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New Home Page goes into testing

New Home Page goes into testing

ninemsn's homepage is the place many people in our audience start their time on the web; it's as familiar as their TV remote.

When our users log on throughout the day, they know they'll get a snapshot of what's important and interesting. They know how to search using Bing and how to get to Hotmail. They know how it works and many have told us they like how it works.

So why spend more than a year redesigning the homepage? Why fix what isn't broken?

In 2007, Australians were still watching Big Brother and beating England in cricket. John Howard was prime minister and Angelina Jolie only had three kids. On the media front, MySpace ruled social media, Facebook had only just opened to the public and the iPhone didn't exist. But the landscape has changed. Our audiences and our advertisers have adapted and ninemsn has shifted with them. Our new homepage is the next step in this user-powered evolution.

The research stage of the project included a quantitative analysis of use patterns on the current page. We also met face to face with hundreds of ninemsn and non-ninemsn users to help us understand their needs and desires for the homepage and greater web. As this phase progressed, we detected some recurring ideas that we grouped under three overarching themes:

i. Time

ii. Relevance and personalisation

iii. The pulse of Australia

Time is an interesting concept to work with on a homepage redesign. There's a huge turnover of content on the homepage, but that content flow isn't always discernable due the static nature of the layout. We wanted to improve the sense of freshness on the page while also providing new ways for users to navigate to important stories they may have missed. The carousel of previous stories under the main news picture and the Editor's Picks module help address this problem.

ninemsn has always prided itself on being relevant to the majority of Australians - but how do you balance that with relevance to the individual? Our solution has been to enable the user to tailor parts of the homepage to their tastes or needs.

The pulse of Australia concept is all about the crowd. Because ninemsn's audience is a fair representation of the Australian demographic mix, they can have confidence in the reflection when we hold up the mirror. If a politician wants a crash course in the way mainstream Australia feels about the big issues, they should check out our vote archive.

Visually, the most obvious changes are the new logo, the colour scheme and a general feeling of space and clarity. ninemsn's new-look masthead combines our parent companies' logos: Nine Entertainment Co's blue and MSN's font and butterfly. We've changed the background colour from blue to light grey. We've cleared the clutter around the Bing search bar. The navigation has been reduced from 13 items to 10 with our partner services such as Seek, Match and Domain aggregated under a Classifieds tab.

Our audience has always loved the vote, which, with several hundred thousand votes per day, is an excellent snapshot of the pulse of Australia. But to date, the only interaction option has been to vote "yes" or "no". Now, when users engage with the vote, they'll be able to access more information about the topic through related links and Bing search.

We know our audience is obsessed by television so there's a new TV area on the right with our popular guide, news from TV Week and TVFIX, plus catch-up shows from FIXPlay and the Nine Network.

Our Editor's Picks section will showcase the best feature stories from across ninemsn's 85-site network. This section will display four different daily editions with time-relevant content.

The Now on ninemsn area below the Editor's Picks is a real time feed of stories from across our network as they are published. Users can choose which sites they want to include in the feed. It's a personalisation play and, while we know most people don't personalise web pages, we think users will enjoy this feature, not least because it will reveal content not traditionally programmed on the homepage. We'll be tracking its progress so watch this space for an update on adoption and use patterns.

On the client front, there are additional ad spots and new rich-media placements and packages that will drive cut-through for our advertisers. Our sales team is particularly excited about a package that teams up a new placement across the top of the page, called the masthead, with skins to create an incredible branding opportunity, named the fireplace.

A research program spanning several years during which we’ve monitored audience analytics and met face-to-face with hundreds of people who use the site informed many of the changes we’re implementing. Other modifications, such as the Now on ninemsn feed, will give the audience things they didn't specifically say they wanted but will hopefully embrace in time.

We're taking some educated chances elsewhere too. A percentage of our audience goes to Facebook and their banks after visiting ninemsn. By adding these links to our shortcuts bar, we're making it easier for our users to step away from ninemsn. But hopefully the added convenience will help us build long-term loyalty.

User insights have also informed our decision not to change certain things. Our audience needs to stay up to date with latest news, so that remains front and centre on the homepage. They like having the weather in the top right corner, so we've kept it there. Hotmail is an important part of their daily use so that also stays put.

And the evolution will continue as the new page has been built to allow us to constantly test new experiences with small user samples before rolling them out to the full audience.

Excitingly, from an editorial point of view, we're introducing technology to publish alternative content presentations to different samples of users so the audience will also help shape the content.

In addition, our developers have completely rewritten the page's code to ensure it loads instantaneously. What won't be changing is our commitment to delivering the best news, entertainment and lifestyle stories to the almost 10 million Australians who visit ninemsn each month.

As with any redesign of a much-loved product, change takes a while to get used to. It can be inconvenient for our audience. We don't take this lightly, which is why we are testing the new page with a small sample of our audience before rolling out to 100 percent of users. We will look at what our audience has to say about the changes, analyse the feedback, clarify it with users directly as needed, and feed what we've learned into future iterations.

Check out the new page at beta.ninemsn.com.au and view our interactive guide as well.

We hope you like it.

User comments
The main page seems pretty similar, but for me the disappointment is the weather page. The previous layout (the old weather.ninemsn.com.au pages) was great, with a nice design and a neat and very organised layout. I'm not keen on the design of the new weather.9news.com.au pages and they seem to be missing the "past 24 hours" section that I used quite regularly. Seems to be following the ugly trend that hotmail went with - make all text unnecessarily larger. If it's for ease of use for people with poor eyesight, there's a zoom function in browsers and a magnifier tool in Windows and Macs, specifically for the purpose of helping people with poor eyesight to use the computer easily. There is no need to ruin the appearance with pointlessly larger text. I'm convinced marketers with web design or graphic design skills are fooling businesses into thinking their simple visual changes are what people want, getting paid to perform simple *** revamps at the expense of previous good design.
Looks all very pretty but impossible to find anything, like the old one better was guick to look for something, why fix something that isnt broken, this was my homepage for some time, have found another news site and that is now my home page, from what reports i have read, seems they are doing the same, sorry but i liked the old one, bring it back

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