Editor’s note – This post refers to the long defunct website “London Topic”, which was a hyper local news site, pitched on the TV Show Dragon’s Den.

The site has been out of commission since mid 2011.  This site ranks high on a search for “London Topic”, because it’s one of the few articles written about the site.  Whenever the Dragon’s Den episode airs again I get a little bump of traffic.

If you enjoy this post, check out more of my Web Design posts.

London Topic, a local website dedicated to news in and around London Ontario was recently on The Dragon’s Den. Site owner Ross McDermott wanted to take the concept nationally, and had a pretty ludicrous pitch.

Most alarming was how they dismissed Robert Herjavec’s opinions that the site was poorly designed…the site looks like it was designed in about 1999, and hasn’t really been touched since then. In fact a quick view of the source shows tired old table based design and an HTML 4.01 transitional doctype which all died around 2000.  A far cry from the “fantastic” design that McDermott claimed it was.

The idea is sound, the content is good, but the execution is poor.  Just a common news site would be really easy to replicate, but building a community around it would be the way to make it stick.  Not just comments, but also social tagging, the ability to crowdsource editorial significance, put an emphasis on mobile versions for Blackberry and iPhone users, and really Web 2.0 this mother.Here’s my letter to them:

Hi there;

After watching you on Dragon’s Den I finally got around to visiting the site. While I agree with some of the comments (the design is a little dated, and I have no idea what your catchphrase means), I do see a need for this type of site especially with the mainstream media doing less and less local coverage.

One thing that’s desperately need is professional local journalism.

Which brings me to my topic, you need to visit your site with a critical eye, look at the design issues and figure out how to address them. Purchase Steven Krug’s great book “Don’t Make me Think” and take its advice to heart. I’m a web pro, I’ve worked in the industry for 12 years, I was the production manager at TSN.ca for 6 years, and I worked on redesigns for The Globe and Mail and all of the Alliance Atlantis properties, so please take my advice to heart.

You also need to look at your grammatical and spelling errors.

Take the About Us page “With two solids years of existence”, I believe that should be “With two solid years of existence”, looking at that page there’s about 20% too much copy that is nothing but happy talk, meanwhile you aren’t convincing investors, the media and advertisers why we should support your business.

You have the beginning of a fantastic idea, but you really need to polish it or that gem will just become another common stone on the web. When a site like Torontoist struggles to stay on the web, you have to consider everything to move to the next level.

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