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Our mobile experience needs major help, we want to help you follow conversations and stories better, we need Google to see us better, it should be easier for you to submit commentary and links, we were finally shown a path to a better place and we need to be able to contract folks.
Come Monday, Voice of San Diego as you know it will be much different.
First, some logisitics. We don’t get much traffic on Sundays. But we do get some. Not this week, though.
The site will go dark the whole day. By Monday morning, we’ll be back up in our new digs. If you’re a Morning Report subscriber or a member, we’ll be sending some more information. If you get the Most Popular email list of our most-read stories on Sundays, that’s not coming this weekend either.
We’re putting together several new features. But most importantly, we’re switching to a new content management system. If you don’t know what that means, just know that it’s a big deal. We’re moving to a WordPress-based platform.
Here are six reasons we’re making this change.
1. Our Mobile Experience Needs Major Help
Here’s how our site looks right now on an iPhone.
Pretty simple. This is what it automatically directs iPhone and other mobile users to. It’s fine but it’s not enough anymore. For instance, if you click on an article, it will take you to an article page like this:
But get to the end and it won’t let you comment. It doesn’t offer you the chance to read comments or to share the story via email or social media.
But worse than all of that, it has taken you to a mobile site, a special address. So if you share the article and someone looks at it on their computer, not their phone, it’s going to look something like this:
It’s not all that easy to get back into a normal view from your computer if this happens.
Our new site will have what’s called “responsive design,” which means that it will expand and shrink according to the size of your device. It won’t take you to a new, mobile address.
And it looks great on all of them. Here’s a taste:
2. We Want to Help You Follow Conversations and Stories Better
One thing that’s not so good about our site is that if you comment on an article, and someone responds, you won’t know unless you go looking for it. And yes, sometimes it can be hard to find articles we published even just a few days ago.
This isn’t the way to run a community.
If you comment on a post and the reporter responds, you should know that happened or easily be able to find out. We want our reporters to engage, field questions and be held accountable.
But notifications shouldn’t stop there. We’re very excited to debut a new system that will allow you to follow our storylines. These are the narratives our reporters have dug up or are covering. For instance, say you want to follow the District 4 City Council race. That’s a narrative that we cover.
If you log in to our site, you can choose to follow narratives.
And, on the right side of the top of the site, you’ll see these notifications when a new one has been posted.
Click on it and you’ll get:
If you choose to, you’ll also receive emails if someone’s replied to something you have posted. Not only will this help you, we hope, but we think it will increase engagement on our site significantly.
3. We Need the Google to See Us Better
Search engines aren’t quite as important as they used to be but they’re still the big dogs in the never-ending contest to see who can best help you find the news you want.
We simply have to perform better in search engines and one of the ways to do that is to make sure that the addresses to our stories are much cleaner and include keywords and headlines.
Take a look at the top of your screen. You’ll see an address to this story that’s a URL.
Our new site also takes a number of other steps to help our stories reach more people on search engines and then to help them share the stories more easily.
4. It Should Be Easier for You to Submit Commentary, Links and More
We believe that you have a lot to say but we’ve made it very difficult for you to submit your own commentary, photos and even just links that you think people should see.
So, we have created something new. Inspired by Reddit and social media everywhere, we have created a new forum on the site that will allow you to submit a long comment, a link to a story, a photo or even a video.
You can just peruse it and vote on the submissions as they come in. If you want, you can organize the feed so that it shows you the latest submissions, not just the most popular.
This is new territory for us. And we’ll be releasing, soon, our guidelines for this forum. We’ll moderate it well. In other words, we’re going to work hard to make sure the discussion is productive and we’re not going to be shy about rejecting some submissions that don’t add value.
We’re going to have to rely on you to help us keep an eye on things.
5. We Were Finally Shown a Path to a Better Place
There are lots of little companies in San Diego doing big things.
No, the City Council doesn’t talk about them.
They don’t get their own taxes passed. They don’t want taxpayers to buy them a new stadium or build them a new headquarters. They just create products the world wants to buy.
One of them is Realtidbits, and it has changed Voice of San Diego forever.
Realtidbits is run by this guy, Kelly Abbott.
He’s kind of goofy.
I mean, he’s really goofy.
But he is as smart as they come. His company hosts the commenting platform and social layer for sites across the globe, including ESPN, Cleveland.com and even Lady Gaga.
Check out his technology at work at Cleveland.com where rabid Cleveland Indian Fans spend all day hashing it out on his forums.
Abbott pushed me to think big about what Voice of San Diego could become if we made a difficult switch.
This was my reaction.
You see, there’s nothing more difficult a web publisher can go through than a content management system switch. For instance, you have to import all your old articles, photos, graphics and make sure that old links re-direct to the new location. And that’s just the start.
Abbott wants to get his hands dirty on one of the most difficult problems of the day: How do you protect, improve and expand local journalism while advertising innovations continue to wreak havoc on the old ways?
Everyone from huge corporations to locals like Doug Manchester and little ol’ me are working hard on that problem and it’s not even close to being solved.
Abbott wants to help with the technology part. How can local communities get something cutting edge put together without big money? He took it as a challenge. And he brought in a special partner: Idea Melt.
Idea Melt is a company in Canada working on providing “Facebook for the open web.” In other words, they’re learning how to provide local publishers the same kind of notification and social tools that Facebook uses.
They’re not trying to compete with Facebook, by any means, more just extrapolate some of its amazing innovations.
And that’s what is going to allow us to help you follow stories the way some people have learned to follow people or other sources of information online.
6. We Need to Be Able to Contract and Hire Folks
Right now, and until Monday, when we switch to WordPress, we were largely beholden to one company. If we wanted to really revamp the site or redesign something, we had to rely on them to do it.
And they did most of what we wanted.
But we’d like to be able to turn to others: contractors, developers and maybe someday new employees, who can help us make our site better. We’d like to not shudder, like we always do, when some new innovator has an idea to make our site better but we have no idea how to implement it.
It is not that hard to find people who are familiar with WordPress. And we will be able to access all kinds of talent now.
Voice of San Diego owes a great deal of thanks to Abbott and the guys at Idea Melt. We were on a train that was OK. But it’s time to switch tracks to a route with a much brighter future, and one that we can manipulate a lot easier.
Thanks for your patience as we go through the switch. The benefits of it will outweigh the difficulties, I promise. And by no means will we be done Monday.
That’s just when we begin on a new path.
I’m Scott Lewis, the CEO of Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you’d like at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it’s a blast!):
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