Thursday, March 20, 2008

ABC local and regional online

Writing in The Oz today, Mark Scott makes the claim that "The ABC has no rival in rural, regional and local news gathering and with fast broadband coming to the bush, the ABC will be the 'town square' where events, issues and community information is posted and debated."

I wouldn't argue about the breadth of regional news gathering resources the ABC has, but I would definitely dispute that this makes the ABC Online the 'Town Square' for localities across regional Australia.

ABC Local is 60 new local web sites delivering - according to Scott - "not just local news, weather and sport but also video and audio, reflecting local events and culture and opportunities for audiences to contribute".

In theory that's fine. In practice ABC Local is a mess.

The layout of the opening page is all over the place. From a useability perspective it's nearly impossible to tell how to navigate to any region. There is a map, but it's hard to read. Once you do find your way to a regional location there's no apparent way to navigate back again.

Getting the UI right, as well as the data relationships, is critical to developing the community aspect successfully. We spent a lot of time doing that for Finda and while it's not finished yet I think we're on the right track.

ABC Local has a bit more work to do there.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Atlantic Freely

For years my favourite US magazine was The Atlantic. It published quality essays and reviews and strong political and cultural analysis all at length and all broadly inclusive of places beyond the geographic boundaries of North America.

I started reading it in the mid-90s. But particularly under the editorship of Michael Kelly from 2000-2002 it attained a real zip and cutting level of insight, analysis and pure joy in the written form. Every edition was gripping, even if you weren't quite sure of the technicalities of a particular issue under discussion. The writing was compelling.

As a reader remote from domestic US politics it was dramatic, and fun, reading.

I let my subscription lapse in 2004, after about five years as a subscriber. It happened partly because I moved house and the new address got mixed up.

But only partly.

Anyway, I had actually tried to re-subscribe but none of my efforts could connect with the circulation department at Atlantic Media. I even telephoned a couple of times.

Despite the fact I wanted to, I couldn't renew my subscription to the magazine.

The complicating factors were:
  • I am resident in Australia
  • The Atlantic was in the process of moving offices from Boston to Washington
Maybe there was more. But it seemed, at the time, that these were the reasons.

However, as part of my original subscription I had received a username and password to access the web site wherein full current and archive issues are available, and more.

That access remained active even after my paid subscription had lapsed. Which meant that from 2004 until early 2008 I had ongoing access to the Atlantic.

During that time, I read the magazine less. I printed articles from the web site fairly frequently, but I didn't buy the magazine often. Largely because I felt it just wasn't up to scratch. Worth a quick look, but not worth $15.

It seemed like it had lost its way a bit. It had drifted into very dry economic territory leaving behind the type of quality journalism that had long been the foundation of its success.

So I read Vanity Fair instead. And paid $18.

Always keeping an eye on what was happening each month at The Atlantic.

And then on January 22 the magazine announced it was "dropping its subscriber registration requirement and making the site free to all visitors".

Which, practically, didn't make a lot of difference for me, but is, I think, a good thing generally.