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Fur flyin over The Atlantic's redesign

There's a lot of ani­mat­ed chat­ter among some of my favorite jour­nal­ists over the redesign of their publication's site. Last week, the Atlantic Month­ly rolled out what appears to the casu­al read­er as a slight update of the IA, along with some major changes to the way that blogs are inte­grat­ed. Read­er reac­tion was any­thing but casu­al; anger and sus­pi­cion seemed to be the most com­mon read­er emo­tions, shared, at least in part, by the writ­ers. The Wash­ing­ton Post's Ezra Klein nails the goal of the redesign, "Seems like a bet to re-cen­ter the Web site around the Atlantic as an insti­tu­tion rather than leav­ing it as a web host­ing ser­vice for a cou­ple of blog­gers." Which seems smart, actu­al­ly.

The Atlantic online redesignThis clus­ter­cuss is the redesign. (I can't find a pic­ture of the "before," but it wasn't real­ly too dif­fer­ent, to the casu­al observ­er).

The real prob­lem: The redesign isn't rad­i­cal enough.It sim­ply shift­ed con­tent around — a sure-fire bet to piss off reg­u­lar read­ers. The redesign doesn't address big­ger prob­lems around find­abil­i­ty, read­abil­i­ty, nav­i­ga­bil­i­ty, what­ev­er you want to call a lin­ger­ing sense of not being able to get around eas­i­ly. It also breaks from a com­mon blog con­ven­tion: home­pages that includes lengthy con­tent for each post (UPDATE: they've changed this). The biggest change is that they've moved away from indi­vid­ual blogs as lin­ear, ever-expand­ing solo nar­ra­tives, which I think is inter­est­ing. What they're mov­ing toward is less clear.According to spir­it­ed com­men­tary by the Atlantic writ­ers, the redesign was dri­ven by the arcane cal­cu­lus of adver­tis­ing. I won't pre­tend to know how online ad place­ment works in a place like The Atlantic, but what I do know is that some­one told them to spread their fresh con­tent around, and it's kin­da half-spread.I am a big Atlantic read­er. I sub­scribe to the print edi­tion, and I reg­u­lar­ly read three of its blog­gers — Ta-Nehisi Coates, James Fal­lows and Andrew Sul­li­van. I sub­scribe to their feeds, so I don't go to theatlantic.com unless I want to com­ment on Coates' blog, or read com­ments, which means I'll head there a cou­ple of times a week, but when I get there I'll be deeply immersed in a thread.To me, the true oppor­tu­ni­ty was to lever­age the sprawl­ing, smart con­ver­sa­tions that these writ­ers con­tin­u­al­ly cre­ate — to cre­ate a sort of salon among the read­ers and writ­ers. To Klein's point above, you'd think a vir­tu­al salon would be exact­ly the kind of thing that would "re-cen­ter" the brand. Break­ing out of the con­ven­tion­al blog mod­el is a rea­son­able first step. Blogs are long threads, and main­tain­ing indi­vid­ual threads need­less­ly inhibits wider-scale con­ver­sa­tion. So they've tak­en that half-step away from threads (which are a help­ful orga­niz­ing prin­ci­ple for read­ers), but the salon is nowhere in sight. And this is a prob­lem.