May 31, 2009

What's changed on Cricinfo

A quick guide to the renewed, revamped site, which will, we hope, enhance your experience as a user

So what should I say? Welcome to the new Cricinfo? But that will be a misrepresentation. In most ways it is still the site we have all known, and as many of you have pointed out in response to my earlier piece, why do we need a new Cricinfo? Let me repeat a word that I used in the other piece: this is Cricinfo renewed. It's a step, a significant one, forward.

Change is often unsettling. We trust the old ways because there is evidence that they work, and there is no evidence yet that the new ones will. We are already feeling wistful about the old site, so we know how some of you feel. As Nietzsche said, love is more afraid of change than destruction. But to that, let's add this one from the Buddha: Everything changes; without change, nothing remains.

Change for the sake of change is indulgence, but mostly, it is the only thing inevitable in life. Finally, success and failure, happiness and misery, come down to how we manage change. We derive our confidence about this redesign from one central truth: our singular focus throughout this process has been to enhance your experience of the site.

Take a look the homepage. The most important thing about it is that it is a celebration of content. There is more of it, and it is organised better. Earlier, we had all our editorial content stacked up in a single central panel. The structure gave us no other options. As we kept adding new features and sections, they kept piling up, the page grew longer, and there came a point when we could add no more.

The starting point of this redesign was the navigation. In some ways, the left-hand navigation bar was easy for us to manage: we could do pretty much anything with it. All we had to do was to add a new item to the menu whenever we needed to. But it was sub-optimal from the usability point of view; you needed to scroll to see it in its entirety. And, equally importantly, it ate up vital homepage space. By moving it to the top, we have achieved two of our prime objectives. We have given you a cleaner, more logical and intuitive navigation. And we have freed up space to showcase content.

On the face of it, the navigation is smaller. But it packs in much more. The hierarchical design contains a second, and sometimes a third, level that takes you deeper into the site with a single click. For regular users who have their preferred sections, it's a great tool. For example, if you like the My Favourite Cricket Story, point your mouse at Features, go down to The Short Stuff, and then click on My Favourite Cricket story.

To help further, we have added a Quick Links strip, just below the navigation, to highlight the major current events in cricket.

Below it, the content is organised in a richer yet simpler fashion. The big stories of the day take centre stage, in a distinctive panel that also houses the video player. Concerns that the video player might slow the site down are unfounded, because the video starts playing only when you click on the relevant tab. The space vacated by the navigation is taken up by a wider lead photograph, which enhances the visual appeal of the page.

The other news headlines are directly below the main stories, and there are now more of those: nine as opposed to four. At the bottom of the news panel, we have links to In Focus, a section that aggregates content on a topical big issue. On the menu today is the row over the hosting of the 2011 World Cup.

All our features content - Cricinfo Magazine, audio, and Page 2 - are now showcased together in the Specials panel, with little icons next to the headlines marking out the sections. The panel is split in the middle by three of the daily favourites: Quote Unquote, The Surfer and All Today's Yesterdays.

Our writers give Cricinfo a distinct voice and there a small panel below Specials to give you direct access to them. The blogs bring up the base in this column.

The new homepage is also an opportunity to give prominent positions to some of our most visited sections: statistics and photographs. We now have a homepage for statistics, where you will find all the records, columns and blogs (The Numbers Game, Ask Steven, The List, It Figures) and features relating to statistics, in addition to graphs and helpful links from Statsguru, a cult in its own. You can send in your Statsguru queries to be featured here as well.

But the most important, and for me the most exciting feature, of the homepage is the scorecard module. Live match coverage is the soul of Cricinfo and the small scores module in the top right corner had never quite felt right. Now it has been given its rightful place in the wider format. But more than the size, it's the way the scores module works that hooks me.

To start with, you can now see the live scores, and match situations, upfront. Scorecards are neatly organised by category: you will always find live matches involving international teams on top. The domestic tournaments are grouped together by country, and a collapse-expand option allows you to access as much or as little information as you like. Results and Fixtures are now part of this panel and thus accessible directly from the homepage.

Of course, the redesign doesn't stop at the homepage.

The scorecard page remains light, but it is significantly enhanced. It's cleaner, aesthetically more pleasant, and most of all, it incorporates everything else you might want to read about the match: reports, comments, news, quotes, all organised by the day. You can even see the match photographs on this page the moment they are uploaded. And for the coolest feature, click on the "+" icon next to the batsman's name.

The fixtures and result pages are more user-friendly. You can now filter them by country, competition, and game format. And don't miss the weather forecasts that are now part of the page (and the scorecards). All sections now have a local search and the story pages now have contextual links with the text area. I could go on and on, but it is perhaps best that you explored the site yourself.

Of course, a lot more is still to be done. The blogs are still in the old template. A more powerful search is being built. And your comments will find a more prominent place on the site. And though we have tried our best to eliminate all the major bugs, it is likely that you will encounter a few glitches, and we hope you will tell us about them.

Some of you who happen to be rugby fans may have noticed a similarity to scrum.com, and that's because our sister site, which was relaunched in 2008, adopted some of the early design ideas. Cricinfo is a much larger site, and we have refined and sharpened those ideas further.

It's a huge day in the life of Cricinfo. We have seen this taking shape over the months, page by page, section by section. There is joy and relief that it has now sprung to life. There is a sense of fulfillment too, and it's a privilege to share it with you.

In the end it's about you. Your passion and faith runs Cricinfo. What we have tried to do through this exercise is to be worthy of it. Cricinfo has evolved, but the soul of the site remain intact. Some things must never change.

Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo

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