Herald-Mail constantly working to increase functionality of online site

January 22, 2011|By LIZ THOMPSON |
  • Thompson

It's a work in progress, but has launched on a new platform. We are tweaking the online site everyday and many people have said they like what they see.

As projects of this size go, it has been remarkably smooth, but certainly not seamless.

Two problems rose very quickly to the top of the "what's not working" for some online readers — the way we display obituaries on the site and the user commenting functions.

I had no idea so many companies use our obituaries. I've heard from people who work for social services agencies, investment companies and dentist offices. At many businesses and organizations around our community, it is part of someone's job to scan our obituaries online and print out obituaries of clients and customers.

On our former site, we posted each obituary separately, but also had a listing called "Today's Obituaries." If you selected that, you got one page with every obituary from that day's newspaper. People who called me said they would scan that complete listing to learn which individual obituaries they needed to print.

That functionality doesn't exist on the new site, so people have to click on each individual obituary link to scan the information.  

There's not an easy fix for this. We're looking at it, but I'm not sure we'll find a solution that doesn't still involve multiple web pages that need to be viewed.

One easy solution for those agencies and businesses that want to continue the practice is to buy a copy of the newspaper each day and cut out the obituaries from there.

Yes, I am interested in selling more newspapers and, no, we didn't change it online on purpose.

On our previous website, we had a pretty robust online community of users who commented on stories and argued with each other about our poll questions.

They have also let us know they miss the old site.

Our old platform was developed in-house and was hosted on our own servers, so anytime our web updaters made a change to the site or someone hit the "submit" button to post a comment, it appeared almost instantly.

The site platform we use now is owned by the Tribune Company. I'm not sure where their servers are, but the Tribune people I interact with are in Chicago.

When we make a change to the site now or someone submits a comment, the Tribune servers have to first receive that information, process it to the correct site and then post it. This process, depending on how busy the servers are, can take a few minutes or several hours.

The Tribune is working to speed up the process, because all the organizations using their platform are news agencies. We all want to get information up as quickly as possible, whether it comes from a reporter or someone posting a comment.

As we work through these issues, we're also experimenting with the platform to find out how we can use it most effectively to deliver news in words, videos, photos, graphics and audio.

I really like the way we can package stories on the site now. When you click on a story, you'll often see links to other related stories, photos and videos. It makes giving readers lots of information about important stories easier.

Over the next several weeks, online users will continue to see changes and tweaks. We're moving things around a little bit and test-driving some features that were not available to us on our previous platform.

In other digital news, we're planning live streaming coverage of some local events and we're talking about developing some regular video programming. To that end, we're interested in learning what type of programming you would watch.

Is it politics? On Nov. 2, 2010, more than 5,000 people watched our live election coverage and commentary.

Would you rather see a weekly program about activities and events? What about a show featuring people doing good things in the community?

Send me an e-mail and let me know what you think would make an interesting weekly program.

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