Redesigns are gimmicky, disorienting, and just plain irritating. They don’t change anything but looks, which is to say they change nothing. But sometimes they’re necessary. So with apologies, relief and satisfaction in equal measure, here we are, finally redesigned for the first time since launch and just ahead of our 10th birthday in a few months: we’ve shed a few pounds of bloated and outdated code and can finally fit in mobile phones, today’s Speedos of content delivery. Nothing else is changing.
When FlaglerLive was designed in 2009 the iPhone wasn’t yet three years old, Facebook was still as pre-pubescent then as it is now, but not nearly as dictatorial of users’ habits. Readers spent more of their time on desktops than playing with something in their hand: even as recently as the beginning of Barack Obama’s second term, mobile phones accounted for just 16 percent of web traffic, compared to over 63 percent today. That’s an astounding and continuing revolution in readers’ habits.
Mobile phones are fantastically convenient. But I personally think mobile sites, like most of the social media universe, can (and I stress can) be a plague on quality reading and critical engagement with words and ideas. Pope Sylvester II was considered a magician 1,000 years ago because he could read books, but mobiles make magicians of all of us for the immediacy and access they enable and the power they give us to engage in return. But narrower screens also reflect our narrower views and tunnel visions, our onanistic love of hearing our own ideas reinforced at the speed of likes. Engagement isn’t a selfie.
For good or bad narrower screens are where readers are, and it makes no sense to hold on to romantic notions of the ideal reader embalmed in papyrus. Better 1,000 hasty readers than a single ideal one anyway. And as tales from the confessional go, without a mobile site we might as well be exiled in Siberia. As far as Google was concerned we were.
There was also the matter of sheer age. A few weeks ago I essentially demolished the site for a half hour when I tried to deactivate an old, cluttering element deep in the guts of the thing, to enable an overdue upgrade to php 7.3 (don’t ask). I lost five years of my life trying to repair the damage in that half hour. It was like trying to make a 78 rpm spin in the Blue Ray era. We made it work again, but the close call reminded me of that time a Turkish Taliban sympathizer hacked us. It felt like a lucky reprieve.
The message was clear: we had to make the switch, and the cleanest way to do that was to rebuild the site from scratch. So our staff of 600 got to work and produced what you now see, with big improvements in security at the back end and, we hope (we were promised in the fine print), improvements in stability and speed at your end. The changes you see are mostly cosmetic, those you don’t are structural, like bringing a house up to code.
The pages are wider, easier on the eye. We’ve even enlarged our font size because our eyes like yours aren’t what they used to be 10 years ago, though the size is a bit too big for my taste right now. The overall structure of the site is still its familiar self. The top story will still dominate the page. The front page’s principal two news columns divided between local and not-so-local items. The Daily Briefing is played up a bit more prominently in the right column every morning, as it’s gained some popularity over the years. We’re adding a featured but downplayed space, down the page, for news releases and briefs that often haven’t made it into our stream because of a healthy revulsion every journalist should maintain for press releases in an age of PR on meth (we’ll get over it, with a disclaimer above each).
In the days ahead and on mobile devices you’ll start seeing advertising between paragraphs much more often: we have to pay the bills, most of you are still–shame!–getting this for free. (You can remedy that right away), and our advertisers deserve the better visibility. Otherwise the regular flow of articles won’t change, nor will their length, nor will their crying need for proofreading. For you commenters it should certainly be an easier, more welcoming experience, not that we need to make your job easier. But as with everything else, even your feedback on this redesign is welcome, as is that of the Brad Wests of the world.
It’s assumed that with changes like this there should be kinks aplenty. They’ll be worked out in coming days. But the reality of today’s web-based media is that the kink is inherent to the job: none of us from big media to small, from television to web to print to radio, have a clue where this is heading, only that something is always changing. For our part we’ll not only fix the kinks, but we’ll continue to make small changes here and there to keep up. Nothing is static anymore.
Paradoxically, at heart I was a technological illiterate before FlaglerLive and remain happily so 10 years later, so whatever design changes you see will always be incidental to the only mission we have whatever the means. “Like the fish who survive a toxic river and the boatmen who sail on it,” Neil Postman wrote in “Amusing Ourselves To Death,” his book on the effects of visual media on the printed word (written two decades before social media and the iPhone), “there still dwell among us those whose sense of things is largely influenced by older and clearer waters.” That’s our intended audience.
We are not a “brand.” We don’t do “content.” We could care less what social media apps are the cutting edge of “reach.” The focus is still first and last on quality, serious news reporting, with as little attention as possible to the technical gimmickry necessary to get it to you. To that end, this redesign will make that a bit easier for us as I hope it does for you.