NBR's website upgrade is close

NBR publisher Todd Scott is pushing a reader-first model that's built around subscriptions.

NBR is about to have its first major upgrade in nearly five years.

Everything going well (famous last words), it should go live tomorrow (Wednesday, August 1).

There's a bunch of good stuff to look forward to.

But before we get to that, here are some housekeeping details you need to know:

The first time you visit the news site you'll have to log back in. The logon button will be in the familiar location on the top right.

Use your email address as your logon (you might be using your user name at present, or have it auto-filled by your browser — so make sure you change it to your email if necessary).

If you can't remember your password, hit the "Request new password button."

Roughly half of our readers come to NBR via an IP or office-wide subscription. Your boss has paid for a subscription that covers your whole office network, so you have not had to log on to access padlocked paid stories. You'll still have free access as an employee but you will have to create an individual account the first time you visit our site after our upgrade.

It'll only take a few seconds. We're only after a couple of details, and if you click the "Remember Me" checkbox, you'll stay logged in. 

We've added this feature in response to comments from staff at IP sub companies who have wanted their own identity on their site to leave comments under their own name (or a pen name), plus the ability to sign up to our free email alerts and other customisation features. If you have any hassles with this process, email customerservices@nbr.co.nz.

Post-upgrade, we'll still allow anonymous comments, because while it's admirable when people put their name to a comment, some of our best, most revealing comments come from those who don't and we would hate to lose that. But there will be one change: People with a registered account and verified email will be allowed to comment. In short, you can be anonymous to other readers but not to NBR staff.

Display names or non-de-plumes are somewhat fraught with our current site, and don't work for all readers. They should work fine with the new site. You'll be able to set your display name by accessing MyNBR (by clicking your name at the top right of the home page.

Faster, faster, faster
Previous upgrades of this website have precariously balanced new features on top of old ones, meaning we're not the fastest or most stable site in the country.

The new NBR has been re-created from the ground up.

Plus, it will be in a brand-spanking new hosting environment: the Catalyst Cloud (Catalyst is also our web development company).

So our new site should load in a snap, whatever device you're viewing it on.

Like its predecessor, our upgraded site will be "responsive," meaning it automatically resizes to fit a smartphone or tablet screen. But we've created a single content engine that we can use to feed our website, or a mobile app (coming soon) or video and smart TV apps.

New features
One thing people don't like about our current site is the way the paywall makes it problematic to share stories via email or social media. If you share a padlocked link, you often get flamed.

Our new site addresses this with a new feature that lets newcomers access two articles a week for free.

So you can now share a link on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, safe in the knowledge that your followers can access it for free if they're willing to cough up their name and email (no, they won't have to add their credit card details).

Speaking of social media, we'll also have a new social media logon option. So, if you happen to get logged out on your mobile, you'll be able to get back into NBR with one click, as long as you're already logged in to Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin or Google on your device. 

The new site will also let you save articles to a favourites list – a much-requested feature, and one that will soon be supplemented by an offline or "airline" reading mode.

We're also adding NBR View and NBR Radio portals, or pages dedicated to our growing video and audio content.

And our free NBR Radio stream will be supplemented by a new free NBR View stream highlighting our best video clips from the past couple of days.

While the stream will be free, only subscribers will be able to pick-and-mix and graze at will through videos attached to individual stories, or featured on our NBR View portal.

More visual design
You've probably got your pet hates about our current site. Mine are that it's so darn slow (which we are of course remedying), and the constipated design for article pages, which stems largely from a debate during our last upgrade about whether there should be ads within stories.

The sales department prevailed that time around. This time, we have big, wide, uncluttered article pages. You'll have decent-size images and videos, and they'll appear at the top of stories.

You'll also have a much cleaner and more visual home page.

We'll still have pretty much the same mix of sections, and you should find it easy to locate everything from the nav bar at the top of the site. 

But I hope you're also surprised in a good way – after you get over the inevitable shock of the new – at the new, more appealing design.

You'll notice that we feature fewer stories on the new home page.

And indeed, if you've been watching closely, you notice that we've already scaled back the number of articles we do.

It's all about increasing our emphasis on quality over quantity. We want to spend more time on analysis brought to you by what is easily New Zealand's most experienced business newsroom, including heavy-hitters like Duncan Bridgeman, Fiona Rotherham, Tim Hunter, Jenny Ruth and Victoria Young, to name a few.

If Winston Peters gets hit by a bus, then Stuff or the Herald is likely to beat us to the story. But we're not worried about the first blush. We don't want to be the place you go to for the fastest or the brashest coverage, we want to be your destination for the best coverage.

And we're not going to offer a spray of articles beyond your business interests just to drive traffic – because we're just not interested in having the largest traffic. Which brings us to:

Fewer ads
One of the things I do like about our current site is that it's ad-light.

You would be hard-pressed to find a news site with fewer advertisements.

While all websites have to grapple with the reality that the online advertising market is a cruel and thankless space for anyone who lacks Google and Facebook's scale, NBR's publisher is one of the few who has done anything about it.

We've moved to a reader-first model that's built around subscriptions delivering most of NBR's revenue.

In a happy coincidence for readers, that means tougher editorial. People won't resubscribe if we serve up clickbait or churnalism.

The reader-first approach also funnels through to the new design: There are still banner ads at the top of each page but none inside articles. Our publisher's ultimate goal is to ditch the ads altogether.

Yeah, yeah, he's already making excuses ...
Cards on the table: In the grand tradition of every IT project ever, the upgrade is running late.

There's a whole bunch of features that haven't been quite ready for launch day, and some that have just gone AWOL, such as a soon-to-be-restored "share" button on stories. You'll see a lot of nips, tucks and additions over the next two weeks. 

Post-upgrade tweaks will be informed through your feedback, so please let me know via ckeall@nbr.co.nz what's working for you, what's not, and what you'd like to see added or changed.

And, of course, like any upgrade, there will be a few bugs and glitches. All we can say on that front is: Bear with us.

Hopefully, there won't be too many hairy moments but there will be a few. When things go south please let us know. Any heads-up about a bug, or other constructive criticism, will be greatly appreciated. 

Our publisher has poured a truckload of money into our upgrade and, by hook or by crook, we will deliver you a much stronger, more useful NBR