CNN.com launched a new version of its site, and at first glance it doesn’t seem like anything earth shattering.
It looks similar to the old design. Some like it more, some like it less and few really care one way or the other (I have no real preference over the looks of either, as they were both above average but nothing special). The new CNN.com is a much better site, however, and here is why:
CNN got rid of Pipeline, it’s old commercial free video service on the Web. For $19.99 a year users got live feeds and a lot of CNN video clips (all searchable) without commercials. I was a subscriber, and it was a good idea, but wasn’t executed well. There was no Mac version of the application, and the Web player was buggy. It often didn’t work right, and I all but stopped using it out of frustration.
CNN also got rid of it because less than 1 million people subscribed. They just weren’t reaching a mass audience with the service, and CNN is a video company. They didn’t want to pull a Wall Street Journal and limit their impact on the nation.
Now pipeline is gone. In its place is the ability to watch video from CNN.com itself. The video is bigger, looks better and is easier to use than Pipeline. Best of all you don’t need to sign up and pay money to see it in a pleasing format. The occasional commercial is worth it in my opinion for free content.
One of my favorite new features of the site is the video page itself. It breaks the video content down into different tabs like “Top Stories,” “Most Popular,” “By Category,” “Staff Picks,” “Live TV,” etc. But they aren’t separate pages. Using the power of Ajax, CNN.com doesn’t have to reload new pages each time you click on one of those tabs.
It creates this organic, fun, easy and quick way to navigate the video of CNN. It’s much better than the old Pipeline player and that was a standalone application. Making Web sites work as well as, if not better than, desktop applications is the future of the Web.
But the best feature of the video page is the new play list feature. Click to add all the videos you want into a play list and sit back and enjoy as the site plays each video one after another for you. But all this fancy video technology means nothing if it feels separate from the rest of the content on the site.
Thankfully the new site puts it all together very well. Click on the story about the Glasgow airport attack. You are taken to the written story about what happened, but at the top of the page you’ll notice tabs for video and photos. If you click either one it puts the video or photos above a summary of the story for you to view — all without reloading the page. It’s very fast and seamless. Clicking on the read button takes you back to the full text.
If you click on the video, it begins playing the video, but it also displays all the related videos below if you want additional context. If you click on photos it brings up a photo gallery. It’s one of the most seamless experiences I have ever seen in a journalism site, or any Web site for that matter.
My first major complaint is the homepage. It doesn’t really look any better than the old version. In fact, it might be slightly worse.
CNN and other MSM sites have long been guilty of using tiny photos on their home pages (despite papers using huge ones in print.) So, what does CNN decide to do? They took an already small photo for their main story and made it smaller.
It should be much, much bigger. People love photos and a great photo can be so powerful. Hopefully, this trend doesn’t continue.
Technologically speaking, the new CNN site is probably the best journalism site out there. If it wants to go toe-to-toe with The Washington Post, however, it will need to add more unique special features and sections. They have their basic content displayed well, but now they need to add features like OnBeing, The U.S. Congress Votes Database or the Tracking Teen Shopping Habits, among other features.
The difference between the two companies stands at this right now: CNN has found all the Web developers it needs to make a great site, but it hasn’t found the journalist to make new and exciting new media products. CNN is not a technology company. They have to start hiring journalists (not developers) who can make cool features.
How do you feel about CNN’s new Web site? I know some of you aren’t pleased with the new look and design. Share your thoughts.