In a stunning display of amateur design analysis, Felix Salmon posits that what users really want is more distractions in their online news experience.
Still, the difference between the two pages is much starker than it needs to be: the NYT page is like walking into a library, while the HuffPo page is like walking through Times Square. The HuffPo page is full of links to interesting stories elsewhere on the site — about Egypt, or the kid in the Superbowl Darth Vader ad, or the stories my Facebook friends are reading. And there are lot of links to media stories, too; each one has a photo attached.
The obvious problem with this comparison is the erroneous assumption that the Times and HuffPo are competing for the same audience. The Times has built its brand on quality, authoritative content for discriminating news consumers, while HuffPo is more closely identified with aggregation and cheap original content designed to lure search engine traffic. Their respective designs are reflective of these unique identities.
Most importantly, the HuffPo page is genuinely, compellingly, interactive — it’s almost impossible to visit it without finding something you want to click on. Like! Comment! Tweet! Go here! Try this! Visit that! There’s site navigation, yes, but that’s just one layer of a very rich and complex page architecture. At the NYT page, by contrast, to get out of the Media Decoder blog you either have to click on a generic navigation button like “Sports,” or else you’ll just leave the page and the site completely.
Again, the interface design is reflective of the content strategy. For the Times audience, the cacophony of “Like! Comment! Tweet! Try This! Visit That!” would be a frustrating distraction from the in-depth reporting those readers are almost certain to be seeking. HuffPo, on the other hand, has no expectation that the casual reader who comes in via search engine results has any intention of sticking around. Thusly, they have deployed a loud interface designed to bait users of the shortest attention-span with sensational content of little relevance to the content the user originally sought out.