Designing Web Pages for Media Directories
This page contains a discussion of some of the factors that we considered in the design of certain pages on Zona Latina. We are motivated to discuss this because we are frequently asked why the organization of these pages appears to be different from a number of other directories. Specifically, the question was why the pages of our media links are so large (100,000 bytes or more in size). Before we can answer this question, we will have to discuss some background issues.
Running a website as a business enterprise requires the clear recognition of what presently constitutes the currency. That is to say, the website should be designed so as to maximize those quantitative measures which maximize its return on investment. Loosely speaking, whether a website depends on advertising income or direct sales, a more popular website is better. So how do we define popularity?
A crude quantitative measure of the popularity of a website is the number of hits over a fixed time period (say, a week or a month). Here, a 'hit' is defined to a file download. More hits means that more information is being accessed from the website, and that must be good, right? Nowadays, this is not considered to be a meaningful measure since there are many types of files --- a html page, a graphic (such as a .gif or a .jpg file), or a background sound file. It is possible to increase the number of hits dramatically by inserting many superfluous elements (including a clear gif file of 1 pixel!). For example, this particular page that you are reading at this moment accounts for seven hits (the html page and six graphic elements (namely, the Zona Latina logo at the top of the page, four advertisers' logos at the bottom, plus the graphic for the visitor counter). Regardless of the number of hits (which can be one, seven, or sixty five, or whatever), you are really just looking at one page right now.
So it is common nowadays to use the number of page views that a website gets over a fixed time period as the currency. In the simplest sense, this would mean counting the number hypertext markup (html) files that are downloaded. So this page counts as one (and only one) page view. The importance of page view is that this corresponds to an advertiser's notion of an impression --- that is, if each page contains an ad, then the page views represents the number of impressions, or the number of persons exposed to that ad.
There are a couple of tangential technical issues that we will mention in brief. Some pages are divided into frames, but since this site does not utilize frames, we will not discuss how to count the number of page views in that special situation. We will also ignore the additional complexity that when a file is requested, the user may sometimes see a locally cached copy without a new file being downloaded.
We should also point out that, in the case of Zona Latina, the use of page views as the sole measure may not be entirely fair. This website contains several hundred original photographs of Latin American. For example, let us look at a page like Cross-Media Advertising in Latin America. This page contains descriptions of various photos, which are not shown (not even in thumbnail form). When you click on one of these links, you get a direct link to the photo which appears in the web browser without any embellishment (see example). So this is not a html file, but it could be. We could have easily set up a html file in which we embed the picture (see how we have set up this example as a html file), but we believe that you will find it loud, intrusive and quite annoying just as we do. At present, the number of graphic file downloads on Zona Latina actually exceeds the number of html file downloads, so this is not a negligible number. But our choice was to present the information to our users as compactly and succintly as possible to our users.
To get back to the main issue of this discussion, the most popular pages on this website other than our home page are our pages of links to newspapers, magazines and radio stations in Latin America. In the next table, we have listed the characteristics of these pages.
|Number of links||Page size
(as of 02/23/99)
|Number of pages views
(in February 2000)
(in February 2000)
(source: Zona Latina)
If you are using a regular telephone dial-up line, each page will take several seconds to download and you will probably notice that lag. After you receive the page, you will have hundreds of listings to look at. These entries are organized by geographical area, which you should be able to figure out easily. There is virtually no chance that you will be able to go through all of these links in one session. So you will most likely check out just a few links.
Different people use our pages differently. However, we find that we experienced surges in the demand for our media link pages whenever something unusual happens in Latin America. For example, when there was severe flooding in Venezuela in December 1999, people surged in to read all the local Venezuelan newspapers, radio stations and television channels, plus any foreign coverage (such as CNN en Espańol).
There are many other media directories for Latin America, and they are typically organized around some other design. We will just discuss a couple of them.
As our first example, we look at Cadę?, which is one of the most popular directories in Brazil. If you look at their newspaper page, you are looking at a very long list of entries. They are certainly in the business of collecting any and every piece of information in Brazil. However, the links do not appear to be organized in any specific fashion and the annotations are uneven and inconsistent. It can be a frustrating experience when you go down the list not knowing where you are going (if you are going any place at all), especially if you have something specific in mind. Of course, this website also has a search function, but you will have to know the right names and keywords to locate the entries that you need.
The more common design can be found at many other websites; for example, Mundo Latino, Web Wombat, Rádios@Rádios, ILGRadio's International Broadcasting Web Directory, Radio Directory, etc. This is a hierarchical design in which you begin at the top with the home page, which permits you to select Media (as opposed to Leisure, Economy, Government, Education, Health, Tourism, etc). Within Media, you can select from Newspapers, Magazines, Radio, Television, etc. Within Newspapers, you are presented with a list of countries. When you select a country, they will provide you with a list of newspapers within that country. Sometimes, you are presented with a list of states within that country before you can get to the specific media titles. In other cases, you are given just the first ten (or twenty) entries in that country and you have to click to see the next ten (or twenty) and so on. This is very logically organized and it is a widely used design that is familiar to users. So why is Zona Latina not organized around this common principle? There are several reasons.
A standard argument for not presenting a huge
page is the assertion that users cannot handle too much information.
We don't agree with that. A page with several hundred newspapers
neatly organized by country and annotated with the city of origin is not
complicated. Certainly, it is not as confusing and exasperating as the
home pages of some directories which offer dozens and dozens of completely
unrelated services (news headlines, sports scores, weather information,
stock quotes, winning lottery numbers,
chat rooms, e-mail services, hosting services, horoscopes, newsletters,
sweepstakes, opinion polls, user registration, book sales, video sales, auctions, concert tickets, live radio
broadcasts, streaming videos, animated gif files, corporate sponsors, and a massive amount of
The major argument has to do with download
time. We began this discussion with an acknowledgement that the Zona
Latina pages are large and take significant (but not prohibitive) time
to download. However, this is a single click access from our home
page. Furthermore, if you look at our page of Reciprocal
Links, you will find that many websites
link directly to our newspapers and radio pages, so that many of our users
have direct access without going through the home page. Now you have
to compare this against having to navigate through Media -> Newspaper
-> Country -> State to get to the same place, without
necessarily learning anything new during the time. In the end, we
believe that you are better off getting all the information on the subject
in a single step rather than in many short steps.
Now if we are smart business people, we would
have recognized immediately that we ought to make people spend more time on
our website. More precisely, we should make them look at more
pages. We began by stating the currency is based upon page
views. So Zona Latina is getting one (-> Newspapers)
or two page views (Home page -> Newspapers) per
access, versus the five page views that is implied by the sequence of Home
Page -> Media -> Newspaper -> Country
-> State. If we had used the common design, we can easily
triple our page views immediately just with a day's work of re-arranging
some links on some new pages. If each page carries paid
advertisements, then our advertising revenues will have increased three
But we choose to continue with our current design, because, speaking as users, we like the Zona Latina style better. The trend in the industry has been a continuing and inexorable decline in the measurable effectiveness of click-through ads due to clutter and saturation. We don't believe that people will respond to an intrusive ad like this which pops in out of nowhere:
This does not spell the end of click-through
ads as such, but we believe that it may require a better relationship with
the user and a better editorial environment.
In terms of building a better relationship, we believe that people will appreciate the fact that we construct a website that is geared towards their needs, and all the little things that we do --- such as providing rapid access to the information that they are looking for --- are appreciated and translates into goodwill.
In terms of a better editorial environment, here is an example of how we can put something in context --- If you believe that the discussion in this article was interesting and helpful to you, here is a good book about web design that we recommend:
Web Wisdom: How to Evaluate and Create
Information Quality on the Web
by Janet E. Alexander and Marsha Ann Tate. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates: Mahwah, NJ.
Click to find more details
Finally, we should also say that we have a philosophical reason for wanting to do it our way. We quote a question-and-answer item that was dated as far back as 9/22/1997:
Question: Some of your links pages (newspaper, magazines, radio) are quite big (over 50K), and it takes a while to download. How about organizing them into smaller chunks, such as by country?
Answer: The purpose of this web site is to promote regional understanding. Segregating the media into national ghettos would be very wrong. By placing all the links on one page, we make it really easy for someone to glide from one country to the next. We deploy a simple text-based page layout with virtually no graphics so that the downloads can occur quicker. The very size of our links page is a testament of the exciting development of the WWW in Latin America.
Yes, we have come a long way since and we are glad to have you with us ...
(posted by Roland Soong on 2/24/2000)
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