Making a Good Website Awesome: A Progress Report from The Spinoff Nerds


Spinoff CTO Ben Gracewood emerges from the mainframe with an overview of the dozens of small and big improvements to this website.

About a year ago the team at Daylight built us a shiny new website. It’s really very good. The only problem is that I’m both a tragic spinoff and a user experience obsessive, so I’m never satisfied with just very good. I want your experience to be awesome.

Over the past year, we have also seen a host of changes beyond our control. Mark and Elon are battling TikTok to make sure you stay trapped on their websites and only ever see vertical videos; there are no more traffic spikes for 1 p.m. press conferences and we are all a year closer to death.

What I mean is that clicks are harder to get these days. We love clicks and pageviews, not only because that’s literally how we get validation as humans creating content (damn, it’s a good buzz when a story gets big!), but because without traffic it is harder to find members and referrals to pay our bills. Maybe it’s yuck to be so outspoken about it, but that’s the business we’re in ¯_(ツ)_/¯.

That’s why we need to make sure our first-party experience is the best way to engage with The Spinoff. As web development nerds, our mission is to make you want to install our app or type in your address bar with pleasure because of the great experience you get when you do. . We want people who come across The Spinoff to be hooked not only by our content, but also by the experience of interacting with it.

Going from very good to pretty great

Our big and talented tech division (I’m big, Sacha Laird is talented), in partnership with our designers Tina Tiller and Toby Morris, has spent a lot of time over the past few months making big strides towards the big. We’re not there yet, but it’s a good time to give you a taste of what’s different from just a few months ago.

First, if you do not use our applications, you really should be. We just released an update to the iOS app with a better menu bar, easier content sharing, swipe navigation, richer notifications, and a full-screen experience that really makes it the best platform to see The Spinoff. Once the app is installed, you will receive notifications, but only a few times a day, and only for big news and good reads.

It’s hard to show a vertical screenshot of the app, but hope you get the idea

All these updates will be coming to our Android app very soon – once we figure out how to reset the password on our play store account. I would like to joke. Install it now and you will get the update automatically as soon as it is available.

Outside of the app, we’ve done a spring cleanup of the site which I think you’ll love. The new main menu is simpler and makes navigating through our content a little more logical. You’ll also find a brand new author search under the “Read” menu.

Our index pages for major categories (like business and politics for example) have been improved and include links to related podcasts and newsletters. We’re tidying up the display of podcasts and Sacha is working on an online pod player that will let you listen to pods while you browse.

If you’re browsing on a mobile device, you’ll notice fewer issues with oversized content, and the menu and share buttons fade as you scroll. It’s even better on the app, where you get the whole screen for just read. It’s even better if you’re a member – there are no online ads at all. Seriously, check it out: just your battery icon and glorious Spinoff content. Very Zen.

We’ve added infinite scrolling to our articles, which means you can just keep scrolling to read the next story in the same category. We plan to change this so that our loyal readers don’t see repeated content, but instead get new stuff that you may not have read.

We added ReoAko app to provide reo Māori translations kupu in our content, so you can refresh your reo and even check the pronunciation while reading (click or tap on the word kupu to see it in action).

If you’re a member, we’ve made it easy to sign in. Rather than having to remember another password, you can sign in with Google, Facebook, or Apple. We also recently introduced The Firehose, which is a simple timeline view of all our content exclusively for members.

Become bigger

And then ? AFTER.

Animated gif of Kylo Ren from starwars howling "After"
Live footage of Ben Gracewood writing javascript code

We will continue to tweak the rough edges to make things smooth and pleasant to use. We want to make the videos easier to watch, we want it to be easier to manage all your newsletter subscriptions, and it would be nice if you didn’t have to login twice when you click on the members site . We think it would be great if anyone could sign up so they could mark stories as read and get better recommendations. Research sucks, we know that. All the small things.

Want to comment on stories? Should we launch the Spinoff version of Wordle, whatever it is? What would you have liked better in The Spinoff? Hit me with your thoughts.


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