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First Look: TBD Wants More From Users But Does It Deliver?

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Robert Allbritton may only want zip codes, as he told paidContent in an interview, but the staff at newly launched wants a lot more…

In order to get personalization, users are required to provide full names, zip code, year of birth and even gender. (They also need to provide a security question, fill out a captcha and agree to terms of service).

That’s quite a bit more personal info — seriously, gender? — just to get the right stories for your neighborhood. What’s worse, you create an account with a simple form before the other info is even required. If I weren’t interested in reviewing, I would skip the registration for now.

An alternative is logging in with Facebook Connect, which automatically provides a user’s real name, email address, profile picture and list of friends.

I’d like to see TBD add logging in with Twitter, which allows the user to limit access to more info. Even better, offer two layers of registration — a simple version that emphasizes zip code, and one with gender and more for real personalization. The second layer could be required for comments, leaving names out of the “get using fast” version.

So what do I think of the site itself? It has a lot to accomplish and could have looked very cluttered as a result. But it doesn’t; instead, it’s aided by ample use of white space and a crisp green-and-blue color scheme.

Allbritton didn’t want anything that looked like a TV news site, and I can safely say they’ve avoided that, at least in terms of the local news sites I’ve visited.

But does have the same weather fixation as most local news, especially TV. In this case, the current temperature and forecast literally seems to be fixed to the top of every page. There’s also a weather section for those who want to go deep with ABC (NYSE: DIS) 7’s weather news team, follow Doppler radar, or watch the ABC 7 forecasts sans TV.

The nav menu is pushed down below the top items, a counter-intuitive idea that helps TBD stand out but which may drive me crazy as a regular user. It moves to the top on other pages, which helps.

New items are easy to spot at the top, although I had to look a couple of times before I could find the letter from editor Erik Wemple introducing the site. I don’t live in DC but I signed up from zip code 20037, which is usually my neighborhood when I’m in town. Some of the stories “near me” switched when I logged in but not enough to get a good sense yet of how localization works for news.

I also can’t really tell yet how it works in other areas but will keep trying it out. Clicking on “food & dining” brought up a lead feature on brunches in nearby Georgetown but the same feature was displayed when I visited using a different browser without being logged in.

I expected something that would take better advantage of knowing my zip code, perhaps local specials or a quick way to spot Foggy Bottom restaurants. Instead, I had to enter the zip code again in search to get area places to pop up. I tried to give a thumbs up to Dish, a family favorite with scant info, only to be told I had to write a review before I could vote. That should be less confusing — divide it into vote/review or make it clear you’re reviewing, not voting.

A plus: the list of nearby metro stops and the ability to quickly map out directions to or from the restaurant. (Here’s the WaPo link for comparison.)

The TBD network: TBD relies heavily on a network of more than 120 local blogs, an impressive number that should add depth and breadth. The items mixed with staff reports are marked but they also take you completely off-site when you click, an action that’s not obvious. It’s also not always obvious when a link goes to something from the network or a different outside source. For instance, today’s front page has at least two links to, which is not part of the network. I’d like a better sense of what’s being aggregated and what’s meant to be from the network.

About those terms of service: comes with an explicit linking policy including an admonition that the linking site “must not contain content that could be construed as distasteful, offensive or controversial.” It also prohibits framing and to “frame or create a browser or border environment around any of the Content of the Web Sites,” which would seem to preclude inclusion not only in so many more news aggregators but in some social-media browsers or in apps like Flipboard.

First take: A good first step but is it enough to gain allegiance? Too soon to say — too soon for me to see all it can do and too soon for TBD to deliver. (I’ll look at the mobile apps and try out some more aspects of the site as soon as possible.)

The veteran level of the top staff — among them General Manager Jim Brady, who headed and was at AOL (NYSE: AOL), and Wemple, with his deep knowledge of the DC area — meshed with the news and web operations of ABC Channel and a 24-7 news cable operation makes it harder to look at as I might another startup. Allbritton warned me I might look at the first day with a little “so this is it?” disappointment, but my first response is more along the lines of “where’s the rest of it?” For now, it’s still TBD …

Update: Mobile plays a vital role in TBD’s plans so I was surprised to realize the site launched without an optimized mobile site. TBD promises a version optimized for mobile browsers is on the way. Not so surprising given how the app stores work, the TBD mobile apps for iPhone and Android haven’t gone live yet.

More on TBD’s first day: Columbia’s Sree Sreenivasan, who writes a column for NYC local site DNAinfo, walks through some of the most notable features in his review. says “it’s not the name or its origin that matters, but what it delivers on a regular basis.” Journalist and student Suzanne Yada says the hype didn’t disappoint. She looks deep at the social media and other tools. And Brady spent some time in a live session on Poynter (archived here) answering questions

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