The Atlantic Monthly’s Website Redesign & Hosted Comments

Atlantic Redesign

Between Thursday night and Friday morning of this past week The Atlantic launched a new website redesign and switched the comments on the various blogs from self-hosted to Disqus hosted comments.
My first shock upon my morning review of the website was the new colors: Red – White – & – Blue – UGH! I find red, white and blue to be very divisive and a cheap, cheap, cheap visual shot.
During the 2000s, the red and the blue of Red, White, & Blue were used to separate out Us Vs. Them. At that time, the Us was the Red and the Them was the Blue. Still is. I just hate that American politics has dissolved down into color. UGH.
What was the rotten, pus-y cherry on top of the political sundae was the summer of 2006 when I spent a good deal of time traveling around Northern Ireland, where the colors of Red, White, and Blue are used as a symbol of war and hate. Driving through towns that had painted red, white & blue curbs as well as flags and placards was beyond creepy.
Heaven forfend that the United States of America devolve into a Northern Ireland style division, warfare, and ideological hatred. But the continued use by a variety of media of the colors red-white-&-blue only furthers a cheap visual metaphor about supposed patriotism and political partisanship.
Why did the Atlantic Monthly, formerly one of the most intelligent news sources, decide to join the ranks of creepy and division? Could they not afford a graphic or brand designer who could explain the concept of visual literacy and metaphor to them?
I showed the Atlantic’s site redesign to other web designers at Tuttle Club LA on Friday morning and they were as horrified as I was. One thought it looked like a conservative business website and the other went on a discussion about hosted comments and HTTP Request loads.
As my visual acuity was assaulted by the new color scheme, I went to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Altantic blog to read what others in his community of readers thought only to be confronted with the fact that the comment section had been switched over to Disqus hosted comments.
Disqus. My blood boiled at 212F and my blood pressure went sky high. I hate Disqus comments.
I don’t really like hosted comments, but I understand why bloggers use them for ease of AJAXy goodness with ratings, liking, and threading. The big but is that Disqus login fails about 2 out of every 1 time(s) that I try to login and then a good portion of those failures also deletes my carefully crafted comment to the blog in question.
My problems with Disqus occur regardless of computer or browser. Yes, I have my third party cookies set to on. Yes, I have been in dialogue with Disqus’ one man support team.
I have come to dread encountering a blog that uses Disqus, as it normally takes me 3 times as long to comment on a Disqus blog as a blog with a complicated self-hosted comment system, if Disqus lets me comment at all.
On one hand, I understand why a large site like The Atlantic would prefer to use Disqus, as it reduces the load on their database, but given the amount of readers on the site, Disqus is a bad idea for two main reasons: usability and privacy. When I went to comment on Ta-Nehisi’s blog, it took 3 times of attempting to login before Disqus would post my comment and it took over 5 minutes for the 3rd login to commence and post the comment.
When my comment finally posted, it made the title to be “404 Error“. Perfect. Yes, Disqus is one big 404 error waiting to happen on a website with as many users as The Atlantic’s website due to the heavy load of HTTP Requests from to the’s servers. Good thing Andrew Sullivan does not have comments on his blog or Disqus’s servers would melt.
Beyond HTTP Requests and error messages, the more important part of the Disqus Fail is that Disqus publishes one’s comments not just to the website that one has decided to comment on and participate in that community, but Disqus also creates an automatic page for ALL of one’s comments on the Disqus website of which one cannot make private or switch off.
Go look at my Disqus Profile, of which I can’t make private:
Yes, every comment I have ever made to a blog that uses Disqus’ hosted comments is now available and search-able on the Disqus website out of context and without my permission. I have searched the Disqus site for a way to make my comments not publicly viewable on their site, but there is no way to turn off the comments from my profile page.
I don’t mind the information that I placed into my Disqus profile to be viewable publicly, I do very much mind that Disqus makes all of my Disqus blog comments available to anyone to view.
This breaks the community of comments and the context of the comments to the blogs where they were originally posted.
To that end, I am a bit surprised that the web had a collective apoplexy last week about Google Buzz and the original lack of the ability to opt-out of a public display of one’s Buzz’s but no one has said a thing about how both Disqus and Intense Debate do not give the registered user the ability to make their comments private on the Disqus or Intense Debate websites. This lack of ability to opt-out is just as egregious as the first week of Google Buzz, as in all three cases the display of the comments/threads without permission and context breaks the original posting of the comment within the blog or media community that it was posted in.
Some folks may want all of their comments to be public beyond the blog they originally posted them on and search-able for that matter, but many of us may not. Disqus and Intense Debate, offer your users a profile privacy option.
For a magazine as web savvy and web successful as The Atlantic has been, this redesign is both a tired political branding trope in the color choice and a social media privacy bomb waiting to happen.
Update, Sun 02.28.10 10:30pm (PST): I am not the only one who doesn’t like The Atlantic’s redesign, Mr. Sullivan doesn’t either for different reasons.
Wow. I am more than a bit stunned that the Atlantic would go ahead and do such a big visual and content management redesign without consulting the main bloggers/writers who create their content and draw in the readers who form the community of the site.
Now I am just sad. Sad as a faithful reader & subscriber of the Atlantic and sad for my profession of web design. In web design, we talk a lot about User Experience, but UX is just not the experience of the end user, but also of the authors, bloggers, and content creators of the websites in question as they are also our clients who we must design a good experience for.