A Web Site for Advertising News Junkies

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Welcome to the new AdAge.com, the first total overhaul of the Advertising Age Web site in four years.

And what a colorful digital development project it has been.

In large publishing companies, the redesign of a Web site is always as much about bureaucratic politics as it is about software engineering. Advertising Age is typical in the manner its Chicago, Detroit and New York business mangers, editors and tech developers leaped in to wrestle each other over exactly what a Web structure could or should be.

That fray was made somewhat easier by the participants' shared sense of their publication's mandate. Since it was started as a pioneer in its field 71 years ago, Advertising Age has always been about hard business journalism.

It was also helpful that Advertising Age has had such a long internal history

Hoag Levins, editor of AdAge.com

of debating digital news delivery concepts. Since 1993, when it first launched a Prodigy site, people here have been squabbling about the meaning of what they had learned. And in this latest incarnation, we tried to bring all those years of experience and experimentation to the task of building a Web site that uses the latest technology yet remains mindful of the Internet's many -- and often maddening -- limitations.

The main focus: news
In their every line of code, all Web sites are necessarily constructed of compromises, and this one is no different. But when faced with choices, we consistently went for what promised to provide faster, more efficient and more meaningful delivery of the news our readers need. Our main goal was to design the ultimate Web site for advertising news junkies.

One of the biggest issues we've tackled is one that has confounded print publishers since the Internet era began. Namely: How do you use a Web site to directly and coherently enhance the reach, impact and utility of your print periodical?

Most have long sensed that the infinite size of the cyberspace news hole and universal availability of Internet access theoretically make the World Wide Web a perfect place to extend the contents of a print page. But how to actually accomplish this?

Some editors have referenced long, typo-prone URLs in their printed stories. Some have advised print readers to see the main Web site home page for further information related to a print story -- leaving it to the reader to search out the exact online document. Others have used a pointer graphic on their Web site home page to guide readers to an online document cited in the current print issue. But weeks later, those print references are meaningless after the temporary pointer graphic is cycled off the home page to be replaced by a new one.

And a final hardy group, driven by a more entrepreneurial spirit, has tried to promote the use of bar codes as a way to link printed reference and online document. But these cumbersome systems require users to purchase additional software and hardware products -- like a Cue Cat Reader -- for their computer systems.

Ad Age 'QwikFIND' System
On the new AdAge.com, we've created what we believe is a far more simple and efficient way to stitch Web documents

directly into our print publications. We're calling it the "QwikFIND" Instant Online Locator System.

Here's how it works: An index code generator has been built into the core of the new AdAge.com site. At the moment of creation every new digital page is permanently assigned a unique, six-character ID code that typically looks like this: AAM62K. Then, built into the top of every page of AdAge.com is a special QwikFIND entry field.

In the near future, articles in the print edition of Advertising Age will cite QwikFIND numbers when referring readers to related story information online. The reader can turn from printed

Every story on AdAge.com now has a unique QwikFIND number.

page to computer screen, enter the QwikFIND number and instantly see the exact document. It is now possible to routinely "attach" online sidebars, data charts and even photo pages to a print article with QwikFIND numbers.

Print editors can build link boxes
It's easy to imagine that as more publications build such direct-link indexing systems into their Web sites, print editors will realize they have the capability to create "link boxes" to multiple related stories and resources, just as Web editors do. This is a good way to provide the broader context of the issue or event.

Of equal importance, the QwikFIND numbers will always work. Several years from

Entering the QwikFIND code in the QwikFIND entry field instantly pulls up the specific document.

now, if you are thumbing through a stack of back issues of Advertising Age and see a QwikFIND reference that interests you, the online document will be as instantly available then as it is now. When we migrated all 32,000 stories from the old AdAge.com archive to the new AdAge.com archive, each was assigned a QwikFIND number. So, every story in the archive of this Web site is QwikFIND enabled.

And, finally, every story throughout this site prominently displays its QwikFIND code -- so users who wish to can jot down the six digits and always get back to that story or reference item quickly. This is just one of the ways we've tried to make this site more useful.

Business intelligence tools
All of us here in the Advertising Age news room are long-time journalists who work with business news and data every day. In this new site we've tried to include the kinds of tools that we find most useful on the Web. The goal was to make the new AdAge.com more of a business intelligence service rather than just a news Web site.

For instance, the new MyAdAge section of the site allows users to set up personalized pages where they can store information.

Here, a MySearch tool allows them to set up permanently saved searches that are automatically executed each time they visit the site. Thinking of setting up a search on the name of an agency you track? Every time you return and click that MySearch item, you will see everything recently published about that company.

A MyLinks feature enables users to save a list of live links from anywhere inside AdAge.com -- much the same as the "Bookmarks" feature of Netscape or the "Favorites" feature of Explorer.

Also, everyone here at AdAge.com likes to e-mail news stories, but at many news sites this can be a frustrating experience because you can only e-mail the story to one person at a time. The new AdAge.com "E-mail This Story" function allows you to input as many e-mail addresses as you like and send the same story to all of them with a single click.

Elsewhere, we've streamlined the structure of AdAge.com, focused its navigation and tried to open the whole thing up more to serve as a platform that can support broader and more diverse kinds of coverage, including photography-intense special reports.

Making it better
But have we succeeded in making it a better Web site? That, of course, is a question only you can answer. After all, the best architects of a news Web site are the people who use it; the people who know immediately whether it meets their needs.

As we move forward into the next phase of Ad Age's journey into the digital future, we invite your comments, criticisms and your suggestions about how to make this site better. Write us at [email protected].

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