Thursday, April 16, 2015

Turn and Face the Strange

Poker’s a great game for helping a person realize how resistant we can be anything new. When something works for us once, we try it again. And if it works again, we try it a dozen more times. Then when it doesn’t work it takes us twice as long to get away from it and accept the idea of changing our ways.

Back on April Fool’s Day -- actually I think it might have been the night before -- ESPN changed the design of its website for the first time since 2009. The site had obviously been tweaked a lot over those six years, but that’s still a long time to go between overhauls for one of the most visited sites on the internet.

I read the article over on ESPN announcing the change, then clicked to see the comments afterwards. One of the changes made to the site, in fact, is that you have to click to read comments in a pop-up now, rather than just scroll down -- kind of makes comments less conspicuous, I’ve discovered, which I’ve also realized ain’t a bad thing.

It was kind of hilarious to read what was clearly a loud, angry concensus of negative reaction. Absolutely no one seemed to like the new look of the site which besides having a brighter look now conforms more closely to how people experience the site on tablets and smartphones than before.

The most “liked” comments at the top were uniformly critical. “Change it back, the new site sucks.” “This is a mess.” “Can you please go back to the old format, this wasn’t what anyone wanted.” “Perfectly awful new design.” “Daily user for 10+ years. Am completely blown away by how bad the new site it.” And so on and on and on, with plenty of April Fool’s references peppered in along the way. Everyone commenting seemed to hate the new site.

This week Norman Chad -- whom poker fans are used to hearing on ESPN quite a bit (where, now that I think about it, WSOP coverage hasn’t experienced that much change over the last decade-plus) -- chimed in with his own negative review of the redesign in his weekly “Couch Slouch” column for The Washington Post. “There’s just too much going on — it feels like I’ve walked into a pinball machine,” writes Chad amid a characteristically funny rant that concludes with a self-deprecating admission that “the problem is me, not them.”

When I first loaded the site after the redesign, I, too, was vaguely annoyed at not being able to find the things I usually sought out. But to be honest it only took a few more visits to realize the new design is much, much better than what had been there before, with most of it being very intuitive and easy to navigate.

All of this is pretty subjective stuff, though. The overwhelmingly negative reaction at first seemed to suggest something meaningful about the culture as a whole. In his column Chad noted “I hate change in general,” and the chorus of comments appeared to confirm that most people feel similarly.

The reaction also perhaps says something about the subset of surfers who bother to comment on articles -- there, too, you’re often much more likely to find comments to be critical than praising. Then there’s that other echo-chamber phenomenon that often occurs online whereby the first responses get repeated ad infinitum, especially when there’s a easy target for everyone to point to with their downward thumbs.

That said, I’m hardly one to dispute the idea of being resistant to change. It took me about five years, I think, to change this site’s background from brooding black to grim gray, and it’s almost been another four years since (never mind having stuck with essentially the same layout throughout the run).

Gonna go think about how to change this sucker into a pinball machine.

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