Crowding the page

by Jason Preston on May 22, 2008

Even though I do a good amount it myself in professional web design, I constantly wonder about the wisdom of crowding the page with too much junk.

Study after study seems to confirm that the more crap you shove on the front page and above the fold, the more clicks you get. Which seems like a pretty good idea to build a site that’s incredibly top-heavy and all squished together.

The problem for me is that it’s ugly, and it makes it really hard for me to digest what I’m looking at. One of the things I like the most about a physical newspaper is how easy it is for me to cherry-pick my reading. I can skim a headline, read half of a paragraph, and move on, almost in the same eye movement.

I can also look at the local news page, and in about 15 seconds I have a good idea of what’s important in that space. I can look at the front page of a paper and have a pretty good idea of what’s important today.

I cannot do either of those things with any news web site, not even the New York Times. And to me, at least, that’s a real value.

It’s a problem because the way ad statistics are computed now, newspapers are better off serving an uglier, less user-friendly, frustrating web site than they are serving a clean, easy on the eye interface.

I think that developing a better way to display news in a browser will go hand in hand with bringing the concept of subscription back to the forefront of the newspaper business. When a bigger portion of revenue comes from the people who are actually the end-users of your product, you have a lot more incentive (and finally, the freedom) to make your product well worth using.

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