Are news Web sites all the same?

When it comes to page views, CNN.com is doing more than OK.  According to an article in the International Herald Tribune, “Nielsen ranked CNN.com as the No.1 current events and global news Web site last year, with a monthly average of 1.7 billion – half a billion views more than its nearest competitor, MSNBC.com. ”

But the new boss at CNN.com, K.C. Estenson, says he’s still worried. 

At the end of a long day recently, he showed a visitor screen grabs from four Web pages. “When you look at the top news sites, they often look almost identical,” he said, gesturing to the home pages of CNN, ABC News, The Wall Street Journal and Yahoo News. Down to photo choices and color schemes, the four sites look almost interchangeable and utilitarian, he says – hence his emphasis on the power of unique signatures.

That seemed like a terrific idea.  So, here are screen grabs from those four sites, taken within just a couple minutes of each other. Click on each to take a look at how similar they are in design and, to some extent, content. Now, the question is – have all these sites found the optimal design and definition of what’s news? Or as Estenson suggests are most news Web sites simply “predictable and homogenous.”

And take a look at the news sites in your own market. How distinctive are they? And what would it take to give them “the unique signature” that Estenson thinks a site needs to achieve success in the future?

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