Friday, August 14, 2009

The New Love The Redesign, Search Engine Still Sucks

The Los Angeles Times did something right. They redesigned their Website, from top to bottom. I've only been there a couple of times, but I have to say that it looks great. It may even be better than, and that's high praise from me. It feels comfortable but comprehensive, and it looks like I can find my way from there to anywhere in the paper. I might actually start going there just for fun. That would be a major change; I really did not like the old So, kudos to the LA Times. It's nice to be able to take some pride in my hometown paper.

In the print edition, the LA Times is still struggling. I like what they have done with the Op-Ed page over the last several years; they've experimented quite a bit, which is good in and of itself, and now they seem to have found a structure that works, although I miss Joel Stein. So the print edition still struggling, but some parts are getting better.

However, a caveat: I still don't like the search engine on I have a standard test that I run on to see if it is working the way I want it to work. Their car critic is a guy named Dan Neil, who, for my money, is one of the best newspaper columnists in the country on any topic. He's the only car critic to win a Pulitzer. I like the fact that the LA Times has given him a second column, on general cultural topics. Good call.

My test is this: Dan Neil wrote a column on November 3, 2004, reviewing the Ducati 999R, an Italian motorcycle. I remember this because it's my birthday, and that was the day John Kerry lost the presidential election. He described the bike as evil on two wheels:
Its 150-hp V-twin motor runs on damned souls and is lubricated with the fat of unbaptized children.
I test by trying to find that article using the search function on This time around, I tried several combinations. Nothing. This article is less than 5 years old - it's not exactly archivable material. But you may have noticed that I linked to it, and quoted from it. How did I find it? Simple. I Googled "Dan Neil los angeles times ducati unbaptized children," and voila! There's the article. On So I can find this article using Google, but not the LA Times' own search engine.

One step forward, yay! Still waiting for the next step. Newspapers complain that they can't make as much money from the Web as they can from their print editions, and some are threatening to force users to pay for content on their Websites. Here's a hint about how to make money on a newspaper Website: get the basics rights. Execute well. Make sure the damn thing works the way users want it to.

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