Introduction to Web Media Assessment One
Joshua Maker Lecturer: Seb Fambart
Chosen Magazine: Tracks Mag I’ve been a reader of tracks for a long time now. Since I started surfing 7 years ago. It is one of the oldest surfing publications, originally being printed in newspaper format in October 1970, Tracks’ original concept was to be a counter-culture magazine, featuring stories from Australian surfers and their outlandish tales. Due to having a low amount of content, Tracks also featured comics strips created by local artists. ‘Captain Goodvibes’ was a well-known strip from the publication and became an icon of Australian surfing over the next 2 decades. Today Tracks has grown into a popular, high gloss, advertising rich monthly magazine, featuring national and international content and contributors. It boasts a hefty price tag (around $10 - 20AU depending on content and ‘monthly bonus’ material) and is a direct competitor to other popular surfing publications. The original tagline for Tracks magazine was ‘the surfer’s bible’ , unfortunately it has deviated far from this, becoming full of advertisments and supporting rising commercialism in surfing.
The magazine’s content evenly balances photographs and text, uses experimental typography and heavily uses the pull quote technique. The large format of the magazine (1 inch larger than A4) really brings out the beauty of surfing photography and is a pleasure to view.
Tracks also seems to make a point of exploring and reminiscing on the past of surfing, often bringing up historical moments, characters, sessions. This is a unique aspect of Tracks, as other surfing magazines focus very much on the now and the future of surfing. In this aspect they have a small niche in the market and they stay (sort of) true to their 40 year old tagline, ‘the surfer’s bible.’ Depending on my mood and the topic of the article, I sometimes find myself bored and frustrated with pages which are text heavy. A great example is ‘The Biggest Wave Ever Ridden?’ (left) which talks about the beginning of surfing Waimea Bay in Hawaii’s Oahu island. The history is an important part of surfing and there were some really interesting facts about early equipment, technique, pioneers etc but it became lost on me after about the 800th word.
Above: A shot from comic strip â€˜Captain Goodvibesâ€™ which rose to fame through Tracks magazine to become an international icon of Australian surfing
Website Analysis: Tracks Magazine
In comparison to their printed publication Tracks’ website is difficult to navigate through and does not live up to its competitors sites by any means. All the advertisements on the home page are animated, while the actual site content itself is not. As a result I found myself looking at the advertisements more than the features on the home page. The magazine logo is also small and black, blending with the background. Tracks have also tried to feature a ‘grab’ from every aspect of the website on their homepage. It is a good idea but having features, blogs, news, galleries, competitions etc with titles and images on the homepage means it becomes very busy and congested. Another issue I have with the Tracks website is the small size of the ‘pages’ tabs, and the fact that there are two rows of them, in different sizes, fonts and colours. This is distracting and confusing, and I find myself concentrating on the blue pages bar rather than the small more obscured links bar above it. There are some serious hierarchy errors on this site which, combined with a congested 3 column grid, make the page unappealing to navigate through.
Current Issue This page is really disappointing. They have placed an image of the latest issue cover on a page and a link to subscribe next to it. There is no functionality here and the only information the viewer is given on the features and articles inside the magazine is whatever has been fortunate enough to be displayed on the cover. On another point, this page has terrible, terrible typography. I really didnâ€™t expect to see comic sans on a surfing website and was a little embarrassed when I appeared at the top of this page. Also, planting block red stencil like font next to it made for an ugly combination.
News The News page is very basic and displays articles in a simple list form with a small image on the left allignment. This is sufficient for the pageâ€™s purpose, as each article gets a one sentence bi-line that informs viewers on the overall topic. From here they have the decision to read the article of continue browsing through the 10+ pages of similar content. Something I will mention now, rather than at the end of the Tracks mag analysis is that the same advertisements appear throughout the whole site, in the same positions. I hope that Tracks is charging alot for this kind of exposure as it becomes boring, expected a ck on their basic animated slides, it is obivous how simple and structured the table template for this website it.
Galleries The photography page in Trackmag.com focuses on Tracksâ€™ own hired photographers. At the top of the page you can view each individual photographer and learn more about them. Below this are some photographic galleries that viewers can browse through. The problems are as following: 1 - I donâ€™t really want to know about the photographers themselves, rather I would prefer just viewing the photo and having the option to learn about its creator if it interests me.
2 - The page does not make use of any photo viewing technologies, such as a flash windows or larger image thumbnails, and so the photographs themselves do not look as vivid or powerful as they should.
3 - The latest 3 photo galleries were posted in June and February of 2010. Why? Tracks have published 9 magazines since June with heaps of photos yet none have been put online. Very disappointing
Videos are displayed in the same way that everything else in the page has been, in simple list format with a small thumbnail. Once clicked on, a link will take you to a page where a short description of the video has been written with the video underneath it. The video is watched via embedded youtube player and sits at the same width as the page.
Product Guide The product guide in the printed version of Tracks is really nice. I have always treated it like an article of the publication and it is often very comprehensive on whatever area of surfing gear they are testing. Above is a scanned image of the product page in Feb 2011 Tracks (testing lef ropes and tail pads). It is nicely laid out with lots of space and an even feel to both pages. The typography is simple and elegent and they cover a vast number of choices for both product types. If only I could click on one and be taken to a store where I could buy it...
In comparison, the product guide on the Tracks website looks and feels the exact same as the rest of the site does. Boring, simple list and a small image. Like the photography, the products listed here are out of date and are feature singular reviews, meaning there are no competitor comparisons or any form of categorisation of products. There is an option to click on a link and be taken to a site where you can purchase these items, however this depends on the user and if they like the exact colour, model, type of product Tracks has decided to review.
Competitor Analysis: Surfer Magazine This is an US surfing magazine Surfer that has an awesome design. Really nice even space, it is a joy to browse through. A simple 4 column grid means the images are displayed at a larger impressive size and a white background gives it such a clean crisp feel. Love the typography and on a commercial note I think the style and placement of the advertisement banner is really simple and blends well with the home page. (When rolled over the banner expands to unveil more company and product information) The homepage is constantly updated with videos and gallery entries. There is also 2 news feeds which work surprisingly well with the page layout. A header news feed under the title in larger font, and a small news feed table down to the right,
This is the Surfer page for its current issue. It uses a 2 column grid to show the cover of the latest issue as well as information and articles that can be found inside the magazine. You cannot click on the text if you would like to know more, they act as ‘teasers’ for viewers, providing only enough information to get the viewers interested enough to buy the magazine. This is a great idea as it informs the viewer as to the content inside the printed magazine without releasing anything, allowing the printed version of Surfer to remain its own thing with its own content (mainly articles and longer interviews).
There is also the option to click on back issues, displayed underneath the information (see above). Another aspect I noticed about the ‘Surfer’ website is that there is a lot of ‘non-surfing’ advertisement. I’m not sure if this was a thought-out move by the web manager but it stopped me from being distracted by surfing related images that doubled as advertisements (like Tracks has) and focusing on the content of the site.
This is how a gallery should look! Interactive, large size and subtle captions. It really lets the photographs do the talking for themselves, they come through so vivid and crisp when viewing on a larger screen. The gallery is constantly added to and previous posts remain inside the icon tray at the bottom of the image. Flipping through images here has a slight â€˜drag and pullâ€™ effect (I think this is flash based) with makes the browsing experience that little but more interesting and natural.
Forecast This is something that I think every surfing website should have, forecast. True surfers are always monitoring conditions and changes in swell, wind and tide and that will never change. Surfing forecast and report sites have become increasingly popular over the last couple of years as quality of reports rise and the introduction of web cameras and live stream from beaches becomes possible. If you are truly designing a site for surfers, by surfers, then I think it is imperative that there be a forecast/camera feature. Surfer magazine releases forecasts for US beaches (short term and long term) but has yet to include video stream into this feature. Again, the typography and layout for this site is really nice and balanced.
Forums The Forums feature of surfer is quite large and hosts thousands of members and threads. Forums are a great place to discuss topical subjects and you get a real range in the demographic of contributors. Surprisingly, the forum section of Surfer does not have the same visual appearance as the other pages in the site. Its rigid, text heavy and table based appearance made me not want to browse through it. However the simple table is a very easy and effective way of organising and navigating through information.
Competitor Analysis: Stab Magazine Recently created and marketed Stab Magazine has made an imposing front on surfing publications. Printed in a smaller format on matt paper, and having surf feature in only 50% of its content (the other 50% being a mix of fashion, news, interviews and other random things), Stab tries to recreate the surfing magazine for the modern day, fashion conscious and commercialised world. They have this to say: “Stab represents a cultural shift in surfing that began with the globalisation of everything via high-speed internet access. Suddenly, Australian surfers began to see themselves in an international sense – and not as cynical nationalists, contemptuous of anything not Australian. Stab leads the change among surfers that includes a new sense of fashion, a powerful interest in pop culture and a desire to see surfing from new angles. Stab creates interest and draws from diverse sources. It cooks up world-first exclusives and forces debate. Stab is the base that defines the sport and the era’s cultural renaissance.”
It is evident from there Home page, which uses a 4 column grid (3 for content 1 for advertisements) that they are focused on quality of content rather than quantity of it. I like there simple layouts and bold logo, which really stands out in the header. They have also mimicked the typefaces for body and subheadings found in the magazine, which is a really cool idea. Notice the lack of a photo and video link in the pages tab.
Back Issues I love this page of Stab’s back issue covers. You can see the visual diversity in their cover designs and how colourful and ‘contemporary’ they have been since the start of their publishing. Unfortunately none of the images have any functionality, they serve only to be looked at but there is a link provided if you would like to purchase an issue. Also, when looking at these back issues I noticed how well the Stab logo was designed to incorporate monthly change in colour, size, position and texture. This is an important aspect I think for the logo of any company, if for example the website gets a facelift or a simple colour change it is important to know the logo will still look good and be recognisable.
Stab has interest in creative projects by local and international artists. This is a feature that is unique to them as they continue to flaunt the ‘contemporary culture’ tag. I think the web is such a great place to exhibit artist works and Stab has done a great job of the layout of their ‘comics’ page here. 2 column layouts mean larger images and powerful titles. I also really like the simple colours scheme used in Stab mag, the black, white, grey and red is strong, clean and very legible.
Style The most frequently updated material on Stab’s website is inside the fashion section. In the same layout as the comics spread, the fashion or ‘style’ page features clothing, hardware, user testing, fashion interviews and other things. I never visit this page myself but the idea is great in grabbing the rising number of fashion conscious surfers.
The printed version of Stab is very experimental with typography and its photographic layouts, as seen above. The creative director is constantly pushing legibility in sequence and the way the page is read. In all issues published since 2010, Stab is printed in 2 sections, one half surfing, with competition, industry, trip reports etc then the magazine is turned upside down and read (from the back) for fashion, product, interviews etc. This is a great idea and keeps the raw surfing content separate from the affiliated contemporary material.
Competitor Analysis: Waves Magazine
Waves magazine is a direct competitor to Tracks magazine, as it is also a Sydney based, glossy format surfing publication. It also releases new printed issues monthly. I like Wavesâ€™ homepage because it is so image heavy. However I do not think the title/logo has been given enough emphasise here they have traded a full sized banner for a loud advertisement.
Waves Magazineâ€™s website has the most comprehensive features that I have found on a competitor website so far. The articles available online have a lot of text, with embedded video, images, and hyperlinks. It is a really nice experience being able to read information on a topic while viewing multiple images, videos and darting off into related sites and topics through links. The typography used here is nice and light and easy to read. The style of writing is also really easy to read and will not demand much from the average reader.
The articles available online are different or sometimes completely new compared to material available in the printed publication. This is an important point for all magazines to make, in order to keep their printed material relevant and sought after, as well as a reason for users to continue subscribing to the magazine (such as large scale pin up posters). The web version of the magazine should focus on multimedia and providing things that print never can (such as video and interactive applications). Waves magazine does this very well.
Gallery Waves have embraced the interactivity that the web allows in their photo galleries. There are no standalone images on the website, rather, the developer has put images into sequencing gadgets, which is a fun, interesting and engaging way to view photos at a medium to large scale.
Whoever the designer of Wave’s website is, I like them. Like Stab Magazine’s site they have mainly used black, white, red and black and white illustrations, but the results are of high quality and are really nice to look at. Above is the page from Waves’ latest online competition, where surfers submit videos of themselves and you vote for the best one. The page is laid out in a 4 column grid, which accentuates the colours and content of the photographs as well as allowing for a larger, powerful subheading. The illustration is a nice touch too and gives the page a handmade feel to its otherwise rigid and structured grid. Here all images, bold larger text is interactive, with important and ‘need to know’ information displayed in red.
I really like the illustrative style of the information in the â€˜current isueâ€™ page. The page number buttons especially. Im not sure if the images are replicated in the magazine but the idea of illustrated images for their printed publication strikes me, too bad they have no function.
Competitor Analysis: MeSurf Magazine
MeSurf is a great website for viewing surfing videos and photos. It collates videos from other sites, and publishes them on its own video page (with reference of course) so it is a great way to view content that has been created recently on one site. It is also very community based, as you can see the first gadget placed on the home page is a facebook related table, showing friends, people browsing etc. It also supports
community contributions to the site through video, photo and article comments as well as product reviews submitted by the user. I like the logo and the opening flash viewer (10 slides) is a nice way of automatically viewing the latest available content.
MeSurf has a really comprehensive product guide, including lots of user reviews, a â€˜star systemâ€™ of ratings, and they try and diversify the products featured on the site. As a surfer myself, I feel product reviews from many users are a lot better than a singular review from someone behinda desk, MeSurf also reviews accessories and products that are not surfing related, such as headphones, backpacks etc, as surf companies branch out from core surfing products to gain wider retail market shares.
The technique section of MeSurf is an innovative idea that I think is growing in popularity as surfers constantly seek to better their performance and learn new skills. Each manouvre is shown in a flash slide format with between 6 - 10 images, with instructional text below each one. The visual layout of this page is particularly nice; very balanced, not too loud and it gives the user full control of the multimedia.
Above: The videos page has large icons with lengthy descriptions of what the video content contains. I never really read the text but it is pleasantly placed on the page and is accurate and informative.
Inspiration: Peter Anderson Studios Peter Anderson Studiosâ€™ site is a fantastic example of a flash website. Providing a html and a flash option for the user to enter, the flash site is highly interactive. Images seem to float in x, y, and z space and hovering your mouse over an image zooms the view towards it. This use of available technologies is very inspirational and makes for a really enjoyable and immersive browsing experience.
ISSUU is an online publishing site that creates flash ‘magazines’ from uploaded pdf documents. I really like the experience of browsing through one of these interactive magazines, they are a full screen browser experience including ‘page turn’ sounds and slight animations. I think this would be a really nice way to view high quality surf images in a gallery, especially on a larger screen or tablet.
Inspiration: Coastalwatch.com Coastalwatch was the pionerr of online surf reports, as the Sydney founder began installing web cameras at beaches around Australia and the world. Since then several other live surf check sites have appeared but Coastalwatch remains the best the one of highest quality. It allows for different bandwidth levels, different browsers and a text, video or image based surf report. The site also features videos, photographic galleries and industry news. The only problem I have with the site is that it is very advertisment heavy. However, the advertisements displayed are determined on your location (so I see mostly Sydney/NSW based offers and companies) which makes the site feel more â€˜localâ€™. Checking the surf on Coastalwatch has become a natural reaction for me, when 5 years ago I would have rode my bike down to the beach. How times have changed.
Inspiration: Surfstich.com Surfstich is a online surf store that started on Sydney’s Northern Beaches about 3 years ago. Since then it has had massive expansion and moved to a new headquaters on the Gold Cost, such is the popularity of the site and the idea of online stores. It has a nice, clean, simple layout and is focused on showing the products to the best of their ability. They claim to stock more surf clothing, products, accessories than any other store in Australia. Other great features of the online store include ‘chat’ with employees if you cannot find something you are looking for, as free delivery and the ability to read buyer feedback. I think the incorporation of an online store is an important feature of any modern site.
Site Attribute Comparison Site Content Site Name tracksmag.com surfermag.com stabmag.com wavesmag.com.au mesurf.com coastalwatch.com ISSUU.com peteranderson studios.uk surfstitch.com
Find ings Over view So what makes a goof surfing magazine website? From my analysis of competitor websites (which also have printed surfing publications) I have drawn the following conclusions: »» Content should utilise the full benefits of the web; large images, interactivity, videos, hyperlinks to related sites/pages »» A website should feature the current printed publication available, hinting at some of its features without giving away the information that a buyer of the printed magazine would acquire
»» Creativity with layouts, changing from page to page, is a great way to make the navigating experience ‘fresh’ and exciting. If a user knows exactly what the next page will look like they will feel as if they have seen everything the site has to offer and will not bother exploring further »» Content that is easily updated should be regularly. The ability to upload videos and photographs as they are released is one of the key benefits of a website »» The galleries on surfing websites should maximise the viewing potential of images and be content focused rather than topic/creator focused »» A magazine has its best chance of being different from its competitors by remaining true to its original concept and core values »» The website of a surfing magazine has to consider what content viewers are on the site for and make it easily available »» Sites can approach content in 2 ways; instructional – where viewers are shown videos/photos/articles etc and can view but not interact to them. Interactive – where viewers can view the previously listed content, interact with its format and add commentary to a community or network of viewers »» Colours do not have to be loud and bright, rather, a neat and balanced design
featuring a few strong colours (such as black, white, red and grey) will be just as effective and aesthetically appealing if well designed »» The incorporation of typographic, photographic and illustrative elements makes a web page a joy to view and adds variety to the content of a site »» Websites should consider the core/ original needs and values of its target market. I believe that a surfing website should feature related equipment and product reviews as well as a surf forecast/check system – this is the most primal need for a surfer and one that has been lost over time. Also this feature is getting better and better thanks to new technologies and browser applications »» Advertising is essential for a website to be up and running, however the advertising does not need to be a competing feature of any page. Especially the home page, which should be centred on raw content and promote the site and its magazine to the fullest »» The concept behind the magazine and the overall publication ‘image’ has a large role in the layout and content featured in a website All of the above are factors I will consider in the creation of Tracksmag.com’s new website. These findings are based on my own research and my own personal opinion as an avid internet user, magazine reader and surfer. I would be interested to find out what different demographics of people would like to get out of their own surfing magazine website experience.