Turner threw a party the other night and they had good reason to celebrate. The CNN.com Web site you are going to experience on Monday, October 26th is going to make you smile. If you’re a heavy CNN.com user, you’re going love it. If you are a casual user, you are going to love it. Actually, no matter who you are, if you visit the site with the goal of being informed, enlightened and entertained, you’re going to love it.
It’s pretty. But that is not why it’s great.
Anyone who has anything to do with distributing online content has been in “the” meeting where “the” question gets asked: “What should the site look like?” Or, in its more common form, “How do you like the look of our site?” Then there’s my favorite variation, “What do you think of our Web site?” As absurd as these questions are, we all field them constantly. And, to be honest, I was asked all of them several times at the CNN event.
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There’s a saying, “If you ask the wrong question, you’re guaranteed to get the wrong answer.” The question is not, “How do you like the look of our site?” Who cares what I think? The proper question is: “What do our users expect our site to do and, when they visit the site, do we satisfy their expectations?” The question is not, “What do you think of our Web site?” The proper question is: “Has the site met or exceeded its conversion goals or, have you been able to measure and profitably package your audience to your clients?”
The New CNN.com [Time Warner (TWX)] not only does exactly what you expect it to do, it does it brilliantly! And, because they have consolidated the technology and done some very efficient back-room, black-box stuff, you had better believe that it is a tour de force in best practices audience measurement and packaging.
Like I said, it’s pretty, but that’s not why it’s great. What I was most impressed with was the time and energy that went into creating the right mix of graphics, stills, text, audio and video for each story and feature. The New CNN.com takes the concept of user experience to a level that you have not seen on a rich-data site before. In fact, you have rarely seen this kind of emotionally satisfying content-manipulation in a rich-media site. Windows expand and contract in place and, while doing so, cause text to rewrap and graphics to re-form. The site seems to breathe with the user and it reacts as you interact. The layout allows for different things to matter at different time, even while you’re on the same page, and there is a very strong sense of “above and below the scroll.”
The site is clean, simple and empowers you to find what interests you and get back to it easily. It may look like a bunch of boxes, but, “nothing easy is ever simple and nothing simple is ever easy.”
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I have often wondered when a client would be willing to spend the time and money to build a Web site that respected the fact that text is different from graphics which are different from video which is different from stills which have nothing to do with audio — a destination that used the power of interactivity and all of the tools available to Internet marketers to create an experience that was unique to the web and emotionally satisfying to the user.
On Monday, October 26, 2009 you will get to judge for yourself. KC Estenson and his team have set the bar several notches higher than anyone has set it before. Kudos to Turner management for making this kind of investment in the future — every rich-data publisher is going to have to play catch-up!