April 25, 2010

The Backstory on the New BAG

Thanks for all your comments and emails about the new site.  Now that it’s been up for a week, I thought I’d take a moment to provide some backstory on the make-over. (It’s a bit of a grand tour, so you might want to fasten your seatbelts.)

In terms of structure and design, what we’ve tried to do is to amplify the two basic elements of the site: the presentation of images and the discussion of them.

At every point, what we’ve tried to do is to put the photos forward, demanding attention and making them more or less stand on their own.  We understand how unorthodox it is to essentially strip the pictures of immediate context, but we felt that this singular consideration of the photo is the essence of what we’re about.  No place on the site is this more obvious than the Notes page where we’ve taken the bold step of dispensing with excerpts and captions, requiring you to “read” and absorb the photo before clicking through to the analysis and, hopefully, offering up your own. (So, just to clarify, our intent was not “to get someone to click more,” but rather, to prompt you to look at and consider the photo first, and on its own.)

We’ve given maximum play to the images almost every other place, as well. The home page consists of a lead image with only a title. We offer the ability to pop open the lead photos of every post next to the comment box. We’ve built in a lightbox effect so you can study in-column images, in place, in a larger size. We present large format images in the Originals section, scaled to 920 pixels wide. And we’ve provided the very cool ability to experience a visual grid of our 3000+ photo archive parsed any possible way you can imagine.

Bottom line — if we’ve been rather religious about it — the BAG is about putting the picture first.

As regards conversation, we wanted to make it possible to follow and jump into the discussion threads no matter where you are on the site. With the tracking of “Popular Entries” and “Active Comments,” you can enter into the most active conversations from almost anywhere. The BAG has always been about community, and the collective analysis of the photos, and we’re as committed to this as ever. (I should add, though, we are aware we are lacking some comment tools, such such as a “comment preview,” and we’re working on that.  …Another thing we’ll likely retool, by the way, is the background/readability of the Originals section.)

Content-wise, we’ve added new contributors to join me in analyzing visual politics. Rest assured, I will continue to anchor the Notes section, though I anticipate many of the new voices — especially, as they gain traction — are going to appeal to you also.

As you can tell, we’ve also added new sections to present original photojournalism and interactive discussion. Besides dealing with subject matter that has been largely ignored by the media, we see the Originals section branching out into visual storytelling that will also engage you in discussion as the stories unfold.  As for the Salon section, we will be featuring multimedia-style interviews, eventually adding in live chats like those we’ve done previously.  Schedule-wise, by the way, we hope to update Notes at least twice a day, Originals at least twice a week, and Salon at least once a week.

A few other notes. If you’re missing the coziness of the old site where a post lingered and you could keep coming back to talk about it and follow the discussion, we feel we’ve emulated the same effect on the new home page.  The lead image will likely be in the top spot for half a day, and then you’ll find it just below in the “Featured Entries” section for at least another day or two. Beyond that, post with a larger number of comments will be found in “Popular Entries” likely for at least or week, maybe two.

As for ads, we have actually kept them to a minimum. Yes, there is an ad strip in the first column in the Notes section, but otherwise, there isn’t an ad above the fold anywhere on the site, only a Goggle box ad bottom right.  This aspect of the site is a work-in-progress. To support our expansion, revenue now becomes a greater consideration. Personally though, I’m not crazy about the Google ads, so we’ll be experimenting with it.

Also, some of you have written about how powerful the design is.  We are proud of the elegance of the design, and if it helps draw a larger audience, it can only enhance our goal of becoming a think tank for visual politics, a “live classroom” for visual literacy, a visual media watchdog and a vigorous advocate for concerned photography.

Overall, however, we understand that the BAG has undergone a radical change and that the design, as powerful as it is, will take some getting used to. As such, we hope you’ll let the design “settle” and become more familiar as we, too, grow into it.  In the meantime, we welcome all your feedback and suggestions at openbag at bagnews dot com.

Thanks so much,


(Update: A suggestion from a reader. If you were in love with the old site and don’t like change, it might be best to bookmark the Notes page, which, along with the right column links, gives you the best of the old world.)

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Michael Shaw
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