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Monday, 25 Nov 2002
Site Review: Star Tribune's 2 Cents
What is it? The Minneapolis Star Tribune has launched a weblog/portal called 2 cents, which provides links to commentary, articles and sites on the web. It’s slogan: “From kooky to conventional, 2 Cents explores the universe of opinion, even yours.”
It’s always nice to see a mainstream news outlet attempt to join the network conversation. And for that alone, the Star Tribune deserves some kudos. But this site suffers because it wants to be too many different things.
Weblog: The home page of this site is basically a weblog pointing to various political and economic opinions related to recent news. It appears to be edited by someone named “zeke”, but there’s no information on the site about who “zeke” is, and why we should care what “zeke” is pointing us to. As a result, the personality of the weblog falls flat. In terms of a weblog, it’s not very good. It has no sense of personal or group identity, no theme holding posts together, no link archives, RSS Feeds, or search box. It’s also not frequently updated, with only 1 or 2 posts per day. With such a vast, open theme (any opinion related to the day’s news), you would think there would be plenty of good stuff worthy of a link. Why didn’t they just deploy a tried-and-true weblog?
Portal: The rest of this site is a thin, early-stage-of-development portal to opinion pages and sites elsewhere on the web. Our first question is, why do we need this? There are plenty of worthwhile topical indices out there already. They don’t seem to be adding any particular value with this index. Second question, what’s up with the categorization scheme? It’s a mixture of commentary topics — such as Crime, Health, Politics — paired with content forms — such as weblogs, magazines, print editorials. This would be fine, but items are not cross-referenced. So, if you want to find Instapundit you must go to weblogs, not politics. Ugh!
Misc: Buried at the bottom of the home page is something condescendingly called the “Interactivity Center.” Here you simply find links to a forum, additional letters to the print edition that didn’t make it, and a link to submit links to the 2 cents site. Excellent to include these related links, but it’s hardly a center for interactive tasks.
Strangely, if you want to submit a link, and don’t find this link at the bottom of the home page, you have to click a “modules” navigation link called Submit News. What “news”? This site has a ton of nomenclature/taxonomy problems. We are not submitting news, we are submitting links to opinion sites, no?
We actually signed up for an account, and submitted a link to the weblog section of the portal. Here is what we got:
First, why does every link in the portal have this “news:” label preceding it? It’s worthless. Second, why are we “Anonymous”? We created an account, signed in and submitted the link. But it seems as though we aren’t important enough to identified. Unlike the slogan suggests, your opinion on 2 cents is an afterthought. You can recommend commentary elsewhere on the web, and that might be your own, but that’s about it, when it comes to you.
Technology: 2 cents is PHP-Nuke deployment. An okay choice, considering that it brings nice functionality for relatively little or no cost, other than in-house design and set up. PHP-Nuke is particularly good for collaborative media, but since this deployment isn’t collaborative, 2 cents doesn’t really take advantage of the technology.
Our advice: What the Star Tribune seems to miss that people don’t go to a section saying, “I’m in the mood for discussion and listening to other’s opinions.” They have exiled discussion from the time people want to engage it - after reading a news story. In 2 cents, we are seeing the newspaper idea of an editorial section imprinted on a web form. And it doesn’t work.
Guiding audiences to related discussions on the web brings enormous value to the news experience, but it must be done in a contextually relevant way. Topical and individual weblogs or banks of related discussion links would be much more powerful.
(Thanks to JD Lasica for the pointer)