April 23, 2015 Last Updated 7:48 am

The Atlantic unveils its new, redesigned website to mixed reader reviews

The site tries both serve as an attractive platform for its feature content, while also driving sufficient web traffic like a news site, a difficult objective

The Atlantic magazine became the second media property to relaunch its website, introducing a new, responsive design. Earlier this week The Wall Street Journal unveiled its website redesign.

TheAtlantic-web-screensI’m usually prone to being cautious when accessing new website designs, but I found the WSJ’s new site both attractive and utilitarian, at the same time. It accomplished what it needs to: present a fairly large number of content choices, while also building in visible advertising real estate. As a newspaper, the WSJ home page needs to allow readers to sift through a large number of choice, while also attract readers to explore more.

The Atlantic’s goals are probably different. As a magazine, the content choices are both more limited, and more important – the editor wants to point the reader to the one big story, and then be able to present it in an attractive manner, one more fitting to magazine content.

Or, at least, that is what magazines usually attempt to do. One might argue that, with the web, one needs more traffic volume than what magazines have traditionally aimed for, in order to make their web efforts profitable. The Atlantic has led the industry in this regard, experimenting with new web brands, and moving as far away as possible of the old web goal of simply trying to drive new print magazine subscriptions through their website.

“From the beginning of the project, we’ve had the fundamental question in mind of what this site is—which is to say, both what it’s become (as regular readers know, a lot’s changed here over time) and what we want it to be,” wrote J.J. Gould, editor of TheAtlantic.com. “Is it the website of a magazine? Is it a news site? Is it, as James Franco possibly once suggested, a blog?”

The new site tries to have it both ways: be a traditional magazine site, while also trying to be a news site that might attract a larger audience. I think it somewhat accomplishes the first goal, but I have my doubts about whether they have accomplished the second. But then again, it depends on what type of device you are using.

Like most media website redesigns, The Atlantic wants its site to work on every digital device. But it also wants told deliver visible advertising on all devices, as well. That is difficult.

The new site for The Atlantic.com is far better on a smartphone or tablet than on the desktop, where the lead story takes up far too much real estate. Also, the annoying pop-up ads, and ad placements that force their way on to the home page feel like a ham-handed way to improve visibility. Even on my iPad, the site really only works for me in landscape, as in portrait the medium rectangle ad appears in such a way as to suggest a misfitting mobile website.

Having said that, however, the article designs are attractive, and the way the stories are presented are beautiful. If you believe, as many do, that readers more and more enter websites directly on the content they are seeking, not through the home page, then this is the most important part of any website redesign.

Yes, I will have to live with this awhile before making a final decision. But I would say that the website works for me some of the time, such as on my iPhone or iPad when in landscape, and not so much when I reach the site on my iMac.


The editor tellingly chose this Flickr image from Hernán Piñera for his column on the new site design.

How do readers feel about it? While the WSJ chose to turn off commenting on its website preview story (not a bad idea, as most earlier comments are generally negative), here The Atlantic opened themselves up to readers. The early reviews are mixed, as one might expect. But a number of readers had the same impression: the new site really was built with mobile in mind, not the desktop.

“Just another site where the mobile tail is wagging the dog,” one reader wrote in a comment that I feel is probably too harsh in its judgement. “Like so many other commenters, I come to the site to READ, not view a bunch of over-sized images of no interest that I have to scroll past to get to the content.”

But the most interesting comment I read came from a reader whose real concern was comments: they think it is time to close them down:

“Do us all a favour and simply close the comments. It’s obvious you can’t pay for moderation, so just shut the whole commenting thing down. It’s not that great a loss.”

  • sjw 3 years ago

    The Atlantic did to itself what Slate did a year of so ago. On a desktop it’s horrible — a jumbled mess that takes a long time to load. I went to the Atlantic in order to read its really good articles, which were easy to select on its home page. No more. So like Slate, it’s gone for me, and I won’t go back. I also predict that, just as happened with Slate, initial hits will go up as readers try to figure things out, but several months in, readership will crater. Sad.