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An Open Letter to London Topic

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.

By Brian Garside

Brian is a digital experience expert, and part time internet superhero. He focuses on digital first design, digital strategies, content management, website usability, and user experience. He was part of the team behind BalanceDo, the co-founder of All New Comics, and the chief strategist at NorthIQ.

6 replies on “An Open Letter to London Topic”

I keep forgetting to mention here, I don’t know why you bothered sending the dude the note. I saw that episode of the Den and that guy look liked a bitter, scorned ex-employee, laid off from the Freeps trying to take down the paper.

It was obvious in his reaction to the Dragon’s criticism that he’s not really receptive to the notion that it needs to be much better, and make way more than 30k of revenue in 4 years if it’s ever going to be something. Sadly it won’t and he doesn’t get it.

And worse, I am guessing he thought that by appearing on the Den he’d drive traffic to the site, and get the exposure he needed. One time hits maybe, but no repeat visitors… outside the rubber necking.

I’d really be interested in his personal take on how his appearance on the show went, because I am pretty sure he wouldn’t see it the same way you and I did.

I got a response from London Topic which was kind of interesting.

Hello Brian,
Thank you for your feedback and constructive criticism. It is much appreciated.

Everything you have written is absolutely correct and I could not agree with you more.

Do you realize only 2 people run this massive local London website, 7 days a week, for almost 3 years now, in our spare time? Amazing, isn’t it.

We are in the middle of a re-design, so we only have good things to look forward
to in 2009.
It is a gem and we appreciate your support and your shared vision.
It will be great. There is just so much more to do. This is only the beginning.
We know it can and we do want it to be so much more. It will be.
Take care and have a great day! Please visit often.

Sincerely,

Jodi Bryans
http://www.LondonTopic.ca

So to this commment: Do you realize only 2 people run this massive local London website, 7 days a week, for almost 3 years now, in our spare time? Amazing, isn’t it.

Do you reply: You have two people? Cuz it looks like my 3-year old daughter did it between watching episodes of Toopy and Binoo.

I stumbled across a news story on london topic and decided to leave a comment for that story. Comments need approval before they appear, so a couple days later i went back to read other peoples opinions. I came across my own comment which was approved, but my comment was edited and altered.

I can no longer trust a site that edits user comments. I signed the comments with my name, but since they altered them, they are not truly my comments. Free speech is very important and when a news site like londontopic doesn’t recognize the importance of free speech, that is a HUGE problem.

I can understand approving comments, and if they didn’t like what I had to say, then don’t approve the comment. Comments are the editorial section for the online newspaper, editing user opinions is low and goes to show you what kind of hacks actually run the good for nothing website.

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