What's New At ChicagoNow

Since ChicagoNow launched last summer our readers have let us know, repeatedly, that we've needed to do two things better: Search and navigation.

Today, we're very pleased to say we've taken a huge step toward doing just that.

Using software developed by Loud3r, we've launched a revamped site that will do three very important things:

1. Allow the ChicagoNow home page to give exposure to more relevant posts every day.
2. Add a new level of organization, by topic, to ChicagoNow.
3. Vastly improve our search so blogs and bloggers will be easily searchable by name.

How Loud3r Works

Loud3r organizes the site by sections, categories and topics. For example, the sections will be the same as we have now: Arts & Entertainment, Sports, News & Opinion and Life & Style. Many of the categories will be the same as we have now: Movies, Baseball, Politics, etc.

Then within each category we will have thousands of topics, so within baseball we'll have Cubs, White Sox, Derrek Lee, Mark Buehrle, etc. The categories previously were created by our editorial team.

Now, Loud3r will scan every blog post and create topics based on the words and context of the post. Based on those topics, the posts will be placed in categories.

Loud3r also identifies "trending topics" by the number of stories that are generating those keywords. So every category and topic page will have a stream of "trending" posts and a stream of "recent" posts. We will be able to add categories and topics as we see a need for them.

The New Search

One thing that has always frustrated us has been our inability to allow  readers to find a blog just by typing in the blog name. That is a thing of the past. In addition, you can now search by a blogger's name or ChicagoNow username.

But let's say this is your first time here and you want to know what we have to offer on, say, fashion. Search for "fashion" and you'll immediately receive dozens of posts from our bloggers who write on this topic.

The New ChicagoNow Home Page

Our old home page we felt was very attractive but had to be curated by a ChicagoNow producer. We did our best to select posts that showed off the diversity and breadth of ChicagoNow.

With Loud3r's algorithm we hope to give Chicagoans what they're interested in. And with the "Trending in Chicago" tab we will also be able to share links from throughout the Chicago media landscape.

We have two feeds on the home page, one we're calling "Recent on ChicagoNow" and the other called "Trending in Chicago."

The "Recent" tab, as you'd expect, only serves up posts that are part of ChicagoNow's 300-plus blog network. The "Trending" tab, on the other hand, will bring up ChicagoNow posts but will also identify and share Chicago-related links from dozens of new and old media outlets.

There's More To Come

When we launched last year with just a handful of bloggers we never dreamed we'd get so big, so fast. We've grown every month of our existence and, thanks to an incredible group of bloggers, expect to finish April with around 15 million page views, another record-setting month.

Please contact us at staff@chicagonow.com to let us know what you think of our changes, as well anything else you'd like to share with us about your experience on ChicagoNow.

Cheers,

The Staff of ChicagoNow

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Comments

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  • This is definitely going to take some getting used to. It doesn't have the same "innate" navigation feel like the old format; though I like the idea of having a comprehensive stream of most recent posts prominently placed (just wish it didn't feel so copy heavy on the upfront). :)

  • THIS is HOT!!!

  • No, this is garbage. I want to see particular blogs, like CTA Tattler, Wiz, or Barbership on the homepage, and then scan the blog's headline to see if there is anything new. Now you can't tell who wrote what on the homepage.

    It seems like Tribune Company does more and more to make its electronic products totally unusable. It seems like the only people you want to attract are Chinese spammers and scammers, not anyone who has an interest in participating on a particular blog.

    I, of course, add this to your refusal to have a preview pane nor an abuse button.

  • In reply to jack:

    Hey Jack,

    There was a glitch when we launched that didn't allow you to see the name of the blog. That's been fixed and all the blog names are next to the blogger user name.

    We're getting a ton of good feedback, thanks for your thoughts. No feedback yet from any Chinese spammers or scammers though.

  • In reply to JimmyGreenfield:

    That only appears in very small type on the home page.

    I might have been unclear that I often start on the News and Opinion tab, where that feature isn't.

    The reference to the Chinese was to the main Tribune site. However, that, along with all the other things I mentioned, the negative feedback here, and customer unfriendly comments like "you can search for a blog in the search box" indicate that (1) the Tribune didn't research this change with its users, and (2) doesn't really care what its users think, but just wants to run an schlock electronic publishing operation. That may not be clear to you, but since I did work for a very successful electronic publisher, it is sure clear to me.

  • In reply to jack:

    Ah, I see. Yep, I've also noticed that and think we should have some way to show off specific blogs on the four main tabs.

    I certainly don't agree that comment was "customer unfriendly," and in fact the comment came from a ChicagoNow blogger, not anyone on the management side.

    I do think Jackie is right, though. With a network of 300 blogs and about 1,000 posts a week we can't possibly showcase everything elegantly on one page.

    We were told by our readers and bloggers we needed a good search tool, and we listened.

    As for not caring what users think, I would hope this post and my presence here convinces you that's not the case.

  • In reply to JimmyGreenfield:

    Well, the point is whether there were some action to back it up. Again, it is the Tribune, not Chicago Now, not that there is any difference, but the Tribune has shown its indifference by, for instance having a "Customer Satisfaction/Feedback" blog that doesn't get a response until 80 comments are posted, and then the response is corporate speak, a Trib. Nation that ceased to be responsive in about a week, and total junk on its main site that is sloughed off as "Web 1.0" software, even though legitimate comments are blocked but spammers proliferate.

    If the Tribune wanted feedback, it would have had a link to a Chicago Now 2.0 site with the changes on a test basis, instead of abruptly implementing this and now taking the heat. As I mentioned, the other, more proficient and extremely more profitable electronic publishing company did exactly that, and also posted Flash presentations about how the 2.0 site worked. Subscribers can choose the gateway they prefer.

    So, as I said, unless there is evidence on the web that the Tribune Company has changed its sites to meet the valid criticisms of them, saying that a post takes care of it doesn't.

  • In reply to jack:

    Very well said!

  • In reply to jack:

    Not a fan of the new layout. What happened to the grid on the homepage? For me, I was always excited to see that my posts were featured on the grid. But now there isn't one? I agree with an earlier comment that pointed out the fact that the smaller blogs won't benefit as much from the change. My blog is pretty dang small, and I highly doubt it's ever going to make it onto the "trending" list.

  • In reply to masx0269:

    Oh, and the new Life and Style tab doesn't make any sense to me, either. My blog doesn't fit into any of those trending categories. Sorry to rip on the new site. =[

  • In reply to masx0269:

    I agree...on the Sports tab, where's the voices section? The only way to find my blog is to search by name. When you search marathon, I'm there, on like page 6.

  • In reply to masx0269:

    Better yet, can we combine both? The old and the new? Have a section of the page for trending/recent posts, but then a staff-curated area that highlights others: a sort of "featured posts" area. I think that's the best idea.

  • In reply to masx0269:

    Hmm...none of my posts have hit the recent posts feed. That's a bit frustrating. I'll be interested to see how numbers flux from pre-loud3r vs. post-loud3r.

    Sigh.

  • In reply to RunningJayhawk:

    Seconded...I don't get it. Not sure what I'm missing or doing incorrectly.

  • The new features are nice from a technological standpoint, but visually it's not as appealing. Is there a way to combine a similar graphic-based navigation for the home page with the innovations introduced by Loud3r? To be honest, the 90% text-based homepage feels like a step backward design-wise.

  • In reply to ryankiefer:

    You're right, clearly. We'll keep on making adjustments to make it look better.

  • I don't like it at all!

  • One thing I noticed that felt like a bit of a disconnect (especially to our users) was that when I was fidgeting on the Trending Topics side and hit Nike, rather than pull up posts with Nike references...I had a small amount of posts and a ton of Amazon.com pages featuring Nike products pull up. Not sure what that was all about.

    Along the lines of what Jack and Ryan are saying, it would be cool to have a tab for "Today's Featured Reads" (or something of the like) where you could still elect to read what was hand selected like the old mainpage. So that way you've got the recent posts, the trending topics, and then you still have a graphic glimpse of fun stories of the day showing the breadth and depth of topics available on ChicagoNow, without having to do an insane amount of digging. Just a thought!

  • In reply to RunningJayhawk:

    Barb, we have the Blog Posts Of The Day that is a curated list of five posts. How do you think that works?

  • In reply to JimmyGreenfield:

    I definitely think it's a good start. It'd be nice to see a more robust selection though (not sure if it's about upping the number featured or rotating selections more frequently).

    Would there ever be an opportunity for users to customize their ChicagoNow homepage with blogs they pre-select? Sort of like the MyYahoo page or the personalized Google frame? (Just a thought!)

  • In reply to JimmyGreenfield:

    As a blogger, I like that the new format allows posts to show up in the "recent" list a bit longer - even if it takes a little while before posts appear there in the first place.

    But as a reader, I would like the ability to have a list of favorite blogs. How about a third home page tab for "Favorites", with links to most recent posts on a group of user-selected blogs?

  • In reply to EdNickow:

    Hell yeah. Now we're talkin.

  • In reply to EdNickow:

    I actually find the home page much more difficult to navigate. With the old one, I could take a quick glance to see what's new from various blogs and check them out. It's actually how I stumbled on some of my now favorite blogs.

    This new one reads not like a blog page, but more like a newspaper. I can see why this might be attractive to the Tribune, but I'm here for blogs. I can check the Tribune itself if I want something that reads like a paper.

    Why can't the original graphic homepage stay with this new scrolling list of hot topics underneath or off to the side?

    Additionally, I like the new setup for the individual blogs themselves, but when I try to retweet a story, I get directed away from the blog to my Twitter page. This doesn't happen with Facebook (where a new dialogue box appears). After I tweet, I then have to navigate back to the website. Sure it's not a big deal, but it does seem unnecessary and a little annoying.

  • In reply to EdNickow:

    This is not "navigation." This is another ranking tool. Could we please just get some actual navigation that makes it easier for somebody to find a specific blog. (And no, a search engine is not a substitute for navigation.)

    A good and painfully simple first step would be to swap the position of your search box and the buttons for the section pages. And make the buttons the same color as the logo. As it is, the buttons blend into the background a people don't notice them. The way it is now, you're effectively hiding the navigation buttons and substituting a live feed (_if and only if_ your post fits in with a topic, apparently) and a trend list. It's no wonder people looking for a specific blog can't find it when the come to the homepage.

    BTW, why on Earth is "open for discussion" the tagline? It sounds like a message board slogan.

  • In reply to EdNickow:

    Sports and politics, that's all there is! I even tried changing the title of my blog by taking "queer" out(which I think was a ridiculous idea) and still did not get tagged anywhere or trended, like that will ever happen!

    And notice below, the same "From Around ChicagoNow" for over a week,.

  • In reply to JimmyGreenfield:

    Hey Jimmy...would your team consider upping the number of posts in the "Blog Posts of the Day" to 10-15? I think this could be an opportunity to implement a similar set up to how the old main page was utilized with the variety of posts, just in a different format (though I understand the platform may limit how many scroll through items you may have).

    Also...any chance a tutorial could be set up for those of us on Staff who are still trying to figure the system out? It's extraordinarily frustrating to put thought, time and effort into a post and to not have it hit the recent activity feed.

  • In reply to RunningJayhawk:

    Hey Awesome Barb, I figured this out just yesterday as I've been having the same problems. The posts are published according to the date and time you first save a draft. So if you are a person who works in the "unpublished mode" via drafts until you're ready to publish, if you don't go up and adjust the date/time of the publish, its actually posting to the past. Its basically going back to the future.

  • In reply to RyanJustice:

    Hmm. Thanks for the tip Ryan! I do work in unpublished mode, but typically remember to update the publish time and what not. I'll pay extra close attention to that feature over the next few days to see if that helps.

  • In reply to RyanJustice:

    Here are the 10 Recent real estate stories from late this afternoon:

    You Forgot Mother's Day? Chicago's gift experts to the rescue!

    White Sox Win In 25 - 26 Years Later

    Find Me An Apartment (and a bar): The Chaser faces a Chicago real-estate quandary

    Babies Violate Labor Laws

    Living without Internet and cable in Wrigleyville

    Old Country Buffet Prizes This Weekend

    Violent crime in Chicago: how bad will it get?

    On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you rate your hairstylist? Mine's an 11.

    Life Is Pain, Highness

    Quality Assurance Strikes! Me!

    Only one of the 10 remotely qualifies as a real estate story. Are other topic areas as inappropriately populated as this one? Is loud3r the sad little engine that couldn't?

  • In reply to RyanJustice:

    I just wrote a post on last minute Mother's Day gifts. Long story short, it has been put under pets with keywords of CHIHUAHUA and DOGS. That'll teach me to write with entertaining the reader as my primary focus rather than SEO.

    Loud3r must really hate the idea of a "lead-in" introduction. My first paragraph should've simply stated. "This is a post about last minute gift ideas for Mother's Day."

  • In reply to RunningJayhawk:

    Yes please!!!

  • In reply to RunningJayhawk:

    Yeah... not finding my stuff at ALL.

  • In reply to RunningJayhawk:

    After having had a few weeks to examine the new homepage, I have to conclude that you guys need to switch from Loud3r. The home page exacerbates the difference between large blogs and small ones. The "Recent Posts" tab seems to only show posts from a small range of blogs, again seemingly the larger ones. Smaller blogs won't have their content appear on the home page at all. In addition, the "trending topics" tab only shows posts from the more commonly-read pages. The topic pages seem to be only able to put together relevant posts under each topic half of the time. In short, this new site organization is a potential disaster for bloggers and site visitors alike.
    I'd recommend immediately removing Loud3r and finding an alternative system as it has clearly shown itself to be unable to conform to the needs of ChicagoNow. I also recommend that you guys use the "hybrid home page" I suggested above. Have a portion of the page for recent/trending posts, but also include a "featured posts" area, which highlights posts of note from all areas of the site. This seems to be the smartest and most balanced version that appeals to everyone's interests.

  • In reply to RunningJayhawk:

    Hey Jimmy!

    Whew!

  • In reply to RunningJayhawk:

    www.gzmeida.com

  • This new format sucks. Im sorry.

    Its disorganized, and does not allow the user to locate specfic blogs.

    I get it, you're trying to drive traffic to blogs based on the subject, not the blogger. However, you will have far more "brand loyalty" if you have people following specific bloggers.

    Terrible... Did someone actually get paid to make this change?

    Brutal.

  • In reply to Dmband:

    You can search a blog or blogger by name, if that helps.

  • In reply to jtithof:

    Thanks, Jackie. That's a very important point. The search function will immediately locate blogs by name or blogger, and if you're not sure what a blog name is but know the topic you can search by keyword.

    Also, we've still got the "Find A Blog" tab that was leftover from the old version.

  • In reply to JimmyGreenfield:

    Is there anyway to make it more obvious that you scroll down to see the blogs on the "Find a Blog"tab when you click the topic you are looking for. I clicked GLBT trying to find my blog. I know this is largely user error, but the screen is formatted perfectly so you can't see that the page has changed.

  • In reply to RyanJustice:

    That's an excellent point. I'd like to get that done and will suggest it.

  • In reply to JimmyGreenfield:

    The commenter may have mentioned it, but you endorsed it.

  • In reply to JimmyGreenfield:

    You need some AJAX or Flash to make this stuff more interactive as you mouse over content so you can see the branding that the bloggers have established. This interface takes away the deifferent brand presentations, losing the community feel to appear more like a news aggregator like AP and UP feeds.

    Look at the quick views on Yahoo with live feeds from a variety of different sites. Followers could select from their favorite blogs and immediately see what's new with image thumbnails. Result.. immediate gratification, not frustration.

  • Ps. Its just plain lazy to take the grocery store approach.

    Your making people walk through the entire store just to find the milk.

    Lazy.

  • In reply to Dmband:

    Hmmm, interesting analogy but I don't think it quite works. The way I see it if someone walks into our "store" and knows they want "milk" they can search for "milk" and get to it right away.

    (By the way, do a search for "milk" and you'll find some great posts by awesome blogger Jenny Milk. Plus a few others about, you know, milk.)

    And let's say you go to the store not knowing what you want, then we've got a list of great recent posts, trending posts as well as the search that lets you look for fashion, sports, politics, sex, whatever your interest is. It's quick and it works.

  • I've seen "Terminator 2" too many times to trust any Web site curated by an algorithm and not humans. Are we trying to hasten the singularity here?

  • The problem I have is linking my post to GLBT! I am gay but I write an advice blog for straight guys/girls. Now my blog is being linked to "gay" and not to the reader's I intend it to! Does this mean I have to have "straight advice" in every title? This makes no sense and I think makes it HARDER to find the blog you are looking for!

  • In reply to chicagodaniel:

    Whereas my post today on a Bunco fundraiser is linked to a gay section.??

  • In reply to jtithof:

    Yowza. I missed that. Then again, mine never posted into the main stream. Apparently I need to work on the subject titles and what not.

  • In reply to RunningJayhawk:

    My last post never showed up in the Recent Stream either on the main page.

  • In reply to chicagodaniel:

    No, you don't have to use the words "straight advice" because I don't think any straight person out there is searching using those words. But you should use the word "advice".

    In fact, I just put that word into our search system and one of your posts came up on the front page.

    Loud3r doesn't care about sexual orientation, but it does care about which words you use in your post.

  • In reply to JimmyGreenfield:

    My point being, I don't want "advice" in every title! I am not talking about sexual orientation, I am talking about having to have the same title to every blog, its boring!

  • In reply to JimmyGreenfield:

    Well as the saying goes, ChicagoNow is open for discussion--and a very fair one at that.

    Many of these are great points and as Jimmy said above, we will be making adjustments in the weeks ahead. Thanks for your feedback everyone.

  • I also feel like this is going to do a disservice to those smaller blogs that aren't blogging about politics or sports. The featured posts homepage was a way for smaller blogs to gain readership from the site. Now, unless we post something witty about the Cubs, Sox, Bears, or Chicago politics. The likelihood of any post being a "trending" post is slim to none.

    Since ChicagoNow started how many gay bloggers have had "trending" posts, for example. Probably not many, if any. Does that make the post any less informative or valuable. No.

    What was trending yesterday, for example, scantily clad women in t-shirts or something if I recall.....

  • In reply to RyanJustice:

    I agree. And with Barb that this requires an insane amount of digging, unless we're all just not used to it yet?

  • In reply to jtithof:

    Which is true, it is a new system, and everything new in IT needs the rough edges shaved down at first. So my criticism's should be taken with a grain of salt, since they are only initial reactions.

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