At 1 a.m. last Friday, TheAtlantic.com rolled out a much-anticipated new redesign. By 4 p.m. Monday, the redesign had already undergone a redesign.
Web site redesigns always provoke a bit of howling from loyal visitors who are used to the old layout (See: every time Facebook has ever changed its homepage). But the pushback against The Atlantic’s redesign was particularly furious—in part because it was driven by the magazine’s own bloggers.
The new homepage emphasizes topic-centric “channels” such as Politics, Culture, and Science & Technology splashed across the top of the page. Each individual blog post written by TheAtlantic.com’s marquee names—Andrew Sullivan, Megan McArdle, Ta-Nehesi Coates, Marc Ambinder, James Fallows, Jeffrey Goldberg, and others—is now cross-posted to the appropriate “channel.”
The old homepage
The new homepage
According to TheAtlantic.com editorial director Bob Cohn, the idea was to make it easier for readers to find content by topic of interest, to create some serendipity and make it easier for new users unfamiliar with The Atlantic’s all-star roster of bloggers to bump into their work, and to get dedicated followers of those bloggers to branch out at the same time. “We had the sense we were creating a lot of good content that users weren’t finding,” said Cohn.
As Ezra Klein and others noted, this new orientation serves to emphasize Atlantic content in general rather than any individual Atlantic blogger. But the real problem wasn’t the new channels or even the cross-posting. It was that the bloggers’ individual pages had changed—and not for the better.
No longer could readers scroll through any given blogger’s page and read his or her latest posts in full. Instead, those pages had been transformed into little more than lists of recent headlines; readers had to click on each individual headline in order to read the entry. It seemed as if the individual bloggers had been subsumed by the channels. As one commenter put it:
I like what [Ta-Nehisi Coates] does enough that I’ll probably give this a shot. But I’m disgusted with The Atlantic for taking away his blog, and leaving him with nothing more than what you get when - for example - you click the name of a journalist on a newspaper’s website. It’s just a list of his recent offerings, with single-sentence links. That’s not a blog. It’s an archive search function. It’s online journalism with tagging.
This made some of those marquee personalities less than happy, and they weren’t shy about saying so. On his Daily Dish blog, Sullivan wrote that the redesign of the bloggers’ homepages was a fundamentally ignorant move:
Treating blogs as a series of headlines, designed to maximize pageviews, is a deep misunderstanding of blogs, their reader communities and their integrity. I hope they get restored to their previous coherence, and these amorphous “channels” gain some editorial identity. I hope writers like Fallows and Goldberg aren’t treated as random fodder - anchors! - for “channels”. I believe in the Atlantic as a place for writing. The redesign seems to me to ooze casual indifference to that and to the respect that individual writers deserve.
Fallows was similarly perturbed:
It is no secret within our organization that I think the new design creates problems for the magazine’s “personal” sites, like the one I have been running here these past few years. In particular, the new layout scheme — in which you see only a few-line intro to each post but no pictures, block quotes, or other amplifying material — unavoidably changes the sensibility and tone of personal blogs. It drains them of variety and individuality, not to mention making them much less convenient to read.
The uproar took The Atlantic’s Web team by surprise, and they soon realized they had made a mistake in changing the format of the bloggers’ homepages. According to Cohn, it wasn’t a difficult decision to change things back. “This was purely a miscalculation about what would be the smoothest way for people to navigate the site,” he said. “To see it live is just different than to see it flat. And when it went live, with the help of the community, we realized this was an inferior way to navigate our bloggers.”