Why I'm fond of flashing The Guardian's underwear

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 17 December 2010
Customers don't want to see underpants and it's quite frankly embarrassing for an organisation to be flashing their underwear to the world. Don't base your website on the structure of your organisation.

There was a lovely short post from Joe Leech a couple of weeks back about organisations showing their underpants in their navigational structures on the web. It is unhelpful for users, and totally works against them achieving task based goals.

But I think news is different, and I'm actually rather fond of flashing The Guardian's pants.

For one thing, and I've written about this before, I think organising your primary navigation around the content of your primary newsdesks does a lot to signal editorial tone to the reader. Stripped of the newspaper form, whether the primary navigation contains 'culture' or 'world news' or 'babes' and 'celebrity' is an important conveyer of context.

Navigating newspapers

Which isn't to say that I approve of an entirely print-centric approach to navigation. When you look at the disparity between print circulation and online audience, and consider the global reach of the latter, you have to accept that a large proportion of your audience are arriving at the website without ever having seen your print product. In that case, primary navigational labels like G2 or Coffee Break become much less useful.

There is another way at Guardian News & Media that we are intent on revealing our inner workings, and that is through the metadata in our API. I have a line in my presentations that knowing that all of our keywords, tags, and content labels are available in raw XML and JSON is a powerful disincentive to setting up "Martin's test tag XXX Do Not Use" in the production environment.

The discipline of the API not only exposes our underwear, but makes us concentrate on keeping it clean. The best digital products we have produced over the last 18 months are without doubt the ones that have included the question "and how is this content going to be manifested in the API?". If you have the answer to that question, then you know you've got the underlying data structure of your content right.

And that is definitely underwear worth flaunting.

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