Noah J Nelson on Friday, Oct. 11th
Making any kind of change to a long standing website can be nerve wracking for the team. Making changes to a community driven web institution like the "news for nerds" site Slashdot is a high wire act without a net.
Actually that's a pool of sharks under the net and, yes, they have frickin' lasers on their heads.
Yet the current incarnation of the venerable community news site feels exactly like what it is: a testament to an earlier era of the Internet. Before the feeds were buzzed and ables were mashed. A more civilized era, for some, but one that speaks a language different from our feels-based linguistic economy.
After a successful revamp of Slashdot's mobile interface–the site claims mobile engagement tripled–Gaurav Kuchhal, the site's Sr. Director of Product Management and his team took on the more daunting task of bringing the website proper into the present day without losing the soul of the community. Or aggravating users.
"We were always a social news hub," said Kuchhal of the site's place in a field dominated by the likes of Reddit, 'This redesign is not like a relaunch. The approach we are taking we are not changing the heart of what slashdot is."
That extends to the methodology the team is using to make changes. In the early alpha, and now in the public beta, the site is actively going after user feedback to evolve. A no-brainer, that, but what it has led to is a design that doesn't throw the baby out with the bathwater.
The new Slashdot will, for those who want it to, look very much like the old. Instead of imposing a definitive redesign the team has built a responsive design that offers up three different views of the site's content.
"Classic" view holds onto the traditional text based headline/lead graph style of the site. "Standard" puts more images into the mix, and looks something a bit like Buzzfeed in terms of layout, only without all the bloody lists. "Headline" view is for those who want to skim through the latest news as quickly as possible.
Each style is accessible with just two clicks from a tab at the top of the newsfeed.
It is not only a change in the interface that the site is pursuing. They are looking to make it clear that Slashdot is, and always has been, a social site.
"The whole concept (of a social graph) has been there from day one," said Kuchhal.
From the beginning Slashdot users have been able to follow each other using a "friend or foe" system, and to express their views on the news through a journal system. The current design doesn't emphasize these aspects of the community, but in the beta that can be currently viewed "Journals" are prominently billboarded across the top of the page. (This feature is, however, listed as "coming soon" via a mouse-over.)
While the design may not scream "Revolución!" from a layout stance, there is much to be said about the wisdom of using responsive design to power not just a mobile to tablet to desktop transitions, but to put agency over content in the hands of users with as little friction as possible. As the beta currently stands the shift from view to view is exceptionally snappy. This is a design that lives up to the name responsive.
If you're like me you might get caught up in just clicking the view buttons over and over, it is sort of like forcing the site to dance. (I recommend using Metallica as the "dance music.")
As someone who has long known of Slashdot, but never quite got into the super-spartan look and feel of the site, there is some real potential that the revamped site will become part of my regular information diet.
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