Vice's Motherboard: New design, same fringe tech

By Cale Guthrie Weissman , written on February 19, 2014

From The News Desk

For every website around there's, quite obviously, a target audience. More so for tech. Vice, which has been around since 1993, is one of those websites whose entire brand was centered around who it was writing for: hip young people. It has remained the go-to source for irreverent stories that always contain a certain je ne sais quoi.

Its tech counterpart, Motherboard, is similar but has attracted a slightly different, more curious type of viewer. Where Vice attracted the person who genuinely wanted to watch a dude take acid at the Westminster Dog Show, Motherboard drew the more academic, liberal arts-y folks who wanted to hear about the bizarre, scary advents that weren't otherwise publicized.

And, today Motherboard has completely redesigned its front-end website with a new, more stylish, dare I say, hipper feel.

According to Motherboard's editor-in-chief, Derek Mead, this has been the plan for quite a while now. The website, in its old form, just wasn't making the cut. Most of this was due to the fact that quite a bit of Motherboard's content is video-based and its display for YouTube content was annoying. Its mobile experience was similarly frustrating. The most important improvement today is a dynamic design that allows the website scales to however large a screen and doesn't need a specific URL for mobile devices. It's the same Motherboard site no matter how you access it.

At the same time, Mead saw that the content his website was hosting, while not changing, was beginning to broaden out. So he decided to come up with a new way for users to browse between topics, better than just clicking the front-page stories. The biggest topics it has found most important -- and are thus displayed prominiatently on the top of its homepage are "Machines," "Discoveries," "Power," "Futures," Culture," and "Earth." While slightly oblique, these are the tags Mead though to be most emblematic of his enterprise.

Mead, himself, is a great example of the esoteric nature of his company. While he has worked in tech before, he used to live in Brazil and also worked as a researcher for a blood-testing facility. While he was doing this medical work, he realized that what he wanted to do was write -- either for National Geographic or for Vice. Well, after some time he was able to get his wish to come true.

He started in 2011 with only two others at Motherboard, and now the website has grown quite a bit. It has both a larger normal staff and a pool of contributors from which it frequently draws. The "About Me" part of the website declares that Motherboard is dedicated to the "intersection of technology, science and humans." And that remains to be true.

Now, Motherboard is just starting to get a wider audience. Mead told me this was what necessitated the push for the redesign -- the fact that people kept coming back, watching videos, but the old version wasn't necessarily hospitable for them. "YouTube tells us the completion rate is ridiculously high," he said to me.

For the website's videos, it makes sense. This was the website that had one of its staff drink only Soylent for a month. Another video depicted the man who implanted a biochip into his arm. If you go to its YouTube page you see the crazy stories Motherboard has commissioned, and just how popular each story is (the most viewed video story High Country, which of course was about weed, trafficked nearly 2,000,000 views). Additionally, the site's clicks continue to grow: "Every month has been a new high," he said.

While the editorial isn't changing, Mead sees the new website as a somewhat new beginning for Motherboard. The site, as it attracts more viewers and new staff, continues its quest. He wants his staff to focus on honest, true stories, and the website to reflect that. At its most basic, he just believes the homepage should "make everything clear."

So the hope is that today Motherboard's homepage will emblemize the direction it sees itself going. It's sleek, adaptable, and (hopefully) easy to navigate -- things Mead has been striving to create for his site. In his opening message blog post for the redesign, he dubbed it "Motherboard 4.0" We'll see where the site goes and what 4.0 will bring.

But today, the liege of nerds, hipsters, and all-around astute viewers can rejoice in the fact that Motherboard has finally been brought up to the 21st century.