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Site Update

Welcome to the beta

If you're reading this, well, you found us. We're doing some internal testing this week on the new, and should be ready to go public by next week. We're well aware that no redesign is going to make everyone happy, but, if you'll indulge, let me talk a bit about our process and goals.

The flagship site of a publication like The Spokesman-Review has to do a little bit of everything because, frankly, a huge portion of our readership expects it. People come to us for a ton of different things - from breaking news to sports recaps to crossword puzzles to calendars - and each person expects to be able to find what they're looking for on our website. Over time, our original news site ( added features and content areas we never anticipated. Many of these things were difficult to support with that site's underlying technology, and many things we wanted to do were simply impossible. So what you see here isn't a simple cosmetic redesign; it's a complete overhaul of our web technology - from the servers to the database to the framework we're building on.

We chose all these things because they give us a flexible platform that helps us build new things quickly. Yes, we need a flagship site with a little bit of everything, but we also want to give you smaller, more focused sites that inform our community, and help people who live here interact with each other. Sites that focus on one thing, and do it really well. That's a *huge* part of where we need to go, but we have to have the basic building blocks in place first.

You'll find plenty of signs of this philosophical shift as you spend some time here. Goal No. 1 was to clean things up and make the site easy to use, and the top-level navigation reflects a pretty fundamental move in that direction. Our print newspaper is organized into sections, which works great if you're getting your information once a day. But that's not the way people look for information online; hence the structure here, according to what content's about, when it happened, where it happened, and what kind of media it needs. Ideally, this answers all the ways our readers might be looking for information. And it *should* be fairly seamless to switch between those systems of browsing - check out one of the day pages (here's the Today page), click on the calendar icon to browse to any day in our archive, toggle among different media types, click on an item to view it, click on that item's tags to see related content, and so on. We're really hopeful that we've made navigation - and exploration - a LOT easier.

We're also making multimedia much more visible. We've been producing amazing videos and photos for a long time, but our old website didn't make them particularly easy to find. New sections on this site will help you browse the latest and best multimedia stories, no matter when you come looking. The cleaner design also makes the advertising that supports our site more visible and better-looking. It will help us integrate our news site with our jobs, homes and cars sites - no matter what you're looking for, we want to help you find the most locally relevant information there is.

And we're providing a lot more metadata about everything we publish. Tagging is the most obvious example (although the "Places" section is going to have some awesome geographical capabilities before long), and is the kind of thing that lets us power a bunch of cool stuff. Pages that quickly pull together content based on a topic (try everything tagged "Christmas") are the simple stuff. There's a lot more.

Here's one of my favorite things: the Live Stream. It's a tumblelog, if you're familiar with those - a page that collects all the activity on the site, mixing in stories, multimedia, reader comments, everything. How's it related to tagging? Well, in our database, each of those items in the live stream gets the same tags as the content it's linking to. And that means that on my profile page I can "tag myself" with my favorite topics, and get a personalized news stream right there, filtering for exactly the type of content I'm interested in.

As we finish migrating from, features like these will only get more valuable. For now, anything you don't find on the new site will still be accessible on the old site; we'll run both in parallel for a while. And we have a ton more features planned. The framework we're building on will let us start rolling out specialized sites, too - Down To Earth, for example -- focused on local people, places and topics. is the first step, and we know there will be bugs to work out and adjustments to be made.

So please, tell us what you think! Sign up for a site account and leave a comment, or shoot me an email. And we'll use this space to talk with all of you about how we can do things better.

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