I had made a few posts months back about the failed redesign of Wizard Magazine’s website. Former editor of the site Rick Marshall has offered up a few interesting tidbits of information at Comics Reporter:
MARSHALL: I feel like the site provided a rude awakening for the Wizard Magazine crew. Web site tracking systems provide a very easy, clear-cut way to determine which articles people are reading, and which articles people donâ€™t bother skipping over. I donâ€™t think Wizard Magazine was ready for the cold, hard facts that this type of tracking provided. Until the site came along, Wizard Magazine was always the biggest fish in a very small fishbowl â€” in this case, the world of comics news in print format. To take the analogy a step further, creating the website dumped that little bowl and its alpha-male fish into the ocean of online news. Suddenly it had to compete against other fish, and I donâ€™t think it was ready for that. For example, the Wizard Magazine crew always seemed insulted by the fact that content from the magazine rarely received as many readers on the site as the original online content we produced. From a pure traffic standpoint, stories from ToyFare Magazine clobbered Wizard Magazine stories on a regular basis, and the reaction from the Wizard Magazine side always seemed to be that the fault wasnâ€™t with the content itself, but the way in which we provided it online. It was very frustrating to present all of this data indicating that changes were necessary, and to have it ignored time and time again.
However, the most prominent conflict was always the traffic-vs-political content issue. From the start, my marching orders were always â€œMore Trafficâ€ and â€œMore Readers.â€ But it became painfully obvious that many people at the company assumed that the most popular stories would always be the stories about the companies who buy the most space at conventions or advertise the most on the site â€” that we could MAKE a topic popular simply by posting it. It was an ideology framed around the notion that â€œitâ€™s interesting because we tell you itâ€™s interesting.â€
That wasnâ€™t the case, though. I obsessively tracked the traffic for the site, and there was rarely any overlap between the people who were considered â€œFriends of Wizardâ€ (yes, that was an actual term thrown around) and the types of content and subject matter that generated the most traffic. So, most of the time, we operated under a cycle of unavoidable bridge-burning and tail-chasing, with the people at the higher levels of the company alternating between complaints of â€œWhy didnâ€™t you give my friend/client a front-page story?â€ and â€œWhy werenâ€™t the numbers as high today as they were yesterday?â€ It was a Catch-22 situation.
The thing is, no matter how much I tried to explain these very fundamental problems, I donâ€™t think they ever really penetrated. I wish I could say they were resolved, but in the end, I think the resolution they arrived at was to kill the messenger.
and . . .
SPURGEON: Can you provide any insight into Wizard’s abortive re-design attempt and abortive re-launch from a while back, exactly what happened and why it didn’t work?
MARSHALL: Have you ever played that game “Operator,” in which you pass a message down a line of people and see how it’s been mangled by the time it reaches the end? That sums up the relaunch. Basically, I sat down with the redesign company at the beginning of the project and discussed the editorial needs for the new site, and several months later I was shown a preliminary, semi-functional version of the new site. When I saw it, I was horrified. Not only did it lack 95 percent of what we asked for, but I was told that we would have to force our current site’s database to fit into this new site’s limited architecture. I still don’t understand why the decision was made to push forward with this site, to be honest. So we worked around the clock changing our current database of content to fit into the very limited constraints of the redesigned site.
My only guess is that the entire fiasco had something to do with the decision to have the least tech-savvy people in the company play the most important roles in the process. Over time, the flow of information went through multiple PR people before it ever reached the people who would be working on the site the most. It was an operational nightmare. They eventually decided to scrap the new site and move on. There’s another redesign happening down the road, and while this one has involved more of the right people, I think there are too many other issues that they’ll need to deal with before it will have a chance against Newsarama, IGN or other sites out there.