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Sunday 11 December 2005

The Washington Post Website Sucks

One of the reasons I write things here is so that I can refer to my arguments and to their documentary evidence in the future. When the conversation turns to the problem of affordable housing — as it does a lot if you read the newspaper — I don’t have to bother myself about remembering what I read or said three years ago. I can just turn to Google and search for:

Tinotopia “affordable housing”

The top two results for that search (this and this) pretty much sum up what I have to say about affordable housing (though the second one might be more directly to the point than the first). It’s pretty convenient. To find out what I think of anything that I publicly think of at all, you can just type “Tinotopia + (topic)” into Google and you’ll get results.

Now, this morning at breakfast, in Burger King’s house copy of the Washington Post — why is it that Burger King and McDonald’s always have free newspapers, but that if you pay, say, $20 for breakfast you usually have to supply your own reading material? — I read an ombudsman column that I think deserves comment.

When I got home, I looked for it on the Post’s website, and have so far come up empty-handed.

The column occupies the top of the center part of today’s Post editorial page: that is, it’s to the right of the editorials themselves, and above the abbreviated Sunday letters-to-the-editor section.

I first looked to the Post’s page for the Outlook section. The paper version, pictured at left here, is a masterpiece of design. The online version (right) isn’t quite as good:

200512111129 Outlook-Online-Page-Sm

And it’s not just the drab appearance: the ombudsman column, which is definitely in today’s Outlook section, is not listed there.

This is probably because the Ombudsman column is in the Outlook section, but not of the Outlook section. Why this should matter to a reader, I don’t know: but it does matter to the Post, apparently, and so I must look elsewhere.

Let’s a try a search for ‘ombudsman’:


Oh, that’s useful. Let’s try the same search again from a different page:


I… see. Well, at least we’ve found the ombudsman column now, even though doing so required us to assume that the Post’s search feature was badly broken. So we’ll click on that, and get:


So far, so good: but this page doesn’t list the most recent column. The top item here is this column, from December 4.

Let’s search for the headline, which I happen to remember: ‘The Two Washington Posts’:


So let’s search for ‘Deborah Howell’ by name. This time, we get a useful result:


Though you’ll note that, despite being the most recent result, today’s column is still not listed at the top. Wonderful. Still, at least we’ve found the column, after only six attempts.

How likely do you think it is that a random reader, who wasn’t already aware of this column’s existence, would find it? The answer: not very.

Why is this so hard? I have no idea.

Now that I’ve found the column, though, at least I can comment on its content. Interestingly enough, today’s Post ombudsman column is largely about the paper’s website.

UPDATE: I have been informed that if you click on ‘Opinions’ in the Post’s menu bar, and not on the ‘Sunday Outlook’ subitem thereof, you get this page (warning: this link will probably only be accurate for a week), which does list the ombudsman column, but not identified as such:


I’m not sure whether this means that the site is better or worse than my initial evaluation.

Posted by tino at 11:56 11.12.05
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