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Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

InternetOctober 26, 2022

Making a good website great: a progress report from the nerds at The Spinoff

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

The Spinoff CTO Ben Gracewood emerges from the mainframe with a run-down of the dozens of small and large improvements being made to this very website.

About a year ago the crew at Daylight built us a shiny new website. It’s really, really good. The only problem is that I’m both a Spinoff Tragic and a user experience obsessive, so I’m never satisfied with just really good. I want your experience to be bloody great.

Over the last year, we’ve also seen a heckload of changes outside of our control. Mark and Elon are battling TikTok to make sure you stay trapped on their websites and only ever see vertical videos; there’s no more 1pm press conference traffic spikes and we’re all a year closer to death.

What I’m getting at is that clicks are harder to come by these days. We love clicks and page views, not just because that’s literally how we get validation as humans who create content (damn it’s a good buzz when a story goes big!), but because without traffic it’s harder to find members and sponsorships to pay our bills. Maybe it’s yuck to be so up front about it, but that’s the biz we’re in ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

This is why we need to make sure our first-party experience is the best way to engage with The Spinoff. As web development nerds, our mission is to make you want to install our app or type into your address bar with delight because of the excellent experience you get when you do. We want people who stumble across The Spinoff to be hooked not just by our content but the experience of interacting with it.

Getting from really good to kinda great

Our large and talented technology division (I’m large, Sacha Laird is talented), in partnership with our designers Tina Tiller and Toby Morris, have spent a bunch of time over the past few months making some big steps towards great. We’re not there yet, but it’s a good time to give you a run-down on what’s different from just a few months ago.

Firstly, if you’re not using our apps, you really should be. We’ve just released an update to the iOS app with a better menu bar, easier content sharing, swipe-navigation, richer notifications, and a whole-screen experience that really makes it the best platform to view The Spinoff. With the app installed you’ll get notifications – but only a couple of times a day, and only for big news and great reads.

Animated gif of an app scrolling, with menubars hiding on scroll.
It’s hard to show a vertical app screenshot but hopefully you get the idea

All of these updates will come to our Android app really soon – once we work out how to reset the password on our Play Store account. I wish I was kidding. Install it now and you’ll get the update automatically as soon as it’s available.

Outside of the app, we’ve been doing a spring clean of the site that I reckon you’ll love. The new main menu is more simple and makes navigating our content a bit more logical. You’ll find a brand new author search under the “Read” menu too.

Our index pages for the primary categories (like Business and Politics for example) have been zhuzhed up, and include links to related podcasts and newsletters. We’re tidying up the way podcasts are displayed and Sacha is working on an inline pod-player that will let you listen to pods while you browse.

If you’re browsing on a mobile device, you’ll notice fewer issues with oversized content, and the menu and share buttons get out of the way as you scroll. It’s even better on the app, where you get the entire screen to just read. It’s even better still if you’re a member – there are no inline ads at all. Seriously, check it out: just your battery icon and glorious Spinoff content. Very Zen.

We’ve added infinite scroll on our articles, which means you can just keep on scrolling to read the next story in the same category. We’re planning to tweak that so that our loyal readers don’t see repeated content, but instead get fresh stuff that you might not have read.

We’ve added the ReoAko app to provide translations of reo Māori kupu in our content, so that you can brush up on your reo and even check pronunciation while reading (click or tap the word kupu to see it in action).

If you’re a member, we’ve made it a bit easier to log in. Rather than having to remember yet another password, you can log in with Google, Facebook, or Apple. We also recently introduced The Firehose, which is a simple chronological view of all our content exclusively for Members.

Getting Greater

What next? MORE.

Animated gif of Kylo Ren from starwars screaming "more"
Live footage of Ben Gracewood writing javascript code

We’ll keep tweaking the rough edges to make things smooth and lovely to use. We want to make videos easier to watch, we want it to be easier to manage all your newsletter subscriptions, and it’d be nice if you didn’t have to login twice when you click through to the Members site. We think it’d be great if anyone could register so that they can mark stories as read and get better recommendations. Search sucks, we know. All the small things.

Do you want to comment on stories? Should we launch Spinoff’s version of Wordle, whatever that might be? What do you wish was better about The Spinoff? Hit me up with your thoughts.

Keep going!