[UX Critique] SB Nation
So anyone who knows me will tell you that I'm a big sports fan. I live and die with each game my teams play. Since I've started roaming the web, I've bounced around from sports site to sports site, trying to find that right combination of insight, stats, and user participation. Being wrapped up in a nice design doesn't hurt either. Incredibly, I still have not found that site. There is no one stop shop for me to get all of my sports consumption done.
Recently, however, I rediscovered SB Nation. I have to say, I'm glad I did. It doesn't quite fill all my sports site needs, but it's the best I've found so far. It was recently redesigned, and looks great. The design makes great use of color and text. Large text for story titles and simple color schemes that follow team colors. Large pictures that are slightly greyed until hovered are a nice touch. On a side note, I hate the advertisement. But at least it's wrapped around the main content and can be ignored for the most part (although there is also ad in the main unit on each page).
What I like about SB Nation is that it a network. It's made up of sport and team specific sites. So there is an MLB site, but also a Red Sox site. This is great because it caters to both casual and diehard fans.
You have to sign up for each blog individually to comment, which can be annoying, but it is to prevent spamming and reaction/hateful commenting. There is a 24 hour delay before you can post. Again, this can be annoying for first time users who want to get a comment in before time renders the insight irrelevant, but I believe it is for the best. Other sports sites are filled with spam and comments that are childish and immature at best and hateful and bigoted at worst.
The commenting system is very well done. It is threaded, and in chronological order. You can relpy inline, which is nice. You can also recommend or flag comments. New comments have yellow backgrounds and top (highly recommended) comments are in green. There are also keyboard shortcuts to move through the comments quickly and mark the ones you've read. A nice touch. Very well done, indeed. Combined with the anti-bad comment policy, it makes for a very pleasant experience.
At the top of each page, between the account/profile link and the log out link is "My SB Nation." When you click, it provides a popup that shows a list of the blogs you signed up for, and the number of new stories from each blog. I really like this feature. It provides a way for me to streamline my visit, by seeing which of my blogs have new stories, without having to visit each individually first. (Regarding my favorite teams, I grew up a fan of all things Boston. I went to UF undergrad and am at U of M for grad school. Luckily, the three college teams are in different conferences and don't play each other too often.)
What I wish they would implement is a feature that grabs the new content from each of my blogs, and puts them all on one page. This would speed up my reading and make it more convenient to access the content that matters most to me. I believe the mobile app does this, so I can only hope that it migrates over soon. I suppose the reasoning behind not having this feature is to force you to at least see other content, even if you don't click on anything else.
There's something to this notion. If I only see the new articles, I may miss new comments on older articles or some of the other features that SB Nation blogs have to offer. For example, they have rosters, schedules, team/individual stats, ticket sales (powered by TiqIQ), and community features. The latter are pretty interesting, and carryovers from the old forums days. "FanShots" provide a place where users can post links, images, or video. Simple, yet a good way to boost community involvement and cohesiveness. "FanPosts" provides a secondary platform for articles. If users aren't satisfied with the authors' and editors' posts, they can make their own posts.
What I think is good about this feature is that it combines the two types of sports sites into one fluid product. There are the more polished stories by the official blog writers, but there are also the user generated posts. It allows the SB Nation tagline "Pro Quality. Fan Perspective." to be true. The main stories mimic the major sports sites, with the ability to filter fluff and have stories that provide more substance. "FanPosts" combines the feature of a traditional forum that lets users discuss anything they like, with the feature of Bleacher Report that lets any user try his hand at sports journalism.
Feature-wise, "FanShots" and "FanPosts" provide a great experience for users. It's nice to find a group of people who share your interests, and SB Nation has given its users ways to maximize this. Unfortunately, they could do a little more with the design. First of all, the way to get to these features is through a secondary nav menu that is often below the fold. I understand the placement, as it is designed to give more space to the big pictures and articles at the top. But it took me weeks before i discovered this feature. Not so good. As you can see below, most "FanShots" have few recommendations and most "FanPosts" have few comments and recommentaions, indicating low engagement.
Another problem with the implementation of these community features is that the only way to return to the front page of the blog is to click on the blog logo (top left of the above images, mostly cutoff). There is the top level SB Nation navigation to move between blogs, but no navigation to move within the blog. Similarly, given the closeness of these two features, I would think that there would at least be a way to move from "FanShots" to "FanPosts." But there isn't.
So, the quality content of the various blogs really makes SB Nation shine. And the new design is beautiful, and there is a lot of attention to detail. Just not all the details, as some features are not complete and the info architecture in not well thought out. Still, looking at the overall experience of use an SB Nation blog, I can't recommend it enough. While I hope improvements will be made over time, I will still be using the site every day.