The Atlantic.com Gets a New Look (updated)

By James Fallows

As you just possibly might have noticed, as of today there is a new look, feel, and layout to the Atlantic's website. The late nights and technical ingenuity that went into the relaunch and redesign deserve a lot of respect and public praise. A magazine that through the decades has applied that kind of maniacal effort to its main, printed product is fortunate to have a tech team just as committed and painstaking. I really admire what the developers and designers led by Bob Cohn, Betsy Ebersole, and Scott Havens have done, especially in these past few weeks. Small example: what tech-world people call "performance" -- how fast things happen on a site -- seems a lot better with this new system. You notice performance only when it's bad, but it's worth deliberately noticing the overall improved load- and response- time of this site and thinking of the surprisingly hard work that was involved.

For the magazine as a whole, I think the new "Channel" organization makes sense, and the new site is an important step forward. As you also just might have heard, magazines need to make money, and the architecture of this site should help build our audience and therefore increase our chances of being around for another 153 years. (No, not talking about myself. Rather: The Atlantic Monthly, founded 1857.)

But it is no secret within our organization that I think the new design creates problems for the magazine's "personal" sites, like the one I have been running here these past few years. In particular, the new layout scheme -- in which you see only a few-line intro to each post but no pictures, block quotes, or other amplifying material -- unavoidably changes the sensibility and tone of personal blogs. It drains them of variety and individuality, not to mention making them much less convenient to read. Only now that it is gone do I realize how important the placing of photos has been to my own sense of what I wanted to convey, along with the ability to alternate between longer and shorter posts on a "landing" page, or to deliberately save some material for "after the jump" placement. One way to be reminded of the value of that approach is to visit Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish, which retains the previous layout with all of its design flexibility and visual flexibility.

Over the weekend I will deploy some  ready-to-go posts on all the familiar topics -- .PST files, new small planes, the Copenhagen negotiations, and so on -- and will also be thinking about what is possible within this new format, and talking with our tech team about how changeable the new design may be. As ever, I am optimistic. [Update: I am optimistic that this will change, but find the new approach such a straitjacket that I won't even try to work within its constraints until it is fixed.]

This is probably the right time to say that I appreciate the attention of all who have found their way here over the years, starting in the mid-1990s when tech-oriented friends helped me start my own stand-alone personal site. For their help at various stages in the site's pre- Atlantic.com evolution I once more thank David Rothman, Chet and Ginger Richards, Jonathan Kibera and Tom Fallows, and James Cham,

Although my "real" work remains writing magazine articles and books, about which I remain passionate, I have tremendously valued the flexibility of a blog to mention things that are in the news today (for instance, a political speech) or that I'm never going to write a book about (for instance, my favorite beers). Even more I have valued the opportunity to be in touch with a modest-sized but interesting community of similarly quirky-minded people. Thank you for reading and writing. We'll see where this all leads. Meanwhile, congrats to our digital team on the overall achievement of the new site. 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/02/the-atlanticcom-gets-a-new-look-updated/36758/