After inexplicably hyping it for weeks, the Toronto Star finally unveiled its website redesign last week. I took one look at it and was unimpressed, but figured I'd return for a closer look.
Colour me more impressed.
I'm still not crazy about the visual design, which is filled with rounded corners, blue-grey gradients and just about every other Web 2.0 cliché in the books, but some of the functionality is worth noting.
One is the topic pages. News organizations have to get used to the fact that the Internet provides them with a different way to present information. Background doesn't have to be repeated in every newspaper article to re-educate the reader. Instead, you can simply link to a previous article in a series, or better yet to a summary of the topic so far (kind of like what you'd see on a Wikipedia page). Many topics have short introductions followed by a list of articles on that topic. It's simple, but very useful. The best part is the "hot topics" banner at the top of the page, which allows quick links to the big issues of the day.
Another is the timeline view, which translates as "everything published on this website, in reverse chronological order." If you don't know what you want to read, go here and just read whatever is new. There are other views like the "visual news" view, which presents stories as a series of pictures, but that's only useful if all stories lend themselves to good pictures. Many don't and are illustrated with boring file art instead, lessening the usefulness of this page.