If you visited okgazette.com last week, you undoubtedly noticed the online version of Oklahoma Gazette quietly received a massive upgrade. Everything you need, including dramatically improved restaurant and event listings, is all there and easy to reach. It also just feels good, and I’m confident you will not feel nostalgic for the old version of our site.
We’ve all experienced website redesigns that foisted cumbersome architecture onto a beloved web destination, often to the point that we just don’t visit as much as before and we pine for the old days. This happened to me last year, when an entertainment site that is part of my daily online information diet was forced by its new corporate overlords to migrate over to a new platform. It fundamentally changed the character of the site, disrupting navigation and even scaring away much of the community that thrived in its online forums. Sure, they integrated commerce into the platform, but at what cost?
Visit okgazette.com now, and you’ll see that our new site is closely modeled after Oklahoma Gazette itself. Our print categories — News, Eat & Drink, Arts & Culture and Music — reside at the top with pull-down menus that take readers directly to what they want. I’m particularly excited about our restaurant listings, which I’m confident will be extremely useful as you participate in OKC Restaurant Week supporting Allied Arts. We didn’t complicate things — everything is in the right place, site searches produce remarkably accurate results from our archives and the mobile experience (an essential part of any good redesign) ensures you lose nothing when you shift from laptop to smartphone or tablet.
When the new okgazette.com went live, I realized I’d forgotten what the site looked like over the years, so I visited the web equivalent to a used bookstore, Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, and traveled back to February 2000, the Wayback Machine’s first entry for okgazette.com that did not pull up an “Under Construction” notice.
Newspaper websites in the first half-decade of public internet consumption were essentially winging it. Keep in mind that The New York Times launched its online component in January 1996, and most major-market daily newspapers followed suit about three years later. Weeklies like Oklahoma Gazette were trying to find a healthy balance between getting you to the rack to pick up the latest issue while also offering something on what was still being called “the information superhighway.” That healthy balance is still important today.
The first okgazette.com was utilitarian, to say the least. A black screen with red letters announced to readers they were experiencing “okgazette.com: literally virtual.” The menu sent readers to several categories including features, entertainment, local movies, real estate and something called “hot links.” When I clicked through “hot links,” it was a series of local websites for nonprofit organizations, government pages and bands like Wakeland and The Suburbillies. The internet was still such a novelty at the time that local entities with websites were worth a major shoutout.
But at its core, the infant okgazette.com was in the early stages of becoming what it is today. The architecture was a little rough, but the events and restaurant listings were killing it, year 2000 style.
Newspaper websites must constantly evolve to meet the needs of their readers. The original okgazette.com was good for its era, as was the okgazette.com of two weeks ago. But a great website anticipates what readers will want from it five years from now. By then, it will probably be time for us to look at what okgazette.com readers will need the late 2020s. But for now, I’m happy to say that the new okgazette.com feels grown up and ready to take on the world.