It's incredibly rude to come to a website run by hardworking people and criticize their design and layout choices. It's like being invited as a dinner guest at a person's house, then telling them their paint choices are all wrong and their furniture arrangement sucks. It will be even ruder in my case, given that my last diary was a woe-is-me over-dramatic GBCW rant. :) But I'm going to offer my criticisms of the new DailyKos site anyway, because I really, genuinely care about this community, and I am very concerned that the new design is making some significant missteps that will hurt the site's power and reach moving forward.
Why I'm Qualified to Complain
As some of you may know, I'm a long-time web & graphic designer currently serving as Web Director of a successful design firm. I have been honored to win local and national awards for my work, I give lectures and seminars on proper design technique, and I've taught several college courses in web and modern media design. This is not to say every design I implement is awesome, nor that my ideas are always right. :) But I have devoted my 15+ year career to studying and developing what makes a web presence successful, and keeping up on modern and future trends in web design and development. This is why I believe that...
The New DailyKos Beta is Poorly Designed for Modern Users
I'm not talking about aesthetics (I personally think it looks a bit washed out, but that's a matter of taste) but rather where information is placed and how the visuals are spaced. The new website is designed for high-res, high-end monitors (like the kind we use in our studio) and has lots of wonderful white space which gives it a "print" feel. But that's not the future of the internet. A huge and growing percentage of a website's audience is from smaller devices -- iPads, Nook Colors, Windows Phone 7, cells, netbooks, new Android tablets, etc. People just aren't tied to big computers anymore when they're visiting websites, and so more than ever, content needs to be organized compactly. DailyKos is an information-heavy website. We need less wasted space, not more.
Compare the existing site on the average screen resolution:
With the new design:
Yes, it's prettier. But unless you have a huge, high-res monitor (which, again, is not the upcoming trend), you don't even get to read a single word of a single article without scrolling. You don't get to see even the titles of recommended or recent diaries. And when you do start scrolling, given the overwhelming white space and additional advertising, you have to constantly be scroll-wheeling or finger-swiping just to read a single piece!
There is a practical limit to how much an individual is willing to scroll on a website before getting frustrated, and the DailyKos Beta goes well past that limit. Frustrated users mean less time spent on the site, which reduces the site's impact, and lowers available ad rates.
Now, this is not to say there aren't excellent elements of the new site. The ability to private message, the so-called "Web 2.0" social elements, groups, and other touches are absolutely vital to keeping DailyKos fresh and exciting for new members, while maintaining ease of use and comfort for long-time fans. But in terms of basic design and layout, from a functional perspective, I believe it misses the mark.
In addition, there is another, far more fundamental problem with the new site, made from (what I believe to be) a deep misunderstanding of what makes DailyKos work. Rather than something deserving relegation to a subpage...
"Recent Diaries" are the Heart and Soul of This Community
Now, I'm sure there are some visitors who come to DailyKos just to regularly read what the Frontpagers have to say, and don't care about all the riff-raff cluttering up the right-hand column. But I suspect this is a small minority. What makes Andrew Sullivan great is that I can go there for his opinion on a breaking item of political news. I'm following him. But I don't come to DailyKos to follow Joan or Barbara or Jed or even Kos, at least not specifically. I come to DailyKos to see what the community is thinking. And to share what I'm thinking. It's about getting a sense of the pulse of the progressive movement and being a part of the conversation. The Recent Diaries ticker is, to me, the single most important part of the DailyKos experience. Removing Recent Diaries from the site design (requiring you to seek it out on a subpage) virtually eliminates the very thing most of us come here to participate in.
This is not to diminish the contributions of the Frontpagers, of course -- I read virtually everything they write, and they deserve their Frontpagedom. :) But they're not what make this place special. We are.
At it's core, DailyKos is much more akin to a discussion forum rather than a traditional blog. We come here not just to read about things, but to talk about them. And even though the Recent Diaries scroll by quickly, there's something fundamentally beautiful and "small-d democratic" about the process. Any member of this community can write an article and post it to the world, to be instantly reviewed and scrutinized by thousands and thousands of progressives from all over the country, for at least the 20 minutes or so before it's pushed off the recent list. :) But if enough people see it, read it, and like what you have to say, you get promoted and can have a whole day of national exposure, no matter who you are, what your background is, who your connections may be, or whether you'd ever been able to generate an audience for your words by yourself. Some of the best articles I've ever read in my entire life have been on this site, often from first-time posters, who would never have had the chance to share their stories without this forum. Hiding the Recent Diaries deprives us all of new talent. Sure, I love reading the very talented voices of the DailyKos Frontpagers, but I love reading new voices even more.
What I'd Do
I'd like to share a little rough mockup that would represent the kind of site I'd most like to use. Now, this is not a particularly attractive design (it was thrown together a bit ago just for this diary), but I think you'll see what I'm getting at:
See the larger (closer to full res) version here. (Flickr's over-zealous jpeg compression is making the mock a little muddy, but rest assured an actual site built on this design wouldn't be fuzzy.)
I've grabbed elements from the old and new site, and compressed them to allow for a better reading-to-scrolling ratio. It is by no means a radical redesign, but it does what I'd want it to do.
In this design, the Recent Diaries are a constantly moving ticker at the top of every page. You can use the horizontal arrows to scroll through as many as you like.
Recent Diaries and Recommended Diaries are highlighted in a white box whenever one of the diarist's keyword tags match the tags you're following -- so if I have "MI-08" as one of my preferred tags, such diaries will pop out to me. In addition, I can easily get a list of only the recent diaries that are about topics I'm currently interested in (without having to click individual tags one at a time).
Advertising is arranged in a way that maximizes visibility (your eyes have to constantly travel back and forth over the ads between the left and right columns), but never interrupt an article or waste space between articles. In my experience, this encourages clickthrough without pissing off your visitors. Featured sponsors can get the cute little page-turn ads in the upper-right, which becomes a full-screen ad upon rollover.
If the new DailyKos functioned like this, especially with the Recent Diaries ticker, I'd probably keep it open on my second monitor all day long, glancing over every so often to see what new diaries were being written, especially ones with little white boxes around them.
Opinions are like assholes, as they say. :) But I've been here a long time, and I know what's important to me. I would greatly prefer a website that doesn't require a lot of scrolling (especially on smaller devices) which understands that the busy multitasker wants to see a lot of (well-organized) information at once, not appreciating endless pretty white space. And I definitely want Recent Diaries to be front and center of it all, so I can see (and participate in) the national political dialog in real time.
Some of you may remember an obscure little diary I wrote sharing a quick ad concept I developed over a lunch hour, just asking what the community thought of it. I was not a frontpager, had never had a recommended diary, and was just one of the little people scrolling by in Recent Diaries land. But because of DailyKos (the only place I shared it), this little video became a viral hit with 400,000+ views, and was discussed everywhere from prominent blogs to the New York Times to CNN. We raised money (again, thanks to you) to air it on TV in battleground states, this cheesy little Flash ad with my own voice as v.o., and it helped move the conversation. And that little piece eventually went on to win the highest national honor a political ad can receive, taking the Gold Pollie Award for best contrast advertisement of 2008. Just something I threw together over lunch to share with my friends at DailyKos. Just a simple article in the recent diary ticker from a relative unknown.
This community works because we all get a chance at the front page. It makes this site unique, and very special. Why not preserve that?
Update re: "Mobile Version" -- A few people have pointed out that DK4 will have a mobile-optimized version, which is good. However, that's not really what I was getting at. All of the current and upcoming slate of internet devices (iPad, Nook Color, Streak, Tab, etc.) are not "mobile" devices like cell phones, which benefit from an optimized single-column content arrangement. Instead, they show webpages in full desktop mode, and never even trigger a "mobile version" to appear (nor would you want them to). These devices all offer around 1,000x675 pixels to display web content, and this will be fixed for at least the next 3-4 years. So anything beyond 675 pixels tall will be "below the fold" for the majority of internet users, requiring lots of additional scrolling.