After months of planning and preparation, the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies today debuted the second iteration of AltWeeklies.com, the association’s story-sharing and content-portal website. The new site incorporates many new types of content and organizes it all in a way that makes it much easier for users to find what they are looking for.
Originally conceived as a way to facilitate the sharing of content between AAN papers, AltWeeklies.com now serves as a one-stop destination for alt-weekly readers and progressive web surfers to check out AAN-member content, as well as a marketing tool for the alternative newspaper industry. It now also generates additional income for the association through ads placed on the site.
All of the familiar story-sharing elements for AAN editors are still in place (with a new, cleaner members-only administrative interface), and many of the changes on the new site will make it more interesting and enjoyable for AAN members and the general public to use.
The first thing regular users will notice is that the site looks radically different. The design, done by Ben Millen of Arctic Sounds in Calgary and implemented by DesertNet, incorporates more white space and, unlike the old AltWeeklies.com, provides for a variety of different presentations of content. The new logo — actually, the 58 new logos — was created by Baltimore City Paper art director Joe MacLeod, whose logo concept was selected in a recent contest in which six other AAN designers submitted entries.
The new site has many other new features. Here are some of the most important:
Featured Stories and Editor’s Picks
The top of the home page and each section page (“News,” “Politics,” “Culture,” etc.) are dominated by a “Featured” section, which displays a title link, short description and art for four automatically-rotating stories selected by AAN editorial staff. The home page “Featured” section will display four new stories each weekday. There is also an “Editor’s Picks” section on the home page, which displays title links for stories selected by AAN staff editors that are most likely to appeal to a general audience.
The new Blogwire aggregates RSS feeds from AAN-member blogs to provide constantly changing, up-to-the minute blog content on the home page, and in each of the site’s seven section pages. The home page will feature a title link and the first several words from every AAN-member blog, while the section pages will focus on blogs that relate to the content featured on those pages. (Many AAN-member blogs could not be displayed at launch due to technical issues. AAN is working with DesertNet to incorporate those remaining blogs into the Blogwire.) In addition to blogs, the site now features podcasts, and will soon incorporate video from member papers as well.
AAN used the redesign as an opportunity to highlight one of the site’s strongest features — its deep well of alt-weekly content, which is now at 33,778 stories and growing. First, we replaced the previous site’s extensive and finicky categorization scheme with a more intuitive and forgiving tagging system. Users who don’t have the double-secret sub-categorization code will now have a much easier time finding stories that match their interests and staff editors will no longer have to pull their hair out deciding in which particular sub-category a story belongs. (Most of the sub-sections from the previous site — e.g., News>Education — have now been converted to tags.) In addition, all of the headlines on the site will be descriptive, which is especially important in the case of stories that are now represented on the site simply via title links.
Other new features:
€ Each story on the site now has a “Preview/Related Links” page, which provides a short summary of each story as well as an index of related stories on the same topic, and stories by the same author and from the same paper. The “Preview/Related Links” page also includes an “email this” feature.
€ A “Most Viewed/Most Emailed” section that displays the most popular content on the site.
€ An “Award Winning Stories” section that features articles which won awards in various journalism contests.
As you will note, the “Award Winning Stories” section is still fairly crude and it includes very few stories at launch. Ultimately we plan to use this section to create an extensive database of national and state press association awards won by AAN member papers, all of which will be linked to each paper’s directory page on both AltWeeklies.com and AAN.org.
Of course, the awards section isn’t the only feature that isn’t perfect yet.. Websites are always in a constant state of development, but perhaps they are the least “perfect” on the day they debut. That is certainly true of AltWeeklies.com 2.0, which users will find especially raw as they drill-down into the site.
So there is still lots of work to do and users will see many changes on the site over the coming weeks. In the meantime, check it out, kick the tires, and let us know what you think. And please point us to bugs or problems on the site. Please send your comments on the new site can to AAN senior editor Jon Whiten at jwhiten (at) aan.org.