Do something about Xtra's dated home page, Telecom

Dear Theresa From one 37-year-old to another, congratulations on your new job. I'd still rather have my life-so-far than yours (or Bill English's, for that matter), but I admire your dedication and intelligence.

Dear Theresa From one 37-year-old to another, congratulations on your new job. I’d still rather have my life-so-far than yours (or Bill English’s, for that matter), but I admire your dedication and intelligence. But I wonder if, before you ascend to the big office, you could take another look at one of the assets for which you are responsible at Telecom Services: the Xtra home page. It cannot be news to you that this thing is a horrible kludge. What I can’t understand is how an organisation prepared to turn itself upside down every nine months can’t make a rational decision to abandon a dated and dysfunctional "town square" motif and build a proper portal. Sure, X-ville is smaller than it used to be. But there are so many other navigational devices on the page that I’m sure no one actually bothers to use the X-ville image map to enter the site. In fact, X-ville’s only real role these days is to obscure and defeat the content within. That might, I suppose, be symptomatic of Telecom’s ongoing squeamishness about the media business. Or it might just be that Marketing thinks X-ville still looks great on the sides of buses. Although the home page blandly lists what lies behind it, it doesn’t promote it or give any sense of its flavour. A home page ought to highlight the best stuff on the site, to provide daily delights and diversions. Sure, some of Xtra’s internal sub-sites do that pretty well, but I’m not going to set FashioNZ as my home page, am I? You’ve really got to get over this "channels" idea. The way the site spawns a new browser window when you click through to a different "channel" fractures the navigation unnecessarily, too, and it’s annoying losing the drop-down menu when you venture beyond the top page of some of the channels. Once you’re in, there’s some good stuff. The News page is well organised and diverse, although it could do with the odd thing more substantial than those skimpy IRN stories. It gets its readers involved well, too. On the other hand, Bitstream, the Xtra technology section, is in slow motion. One technology news story a week? C’mon … The not-approved-by-Telecom air of the Xtra Rugby section is heartwarming and the Business section benefits from its association with the Independent. What editorial personalities there are on the rest of the site tend to too often wear disguises and/or use pseudonyms. Anyway, in the absence of a proper home page, the Xtra content team has to resort to some fairly cack-handed ways of drawing attention to its work. The tidy Xtra Community section sort of functions as a promotion for some other elements of the site (including AucklandLive, which doesn’t appear on the drop-down menus and seems barely connected to the main site), but I’m not sure if it’s meant to. More often, internal elements are promoted with in-house banner ads. If you had a proper home page, you wouldn’t need those, and you could give the space — for free — to the retailers, like Dick Smith Electronics and Deka, whose online presence is hosted (or hidden) by X-Shop. Forgive me, Theresa, if I’ve gotten all previous, and there’s a compelling Xtra content revamp waiting in the wings. But I do hope the rumour I heard that a search engine is being considered as the main feature of a revamped home page is just gossip. If your first act is to divert visitors away from your content, you shouldn’t really bother having content. In which case, you should sell the whole thing to someone who really does want it. Telecom’s attitude to publishing has been ambiguous since the day Xtra launched. Now might be a good time to clear it up. Either commit — or quit. Contact Russell at russell_brown@idg.co.nz

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