Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Sunday, December 5, 2004

The Death Of The Home Page: News Aggregators And The Control Of Content

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News Aggregators, also known as Newsreaders or RSS Readers are becoming extremely popular with news junkies for three main reasons - they perform a really useful task, they're typically very easy to use and in most cases, are free.

Photo credit: Lynne Lancaster

So, what's the catch? Well, none as far as the user is concerned. But if you're a website user interface designer, or an information architect, you may have reason to worry about your long-term professional future.

In a thought-provoking article in Digital Web Magazine entitled "Home Alone? How Content Aggregators Change Navigation and Control of Content", Joshua Porter discusses how aggregators are by-passing the sacred cow of web designers - the Home Page.

"Aggregation hinges on gathering content from other domains. This dramatically affects the search for content. Users no longer need to start their search in the domain where the content lies. In fact, they almost never do.

With all these aggregators providing new places to start our searches for content, what will become of the home page? The hallowed ground of the home page is the most contested space in the history of the Web, and millions of valuable hours have been spent discussing its design and refining its content.

Whether or not it is important to users, the home page holds such a place in the minds of designers that it usually gets the top spot in the hierarchy of information. The reason for doing this is not entirely clear. It may be because home pages are the first pages to be indexed by search engines. Or perhaps everybody knows that the home page is (or should be) an index of what can be found on the site, so it becomes as good a place as any to start designing.

Whatever the reason, it is the state of the art that home pages get highest priority."

News aggregators provide, in effect, a new, neutral home page for their users. It is totally user-centric, simply because the content which feeds the aggregator's user interface has been personally selected by the user.

This represents a profound shift in the balance of power between information providers/designers and users/consumers. As a user/consumer, all I want is the information content itself. I don't want to be 'navigated' around your website as you see appropriate. If there's any further exploration to be done on your site, I'll do it myself (with the help of my trusty search and aggregation tools), thank you.

Users design their own interface to their world of information. They are no longer dependent on a site's proprietary information architecture (IA) to find what they're interested in. The aggregator takes them directly to where they want to be, which is, typically, a single content item, such as a fresh article.

In fact, the user doesn't even need to visit the site that houses that new article to decide whether they want to read it or not, as the aggregator will, at a minimum, provide them with the title, time/date, and first few lines from within the aggregator's user interface.

However, on the basis that most aggregator users will be sufficiently compelled to read the full text of an article they've been alerted to that interests them, the page they will initially land on will be the one that contains that specific item.

If you're an online publisher with a website or blogsite, where should you be investing your resources? On a beautifully designed home page, packed to the seams with as many revenue generating advertising and sponsorship messages as you can fit there? Or should you be thinking very carefully about the design of each and every single article page?

"Content-rich pages, not navigation pages, are the focus of aggregators. Because of this, any useful context created by a user starting on a home page and moving through the navigation pages is nonexistent. This reinforces the basic idea that each Web page has a unique URI for a reason: It contains a unique set of content declared by its title, described by its headers, and discussed in its paragraphs. Because our IA may not be used, we will have to put more trust in the aggregators (both human and machine) to create the supporting IA. In a sense, our pages will live on their own."

In effect, these pages become a home page and if you want to entice visitors to explore more of your site, it is from here that you must provide an architecture or design that helps them to do that. Having highly relevant, contextual ads on the specific page also makes sense.

How might that be achieved?

  • Bearing in mind that your visitor is interested in that specific article or news item, it would be helpful to provide, at the end of the article, a list with links to other related articles on your site.
  • Highlighting particular key words within the text of the article itself and linking them to previous articles or definitions you've written would benefit both you and the visitor. Once again, contextual ads on these pages can be appropriate.

So, does the traditional home page have a future in this rapidly developing user-centric, aggregator-based navigation model?

Maybe this is where one of the most useful (for visitors) but most often neglected or hidden (by the site's owner/designer) pages could be housed - the site map.

Any thoughts?

Reference: Digital Web Magazine [ Read more ]
Readers' Comments    
2005-09-12 17:56:33



Just thought I'd let you know your stylesheet is broken ... title of article is not displaying in Firefox ...

2005-01-28 14:02:31


Good article, but partial.

All that is true for some of the information-driven websites, the kind that contains just information and news...

These are useful sites but very ephemeral, transient, volatile.

Most of the industrial or commercial websites though offers something more solid and constant.

For these we will need also in the next future solid homepages, rich on customization and services.

Solid dynamic homepages will survive for a long time on, I think.

2004-12-07 22:17:43

Sholto Ramsay

I always tell clients to set their browser home page to a google search page which they want to feature in (say hotels in edinburgh) and think of that as the homepage that the potential customers see as the homepage to their search. I would love to get rid of the homepage fetishism and indeed you point to a world where we think in information flows across multiple domains.

2004-12-06 12:16:55

Tom Parish

Robin, this is brilliant insight. I recently set up a site for a major software company that was essentially an RSS server for articles. We never even SPOKE about the design of the home page which is typically a laborious aspect of the project. I had not really given this much thought until I read your article and the one you referenced. Hmmm, Website design in 2005 will be different, at least for some sites. Yes the site map is often an afterthought and typically only there for search engine purposes (which typically and outdated requirement since most spiders now can walk most websites). Much to ponder here.

Thanks for the insights and recommendations.

posted by on Sunday, December 5 2004, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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