No X-ville, no cry

Xtra revamp features superior navigation and services

Xtra revamp features superior navigation and services

Much as one would wish to appear potent and influential, Telecom Xtra’s bright new Web site is not the result of the recent Tangled Web column pointing out the considerable shortcomings of the old Xtra Web site. ("Do something about Xtra’s dated home page, Telecom", August 23.) Xtra’s internal Web development, content and marketing teams have been working on the new look for about six months. And why not? When you’re as overdue for a revamp as Xtra was, you might as well take your time and get it right. The major point of note is the disappearance of X-ville, both as branding and as Web navigation device. Replacing the village of doom is a modern home page that seeks to provide two things — a snappy heads-up for the day and an easy way in to Xtra services. Unlike the old home page, it changes several times a day. The site team has gone to some lengths to overcome the speed problems of dynamically-served sites and, the odd stall apart, has succeeded. The page also sets a consistent navigational theme for the site — the value of which is emphasised when you stray into those Xtra "channels", such as the clunky yet-to-be-made-over shopping section. A "twisty" contextual menu to the left of each page provides access throughout the site, buttons for Xtra services and an internal search window are reserved a below-the-banner spot on each page and, in a nice touch, a little drill-down path of links in the main page frame makes it easy to back out from anywhere in the site. Like the recently-launched 100% Pure New Zealand site, Xtra manages to cram a lot on each page without confusing the user. This theme has its ultimate expression in the NZ Life channel, a guide to New Zealand on the Web. The most significant content changes are in the sections that equate to a newspaper — news, sports, business, technology and entertainment. Like the former NBR Network site, Xtra has licensed IRN and Reuters services — but unlike NBR, it has used the content to full advantage. If the IRN stories are skimpy, the headlines hook and the Reuters pictures bring the pages alive. Xtra’s makeover is not only a vast improvement over what went before but a success by any standard. The undoubted talent there has finally been harnessed in a coherent fashion. But some questions linger. What shape will the new shopping section take? What role will the Xtra site fill for Internet businesses hosted by Xtra? Why doesn’t The Independent get better branding for its contributions to the Business section? The current philosophy seems to be that Xtra’s Web site is firstly a premium for Xtra subscribers and secondly a shopfront for potential subscribers. The amount of banner space devoted to internal advertising — including the top-and-centre spot on the home page, where the new Xtra logo sits — suggests there is no particular pressure for it to pay its way as a Web publication. It’s likely that such a philosophy will be contingent on the site selling services to new and existing Xtra customers. Time will tell. For now, the Xtra team deserves credit for knowing what to do and getting it done. Russell Brown edits the @IDG online news service. Contact Russell at

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