I’ve been reading (or attempting to read) RedState’s front page feed for around a year now, as a way to keep informed. When I started this was back in the RedState 2.0 days, and since then the site’s undergone a bit of an upgrade. I was mostly incommunicado from June through late October, so I didn’t get a chance to adjust to the new site until roughly the beginning of this month. It’s definitely quite a bit different! I have a few questions and comments about the new site which I presume both regulars and the Powers That Be can address; odds are I’m not bringing up anything that’s not known given how long 3.0 has been deployed, so it should be easy to answer/respond to them.
One of the key rationales for 3.0 was to make localized participation and communities easier, or so I gathered from front-page posts on the matter. Indeed, now each state has its own front page, like so, and you can post to it by tagging with your state name. However, I don’t have time to poll my state’s page for new content, just as I don’t have time to poll the front page for new content. In the latter case there’s a simple solution: the RedState front page feed. However, in the former case, as best as I can determine from the site UI, there are no state feeds (alternately, tag feeds) which I could use to the same purpose. I’ve tried a bit of URL hacking to see if something existed but simply wasn’t exposed, to no avail. Do state front pages or tag pages have feeds (and if so, why don’t such pages link to their feeds)?
As far as site content goes, things are as lively as ever, which raises the problem of search: how can I search existing entries to find ones containing particular words, phrases, &c.? There’s always the obvious solution of using Google with a site-specific search, of course, but it seems odd that there wouldn’t be both coarse- (search all data) and finer-grained (author, title, content) controls in RedState itself. At the very least, it would be a good idea to embed a custom Google site search box, if only to make it easier to search by removing the need to open a new window. Given how search-driven most browsing is these days (at least in the US, although I’ve heard it varies across cultures), I’d put it high up the page in a fairly prominent location.
One of the nice things about tags is that you don’t have to design a fixed hierarchy when categorizing content. The categories appear organically as new entries are written and people start to agree on common terms. For someone who doesn’t read the site through the site, however, the tags never display, so it’s hard to tell how and when particular tags are used. Is there a page which lists all tags in use or that somehow would allow me to see what topics people have discussed?
Entry authors in feeds
Given that I usually only read the front page feed, I had a very difficult time correlating authors with entries in RS2.0, because each entry was listed as written by “[email protected]” or somesuch. This was one of the very first fixes I noticed when 3.0 went out, and it now became easier to associate writing with authors (although over time it’s become easier to associate style with an author). I can think of no bug more important than that one to me, and I thank whoever made sure that got fixed for doing so. Every other issue I raise here pales in importance compared to the impact of this bugfix.
“Above the fold”
I have what I consider to be a fairly large screen at 1440×900, yet even with that prodigious quantity of pixels, I can only see eight lines of the top story on the front page. (Actually, I can only see three, but I’m being generous to account for an email-up-to-date message that doesn’t seem to want to go away even when I click through it; I assume top men are working on it as we speak.) The combination of an ad, the related-sites line, and the large RedState graphic push content two inches further down my screen. On those occasions when I do visit the site directly, typically to view an embedded video that Google Reader strips, I often have to scroll down the page just to put the video in view. I really shouldn’t have to scroll first thing when I visit an entry just to see a decent amount of content.
Frankly, I think all three lines should go. The ad might be a good fit for the place where the email message current sits on my display; it’s still prominent positioning without overly affecting the amount of visible page content (of course I’d prefer if it weren’t even in the page, but you have to support the site somehow). The site logo is beautiful, but I don’t think it carries its weight. It’s a quick link back to the home page and is good branding, but otherwise it has no useful purpose. I don’t have any ideas here; you’d need a different-sized logo to start (and I don’t know your options), and I’m not seeing obvious space for it to go without disrupting content (while still being prominently positioned in the page). Lastly, I’d put the related-site links in a shout-out box above RedHot; with the freeing of all that vertical space, RedHot would still be fairly far up the page even with the implied de-emphasis of a downward shift.
Feed availability in browsers
Most browsers nowadays offer some way to access feed information included in the page. This allows the browser to handle feed subscription and to centralize viewing of feed content. However, RedState doesn’t seem to be using link elements in the head of the page to do it. I assume this is already known, but I’m raising the point just to be sure.
As I edit this entry, I see a “SAVE” button at the bottom of the page. If this previews the entry first, it should be named accordingly. If it doesn’t, I argue that it should (so I can check the formatting of this entry; ironically, I would have done far better with the old-style HTML entry than with Markdown).
RS 3.0 is good stuff, and fundamentally (particularly for my mode of interaction) nothing has changed so long as we have a front page of good stories and a feed to make it easy to read them. That doesn’t mean it can’t be improved to be more intuitive or understandable. Hopefully these comments and questions will illuminate new ways to make RedState better in the long run, and hopefully for me, there are easy answers to the questions I asked in the first part of this entry.