Revenge home page

Nilay Patel, editor-in-chief of The Verge’s digital publication, recently chose to describe as «the last website on earth.» It’s kind of a joke—of course, there are still tons of websites out there, including ones like—but it’s also not a joke. For most of the past decade, publication homepages have rarely been the center of attention; journalistic outlets relied on social media to distribute what they published. The Verge is unusual in that it invested heavily in its homepage when it wasn’t in vogue. In 2022, it launched a dramatic redesign to make its site a more dynamic destination; included a «Storystream» of short posts and visual highlights, similar to tweets, providing dozens of real-time updates per day. The new Verge looked less like a traditional publication and more like a social media feed, which at first seemed ridiculous to many industry observers. Why try to do what social platforms already do better? The homepage was dead. TikTok was the future.

«The immediate reaction was ‘This is doomed, no one will ever go to the home page again,'» Patel recalled. Then Twitter imploded under the leadership Elon Muskand all major social platforms have moved away from news distribution. In the end, The Verge’s redesign was successful. According to the company, the number of «loyal users» (defined as those who have five or more visits to the site in a calendar month) increased by forty-seven percent during 2023. The Verge continues to be the most visited standalone website under the umbrella of Vox Media, its parent company. It could be argued that her transformation, now the subject of admiring chatter among media executives and the editors who work for them, is a harbinger of the homepage’s revenge.

For a long time, the major social platforms functioned as digital big stores of media content, offering a little bit of everything at once. Twitter in particular has served as a one-stop shop for news and entertainment for a certain breed of very online users. In the 20s, the conventional wisdom was that social platforms best distributed content to consumers through algorithmically personalized recommendations. You read all the news that appeared in your Facebook or Twitter feeds. News articles circulated as individual URLs, floating in the social media ether, separated from their original publishers. With rare exceptions, homepages have been reduced to the role of brand billboards; you could have a quick look at them, but they weren’t where the action was.

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Now, the digital distribution infrastructure is collapsing as it has become inefficient for publishers and alienating for users. Social networks, already bland sources of news, are flooded with misinformation and AI-generated content. AI-driven search threatens to change the way articles get traffic from Google. Text media gave way to short videos of talking heads hosted on TikTok, Instagram or YouTube. If that’s not how you prefer to receive information, you’re out of luck. A digital citizen surrounded by muck finds that the best way to find what she used to get from social platforms is to type a URL into a browser bar and visit individual pages. Meanwhile, many of these sites have worked hard to feel a bit like social media, with constant updates, eye-catching visuals and a sense of social interaction. Patel told me, «We needed to steal the moves from the platforms.»

Perhaps the era of platforms has caused us to lose track of what the web is for. The good ones are places you can turn to several times a day or a week to get a curated dose of content that stands out it isn’t all. Regular visits are a signal of intent and loyalty: instead of passively waiting for social channels to serve up what you want to read, you can seek out reading material—or video or audio—from sources you trust. If Twitter was once a vast home depot of content, visiting specific pages is more like shopping in a series of specialty boutiques.

Semaphore, a global news publication that launched in late 2022, originally focused on publishing email newsletters. The rise of the newsletter was another strategy for building a loyal audience without relying on social media: instead of trying to get readers to visit your website, you deliver your content directly to their inboxes. But over time, the Traffic Light pages became more important. «It actually felt like a bit of a counterintuitive choice to say, ‘We’re going to invest in creating a website.’ Ben Smith, the co-founder of Semafor told me. Smith was the magazine’s longtime editor-in-chief BuzzFeed News, a publication created to distribute content through social media. “We were convinced that homepages were dead. They were actually just resting,” he said. (The New Yorker launched a redesigned homepage in late 2023 and reached a similar conclusion.)

Smith sees Semaphore’s site as a way to compete with social media as a real-time information aggregator, a role that publications in their twenties have largely relinquished. Semaphore’s features include the Global Elections Hub, which ranks political races around the world by their urgency, and a feature called Signals, which uses AI translation to help Semaphore journalists find and summarize stories from international publications. The goal is to provide readers with a wide range of stories and opinions at a glance. «There was a time when Twitter did this job very well,» Smith said. “It was a place where you could find different good faith arguments about shared facts. Social media has stopped doing that.” He added, “People are interested in things that are curated by people.”

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In recent weeks, I’ve been asking people what URLs they regularly type into their browsers these days. Some sports sites like or reported to check scores; others pointed to Times’ game center, (Of course, Times’ the main homepage,, is a rare example of a media URL that was a colossus of constant traffic.) Several respondents cited Defector, a publication launched in 2020 by former writers of the sports blog Deadspin under the now-defunct Gawker Media Umbrella. Defector is profitable, with the vast majority of its revenue coming from paid subscriptions. Jasper Wang, head of revenue and operations, told me that the vision for Defector was «a hangout blog in the vein of the old Gawker site»—in other words, a place you could check multiple times a day. “We never thought of Twitter, Facebook or Google as the core of the machine; for us, the site itself was the core of the machine,” Wang said. Defector’s home page is simple but effective, displaying the publication’s personality through chatty headlines and a group of regular lines rather than flashy design elements. Other homepage modules highlight subscriber comments and upcoming digital live events, including Twitch streams. According to data from Defector, seventy-five percent of all paid subscriber visits start on the home page. Cultivating this habit is also key to the site’s business model: the more times a subscriber visits the site in a month, the more likely they are to keep their subscription the following month.

However dynamic or social they become, website homepages will continue to reckon with the structural issues of the social internet. Facebook is still working to track its users online and use the data to target ads. Readers often subscribe to publications such as Times with their Gmail accounts, further establishing Google as the guardian of the Internet. Consumer attention is still largely dictated by algorithmic sources, and TikTok continues to provide the best opportunity to draw new eyeballs, to say the least until it is disabled by the United States government. Individual websites trying to replicate the dynamics of social platforms must reckon with the fact that they are doing so on a much smaller scale. The loyal audience is striking No each; there is a limit to how many of these can be obtained. Diverting from the traffic fire of the wider Internet seems counterintuitive in this sense, but it may be the only viable option.

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One of the welcome lessons of the post-platform internet is that sticking to what you’re good at can be a better long-term strategy than trying to create popular content. Another site that many people told me they visited was Arts & Letters Daily, which is known for one thing: each day it posts three links to literary stories published elsewhere, accompanied by short teasers — like tweets that predate Twitter . Arts & Letters Daily was founded in 1998 and its design has not changed since then. The site was an early Internet sensation; it was acquired by an academic journal Lingua Franca in 1999 and later Lingua Franca shut down, in 2002, was saved Chronicle of higher education. Managing Editor Chronicle, Evan Goldstein, who also heads Arts & Letters, described its curatorial scope as «a mildly maligned form of intellectual warfare». For twenty decades, when curation seemed the purview of social media platforms, the simple aggregative format of Arts & Letters seemed hopelessly out of date. Still, she kept doing what she was doing, and now her approach is so old that it looks fresh. «Twitter’s algorithmic disruption has opened up new possibilities for legacy formats like ours,» Goldstein said. The longevity of Arts & Letters Daily suggests the possibility that giant social platforms may eventually appear as aberrations in the history of digital journalism. Goldstein told me, «If you stay put long enough, everything will come back.» For all the publications that have spent years chasing clicks far away, maybe it’s time to turn inward, for a home page overhaul. ♦


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