[su_dropcap style=”flat” size=”4″]F[/su_dropcap]ollowing a long and tumultuous few months filled with strategic launch delays and software troubleshooting, the new Bloomberg site was finally released on January 27th. The eccentric product was immediately met with mixed reactions among users and publications.
The decision for Bloomberg’s big change up was an easy one to make. While the coveted Bloomberg Terminals remain its core offering and money-maker, its media platforms are responsible for the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars a year. It made sense, then, for Bloomberg Media Group to refocus and consolidate its many different publications ranging from finance to politics into a single web portal.
The new project had three simple objectives: expand influence with both consumers and financial experts, create novel advertising solutions, and use the portal to convert viewers to Terminal subscribers.
Except, execution was a little more convoluted. It began with a staff revamp and the hiring of two key strategists, Justin B. Smith from Atlantic Media as CEO of Bloomberg Media Group and Joshua Topolsky from The Verge as the Chief Editor. The two were tasked with constructing and supervising the bold reboot. What followed was 6 intense months of internal development, in tandem with creative studio Code and Theory, to organize the amalgamation of Bloomberg TV, Bloomberg Politics, Bloomberg Technology, Bloomberg View, Bloomberg Markets, Bloomberg Pursuits, Bloomberg Graphics, and Bloomberg Radio. Oh, and there is also a video section.
Cap the project off with 4 launch reschedules attributed to project prioritization and technical errors and, incredibly, there is a new Bloomberg. One that allows users to, as business magnate and CEO Michael Bloomberg put it, “…easily be able to capitalize on the combined strengths of our [Bloomberg’s] global media assets, which are unmatched.”
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Packaged with the site’s many functions is a new design reminiscent of the company’s weekly publication, Bloomberg Business (formerly Bloomberg Businessweek). The magazine’s bold direction, designed in 2010 by newly hired Creative Director, Richard Turley, injected discord into an otherwise boring form. Its alt-tone, bright colors, and dose of irreverence contrasted greatly with the comparatively dull Wall Street Journal or Forbes. Although Turley has now left the organization for MTV, his design principles have been adopted in hopes that Businessweek’s biggest differentiator will become Bloomberg’s biggest differenetiatior.
This visual mimicry, however, has not garnered resounding approval. While the few publications that have written of the new Bloomberg have remained fair-minded, Twitter users were not as conservative in their judgements of the site. More than a few users cited that it appeared as if the CSS had failed to load on the page, others claiming of actual load-time failures & operational issues, still more using vibrant descriptions like “atrocious,” “worthless,” or something to the extent of “Your ‘new’ website officially sucks the worst of any sucking ever seen, that is all.”
Analyzing tweets containing the phrase “bloomberg site” posted in the few days after launch reveals that, of the thousands, 39% express negative feelings, while only 27% were positive. Moreover, of that 27%, the vast majority appear to be ironically praising the new site’s wacky error pages – true examples of Turley’s guidelines used in extremes.
So, why all the hate for the new Bloomberg?
Primarily because most user pain points are the result of the amount of page noise the website suffers from. Page noise, in a sentence, is anything displayed on a webpage that does not directly contribute to the page’s design objectives. This is typically the outcome of a failure to create a clear visual hierarchy to follow. There are three types of page noise: Shouting, Disorganization, and Clutter. Shouting is when every element on a page is competing for attention, Disorganization is the mislabeling or misplacement of elements, and Clutter is the over abundance of elements, preventing users from focusing.
The blights of page noise can be easily understood if you are familiar with the Tragedy of the Commons, made famous by ecologist Garrett Hardin. In his theory, Hardin uses a simple metaphor to describe the finite amount of seemingly infinite shared resources.
In summation: There exists a community pasture, open to all. For every cow a farmer adds to the pasture that is sold, he receives all profit from the sale, +1. However, the cost of adding a cow is split among all farmers, making the cost for an individual farmer less than -1. The logical thing for a farmer to do is to continue to add cows, and assuming each farmer follows the same rationale, the pasture will become overgrazed.
Translated, the pasture is a web page, the farmers are page managers, and the cows are every element begging for attention. Many site managers have a propensity to promote everything, but with each addition comes a loss of exposure. With its “seamless” combination of 8 – 10 platforms under one URL, the new Bloomberg site has trouble deciding where to direct its users. To the first-listed, geographic ticker, or the blindingly blue navbar with browser-sized megamenu that lies just under the inexplicable black navbar with browser-sized megamenu? Maybe instead, to the perpetually running live video feed in the top corner, or the handful of seemingly mis-cropped images sporting 2 headlines a piece? Running a link counter on the new Bloomberg home page reveals 402 different links, 346 of which are internal. Needless to say, you have options. It’s the perfect example of what not to do on a landing page: submit new users to an incomprehensible amount of information and directions, never allowing them to successfully find anything of substance that would lead them toward conversion.
Choosing to ignore the current trend towards super-niche content, as well as the significant increase in conversions it brings, the new Bloomberg has committed to its expansive ideal of wanting “…to appeal to the broadest global business audience possible…” An ambitious undertaking, as a website has a mere 2 seconds to show viewers what they were looking for before they exit entirely. There is a simple metric used to track those exiting users called a “bounce rate,” and the new Bloomberg site has a bounce rate of 67%. If you are going to replace conventional design practices, you have to be sure that what you create is easy enough to prevent a usability barrier.
This muddled interface only grows worse should a user decide to scroll. There is a startling lack of consistency in form on the new Bloomberg site; every scroll presents an altogether different layout for the densely packed information. They have also done the favor of adding the popular infinite scroll feature, ensuring that should a user become lost, they stay lost, on an eternal scavenger hunt to find what they are looking for. Infinite scroll is a creative solution, provided the content is relevant and painless to consume. The obstacle for the new Bloomberg site is their alien presentation of content. By scroll number 2, users are shown a 90s style gradient banner that appears to be unfinished, and a quasi calendar with a half-visible title. All sense of how to interact with the site is lost.
This inconsiderate design does not getter better with a decrease in screen size. At tablet size, elements continue to stack on top of each other, and the experience at mobile device size is so sparsely populated with content that you are forced to wonder if it is the same site at all. Though this form is much easier to consume, it presents the opposite extreme: being far too shallow and uninformative.
Beyond the new Bloomberg Home Page
Beyond the home page, the new Bloomberg site has made a less noticeable change to its content pages: the removal of a commenting system. For Topolsky, the decision was easy, “I’ve looked at the analytics on the commenting community versus overall audience. You’re really talking about less than one percent of the overall audience that’s engaged in commenting, even if it looks like a very active community. In the grand scheme of the audience, it doesn’t represent the readership.” His reasoning holds weight, the number of comments is never a good indicator of whether an article is successful or not as the true engagement happens on social media platforms. He is also not alone in the decision, both Reuters and industry influencer Seth Godin have disabled comments as well.
Even still, removing comments could be a potential mistake. If implemented correctly, there is a considerable SEO benefit from commenting systems. Perhaps more importantly, though, is the denial of the users’ ability to engage and fact check, effectively alienating that 1%. It suggests that the comments were overwhelmingly negative, and if that is the case then there is a much larger problem with the brand’s overall reputation than can be solved by disabling comments. Much like a line at a club, commenting provides social proof that an article is relevant and worth some buzz.
There is also an impending increase in advertisements. In case you did not notice the plethora of bludgeoning ads at launch time, Microsoft sponsored the new Bloomberg. This partnership promises “unique and innovative ad” presentations, including a “Checkerboard Unit” to be unveiled in February in an effort to increase digital ad revenue. Topolsky also mentioned the, “ability to lock ads,” which is another way of saying users will not be able to scroll past them. While at the time of this writing Bloomberg has seemingly stripped its homepage of all advertisements, the guarantee of innovatively intrusive ads in the future is a scary thought.
As for those aforementioned error pages (1, 2)… While the gimmicky pages appeal to the sillier side of the internet, the truth is it breaks a user’s experience. Should a user end up on a 404 page because of mistyped URL, or broken link the appropriate thing would be to help the user navigate to whatever it is that they were after. There are solutions for this that involve analyzing the keywords of a link and listing the relating pieces of content, as well as giving the user simple steps to follow to get them back on track. Bloomberg spent months developing a new dynamic platform only to leave users hanging when they will inevitably become lost.
The new Bloomberg was a project of great ambitions to only realize 0.5 of 3 simple goals. The lack of project clarity prevents the formation of a true conversion funnel towards the sale of Terminals. It seems most attention has been put to creative ad placement, and the ability to rearrange the structure of the home page at will. But the biggest evil is its attempt at engaging users, which got lost in the need to combine portals and promote content causing over three-fifths of its audience to abandon. It is unfortunate to see the home page in disarray when the new Bloomberg site is capable of making such beautiful content pieces like the recently published Chipotle article.
However, take these criticisms with a grain of salt; the new Bloomberg site could change everything in a short period of time. Topolsky has mentioned that one of their key focuses is A/B testing, and that the project is incredibly iterative, making adjustments as small as 1 pixel. By next month our pain points could no longer exist, but until then the new Bloomberg will have too many cows in its pasture.