A relative-layman’s look at the News 2 Joomla template

News 2 is the latest premium Joomla template from GavickPro, and as always I’m going to look at it with the eye of someone who doesn’t know that much about Joomla, but knows what he likes. Let’s sally forth, and see what News 2 has up its sleeves (if it had sleeves).

 Connection vs. Disconnection

There are some who would argue that the proliferation of the internet in the public’s consciousness serves as a sombre reminder of just how disconnected from each other we really are; after all, how is one supposed to maintain respect for one’s fellows if there is no meaningful, face-to-face interaction?

A charge to which I rather emphatically say “Phooey!”; the internet, whilst empowering some individuals to enhance their personalities to near-cartoonish proportions and wander the web’s outer wasteland, occasionally wandering into civilized society to exaggerate and annoy (also known as ‘trolling’), has for the majority of people provided a way for communities to connect across previously insurmountable divides. The world is connected, and people are able to share information in seconds; slowly, we are becoming a global community.

It seems that it is this increased connectivity that drives the popularity of news-focused sites; almost every possible interest or hobby has a dedicated news network to keep people informed, whether that be politics, gaming, archaeology; it is an entirely flexible system. So I have high hopes for GavickPro’s latest offering, the News 2 Joomla template, as the whole point of its existence is to allow people to create a news website.

Room to breathe

A screenshot of the new portal mode in NSP in the News 2 Joomla template

First impressions count for an awful lot, and I must admit to a bit of confusion upon loading up the template for the first time; after the stark, data-packed Game template and the minimalist but stylish, animated MO template, News 2 seems relatively restrained, with a lot of white space initially throwing me off guard. The uncomfortable feeling is there for only the briefest of moments; our previous news templates have used every available bit of space to add more data and features, whereas News 2 dials it back. By adding additional whitespace between elements and avoiding strong background colors, instead using a plain white background with black and grey text, the template is much easier to read.

Thankfully, this doesn’t mean that the content has suffered though; there’s a lot here to make News 2 a worthy choice amongst its peers. First of all, our developers have been hard at work creating some wonderful new portal modes for our News Show Pro GK5 module; to us laymen that probably didn’t make much sense, but according to our very knowledgeable developers, it provides flashy new features for showing off news posts in different ways. What ways, you say? For starters, they’ve added an interesting news slider function; now arrows are added to switch between multiple headlines, and the next article’s headline is displayed under the current news showcase, so users can see what’s coming up. It’s a small addition, but it provides more information for the user and gives them more control.

News Show Pro itself is a brilliant tool for any news site; the frontpage header and mainbody of the News 2 template is provided almost entirely by using this module, with multiple display modes and flexibility with regards to where articles are pulled from helping to separate the page into categories. If you’re the techie type, then you’ll find News Show Pro is remarkably customizable; there are a huge amount of portal modes and options to showcase your news in entirely different ways.

Videos as far as the eye can see

 A screenshot of the NSP Video section of the News 2 Joomla template

There’s been another portal mode addition, which builds on the video mode introduced with the Game template a few months ago. As you may remember, Game introduced a pretty cool video overlay; users could click on the video on the frontpage, and instead of loading to the article, or loading the video in place, an overlay would load that the video would play in that could be closed instantly with a click. The only limitation was that the module only displayed 1 video at a time, with 3 other video articles clickable on the right side of the main image; clicking one of them loaded the video into the featured position, and another click on the featured image opened the overlay.

That issue been addressed in the new portal mode; now 5 video images can be displayed, and all of them can be clicked to open the video overlay. What’s more, it’s possible to add much more than 5 videos to the video area, since scrolling buttons have been introduced to slide between different video sets; now you can have 10 or more videos accessible directly on the front page, but load time isn’t affected since the video is only loaded to be played when the image is clicked; until then it works just like a normal news showcase. This is a great addition, but one I never knew that I wanted; I’ve become so used to clicking through to an article to see a video or dealing with the load delay a page full of Youtube embeds causes that I’ve not really considered how it could be bettered. Now, I fear I’m going to be frustrated every time I need to open an article to view a video; don’t they know that this is the future!?

Space for sale

News 2 also brings something we haven’t usually included quite so obviously in our past templates; explicit advertising space. This is quite a logical addition; templates built for startups, portfolios or other business purposes aren’t going to need advertising space, since their revenue will come from whatever it is they actually do! News sites, on the other hand, rely entirely on advertising to keep going, unless you’re the BBC, who have the TV License to bolster the coffers. So it makes sense to separate areas specifically for advertisements, as the chances of such a website not requiring some kind of advertising is minimal.

What else does a news site need to thrive? In the modern, connected world, social media is a powerful influencer and reputation builder. News 2 includes 2 different methods of tapping into this potent resource; the Social GK5 module, and the Social API built-in with the Gavern Framework, that’s under the hood of all our templates.

Friends Wanted

The Social GK5 module keeps multiple social bits and bobs in one place; the demo of News 2 demonstrates its Facebook integration with the ‘Find us on Facebook’ area on the right-side of the page, but it also includes options for displaying Twitter feeds, profiles and favorite tweets, as well as Google+ badges, so its got a lot of additional features if you happen to have friends! The Social API is something built into every GavickPro template, and it can be used to add things such as like and share buttons for Facebook, Google+, Pinterest and Twitter, or let users log-on via their Facebook account. It’s a bit fiddly to set-up the Facebook login, thanks to various steps required on the Facebook side of things, but once it’s done everything seems to work beautifully.

It’s good to see such social media functions being included as standard; like it or not social media is a driving force for online marketing, so it’s important for the functionalities to be represented in some way, especially in community or news-focused sites; that advertising revenue needs to be generated somehow, and the more users able to share your content, the better.

If it’s London, it’s raining

An image of the Weather module in the News 2 Joomla template

News 2 sees the return of one of our little-used modules; Weather GK5. It’s a simple module to display the weather conditions in a particular area, or multiple areas, with a forecast for the coming days/week depending on settings. In News 2, it fills up space at the bottom of the page; at first I thought that this could make the module easy to miss, but it actually appears at the bottom of multiple page layouts, like article pages, so it’s very likely to be seen and adds a nice ‘extra information’ touch to the page. Something to note though; the locations displayed in the module are set by the website owner; it will not change the weather display according to your users’ locations. Apparently, this was a conscious choice to prevent too many server requests that could affect the speed with which pages load.

I’ve already mentioned about how the sidebar of News 2 has been tricked-out with our Social GK5 plugin, but there are a few other modules doing the rounds there, like our Tabs GK5 module. One of our most ubiquitous modules; it can display tabs that in turn can display other modules. In the News 2 template, each tab displays our News Show Pro module, which in turn displays latest/most popular posts. Whenever I read a news site I tend to focus on these elements a lot; my personal daily journey through the BBC website is governed by what appears in the most popular/most shared categories rather than top stories; maybe I just want to fit in!

You may have noticed a nice ‘Podcast’ advert in the sidebar too; though I think news websites should focus on article showcasing first and foremost, a solid, simple advert like this one can be an interesting way to catch the eye. The simple but effective icon here was provided by Pixel Love; an awesome icon set available as a free or Pro download; they are definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of flat, minimalist design.

Last but by no means least, there something that every news website needs; a news ticker. The one in News 2 is provided by our own Highlighter GK5 module (you may have noticed that there are a lot of modules in this Joomla template!). The functionality is simple and doesn’t necessarily make the page stand out, but a news site without a ticker is like an Englishman without a love of tea; it can and does happen, but it shouldn’t.

Wot I fink…

So where does News 2 stand in our towering totem of top templates? As with most questions of this ilk, the answer is a solid ‘It depends…’. Our older, original ‘News’ template contains similar functionalities (except for the awesome video portal mode; a dealbreaker in my case) in a much tighter layout; you’re getting more information per click than with it than News 2. I personally find such templates to be slightly overwhelming though; if I’m going to be visiting often and there are so many areas to cover, it can be hard to find the ‘new’ stories among the hubbub. The simpler News 2 layout is easier to read and navigate around, so it will simplify the process; whether this is a good thing or not will all depend on what you, or your users, really want from their news site; for me, News 2 works just fine.

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This article was first published March 13th, 2014