Trash the web sites: What Gawker (probably) said

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Ian Lurie Feb 21 2011

Update: Read to the end for a graph that Rishil sent me, courtesy of Sitemeter. The data is hard to ignore: Gawker is literally designing themselves out of existence.

Gawker. Media.

Need I say more?

They launched a new design for all their sites—LifeHacker, Gizmodo, etc.—a few weeks back. In doing so, they reduced their sites from great information sources to a whirling black hole of bad. I started writing a long, technical rant, then realized lots of others have done so.

Instead, I looked at the web site, carefully, and tried to imagine the instructions management sent to the team in the first project memo. Here goes:

Memorandum
To: Design & editorial & development
Re: New site design

  • I don’t want to be a blog any more! I’m tired of people calling us a blog. We are a premium online publisher. Remove anything blog-ish, like navigation.
  • Show single story on the home page. Conceal other recent stories far below the fold. Show only the ‘hottest’ story, since that’s the one getting the clicks.
  • Put an apparently random list of recent stories on the right under ‘latest’.
  • Make sure the ‘latest’ bar doesn’t scroll with the window, but the left-hand branding bar does, leaving visitors wondering if two different coders build the left- and right-hand columns. Our users want variety.
  • Someone told me our site has RSS. That sounds really bad. If we want to recover, we have to remove all obvious links to RSS. Make it so.
  • I want visitors to be able to use the j + k keys on their keyboards to browse. I hear that’s hot.
  • Be sure to use AJAX. I hear it’s cool. Not sure when they stopped being a cleanser, but we need it on our site.
  • Fire everyone who mentions SEO.
  • Follow Google’s instructions on how to set up our site with AJAX. They like us, I’m sure they’d never suggest anything that would hurt our traffic.
  • Bigger ads.
  • Change the layout between pages. Put the headline at the top about 60% of the time. Put paragraph text at the top, but make it really big, another 20% of the time. You choose the rest.
  • Use every inch of space! None of this whitespace crap. I want people’s eyeballs to explode out of their heads, bounce off their monitors and then land back in their sockets. That’s publishing baby!

Thank you,

Your bosses

This is not actually from Gawker. I made it up. Don’t sue me. Or if you do, send me a long letter so I can scan it and post it on my blog.

Why I wrote this

See, this is the kind of thing that drives me up the freaking wall. Gizmodo.com, one of Gawker’s biggest sites, is seeing their pageviews down 15-20% over the last month.

It’s actually likely a lot worse. But since their site no longer loads pages, per se, I’m taking the 30% drop everyone’s reporting and adjusting it for that change.

Pages indexed by Bing? Down 65%. But that’s OK. Bing’s only, what, 20% of search (that’s sarcasm).

Who gets screwed by that?

The writers do.

Either:

A: The Gawker redesign is uninformed decision making on a scale we haven’t seen since they decided to use the cheaper rivets on the Titanic; or

B: They are privy to some great mystery of publishing that I’ve missed. Something about how creating a user-unfriendly, search-unfriendly, hard-to-use, overly complex site is the path to publishing success.

Now I’ll probably hear from Gawker staff posing as users telling me they love the site.

Sigh. I’m really, really, really, really tired of watching publishers self-destruct online.

Update: Real numbers

A lot of you have contacted me since I wrote this to tell me you think the design is just fine.
Well, you’re in the minority. Gawker’s Gizmodo.com has seen a 60-70 percent drop in visits since the new design launched.

gawker loses traffic - chart by sitemeter
Image from Sitemeter

Change it back, guys. Clamping your hands over your ears and yelling “LA LA LA LA LA LA LA” while your sites—and your business—go down the tubes isn’t going to help.

tags : conversation marketing

18 Comments

  1. Ian, you crack me up while teaching me something at the same time. This is a great post.
    I hadn’t seen the new design until now but it is the most unfriendly user interface imaginable. And is a prime example of a design-by-committee project. In no way did a well informed internet marketer design that layout and structure.
    Thanks Ian!

  2. LaZig

    Most of Gawker’s regular commentators are now at crasstalk.com
    Denton seems to have forgotten that the readers made the site great.

  3. As someone who’s been reading about the Titanic for years, I would like to point out that “cheap rivets” were probably not a factor in the sinking. The Titanic had these sealable bulkheads between compartments to prevent flooding. The problem was that they didn’t go all the way to the ceiling, so water sloshed over them. Also, the gash from the iceberg flooded too many compartments.

  4. Ian, this post made my day! thank you.
    I tell you what if Giz, LH & io9 rss feeds weren’t already in my google reader I probably would never read any of their content ever again let alone visit the sites.
    :)

  5. It’s a box of toilet.
    I now cannot read lifehacker from work, all I get is the spinning Ajax Ball Of Death.
    First they give away user data, then they prevent the remaining users from actually reading anything.
    Another home run from Gawker!

  6. I reckon they’ve redesigned it for casual browsers with iPads – it’s a good redesign for anyone who just wants to dip in.
    In which case, they’re holding massive chunks of their audience in contempt, especially as Lifehacker et al has traditionally promoted diversity in systems (Mac, Linux, Windows, smartphones etc).
    As a sidenote, this hasn’t been pushed out to the UK versions of their sites (and presumably any other non-US site, too). You can still access the ‘old’ versions at uk.gizmodo.com, uk.lifehacker.com etc.

  7. Gawker – what. the. hell?!!?!? I used to be a regular reader, but it’s honestly not worth my time to try to figure out which stories are new and which one’s I’ve read, as they seem to change places regularly.
    I mean, I applaud them for trying something new, but at what point do you admit defeat and roll things back to the original design? (Ideally, this point comes *before* you lose your entire readership…)

  8. Erica

    I consider myself at pretty good at going with the flow, and accepting change. I never whine about Facebook’s ever changing layout or whatever else is causing the latest uproar, but this? This is awful. My beloved Jezebel (also a Gawker property) is pretty much unreadable. Now, I only read it from the RSS feed, and even then – my brain hurts a little.

  9. It looks like someone’s chosen a free WordPress template from the bottom of the barrel.

  10. WhatIsThat

    I visited lifehacker today after a long time and the first thing that hit me were the “frames”, with the left side scrolling and the right side behaving like a species from another planet.
    I couldn’t get what the main topic was and what the other recent topics (or recent hot topics) were. Searching on Google for “lifehacker design layout change bad” brought me here.
    I did look at their other sites as well. Gizmodo, Io9, Jezebel, etc. All of them are equally and horribly unusable.
    Were they all hacked so hard by someone that they’re still working in the background trying to recover while someone else continues to post junk on a badly designed site? :D
    Forget about design principles. Didn’t anyone there have a “I see it and I don’t like it and don’t understand what the hell it is” moment???
    Goodbye, lifehacker. It was nice while it lasted, though.

  11. Robyn

    Yes the redesign is GOD AWFUL. I personally haven’t sent them as many clicks, and when I do it’s to the Canadian or UK subdomains. I’d echo David Prince in that I’m guessing they redesigned it so it would look better on an iPad. I don’t know WHY they would do that but maybe there is something more sinister going on in the background. It’s like Gawker is trying to imitate print media failing at online media trying online media again in order to save their business. Which makes no sense since Gawker never had that problem.

  12. Stephan

    Great post! I still can’t believe the Gawker management has their collective head in the sand on this one.
    BTW, those who are making the comment that the redesign was done for the iPad clearly didn’t try using it on an iPad in the first couple of weeks – non-scrollable 2nd column and a footer that was stuck in the middle of the page. Looks like they have “fixed” most of the problems, but it still sucks to high heaven.

  13. eric

    I tried viewing iO9 on my ipad and it was terrible. Basically I have not been viewing any of their sites since the redesign. As said before, even their RSS is all screwed up.
    If someone has a suggestion for any similar sites with better layouts please post.

  14. I completely disagree. While it may *seem* unusable, I think the dip in traffic and the backlash all comes from the fact that people feel empowered on the internet to comment on design. Gawker’s redesign was incredibly prescient, and probably was released a few years too soon.
    Gawker is a very large network with many many readers. A ridiculous amount of readers who most likely view the gawker websites in a browser instead of RSS. RSS being the superior way to read media on the web. The problem is that RSS isn’t being grokked by the general populace in the way that it should. Gawker websites update so frequently that most users would benefit from subscribing via RSS, but since they don’t, the redesign takes what is good about a stripped-down feed reader and brings it to the luddites.
    The problem with people thinking that they are designers and that they have a valid opinion on stuff like this is that it makes them closed-minded to new ways to utilize the web. Especially when it comes to websites that they are familiar with and visit multiple times a day. Gawker’s redesign brought content into focus. It is meant to be visited multiple times a day, and to read the most recent or most popular posts, not to search through older entries like a card catalog. (Gawker eventually capitulated by adding an easier to find search).
    I’m reminded of the famous quote from Henry Ford: “If I asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said ‘a faster horse'”. People don’t know what they want, and in these post-GAP logo crisis days people are more vocal than ever with their misguided opinions. I think the Gawker redesign just needs time and an open mind. I’m for disrupting the norm. Define new design patterns that fit the content you’re providing.

  15. John

    Chris, you’re completely off and you sound like a disciple of Nick Denton. The customers have spoken, and they want the old design back. The new design is horrible, its just UNBEARABLE. The design is so bad that people don’t even go there anymore.
    Can you believe that? People have actually stopped going just because the redesign is that bad. Nick needs to stop thinking with his ego and fix it to something else.

  16. Ian

    @John @Chris whoa there everyone back in your corners :)
    Gawker’s design screw-up is all about looking too far ahead. Yeah, there are tablets everywhere. But how many Gawker readers are using tablets to read their sites?
    Apparently not many, since their traffic keeps plunging. Eventually Gawker has to admit they made a mistake and revise things. Or, of course, they can go the way of Gourmet Magazine.

  17. You really CAN use the “j” and “k” keys to navigate! I thought you were “j/k” about that.
    First, how did you find that out, and
    Second, who wants that?

  18. Bex

    I know I am late to the party, but please note that only the mobile Gawker site is accessible on the iPad. Which is the only reason I still go to Gawker.

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