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April 25, 2010

The Backstory on the New BAG

Thanks for all your comments and emails about the new site.  Now that it’s been up for a week, I thought I’d take a moment to provide some backstory on the make-over. (It’s a bit of a grand tour, so you might want to fasten your seatbelts.)

In terms of structure and design, what we’ve tried to do is to amplify the two basic elements of the site: the presentation of images and the discussion of them.

At every point, what we’ve tried to do is to put the photos forward, demanding attention and making them more or less stand on their own.  We understand how unorthodox it is to essentially strip the pictures of immediate context, but we felt that this singular consideration of the photo is the essence of what we’re about.  No place on the site is this more obvious than the Notes page where we’ve taken the bold step of dispensing with excerpts and captions, requiring you to “read” and absorb the photo before clicking through to the analysis and, hopefully, offering up your own. (So, just to clarify, our intent was not “to get someone to click more,” but rather, to prompt you to look at and consider the photo first, and on its own.)

We’ve given maximum play to the images almost every other place, as well. The home page consists of a lead image with only a title. We offer the ability to pop open the lead photos of every post next to the comment box. We’ve built in a lightbox effect so you can study in-column images, in place, in a larger size. We present large format images in the Originals section, scaled to 920 pixels wide. And we’ve provided the very cool ability to experience a visual grid of our 3000+ photo archive parsed any possible way you can imagine.

Bottom line — if we’ve been rather religious about it — the BAG is about putting the picture first.

As regards conversation, we wanted to make it possible to follow and jump into the discussion threads no matter where you are on the site. With the tracking of “Popular Entries” and “Active Comments,” you can enter into the most active conversations from almost anywhere. The BAG has always been about community, and the collective analysis of the photos, and we’re as committed to this as ever. (I should add, though, we are aware we are lacking some comment tools, such such as a “comment preview,” and we’re working on that.  …Another thing we’ll likely retool, by the way, is the background/readability of the Originals section.)

Content-wise, we’ve added new contributors to join me in analyzing visual politics. Rest assured, I will continue to anchor the Notes section, though I anticipate many of the new voices — especially, as they gain traction — are going to appeal to you also.

As you can tell, we’ve also added new sections to present original photojournalism and interactive discussion. Besides dealing with subject matter that has been largely ignored by the media, we see the Originals section branching out into visual storytelling that will also engage you in discussion as the stories unfold.  As for the Salon section, we will be featuring multimedia-style interviews, eventually adding in live chats like those we’ve done previously.  Schedule-wise, by the way, we hope to update Notes at least twice a day, Originals at least twice a week, and Salon at least once a week.

A few other notes. If you’re missing the coziness of the old site where a post lingered and you could keep coming back to talk about it and follow the discussion, we feel we’ve emulated the same effect on the new home page.  The lead image will likely be in the top spot for half a day, and then you’ll find it just below in the “Featured Entries” section for at least another day or two. Beyond that, post with a larger number of comments will be found in “Popular Entries” likely for at least or week, maybe two.

As for ads, we have actually kept them to a minimum. Yes, there is an ad strip in the first column in the Notes section, but otherwise, there isn’t an ad above the fold anywhere on the site, only a Goggle box ad bottom right.  This aspect of the site is a work-in-progress. To support our expansion, revenue now becomes a greater consideration. Personally though, I’m not crazy about the Google ads, so we’ll be experimenting with it.

Also, some of you have written about how powerful the design is.  We are proud of the elegance of the design, and if it helps draw a larger audience, it can only enhance our goal of becoming a think tank for visual politics, a “live classroom” for visual literacy, a visual media watchdog and a vigorous advocate for concerned photography.

Overall, however, we understand that the BAG has undergone a radical change and that the design, as powerful as it is, will take some getting used to. As such, we hope you’ll let the design “settle” and become more familiar as we, too, grow into it.  In the meantime, we welcome all your feedback and suggestions at openbag at bagnews dot com.

Thanks so much,


(Update: A suggestion from a reader. If you were in love with the old site and don’t like change, it might be best to bookmark the Notes page, which, along with the right column links, gives you the best of the old world.)

  • Stewart Dean

    I’ve been around computers since the late 70’s, starting with a TRS-80 and its Basic and wondering how the hell x could equal x + 1 (x=x+1), an impossibility. I’m now in my 60’s and I find I resent having to relearnrelearnrelearn.
    As a computer professional, I run the email and core TCP protocols for a small liberal arts college, and I am continually having to learn new things, all the while falling behind the blizzard of new languages and protocols.
    The dominant blog pattern is to page down. It’s quick, you know when you’ve reached where you were the last time and it’s doesn’t demand you figure out the “individual language” of a very special web site.

    Which is what BAGnews now is.. BAGnews demands you that you train your self in this unusual different-from-all-other-websites website. Submit to our (not the dominant) paradigm. Sorry, no thank you.
    Some new things in the world of computing and Internet you learn because you have to, some you learn because it really works/potentiates/empowers and the learning curve is worth it. This is neither. Gorgeous, yes, A lot of thoughtful work on BAG’s part, yes. A work of art, yes. It is perfect, too perfect….

    • Rhodo Zeb

      Yes. Relearnrelearning takes effort and naturally causes frustration, which must be dissipated somehow or another.

      And then one day its gone. When the relearning is done. And you sometimes wonder what the problem was…

    • Michael Shaw

      Although I empathize with where you’re coming from, this site is about looking, not scrolling. In visiting the BAG, try and think about the surface of your computer as a gallery or museum wall (which is an analogy that inspired us early on). You don’t scroll a gallery wall.

  • Kevin

    The new site looks like the NY Times site. The colors and the fonts.

  • charles miinx

    lots of blather to justify a big step-down from the old website

    the new design = fail

  • Books Alive

    Sure, it’s going to take time to learn to navigate…after enlarging the Ware cover to more that full size, I couldn’t find my way back to the comments. Hope I don’t have this trouble each time after using the zoom tool. Maybe some readers are having a Fortune 500 reaction! :)

  • elldee

    I hate it, and probably will no longer visit regularly.

  • RyanLuke

    I get my dose of the BAG through your RSS feed. I use Google Reader. With the new site, almost none of the images get published on the feed, just the text. If I want the image I have to click through to the site. That is a significant inconvenience for me. No more one click quick reads, no more checking a post out on the bus on my phone.

    It would be great if the RSS could include the pictures again.

    And I do like the look of the new site. Congrats on the launch.

    • Michael Shaw

      Ryan, let me look into that. Thanks for the feedback.

  • bystander

    Okay. Here’s what I think. Probably, tl;dr, but what the heck, there’s that Leave a comment invitation at the top, so I will.

    Where the previous design of BNN was a blog, this new BNN* makes me think of an online magazine. And, rather than traffic in text, it traffics in visual media. Rather than parsing the language of political words, its parsing the language of symbols as shaped by the media. Now, it was always true that BNN, had that intent, but BNN* has added some dimensions that really brings that mission into focus for me. The new front page BagNews really drives home the feel of “magazine.” You’ve moved on from “blog.”

    I admit, I wasn’t sure I liked being presented with a visual sans text of any kind on the Notes page. I liked being able to “cheat” and read at least the caption before thinking too hard about the image. So, you’re making me work a little harder, and put some “ego” in the game before allowing me to go straight to the prompts for analysis. I find myself trying to take the risk of figuring out what’s salient about the image before I click through. It’s a pretty low risk; if I’m out in left field, no one knows but me. But, if I feel strongly about my initial – but, off base – response, perhaps, it’s worth sharing an un-coached view. What the heck. It’s only the internet, and No one knows [if] you’re a dog. So, I’m adapting to the Notes page.

    I’m also adapting to the Originals page, and I’m really glad you’ve expanded in this direction. This requires a little more of me than the “drive-by” I tend to devote to Notes. There’s a bit more narrative to think about. And, different photographers ought to bring something different to the table. I like having them grouped so I can work back and forth between them. I can imagine a number of different reasons for the black background. It is reminiscent of the NYT’s LENS. And, were it left to me, I’d be looking for a way to set it apart from the rest of the site, too. The white text on a black background is a little harder to read when I first get there, but after I’ve spent a bit of time on the page something must adjust (rods, cones, retina, lens…) because I don’t experience it as difficult. After being there for a few minutes this page feels almost over-bright until whatever it is adapts back.

    Salon is a “sleeper.” Took me awhile to discover you’ve got a space for comments [found by clicking on the title]. This is the least familiar feature to me, and the one with which I’ve spent the least amount of time. I never seem to catch them in real time. The video/YouTube presentation for 4/20 made some interesting observations. I want to go back to it, and comment there.

    I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the Archives. This is so much better than trying to craft a search via Google. I bet I search for an older post about once a week on average, and I’ve only been about 50% successful in finding what I’ve been looking for, so this format will really help. Thank you.

    All in all, I’m really liking this new design a lot. You’ve done some things with organization, and layout, and features, but it still feels like BNN to me. I’ll probably “bump my shins on the rearranged furniture” a couple of times in the days ahead, but I find myself settling in pretty comfortably. Of all the site redesigns I’ve had to adjust to in the last 6 months, this one has been among the easiest.


    • Michael Shaw

      Very much appreciated!

  • Supare Aude

    There is an old axiom. If its working, don’t screw with it. I am afraid the motivation for the new web site either never learned or forgot this, and in any case have proved it. I have more than enough “new” things that I am forced to learn (next level software from Adobe, Autodesk, Microsoft, new features on my cellphone, in my car, within my multimedia center, even in my kitchen, to accept that anything that demands I relearn something I already learned is worth it.

    My hope is that if enough people feel the same way I do, you will go back to what was a thoroughly enjoyable and educational experience.

  • Marie

    I feel compelled to note that the old website felt clunky to me at times (scrolling forever!), so I find this a nicely streamlined improvement. I really like the way you’ve grouped links. I like having the larger themes across the top (and it looks visually refreshing too), and being able to quickly find things by popular topic, popular images, etc. in the sidebar. I also like being able to browse through Recent Entries at the bottom of the page. If I haven’t been here for a few days, I can do a quick visual scan and see what appeals to me. I’m looking forward to exploring the related entries and author links.

    True, it was a little disorienting at first, but I quickly figured out how to find my usual favorites, and even delve into other areas I hadn’t paid much attention to previously. More Viewing, Less Scrolling! Thank you! The only thing I feel like I’m missing is the “next” and “previous” buttons. Ah, I did find them, but I had to search and backtrack. Maybe they’d pop out better in that bolded serif font?

  • James

    I was very impressed with the redesign of BNN. Kudos to the designers! It is much more polished than the old site. The visual impact is very different from old BNN. The picture presentation is slick. The organization – top to bottom – is well done.

    However, there is only one thing that I believe should change. The white type on black background is not nice to read. I can understand that having a black background for the pictures provides impact and a nice natural frame, but it’s not comfortable for reading.

    • mshaw

      Thanks, James. We’re working on the type issue.

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