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Culture's redesign: Thumbs-up or thumbs-down?

USA Today has the subject of a lot of blogger commentary over the weekend due to its Web site, which now features community features such as profiles and blog spaces for registered users, the ability for people to vote stories up (but not down), and open comment threads on every story. The paper's site also says it will be recruiting readers to send in their news: "We're going to be asking you to send us your photos...(so) you can be part of covering the story."

In addition, has been redesigned and modernized. It's a functional if not very attractive Web 2.0 design, with an Ajax story carousel and a list of the most popular and most commented-on stories. It's easily understandable by people accustomed to contemporary Web sites, although it bears little design resemblance to the paper with the same name.

The blogosphere is mixed. TechCrunch says, "Bravo," but Steve Rubel says the new site "doesn't go far enough." Stowe Boyd found the limitations of the social features, "ultimately annoying."

The people who matter--its readers--are baffled. Initial feedback to the new site is negative. Following the trend of most publishing redesigns, however, the readers will probably forgive the paper eventually. And the article-based discussions are already taking off.

It's unclear, though, how the community features will actually improve the news content at the paper itself. We can get user commentary from thousands of online sources, but precious few sites pay people to research and write actual news stories. Say what you will about the USA Today reporting and writing style, it is a bona fide newspaper with actual journalists on the payroll. When I visit news sites like it, I want to read the work of those journalists, filtered by their editors, front and center. Learning from the community of readers is fine--as long as it doesn't get in the way. I definitely don't feel any pull to write a blog on

I like that the site now has some community features. But call me old-fashioned: I like it even more that I can still just read the site as an online newspaper.

By the way, TechMeme has a great roundup of blog commentary on this topic.