Sunday, February 24, 2008

How the Washington Post fails Blackberry users

Excuse me for a techie moment, but for those of you with web-enabled phones you'll appreciate this. For all web enabled phones, web pages have to be reformatted to fit the smaller screen and accommodate the lack of a mouse. Some websites do it brilliantly! The New York Times and DCist both have excellent interfaces and easy to navigate options. Page 132 and Best Buy both render horribly and are hard to make sense of on a Blackberry.

But the website I'm most disappointed in is the Washington Post. Their online website is frustrating and tough to navigate. To find my favorite political blogs, it takes 3 clicks and two pages to load. Forget trying to find local DC blogs. They are hidden deep within several menus. So I don't know why I'm surprised their Blackberry version is even more frustrating to use.

Mobile phone speeds are similar to dial up. Remember what you hated before you bought broadband? Waiting for pages to load. The same goes for Blackberry usage. I can spend more time waiting for pages to load than actually surfing.

If we compare the New York Times Blackberry version with the Washington Post's, we'll see that the Grey Lady is superior. The New York Times front page lists the top 5 articles of the moment with a 1-2 sentence summary. The Washington Post just gives you the headline. Sometimes it is obvious - "Raul Castro becomes Cuba's Leader" - but other times the headline is cryptic - "Our Cells, Ourselves". So I have to click on the Our Cells article and wait for it to load (15 secs) and read the first paragraph to see if I even want to keep reading (no, not really..).

Once you get past the top 5 stories, both the NY Times and the WaPo have news sections (World, US, Local, etc) and I don't have a complaint there. But as we dig deeper, the New York Times again shows why it is superior.

Let's take the Opinion articles. When I clicked on the New York Times opinion piece - "Four or Five Things You Don't Know About Me" - it took 12 seconds to load on my Blackberry. I read the article and was mildly amused. The article was just one long web page a very readable. Over at the Washington Post, I clicked on an opinion piece - "Two Winnable Wars" and it took 10 seconds to load. But then I read the first two paragraphs and came to a "Next Page" link. I clicked it. Another 10 seconds passed to load up the next 2 paragraphs. I read those and came to another "Next Page" link. In fact, I had to click through 6 pages. That was over a minute of JUST WAITING for the article to load up. Compared to the 12 seconds of the New York Times, that is FIVE TIMES as long. Not to mention that in order to return to the main Washington Post web page, I have to click back (and render) 6 times. Total time to read one article...well over 3 minutes. The New York Times article was less than 1 minute. But I was lucky on this article. Recently, the Washington Post has been putting just 3-5 sentence abstracts of opinion and news articles behind their headline link.

Reading the Washington Post on my Blackberry is really nothing but an exercise in frustration. The result? I don't use Washington Post on my Blackberry anymore. It is the BBC, New York Times, and USA Today for me. Since I read other news sources, I've started to visit them more online. I haven't purchased a Washington Post newspaper since last summer. I haven't visited the Washington Post website, prior to this article, since the New Year. The real shame is that while Washington Post reporting is top notch, the format keeps the substance from eager readers.