Meet the New Slate: The Same Great Stories, but an Improved Home Page, Better Tools, and a Brand-New CMS

The inner workings of Slate.
Sept. 29 2011 12:32 AM

Meet the New Slate

The same great stories, but a better home page, improved tools, and a brand-new CMS.

new Slate homepage screenshot

Did you notice that Slate looks a little bit different today? It’s not a new haircut, and we haven’t lost weight. There is a series of small, but we hope excellent, changes to the site—part of the most significant technological overhaul of Slate in a decade. At midnight, we turned off Slate’s old content management system (CMS), called Gutenberg, and moved the site onto a new CMS called CQ5.

David Plotz David Plotz

David Plotz is Slate's editor at large. He's the author of The Genius Factory and Good Book.

What does this change mean for Slate and for our readers? The CMS is the engine of Slate: It is the software tool that guides how we publish the magazine and shapes how readers interact with it. Gutenberg, may it rest in peace, was an extraordinary tool in its time but at the time of its demise was perhaps the oldest piece of working software in the media business. It was the B-52 bomber of software, the Volvo station wagon of CMSes. Adopted by Slate in 2001 when it was brand new, Gutenberg was built before Facebook, before Twitter, before Gmail, before YouTube, before the iPad, before the iPhone. It was built before podcasting—in fact, it launched five days before the first iPod. Gutenberg served Slate diligently for much longer than anyone expected it would, but it became increasingly inflexible, creaky, and awkward. It couldn’t keep up with technological progress. Any change to it—adding video, or podcasts, or slideshows—was a fraught and difficult task. In CQ5, Slate now has a sleek, flexible, and thoroughly modern tool to publish the site, and the switch has already allowed us to make a series of improvements to your reading experience.

Before I go any further, one critical point: Nothing about what is in Slate has changed, just how we publish and present it. You’ll find the same superb Farhad Manjoo columns, the same blog brilliance from David Weigel, the same excellent advice from Dear Prudence, and the same witty banter from the Culture Gabfesters as ever. (The only thing that hasn’t come over to CQ5 is our old, lightly used, message board, the Fray, which will be archived for at least six months at fray.slate.com/discuss. But our popular, contentious, and delightful comments section continues as is on the new site, at the bottom of every article and blog post.)

Here’s a brief rundown of some of the more important changes to the way the site looks and works. Start with our homepage, which is cleaner and more image-rich than it used to be. You may notice that we’ve altered a few colors here, shifted a font there, but nothing too drastic. Below our cover story you’ll see the first major addition, a box displaying a rotating series of headlines.

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We call it the “Social Stream,” and it’s a way of highlighting stories that readers are most interested in at this moment—the stories they are reading, commenting on, liking on Facebook, and tweeting. This is one of several new efforts to make Slate more social, encouraging more reader participation and conversation.

As you continue down the page, you’ll arrive at our modified table of contents, the headlines of everything we’ve published recently. In old Slate, the table of contents was a confusing place, with two separate tabs, one for Slate articles and one for Slate blog posts. Now everything is in a single list, with the most recent items—whether blog posts or articles—at the top. Images illustrate all these headlines, and there are also buttons enabling you to tweet, share, and comment from the homepage. You can use the black bar above the table of contents to sort the stories as you wish, viewing the most popular ones, or the most commented, or the most liked on Facebook, or the hottest on Twitter.

The left side of the homepage has a special features box, a version of which appears elsewhere on the site too. We’ll use it to highlight big stories we’re particularly proud of, upcoming events, and other Slatey goodness that doesn’t fit in that day’s table of contents.

Regular Slate articles, such as the one you are reading right now, also sport some changes. If you have a wide monitor, you’ll see the vertical toolbar to the left of the story. This will move down the page as you scroll, allowing you to share, print, email, and comment from anywhere in the article. On narrower screens, that bar becomes horizontal and stays at the top of the article. We’ve also significantly improved the navigation of our Mad Men “TV Club” and other multipart features, making them much easier to follow.

If you poke around a bit, you’ll find two improvements to the site that are years overdue: section pages and author pages. In old Slate, the “Technology section” was simply a list of stories. Now each of our major sections has its own homepage, with its own cover stories and table of contents. So if you just want to focus on today’s political coverage—and why not, when you get to read John Dickerson and David Weigel and Jacob Weisberg, Dahlia Lithwick and William Saletan and Christopher Hitchens?—you can see all of it in one place at slate.com/articles/news_and_politics.html. We’ve added new sections for Sports and “Double X,” and split Business and Technology into their own sections. You can see the new sections in the maroon navigation bar at the top of every page.

The new author pages collect all the work of your favorite Slate writers in a single convenient location. Say you’re a huge Annie Lowrey fan, as I am: Navigate over to http://www.slate.com/authors.annie_lowrey.html for a catalog of all her stories. (This formula will work for every Slate writer: http://www.slate.com/authors.firstname_lastname.html.)

These changes are just a start. As we get used to CQ5, we’ll be making more adjustments to Slate, making the site prettier, faster, more technologically suave. We believe that the new CMS will finally allow the technology and design of Slate to be as creative as the stories in it. Please send us your thoughts on the changes, and your suggestions for future improvements. You can write them in the comments below, or email us at feedback@slate.com.

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