SFGate: It’s 2005 all over again

When prognosticators ask which major newspaper is most likely to be the first to fold its print edition and go all-digital, the San Francisco Chronicle is often named first. It’s a weak paper owned by a still potent media conglomerate in a big market with a technologically sophisticated audience. Its journalism can be routine and, some days, scarce.

Which makes the unveiling of the renovated SFGate, the local portal published by the newspaper, all the more significant. And terribly disappointing.

The new page is not launched yet, so there’s just an annotated screen grab.

SFGate renovation

The page looks cleaner, largely by virtue of eliminating the wayback-machined left rail navigation (1999). Aside from that. . .frankly, I have a hard time finding much to say about it either way.

(Other than the fact that the redesign team appears to have utterly caved to the impulse to say “yes” to everybody who wanted something on the home page. It appears to be at least as long as the span from your fingertips to your elbow, maybe your armpit. Note to web editors: Editing means making tough decisions on your reader’s behalf. Which is to say, the new home page is largely unedited.)

The most significant omission, from where I sit, is the lack of social media features. Yes, there are blogs (2003). Story comments (2004). A “real time tracker” of favorite stories, most e-mailed, etc. (2005).

But as the success of USAToday.com, MSNBC.com, CNN.com have shown, people for worse or better want to get their hands dirty with news these days–rating and recommending content, forming groups of fellow travelers, uploading their own reports, adding stuff to Google maps, etc.

I’m the first to say that a lot of these features (and many particular implementations) are faddish garbage. But the move toward participatory media consumption generally is an irresistible and accelerating force. The fact that a digital redesign of a site run by a weak newspaper in a tech-savvy market appears blind this fundamental fact of new media is discouraging. This was a big opportunity for a major site to show it can get the two-way thing right–and use it to its economic advantage.

Now, maybe there’s more to come. Maybe when the site itself is launched the users will be invited to play.

Maybe there’s a whole suite of social media tools a-bornin’ on a whiteboard someplace.

Maybe Hearst, owner of SFGate and the Chron, will understand that a strategic investment in two-way user relations is a good idea now.

Or–who knows? Maybe they’ll just fold the newspaper.

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4 Comments on “SFGate: It’s 2005 all over again”

  1. joypog Says:

    any thoughts on the latest redesign? Man, I was not fond of the redesign reviewed here, but this latest change is brutal freaking mess….especially for regular readers that were familiar with the central long column of news stories.


  2. […] To be plain, there’s nothing bad about the renovated sfgate homepage. It’s just the newspaper of the leading technology community in the nation catching up to, oh, mid-2007. (In its previous re-do, last year, sfgate.com  had essentially updated to 2005, in my estimation.) […]


  3. Glad I found this site.


  4. Excellent post! We will be linking to this great article
    on our website. Keep up the great writing.


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