WITH ITS FOUR-FOOT-LONG HOME PAGES AND HUNDREDS OF SIDEBAR IMAGES, THE MAIL ONLINE BREAKS EVERY RULE OF WEB DESIGN. IT’S ALSO WINNING THE WEB AND DESIGN AWARDS.
During the average workday, I allow myself to take a couple “Internet breaks,” little bursts of Tumblr and Gawker and other forms of web candy that tug at my attention span like a needy kid. There’s one web threshold I never step over on a weekday, though: the Mail Online. The online outlet of the British tabloid is a one-way ticket to an hours-long surfing spree of celebrity gossip and moral outrage. It’s not web candy–this is web crack.
And it’s not just me. The Mail Online now outperforms The New York Times, The Guardian, and pretty much every other online news property in terms of unique visitors. It generated almost $40 million last year, an increase of 500% since 2008. I’ve always wondered at the remarkable magnetic pull of the website, which isn’t particularly beautiful and isn’t known for its in-depth reportage. “Mail Online breaks just about every web design rule in the book,” Jakob Nielsen yes, that Nielsen has said of the site. Yet, as Nielsen adds, “the traffic figures speak for themselves.” What keeps so many of us coming back for more heaping servings of non-stories, even when we know that’s what we’re getting?