You Can Never Go Home Again

The Nieman Journalism Lab has a thought-provoking piece up about the shifting role of the homepage for websites. With mobile apps and, to a lesser extent, social media becoming so prevalent, most people don’t enter a content site through the front door anymore. The Atlantic is one example they use, where only 12% of its site visits start from the homepage.

This will fundamentally change how websites are designed. In the article, they mention one possible way is that the homepage will become more of a branding page instead of a gateway, while the individual story pages get redesigned to be more “welcoming”, presenting the specific content, creating a enjoyable visual experience, and enticing readers to stick around and read more articles. In fact, the individual story pages would be redesigned multiple ways depending on if the audience is a mobile one, a social media one, an aggregator one, etc.

The website architecture would no longer be a hierarchy of boxes, but a fluid multi-faced, multi-dimensional construct that could open the door for much more compelling, personalized websites.

As a side note, it’s interesting to see that social media still isn’t a major traffic driver for news sites despite how much attention it gets in that sphere. An editor at the Wall Street Journal states in the article that only 6-10% of of its traffic comes from social media.

What isn’t mentioned in the article, however, is that the homepages of content sites have always been extremely overwhelming and generally horrible as they squeeze as many ads and as many headlines as they can all over the real estate, in addition to multiple navigation mechanisms. So before there were so many ways to enter a site, it was still not the easiest thing to go through the front door.

It’s one reason that mobile content has the advantage. Mobile demands less clutter, better design work, and more of an emphasis on the user experience.

Take The New York Times homepage (pictured above). It’s still laid out like a physical newspaper. Newspapers had to make use of every square inch to fit content on a limited physical medium that was confusing itself with its multiple folds and broken up articles on different pages and alphabetically and numerically marked pages. Websites don’t have those constraints.

Although content sites can’t be completely personalized for each reader yet (although some, like Slate, are trying to figure it out), homepages really should be less an example of random aggregation and more of, well, let’s say a great host, that shows you exactly where you should put your baggage, leads you to your room, and let’s you know when dinner is, all before you even have to ask.

Heck, maybe in the future we’ll have actual, personal AI hosts unique to each reader. I mean, sure, I get my news from social media and aggregator sites and apps and such. But the best articles I read are usually shown to me by trusted friends and colleagues who say, “Hey, you should read this. You’ll dig it.”