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Wow, Andrew Sullivan Is NOT Happy About The Atlantic Redesign

Anyone suffering from the illusion that the Atlantic wields any control at all over what its writers write, need not suffer any longer! Headline blogger Andrew Sullivan (who left Time for The Atantic just over three years ago) is really not at all happy with last week’s redesign of the Atlantic’s powerhouse website and is making his dislike known. Really known. Behold.

I never saw the whole redesign before it was launched and I was not included in the process at all. It has all sorts of bells and whistles which people tell me are great – including a new “content management system” and something called Disqus which is a way cool commenting device with avatars and such.

I don’t like what was done to my own page much, as I have said, but I signed off in advance (except for the abrupt removal of the Dish’s search engine). The unnecessary new fonts, the loss of framing for the photos, the exploitation of the Dish as a relentlessly throbbing promotional tool for the Wire (a Dish duplicate with more staffers) has interrupted its flow and made it less easy to read. The biggest loss is the absence of the boxes of the most recent posts for the other bloggers. Now, you cannot use the Dish as a hub for the other bloggers (which was probably part of the point) but I fear it will reduce their traffic – and will certainly make me miss good stuff I otherwise would have clicked on.

Certainly at no point was I ever asked what I would like to see improved on this page. My requests over three years, often suggested by readers – for a continued-reading feature that does not require a new page (the new one sends you into a mass of prose where it’s very hard to find where you left off), for a much more user-friendly search function, for one-click running summaries of long threads (torture, gay rights, Obama, health reform, Window views) etc, have all been turned down, even as just three people produce 300 posts a week to the point of exhaustion and generate between 55 and 60 percent of the Atlantic.com’s entire traffic.

Suffice to say he is less than thrilled. Sullivan is not all snap however; he concedes that despite this new “HuffPo/DailyBeast/Gawker type melange” he knows “the designers meant well and worked very hard. Like everyone else, I deeply appreciate their hard work.” But then he ends on a rather threatening note, making it hard not to wonder whether this post is intended to be a shot across the bow of sorts:

The redesign also makes the Dish’s role at the Atlantic even more anomalous than it has recently become. The Dish once fit into a bevy of bloggers as a kind of unifying hub for all of them. In the new design, it’s clear the Dish fits in nowhere. Still the Dish will survive, however estranged from the rest of the Atlantic.com’s content; and relatively benign neglect is probably better than the alternatives.

Subtle, but I imagine the folks at the Atlantic are probably taking note. Sullivan is a powerhouse and has a large and loyal following, and he’s right to point out that the Atlantic.com more or less used his blog as the backbone around which to build their exceptionally good site. I haven’t had a chance to explore the overhaul (it should be noted Marc Ambinder appears to be more or less pleased with it, Ta-Nehisi Coates less so) but I am amazed they didn’t consult their top lineup of bloggers was consulted before making major changes: every single person working in media is painfully aware of the importance of advertising but at some level it has to go hand in hand with usability and reader enjoyment.

Update: Just to clarify, Ta-Nehisi Coates (as Andrew notes in his post) was consulted on two occasions, as recently as two weeks ago, and tells us he was given the opportunity to say “No way” but at the time welcomed the changes. So live and learn, I guess. Perhaps, the Atlantic will take a note from the NYT.com and stick with what works, and not be afraid to change what doesn’t. (Update again: it would seem they have done just that.)

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