Tuesday, March 2, 2010

With all respect...ChicagoNow? Try ChicagoThen!


I have followed ChicagoNow since its infancy as I followed League Of Her Own when it moved to that blog neighborhood less than a year ago (it has seemed longer!).

And to ChicagoNow's credit, it has grown substantially in volume. Unfortunately it has grown very little in content and even less in site functionality.

As most of you know, ChicagoNow is really run by the Tribune, presumably created as a way for them to, in some way, push themselves into more modern media.

There are a handful of other blogs at ChicagoNow that I read with some regularity besides LOHO, and I enjoy them a lot. But most of the content at CN isn't much more substantial than anything I would find in the Tribune itself.

Ok...so let's get to the point of this...

A defection from ChicagoNow happened recently with Mike Doyle leaving. The result was that he wrote a rather scathing review of that blog neighborhood as can be read here.

And now the discussion has begun on ChicagoNow itself.

I know nothing about the inter-workings of CN...I can only report what I see as a commenter and reader of the blogs that I follow. And what I can say is that for a blog community that has over 200 blogs associated with it, it is bland, feature poor and has a down right horrible user experience.

I have been quiet to criticize anything publicly on ChicagoNow about the problems...others at LOHO have been much more vocal. I tend to be a little hushed about anything related to software as I am a software engineer by trade and understand the difficulties in writing and distributing software and software updates. I also understand the careful line software developers must balance on while modifying software as to not drastically change and alter the user experience people have become use to.

But in 10 months we have seen, on the reader end, only one significant change in CN and that was the creation of nested commenting. And that doesn't even work that well. The nested commenting seems to only work on some browsers, and with it we lost some other nice things like the ability to open links in new tabs or windows (which is really annoying to have to browse back to return to the blog). And don't you think the comment system could be able to use a little more html than it currently does? Ugh. I complain because I have been able to add much of the same functionality with little effort on my site.

I also had been waiting for the new MyChicago feature to be finished. Before LOHO moved to CN, the platform it was on allowed its users to create their own diaries and such...that was what MyChicago would have allowed in some way. As I often have much to say, I was anxiously awaiting this feature. I got tired of waiting and decided to start CDE instead. (Not that CubbieJulie wasn't accommodating...I'm sure she would have let me contribute to LOHO if I had asked.)

Now, overall, I'm still relatively new in the blogosphere as a writer and even as a reader. I have been offered to become a blogger for a couple of other sites, which I turned down. But the features available from those sites were familiar and what are considered standard now, something which appears not to be the case with CN. I'm basing this off of what Doyle said...

Unfortunately, instead of relying on accepted standards, for ten months ChicagoNow’s online environment has felt more like Fisher Price Playskool for bloggers. That’s pretty insulting–not to mention limiting–for ChicagoNow bloggers who’ve come to rely on standard environments and tools from years of producing blogs for themselves and others. It’s an outright disservice to newbie bloggers who end up thrown into the shallow end of the pool, made to use clunky online tools and suffer through ineffective navigation that they might easily assume are somehow common.

Since the network’s May 2009 inception, many bloggers have contacted ChicagoNow staff seeking a change for the better. Here are a few of the things ChicagoNow bloggers have been asking for:

* Top-level categories that make sense so that blogs can be found by occasional ChicagoNow visitors;
* Industry-standard navbars and sidebars that offer easy and obvious access to category and date archives so that people stick around and browse;
* Date archives that don’t expire (mine did, for months), pushing your oldest content into obscurity; and
* Vanity URLs to help bloggers effectively promote their sites instead of being saddled with a URL that has 25 extra characters in it.


Now Julie DiCaro (or as she is more know as, CubbieJulie) has publicly been silent about much of this. I don't know if she has any frustration with CN or not, and that is a credit to her if she indeed is frustrated with the CN team. I would assume LOHO is one of the higher traffic blogs on CN, and with the complaints I've seen from the users there, I would hope the Julie considers bolting for a neighborhood that will allow her more flexibility. I don't know what her financial compensation is for blogging at CN, and that might be enough for her to stay. But when it appears that I, using Google's somewhat pathetic Blogger platform, am able to do so much more with my site than any of the CN people, you have to wonder if the added promotion that CN gives (through various Tribune entities) is really worth it.

But then you have to wonder, how good is the promotion they give to their bloggers? For the most part, the seem to really push only a handful of those 200+ blogs...mostly focused on talent that is in their newspapers, on the radio, on TV stations or has big boobs. Promotion rarely seems to be focused on the quality of the content that those bloggers actually have.

So what difference would be that be from reading the Trib, watching channel 9 or listening to WGN radio? I've been turned off by all three of those so much already, why would I want to get the same content at CN? Shouldn't the be promoting what is different from Tribune Company's general content?

So there you have it. I doubt this will be the last complaint about ChicagoNow, as I think a bit of a revolt may be in the works. But many of the bloggers and readers of CN deserve better.

Ok...I promise to be focusing more on the Cubs now. First game is on Thursday!!!!