Only 1,659,230 Requirements - A response to the negativity toward the Boston Globe redesign.

This is a guest post written by @jimmynotjim

On Monday my feeds, as I’m sure yours as well, blew up with the launch of BostonGlobe.com. It’s been a much anticipated launch both within and out of the design community. I was excited to get home and check it out on a browser other than my iPhone just to see how (and to try and decipher why) they handled the content. It didn’t take long for the Negative Nancy’s to start complaining and cut into that excitement.

A few were unimpressed. With all the hoopla surrounding ‘Responsive Design’ lately the Globe fell short of their expectations. Most though complained about the subscription requirements. The number of people expecting free access was outstanding. One tweet read “The future of web design is behind a paywall, something not quite right about that…” and another “A holy screw you to The Boston Globe for paywalls” and even “I’ve always craved something between a newsletter and an AOL keyword that I can’t show my friends” from one ‘web star’.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t shocked. I myself am a child of Napster and have ‘shared’ more music, movies and software than I care to mention, but at some point I grew up. I realized that if I want to get paid for my hard work, I should be paying for someone else’s. I guess some people never grow up, but I digress. I’m not here to add more noise by complaining about the complainers, but to point out what I believe they are missing in hopes of opening their eyes.

First, this is more than just a responsive layout for a blog. A newspaper as large as the Globe has multiple layers of content, a wide spectrum of readers, and who knows how many stakeholders with their own opinion on what’s important. I think @simplebits tweet said it best, “Congratulating @beep, @scottjehl, & @filamentgroup on their groundbreaking work with 1,659,230 requirements for the new http://bostonglobe.com.”

The fact that they were able to pull this off is frankly a miracle. Did anyone else happen to sign up for a free account and explore the site? If not you really should. You can easily and intuitively access back issues, save articles for later, use swipe gestures on mobile, and connect with the writers and editors directly. I’d like to see these naysayers examples of ‘dime a dozen’ responsive sites that offer as much for as large of an audience, I can think of only a few who come close.

BostonGlobe.com on an iPad

The second issue, about the paywall has really gotten under my skin. When Apple came out with the first iPhone and announced they had changed the game, did everyone complain about the price of admission? No, they stood in lines for hours and shelled out hundreds of dollars for that precious piece of design. Should we expect the people that spent who knows how much time and effort on this project (and all the writers and editors who will publish to it) to go unpaid? We’ve all read the quotes about the average person being more likely to get struck by lightning/eaten by a shark/in a plane crash than clicking an ad, I’m willing to bet everyone at the Globe has too.

How is a paywall any different than a subscription to Netflix, Hulu Plus, Rdio, etc? Why is it were willing to throw our cash at entertainment services (or Apps and even Apple themselves) but aren’t willing to squeeze out a few bucks (basically a large coffee) for well researched, thought out, written and edited news? I’m sure this question was asked and researched at the Globe, I doubt they spent all this effort and said, ‘eh, lets just do a paywall’. I would hope Ethan et al. would have put up a decent fight if it wasn’t.

As I stated before, this isn’t just a responsive layout, it’s a multi-layered service offering a well thought put and executed experience. A premium news service like that deserves a premium price. After all, if all we want is sound bites that barely scratch the surface, we have plenty of crappy sites from AOL, Yahoo and the other failing web giants to look to, or we can always just visit the Globes free version Boston.com (that’s right, they do offer free content).

BostonGlobe.com on a desktop browser

Just so it’s clear, I’m not saying the Globe site is perfect for me or anyone in particular, but with as broad a viewership and the number of moving elements they had to work with I think they did an exemplary job. So what’s your take? Did the Globe’s design fail to meet your expectations or are you in the “it should be free” camp? Are you as happy with the results as I am? I’m curious to hear everyone’s opinion.

About @jimmynotjim

Jimmy Wilson

My name is James, but you can call me Jimmy (and even Jim if you like). I’m a 29 year old carpenter turned web nerd, living and working in Boston MA. In addition to design I enjoy photography, drawing, cooking, camping, hiking, and of course spending time with my loving family.

Twitter: @jimmynotjim | Web: JimmyNotJim.com