Category Archives: Web design

Journal de Montréal launches website, nobody notices

I came across it in a search – an article the Journal de Montréal wrote that was entirely based off an article from La Presse. I was surprised to find a new website for the Journal, one that looks just about identical to the one for the Journal de Québec and similar to the one for 24H, not to mention the Toronto Sun and the rest of Sun Media.

The fact that the Journal is producing little journalism of note (what with their journalists being locked out and all) is probably a big reason. The fact that the website is so forgettable is another (I’m not even going to bother with a review), as is public support for Rue Frontenac, the website setup by those locked-out workers.

Nevertheless, this is significant. The Journal had been prevented from launching a proper website because of clauses in its labour contract that gave the union some say in it. Employees started Rue Frontenac in part to show that they’re not opposed to having an online presence and a website – they just want one unique to the Journal and not some cookie-cutter site that gets lost in the giant Canoe web.

So much for that.

The Journal also setup a Twitter account (@LeJournaldeMtl), which apparently quickly followed and then unfollowed a bunch of people, resulting in it getting suspended for spammy-like activity.

CFQR adds to website screengrab

Only eight months after they rebranded themselves from “Q92” to “The Q”, CFQR has opened up its website to more interesting content.

New features include:

There’s also a schedule, which has scrubbed the name of Tammy Moyer from her late-morning show. She hasn’t been fired, says Program Director Brian DePoe. Rather, she’s “taken a leave from the Q to deal with some personal life issues.”

As they await more “clarity” on the situation, the show is being hosted temporarily by Chris Reiser.

Polish woman wants to save local Canadian TV

Continuing my research into the origin of stock photos, I should point out that CTV’s Local TV Matters site makes generous use of microstock.

This woman with a bullhorn, which used to adorn its splash page, is from a stock photographer based in Poland.

And that giant “on air” sign is from a 3D animator. It even comes with an off-air version, or one that says “vacancy”. There’s no French version, though, which forced CTV to kind of awkwardly photoshop their own.

Save local TV!

Star redesign: I don’t hate it

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.

Toronto Star's

Toronto Star's

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.

Text in these boxes don't have enough ...

Text in these boxes don't have enough ...

More from teehan+lax, Torontoist and the Star itself.

Dear “Friends of Louise Harel”

Friends of Louise Harel

Friends of Louise Harel

Good for you with the website rallying anglos to the defence of Louise Harel. Providing a new voice in the election campaign is always welcome. And you’re getting the francophone media to use anglo headlines, which is always a plus.

Here’s the thing: Maybe people would believe you more about the surge of Montrealers from ethnic communities who have come out in support of her if the pictures on your website weren’t stock photos from a U.K.-based stock photo service.

These aren’t Montrealers, nor are they friends of Louise Harel, so why are there pictures of them on your website? Does Harel not have enough real friends that you’ve had to import pictures of fake ones?

UPDATE (Oct. 5): And I see you’re also plagiarizing blog posts. (Original, FOLH version)

Union Montreal’s new website

Union Montreal's "English" website

Union Montreal's "English" website

I got an email Friday morning, just as the municipal election campaign officially began, informing me that Union Montreal has redesigned its website.

So, of course, I checked it out with my usual critical eye. I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. The design was clean and simple, the page looked fine even with the style sheet turned off. They’ve got the usual Facebook and Twitter and YouTube and Flickr accounts. They’re even releasing their content under a Creative Commons license.

Great, I thought. So where’s the English version?

After a bit of searching, I could find some pages that had a link at the bottom that said “English”. That would bring me to an English version of those pages. But then I’d click somewhere and it would bring me back to the French website. Or it would be the English page and all the navigational text would be in French.

I asked the guy who emailed me, Marc Snyder, what’s up with all that. He said they’re working on it:

We’re progressing in the right direction: I think this is what a work-in-progress is all about ;-)

Building a website that’s bilingual isn’t easy. Most cool content management systems don’t think of building in support for bilingual websites. So many do so through third-party plugins. In this case, the website is WordPress based and they’re using the Qtranslate plugin.

But to launch a website so publicly without even basic information in English (at first, there wasn’t even an English bio for the mayor) seems a fairly major gaffe. Even now, most of its content isn’t accessible in English. Instead, you get a short apology with a link to the French version.

Remember, this is supposed to be the anglo party, embracing both languages of this diverse metropolis. Vision Montreal, with ex-PQer Louise Harel who speaks little English, and Projet Montréal, which doesn’t even translate its name into our language, both have better English versions of their websites.

Maybe next time someone from Union Montreal criticizes Louise Harel for alienating anglophones, she can point out the fact that people don’t need to look up what “Arrondissement de militantisme” is before they can donate to her party.

Oh wait, she can’t. Neither can Michel Richard Bergeron. Because both Vision Montreal’s donation form and Projet Montréal’s donation form have random untranslated bits of French on them.

I realize this is small-time politics and we’re not dealing with real big budgets here, but these are forms people fill out to give you money. If you’re so careless about translation, I can only imagine what kind of controls you have on the $100 I’d be putting in your campaign fund.

Colour me pas impressionné.

Mercier Bridge construction begins (and it’s on Twitter!)

Mercier Bridge

Starting next Monday, what’s been described as a “first in this country” construction project will be undertaken on the Honoré-Mercier Bridge. It involves 1,300 prefabricated concrete panels which will replace the bridge deck in a way that is designed to minimize traffic disruption.

In other words, they’re going to replace a bridge without closing it to traffic.

It’s not quite so simple (there will be night work that requires rerouting traffic), but it’s still pretty impressive.

The rusted Mercier Bridge is in dire need of replacement

The rusted Mercier Bridge is in dire need of replacement

The first stage starts on Monday, when the ramp for the 138 East (from Châteauguay) is closed and replaced. Traffic will be sent along a side road to the other approach on the 132. The other three ramps on the southern side will be replaced one by one, and then work will begin on the bridge itself.

What’s impressive about this operation to me though isn’t the construction, but the communications. A (fully bilingual) special WordPress-based website has been setup (complete with RSS feed and question-and-answer forum), and there are Flickr, YouTube and Twitter accounts to make sure everyone is aware of what’s going on and can share information easily. Unlike what you see with most marketing campaigns, these tools are used quite effectively.

This YouTube video shows the steps that will be taken over the coming weeks to replace the southern access ramps. It’s long, but it’s clear.

Kudos. redesigned, broken

The new Globe and Mail website

The new Globe and Mail website

In case you haven’t noticed already, the Globe and Mail redesigned its website this week.

The site is excessively slow right now, which I assume is only temporary, but still quite embarrassing.

As if to underscore how little has actually changed, the video introduction by Edward Greenspon (which I can’t embed here but looks like it was shot in a basement in the 80s) talks a lot about how great the website has been doing but very little about what’s actually changing, beyond the “new nav bar” (exciting!)

The old

The old

Among the changes from the old site:

  • URLs lose their /servlet/story/RTGAM…/BNStory/home nonsense, replaced by search-engine-friendly URLs like this one that are based on the headline. This change will probably make the most difference for traffic reaching the site.
  • After going overboard on the grey in their last layout, it’s much less prominent here in favour of black and red (making it look a bit Maclean’s-ish).
  • Speaking of colours, each major section is colour-coordinated, including a rather garish purple for Globe Life.
  • Gone is Trebuchet MS, replaced by serifed Georgia for headlines.
  • The story pages are much cleaner and less cluttered, but for some reason photos are limited to 360 pixels wide.
  • No more page showing articles that were in that day’s print edition, supposedly because they’re all found in their respective sections now and don’t need their own page.

But the most pretentious change is the name: It’s being rebranded from “” to “The Globe and Mail”, because, Greenspon says, “it is the Globe and Mail and everything is integrated”. I can see the point (even if every newspaper says that and subsequently ignores it by spending 90% of its effort on the print edition’s front page), except Greenspon keeps referring to it as “” and the video ends with the old brand.

Overall, I think it’s a positive change, if a bit over-hyped.

The STM’s new brand

For those who haven’t noticed yet, the STM has redesigned its website to bring it into the 21st century. The previous version, while functional, wasn’t very pretty and looked quite dated.

The new version fixes that, with all the current design clichés:

  • Rounded corners
  • Gradients
  • The colours blue and grey
  • Flash-based Cycling series of main images
  • JavaScript-based collapsible menus
  • Helvetica and/or Arial, mostly in all caps

Fortunately, the design change is cosmetic. Most of the content is the same and even the URLs don’t change, so links aren’t broken.

The redesign fits in with the STM’s “Society in motion” brand, with a yellow and blue chevron forming a green one (it’s not clear what this represents exactly), and an increased emphasis on the environmental benefits of using public transit. The INFO STM page in Metro has also been redesigned with this new design.

They also launched Version 4 of Tous Azimuts, the trip planning application that uses the STM’s database of bus, train and metro departures. The new version is faster, easier to use and shows a map of trips, in addition to allowing smart searches of departure and arrival locations. If that’s not good enough for you, the STM also gives people the choice of using Google Transit, which has had access to departure schedules since October.

Some people should not be designing websites

I have a feeling I’m going to break someone’s heart with this post, but it’s true. There are professional web designers, and there are people whose pages belong on Geocities in the 90s.

The website for (long-shot) mayoralty candidate Louise O’Sullivan belongs in the latter camp:

Let us count the ways:

  • <title>Test2</title>
  • Candidate’s photo in 256-colour GIF
  • Photo of the city stolen from Google Image Search
  • Drop shadows on everything
  • Scrolling marquee
  • Coloured boxes inside other coloured boxes inside even more coloured boxes
  • Text is all in bold
  • Date written via JavaScript
  • No links in main text

I’m sure you can add more in the comments. Feel free.

Sadder still, there are other atrocities where this came from, people who presumably spent hundreds of dollars for these sites. Perhaps the “© 1999” at the bottom might have something to do with it.

My first real website

The Link's website in summer 2002

The Link's website in summer 2002

For some reason that completely eludes me now, I took a trip through the Wayback Machine this week to visit my first big website. It was for The Link, the better of Concordia University’s two student newspapers (at least while I worked there). And sadly, it’s a website that no longer exists except in the form of a few snapshots in the Internet Archive.

Taking us back to 2001

Having been appointed to the position of webmaster for a newspaper that didn’t have a website, it became pretty clear what my first job would be. During the summer of 2001 I embarked on a project to create a server and install a content management system on it that would be suitable for newspaper articles.

The first part wasn’t too complicated: a generic desktop server with Slackware Linux installed on it, a few tweaks, and the server was up.

The CMS was a different story. This was two years before WordPress. Months before the first MovableType. After minutes of searching, I figured my best option would be to use Slashcode, the Perl-based engine behind the popular Slashdot. (Hey, remember Slashdot? Apparently it’s still there.)

In hindsight, it was a horrible mistake. At the time (and I suspect this is still the case) it was an awful, inelegant piece of hacked-together software, built from scratch to support Slashdot and awkwardly patched with new features. That meant changing things very difficult.

Among the annoyances that only grew over time:

  • Accounts had to be created for each author. Every time a new person contributed or even just wrote a letter to the editor, an account had to be created. A few years in, the “author” drop-down menu had over a hundred names in it.
  • No concept of “issues” to tie together articles of a certain date. Instead of showing all the articles for a particular issue, it would be programmed to show the latest X number of articles.
  • An impossible-to-understand caching system that required all sorts of manual resets in order to do something simple like change the background colour on the main page. This is combined with a background daemon that had the habit of turning itself off.
  • A database that tended to get corrupted causing everything to go bad.
  • Hard-coded or semi-hard-coded constants and variables, such as a “security level” that was in the form of an integer instead of a list of capabilities.
  • No built-in way of handling photos or their captions.

But for its faults, the system also had many useful features, some of which were ahead of their time:

  • Threaded comments, comment rating and group moderation (being Concordia at a time of relative political chaos, these got a lot of use)
  • Integrated RSS, including the ability to pull RSS headlines from other sites
  • Form keys to prevent spamming and double comments
  • “Boxes” (what WordPress calls “widgets) that provide for various functions and bonus content in the sidebar

For about five years, the website ran on Slash, frustrating webmaster after webmaster, until a database crash in the summer of 2006 forced them to switch to a new system. By then, thankfully, technology had progressed to the point where more elegant solutions were available.

Still, it’s a shame the archives have disappeared.

You can see what the website looked like a few months after launch in 2001, a few months later after a redesign, and in 2004 before I ended my tenure as an editor. redesigned

Global TV made a big announcement about its website redesign. It includes 30 “refurbished microsites” (read: branded pages for each show), an “up-to-the-minute Twitter function” (read: link to Twitter account), an “enhanced” and “dynamically updated” schedule guide (read: a schedule) and coming soon a “newly revamped search engine” (read: they’re fixing the search engine).

The new website also includes a new video player, which most Canadians still don’t know gives them access to Family Guy and House on demand. (Though it still doesn’t work properly for me.)

And it’s got lots of boxes with rounded corners, scrolling Flash menus and gradients, which we all know are required in any properly-designed site of this era.