Here at Guardian Unlimited we’ve just launched our new Travel site. You’ll be able to read a lot about it in the industry press, but I just wanted to write a little what we’ve done from a technical-managerial point of view.
The project motivation is ideal
The main strands of our business are editorial, commercial and technical. But this is not an editorial project, it’s not a commercial project, and it’s not a technical project. This is something that’s been driven by all of us. Editorially we wanted to improve navigation and bring in more user-generated content. Commercially we wanted to offer more flexible advertising opportunities. And technically we wanted to exploit our content much more.
The new Travel site brings all of us together. One technical force was to exploit keywords, or tags, a bit like those on Del.icio.us and Flickr. This is a very flexible way of categorising content and hence allowing better use of it. Tags, in turn, allow us to generate much more relevant navigation and bring in related readers’ tips from our travel tips site, Been There. For example, if you’re reading about Croatia then you can also see a column headed “Readers’ top tips” which shows readers’ tips specifically about Croatia.
This is also the perfect opportunity to redesign, to better present that information. And just as we can present more relevant tips, so we can present more relevant advertising to our readers. And the redesign also allows us to shape the pages to better fit the ads — the page can close up around a small ad, and expand to comfortably fit a larger one.
Of course, there’s a lot of technical stuff involved, but a technical project is no good for the sake of it. Here, the three strands of our business were driving each other. An ideal scenario.
Aside from much better navigation and contextual advertising, and since this is a technical blog, here are four of the other (smaller) things we’ve used tags for…
There’s a page for every tag
Each tag has its own page! Here’s the page for San Francisco. And here’s the page for skiiing. And here’s one for food and drink trips.
In fact, we’ve got hundreds of tags in the system already — you can see our list of places and activities, for example. And now we’ve automatically got a page for each of them.
There’s an RSS feed for every tag
Okay, not a big leap technically, but terrific for our readers. Top right on each subject page is the RSS link for that subject. If you’re interested in an area of Travel then it’s odds on we write about it. And if we write about it then we’ve got an RSS feed for it. You can get your own personal skiiing feed from Guardian Unlimited.
We can combine tags
Tags also allow us to pull together even more really specific and relevant content. If you’re on the San Francisco page you can find out about food and drink in San Francisco. Or you can investigate short breaks in Portugal. Or water sports in the UK. Well, you get the idea.
Our URLs are usually of the form
which is short but a bit obscure. So we’ve taken the opportunity to improve that for the new Travel site. The same article above now has the URL
It’s longer, but we hope it’s also more intuitive. You can clearly see the what it is (an article), the date (5 July 2003), and what it’s about (water sports, budget travel, and boating holidays).
And it’s not just articles which have friendlier URLs. Here’s the URL for the Hamburg tag page:
and here’s the RSS feed for our Hamburg content:
All much easier to deal with.
And one other thing…
Lots of this is automatic. But there’s one important part of tagging that’s not: the actual act of adding the tags. In theory we could use software to look at each of our articles and determine what it’s about, and so apply the tags. But that’s not going to give the best results for our readers. So we’ve made sure that all our articles have had their tags considered and chosen individually by someone who has actually read the article. That means the navigation should be spot on, and the advertising links are ideally targetted. There’s an awful lot that machines can do, but sometimes it needs a human being to add the magic.
Anyway, hope you like the site.
10 thoughts on “A new Travel site, and four uses for tags”
Nice work. It would be great to see this standard of design/development applied across all of Guardian Unlimited. Just one thing though, with a proper tagging system shouldn’t both of the following URLs work?
Thanks for the kind words, Bruce.
Regarding the design and development: yes, we do intend to continue this work across the rest of GU. Emily Bell, our Director of Digital Content, has talked about this briefly in the trade press.
Regarding tag URLs, we did think very carefully about that very issue and related issues. The scheme you outline does indeed ensure findability — you can guess a URL and get a page. However the disadvantage is that it dilutes the information architecture. For example, suppose one blog post points to …/tag/croatia+hotels and another points to …/tag/hotels+croatia then in general it’s impossible to know that they actually refer to the same resource. The principle that won out was: one resource, one URL.
The next logical suggestion would be to add redirects — a redirect would satisfy both camps. But we prefer to exercise some caution with redirects, as you can very quickly end up in confusion.
So in this case simplicity and reliability trumps pliability.
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