Who has a great website? Someone asked me that yesterday, and, much to my surprise, my brain did a huge belly flop.
And that's been bothering me. As a digital editor, I should have a visual image in my head of what an outstanding website looks like and be able to rattle off a list with ease.
I'm attributing part of my inability to answer that question on the disparate definitions of greatness.
Is greatness defined by loyal traffic? Or traffic volume? Amazing video? Epic content? Authentic creativity? Stunning pictures? My brain didn't go blank as much as it splintered in 100 different directions.
And today I settled on a simplistic definition of greatness for a website: One that satisfies my needs. My need to be informed, to learn and grow, to be entertained, to save time and to get things done.
With that in mind, here's who I think is great and why:
Making complex issues simple, human
• Vox does an amazing job with video. I admire their ability to mix still images, graphics, animation and video with good audio overlays and turn dense or dry news into interesting, relatable content. There are things I know I need to know, but really don't want to read, such as the Panama Papers.
• Frontline does an amazing job of giving me an emotional connection to major, global issues. They don't just tell me what, they tell me why I should care by showing me the human faces behind the news. And they do a great job of tailoring video to social media platforms. This video on the Women of Isis posted on Facebook is compelling with or without audio. On YouTube, full length videos, like the Children of Isis, grab you by the heart and make you want to watch all the way through. What I like most about Frontline videos is that they can stand alone. They're not just blatant promos to watch PBS programming.
Things I really want to know
• DNAinfo/Chicago does an excellent job of giving me info in a quick, digestible format. They write about things I really want to know about and when I read things I didn't know I wanted to know, I'm happy they shared it with me. Rarely do I find anything on their site a waste of my time because I feel they respect my time. They are short and to the point, which is not synonymous with superficial. And they do a great job of bringing stories to life with multimedia/art elements.
I have no interest in the White Sox (I bleed Cubbie Blue), but found myself reading this story on the new White Sox announcer from beginning to end. How could you not after seeing this picture?
And yes, I do want to know the 10 best wine events on the weekend and that the restaurant down the street from me wants to open a 74-person outdoor dining patio.
• EveryBlock Chicago gives me excellent information on what I need to know about everything happening within a few blocks of my house. I signed up for alerts that I get in my email every day telling me about crime, businesses, political issues and news coverage of anything within my zip code. If I can't read it every day, I save the emails and read them later. I can't honestly say I do that with anything else.
Things I really need to know
• NiemanLab could have the worst website on the planet and I would still read it because it has information that I need. And I really mean need, not just want. The quality of their content is so high and relevant that they've been successful in making me believe that I would be missing out if I didn't read it. There are a lot of voices out there churning out a lot of content. If Nieman writes about it, I know it's valuable. This week's reading list? "Want to start a small data journalism team in your newsroom? Here are 8 steps."
• Harvard Business Review: Like Nieman, I feel like I have to read HBR to keep improving my skills. Today, "What I Learned from Trying to Innovate at the New York Times" is an excellent article on a company's ecosystem can defeat new goals. A lot of digital success really comes down to leadership, changing culture, collaboration and project execution. HBR has the best articles.
Beyond the news
• The Chicago History Museum website does a good job of balancing coverage of its events with info you need to know. The nav on the side helps you complete tasks while the rotisserie gives you featured articles on current exhibits or events.
• Amazon ... is it any wonder that Amazon gets more than 2 billion visits a month and $88 billion in annual sales? Amazon just makes it so easy to do everything: Find what you want, check reviews, see pictures, compare products, order something and re-order something (plus listening to music and watching videos). Amazon gets my highest ranking for usability. Heck, I don't even have to go online anymore. I just tell Alexa to re-order cat food or push a dash button to have toilet paper magically appear on my doorstep. It has my undying love because it saves me time, my most precious commodity.
So what makes a site great?
One that fulfills a need in a simple, compelling manner. What need is yours fulfilling?