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14 ways to improve HeraldTimesOnline

By Scott Tibbs, October 11, 2013

The new HeraldTimesOnline.com launched on July 1. The new website is noticeably inferior to the site developed in-house by HTO staff, and the change to the inferior content management system was mandated by Schurz Communications. If the Herald-Times is stuck with an inferior CMS, here are a few ways to improve it.

  1. Disable crowd moderation, also known as censorship by mob rule.

  2. Speed up the website. HTO is painfully slow when you open multiple articles from the today's news page. I have not played Solitaire while waiting for a website to load since I was on dial-up in 2002.

  3. Change the comment rating system to show which posters a user has rated positive or negative, like it was on the old HTO. This is helpful in determining what comments have been read.

  4. Require that online comments be attached to a real name, as is the case for letters to the editor.

  5. Disable threaded comments. Discussions are easier to follow when all posts are chronologically, like in the old system - especially in a thread that has a lot of posts.

  6. Make story comments searchable.

  7. Send an automated e-mail to users when a comment is deleted.

  8. Improve text formatting. It is possible to use HTML tags to link or format text, but there is no how-to guide for it, and the buttons to automatically insert the tags are gone. The <blockquote> tag makes quoted text way too big.

  9. Move the "report comment" link away from the link to a specific comment. It's not difficult to click the correct link, but reporting a comment by mistake is easier than it should be.

  10. Speaking of the "report comment" link, change it back to the way it was done with the previous website, where someone explained why a comment was in violation of the rules. That helps moderators, and also prevents reporting by mistake because you have to click twice (on two different pages) to report a comment.

  11. Restore the ability to have two usernames per account.

  12. Make comments visible to people who are not logged into HTO, which was a great feature of the old HTO. User comments were the most popular section of HTO before the new site was launched, and now they are behind a paywall - unless you paste ?mode=jqm_com onto the URL for an article on the mobile site.

  13. Change the user history page for commenters to include links to the articles where they posted comments, like it was on the old HTO. This makes it easier to find active discussions.

  14. Fix the glitch that sends users to the home page when one clicks on a link from an external source but is not logged in. This is very annoying - have the article load and ask for the login.

The old HTO was superior in every way to the new HTO, which is why it is so disappointing that Schurz Communications has forced an inferior CMS onto the Herald-Times when the website designed in-house was so much better. Before July 1, HTO was perhaps the best news website I used from a pure technical standpoint - better than the Washington Post, CNN.com, the New York Times, FOX News and many more.

As many complaints as I had with the moderation of comments (and I had many) and the content of news stories, the website itself was excellent from a technical standpoint. Schurz bungled badly by mandating this change, but it is never too late to admit a mistake and change course.