Building an Irish Times website for the new digital era

The online editor on redesigning irishtimes.com and differentiating it from the printed newspaper

The new Irish Times website. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill / THE IRISH TIMES

The new Irish Times website. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill / THE IRISH TIMES

Tue, Mar 12, 2013, 19:37

Over the last few days, The Irish Times has been implementing some of the most significant technical changes in its history. In the printed newspaper, these changes won’t have a significant effect on how our articles appear, although they will allow us to do some things more efficiently.

Online users will have noticed the new design of the website, which went live on Saturday. The developments include new colours and fonts, better picture presentation and mobile-friendly responsive design.

More fundamentally, we’re changing the way we push content to the web. Up until now, over 60 per cent of the articles published on irishtimes.com arrived there via a direct feed of text and images from the printed newspaper, uploaded overnight once the print edition had been completed. This (by modern standards) relatively crude process meant our content lacked many of the attributes users expect from a modern website – hyperlinks and tagging, for example. Our new system will allow us to add this value at source for the first time.

This will allow us to group our content in ways that make sense online. For example, where previously you might have had to search across several different sections to find coverage of a particular political issue, now political news, analysis, and opinion can all be found in our Politics section. And if you want to catch up with what Miriam Lord or Fintan OToole have been writing, you can see all our regular columnists here.

It also means that we will no longer be putting the entire edition of the newspaper online overnight. Instead, we’ll be publishing continuously over the 24-hour cycle, seven days a week, reflecting the reality of how content is found, consumed and shared on digital platforms. From now on, different variants of articles may appear in print and online, tailored to the needs of the respective audiences. Some newspaper content may not be published online at all, and some online content will not appear in the print edition. While we recognise some of our readers would prefer an exact digital replica of the daily newspaper, we believe those requirements are better served by our epaper or Kindle editions.

Our new systems allow us to optimise content for online use. At the top of each article, for example, you’ll see ’Topics’ tags. These relate to key individuals, organisations, places and themes referenced in the piece and they link to other articles on those subjects. Also, if you click on the author’s name, you’ll be brought to that writer’s profile page, where you’ll be able to see their other work and, in many cases, follow them on Twitter.

With these new tools at our disposal, we’ve made some fundamental changes to the architecture of irishtimes.com. In some cases, we’ve introduced new sections, such as Crime and Law. In others, we’ve brought more detail than was previously possible, so our international coverage now specifies regions such as the US, Europe or the Middle East. Our Health section, which previously only contained articles from Tuesday’s Health and Family supplement, now includes all out health-related articles throughout the week.

We have also implemented a significant redesign, based on our understanding of data about user behaviour on the site, along with analysis of how the overall digital media landscape is changing. Those changes are happening very fast - we anticipate that very soon over 50 per cent of our audience will be accessing irishtimes.com via mobile devices. That has significant implications which we need to take on board.

A development of this scale inevitably prompts many reactions, both positive and negative, and we’ve had plenty of both since our relaunch. We have had a few teething problems with our new systems as we roll them out this week. These have had some negative impact on our online publishing to the website and our News app since the weekend. We are working very hard to resolve these as quickly as possible and to get our digital platforms functioning fully. It’s unfortunate that the redesigned site has been adversely affected by these technical problems, which have delayed the publication of our content over the last three days, but I’m hopeful that we can fix these relatively soon. In the meantime, if you have any questions, please post them below and I’ll do my best to answer as comprehensively and promptly as I can.

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