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Why we still need the homepage

February 22, 2013

Yahoo’s homepage viewership has decreased 24% from last year, according to a Folio article, which is why the company decided to revamp it.

yahoo

The colors and basic layout have stayed the same, but now Folio says Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer seems to be gearing up for the social media generation. Yahoo has been adjusted for mobile phones and tablets. Sidebar story recommendations are more viewer-specific than ever. The new site features what is called an infinite scroll, which means that when you’re scrolling, you don’t have to click to the next page to view more items. You can scroll forever.

Side Note *** For some reason it puts a sour taste in my mouth when I admit to myself that news sites are mimicking Facebook’s scroll format because of its success. Regardless of this, it was actually Bing that came up with the idea of the infinite scroll.

In web search, you’ll typically see that for around 75% of queries, users stay on page one of the results; they don’t like pagination. In image search, it’s the opposite: 43% of queries stay on page 1 and it takes until page 8 to hit the 75% threshold.

Second, we learnt that users inspect large numbers of images before they click on a result. ***

So Quartz asked in a recent post – why do we even need homepages? Quartz doesn’t believe in them, their site is just a never-ending page of posts in date order, starting with the most recent. Author Christopher Mims says that other news site homepages are experiencing a similar lack of visits. The indication?

Anne Friedman of the Columbia Journalism Review says homepages are becoming extinct. In “Is the homepage dead?” she asks us why editors spend so much time on the homepage when most people find the sites through “side-door” entrances, such as Twitter or Facebook links to specific stories.

See, print-nostalgic editors (and even some editors who have only worked in digital media) take a certain amount of solace in the homepage. Online, it can feel like one of the only venues where editorial decision-making is visible at a glance (unlike newspapers, where the editor’s hand is in evidence on every page).

To sum it up, we need to stop being a bunch of old farts and renovate the web news model.

But before we forget about the homepage completely, take this for example.

A book wouldn’t be a book without its cover. The majority of one’s time spent with a book is not by looking at the outside. But it binds whatever you’re reading in an aesthetic and traditional manner. I don’t have to mention the cliche phrase to tell you that sometimes a book does make or break a person’s commitment to reading it. A homepage, depending on its design and color scheme, could work the same way.

We could even treat a website’s homepage like a table of contents — the infinite scroll would be good for this (websites become ever-expanding books).

Then again, I could just be a nostalgic journalist yearning for paper that will never return to my hands the same way.

Shivana Harriram, WUSB News reporter and Stony Brook University journalism major, says she’s “anti-customization.” What does she mean by that?

“I think online newspapers want you to read what they want you to read,” She explains. “I’m more about taking all the information I can at once. And if you don’t give it to me, I go and get it myself.”

Shivana posts news stories on her Facebook and Twitter feeds several times a day, many of these are pasted from other sites. Her friends and followers click them and are brought straight to the site’s inner workings.

But I believe that, as long as individual browsers exist, it is necessary for all news sites to have a home base, regardless of how many views it’s getting.

I agree with Ms. Friedman when she wrote that editors focus too much time on the homepage. My solution? Have editors concentrate more on the website as a whole rather than focusing on the book cover, which says almost nothing about the content of the material within the pages. But if we nullified homepages all together, would each page of the same domain maintain a uniform design?

Quartz thinks every one of its pages can act as its homepage.

I disagree. Call me a nostalgic, old fart, but I think there’s something necessary about a book having its bindings – whether it’s in your hands or on your computer screen.

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