Voice of San Diego Launches New Site, New Social Experience


Today the Voice of San Diego launches a new website. It’s not just a redesign, but also a major restructuring of the content management system and a change to the overall news experience for the end user.

I had the chance to get an exclusive interview with the Voice of San Diego about their new site and what this change will mean for the staff and their readers.

New Website – Six Reasons and More

The new website was not an overnight decision but was brought about from a series of observations made and changes that Scott Lewis, CEO of Voice of San Diego said were needed.

Lewis told readers last week in a post about the six reasons why they were making this change.

The new features of the site include enhanced social capabilities and functionality with news content and other users on the site, responsive design, as well as a new layout and organization of content.

Scott noticed that many of the functions and features they didn’t have on the site were things he did want for a long time.

“I think a lot of those (reasons) I have known for years – based on people’s experience, based on the trends of what I have seen in the industry,” Lewis said. “For instance, on responsive design, I knew I wanted that two years ago….Regarding our commenting, I was convinced for years and people told me they were having trouble finding responses to comments they had done. And it is now standard to have a notification system now. And we didn’t have that. It was also obvious our search engine performance was off.”

What’s Behind the Site?

The new website was built with the help of two businesses – Realtidbits and Idea Melt.

Voice of San Diego was in talks with Kelly Abbott of Realtidbits since last summer and began web development in the last six months. They conducted user tests during the development process to refine the design and layout. The new website operates off a WordPress content management system and was built using INN’s Largo Project. According to Lewis, the new website will allow his staff to have an easier way to organize stories and it will help with the overall workflow process for news production.

Moving from Gatekeeper to Community Organizer Moderator

A big feature of the new site is the emphasis on bringing the community more into the site to interact with the content and be able to comment, interact and converse.

Lewis states the change is moving from a gatekeeper to a community organizer moderator role.

This change brings a different social experience with content that is similar to a Reddit-like experience.

“I have been really into it (Reddit) for the last five months,” Lewis said. “The system (Reddit) is really beautiful…the system (Reddit) is glorious in its simplicity but also in its effectiveness to isolate conversations. I think that Reddit is better at debate and back-and-forth conversation than Twitter or Facebook because of the ability of users to rate each other and its slow approach. It’s not a parade but like a wiki – each conversation builds over time.”

Users will now be able to comment and rate each other’s interactions on the new site at the story level. Users can create a social profile on the site that can be connected to an existing social media account or create a new one.

In addition, comments will appear right away on the site. Voice of San Diego will still moderate the conversation but they want the community to foster the conversation. They have posted some simple guidelines for users on how the commenting function works.

Follow Narratives Narratives-Image

Another unique feature of the website is the organization and layout of the content. Stories are often categorized by topics or sections on most sites but the new Voice of San Diego website operates off a different nomenclature – the focus is on the narrative. The website still has sections on its site, but the narrative is the main focus.

The new website allows users to go into a specific narrative (e.g. city council) and follow that narrative by clicking on a “Follow Narrative” feature in the site. They can follow multiple narratives and unfollow a narrative at anytime.

“We always wanted some kind of way to connect our site better to the social web -actually incorporate the social web into our site,” Lewis says. “I have always believed you can follow people easily and sources of information on the web easily but it’s not always easy to follow stories. So I believe that we are going to be part of changing that. We are making it more obvious how you follow a story or a narrative. That went hand-in-hand with the change from our own system of a beat system to a narrative system where instead of covering politics we are covering a city council election or specific story lines within topics.”

In the future, Lewis said they want to allow users to submit information or content to that narrative on the site through photos, videos, text, etc., but for now, users will be able to follow or unfollow narratives.

The Plaza

theplaza_logo_oldThe Plaza is another new area on the site that goes beyond a typical forum and provides a different social experience.

Users can create a social profile on the site that can be connected to an existing social media account or create a new one and comment or post in a general area called The Plaza. The Plaza will allow users to take and upload photos, audio, text and video from the Voice of San Diego website but also other sources from the web and allow others to see those comments and rate them.

This commenting experience is also available at the story page level aside from The Plaza.

A New Social Experience

Kelly Abbott of Realtidbits believes that Lewis is experimenting with a different approach that places more emphasis on the readers by allowing them to be more social with the site and content.

“He’s really trying to prove a bottom-up approach will work really well than the top-down approach, if you let the bottom-up thrive,” Abbott said.

Abbott said that by allowing the community to drive pageviews instead of pageviews driving the community you will have a different website experience and level of engagement with your online user base.

Lewis is optimistic and excited about the potential of the new website and the overall online experience of their site.

“This will be a better route to a better future, ” Lewis said.