(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love, Understanding and the Sport section?

 by Martin Belam, 31 August 2011

Since helping redesign the front page and sitting with the team for a few days, I’ve been acting as a kind of unofficial pseudo-techie-in-residence in the “You tell us” open thread on Comment is free. They are mostly a good-natured bunch. There is the odd single-issue bore, and they do have a penchant for going into extended bouts of punnery at the drop of a hat, but I always enjoy a bit of online banter.

Unusually today, an information architecture question cropped up in the thread:

“At the top of the page, you will see that between 'NEWS' and 'COMMENT' there is a section called 'SPORT'.
Please put all articles relating to any sort of sport whatsoever, including the three currently befouling the 'COMMENT' page in the 'SPORT' page from now on, to the best of my understanding, that is what it is there for.”

I replied:

“You make an interesting point. In theory, every piece on Comment is free also belongs to at least one other section too, i.e. it will be a comment piece on culture or politics or business. I mean, you could commission comment pieces about comment pieces about comment pieces, but it would soon get horribly recursive. (Insert your own "even more horribly recursive you mean" punchline in here if you so wish)

One feature of our website infrastructure is "tagging", and the way we tag stories. So, for example, Peter Bradshaw's review of The Damned United gets tagged film and review and Peter Bradshaw and Leeds United and by magic* appears in all those sections without anybody having to manually update Peter's page, or let the sport desk know there is a football-related film review on the site.

You can also combine tags so Peter Bradshaw + reviews gives you all his reviews, and bullfighting + vuvuzelas gives you the surprising intersection of those two topics.

Sport seems really divisive though. When we user test our mobile apps, a frequent feature request is a "button to make all the sport go away". Is sport really such a special case? There are about 35 or 40 content slots on the Comment is free front - why does the presence of football in a couple of slots unsettle people so much?

*may not be actual magic but in fact database tables, but let's go with "tags are sparkly magic" for now eh?”

It is odd that of all the big categories that you put news into, sport is by far the one likeliest to generate a Marmite love it/hate it reaction. The very presence of a sport story outside of a designated “sports” box offends a proportion of the audience.

I wonder whether this a legacy of print media literacy, where you knew you could safely ignore sport provided you never turned to the back page?

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