back in Action” is only Exhibit A. New York and its new entertainment site, Vulture.com, have also committed to the slideshow, running several every week.
As page views became a priority, web editors had to decide when slideshows morph from fun novelty to craven solicitation. When I visit sites like The Huffington Post, I start to think the line has been irretrievably crossed. A slideshow’s desperation is evident in its headline. “Photos” of something “spectacular,” “magnificent,” and “amazing.” A “Top 10” list that must be seen to be believed! The hyperbole is hung out there on a string, baiting us to click.
But maybe all this pandering is worth it. Every site is trying to figure out a sustainable business model, and even the most asinine galleries help to subsidize the serious, thoughtful, and wordy articles that don’t earn as much traffic. Perhaps we should stop thinking of slideshows as the scourge of online journalism. Instead, we should consider them its savior.