Right to reply: the new-look homepage

Posted by Laura

Among a list of topics most likely to get people in Britain talking, the top contenders are almost certainly a) change and b) the weather. In fact, a combination of the two – a change in the weather – can set us up with conversation-starters for many a distracted hour. It was no surprise then, that when we launched our new homepage on September 14, it prompted a flood of feedback. Added to this the fact that we also changed the way the weather was presented on the page, and it made for a very full mailbag indeed.

As homepage editors, we are always trying to elicit comments from you, our users. It helps us identify persistent complaints and problems and allows us to get to know what pleases and interests you – and what doesn’t.

Comments about our new-look page spanned a broad spectrum that ranged from capital-letter-emphasised rage, through blatant disbelief and lamentation of the old design’s demise, to a slightly aggrieved yet broadly accepting middle-ground, ending at the positive extreme with modest congratulatory praise.

“WHERE IS MY NORMAL HOMEPAGE?” inquired one irate user. “Give me back the old page,” pleaded another, and “what have you done to this page?” was a common example of the reactions we got to the September 14 changeover.

Users happy with the new look were unsurprisingly less vociferous. Although comments such as the simple “I like it, I like it” and “smashing page, easy to navigate, love the layout, top notch” did go some way to raising a few spirits in the wake of a tide of uncertain and wary criticisms, we had prepared ourselves for a backlash.

Whether positive or negative, all feedback is invited and welcomed. But it is a commonly-held theory that by their very nature, those who are unhappy with something, particularly change, are more likely to make their views known. Hence the reason we were expecting the changes to raise eyebrows, instigate the pressing of many caps lock keys, and prompt a virtual chorus of “why change it?”

Others among you who were unhappy with the layout commented on the weather section, which many said kept resetting itself to show London weather. It is designed so users can have more than one location displayed at a time and add or remove destinations as they wish. For example, my settings, which show the three-day forecast for London and Hull, automatically load every time I visit the MSN homepage, so I can see what I’m missing out on (I’d rather be back in northern climes today – Hull’s sunny 15C beats London’s drizzly 13C!). We wanted this to be a useful tool for us weather-obsessed Brits. Maybe many of you are now warming to it – either way, let us know.

There was another common feeling that the UK page was in some way copying the US site – www.msn.com – without tailoring it for the home audience. One user said our approach was “sycophantic”, simply pandering to American pressure. However, we believe your MSN homepage is still as geared towards all things UK as much as it ever was. Our content focuses on the very latest, of-the-day news stories, and the new slideshow feature at the top of the page allows us to present to you what we believe are our most timely articles of the day. We made changes to the UK layout that differ from the US because we wanted to give it our own identity, one that was more suited to users in Britain.

The condensing of our navigation bar led to confusion among some, particularly crossword fans. If you cannot find the link you are looking for, see the MSN Directory in the left-hand side of the navigation bar. This is a comprehensive list of all our products and services. See the images attached below for details.

A final criticism that was shared by some among you was that the page had too much white space and fewer links. We wanted the new look to be cleaner than its former incarnation and offer you a better experience. In the same manner in which some of the broadsheets downsizing attracted criticism for a perceived “diluting” of what was previously on offer, the new page was charged with giving you less, not more. One of the ideas behind our redesign is to offer better access to our range of content by making it clearer and easy to navigate with better access to MSN’s key channels. In fact, the depth of our content has never been greater and we hope that our as your familiarity with the revamped homepage grows, you will discover how many new features the site has.

Winston Churchill famously said: “There is nothing wrong with change, if it is in the right direction”. And just as the reader wariness of the new in the cases of the Independent, Times and Guardian dissipated and was superseded by their respective successes, we hope those of you who objected initially to our redesign will discover our aim is to guide you in the direction of more features and news within our site, rather than offer you less.

What do you think of the new homepage now? Please let us know your thoughts.

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