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MSNBC.com's missing expandable menu

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As a frequent reader of MSNBC's Web site, I started noticing this past weekend that their left-side navigation menu items no longer expanded. As of this writing, the menu has yet to regain its dynamic trait.

The expanding menu has been part of MSNBC's navigational feature for many years. As the user hovered over the different items, a submenu would branch off displaying links to the top news for that section and other relevant sub-sections within. The sub-section items, once hovered over, would in turn open up their own menus displaying relevant links.

I always liked this functionality. It provided a one-click access to the stories I wanted to view. Dynamic menus do come with some inherent issues. One of the most problematic is layering. Most dynamic menus have the unfortunate side-effect of being eclipsed by active controls on a Web browser. Those controls comprise items such as drop-down lists, applets, and Flash areas.

To solve that problem, MSNBC would hide the active controls on the page whenever the user hovered over a menu item, thus the expanded menu would not clash with other controls on the page. It meant that many times interactive banners would suddenly vanish, and I suspect the advertisers weren't so pleased about their banners doing the disappearing act.

Now, with the expandable menu gone (at least for now), MSNBC is reaping several benefits, albeit at the expense of upsetting the dynamic menu fans. The banners would no longer need to be hidden, the users who would need to click on and visit the various section pages to see the relevant links are now greeted with a sponsored splash page (read more page impressions), and MSNBC.com would no longer need to maintain the dynamic menu.

According to one of our Web designers, most people dislike dynamic menus because they interfere with the page and irritate the users. Perhaps that was part of MSNBC's reasoning to kill its dynamic menu. But given the other benefits, I hardly doubt MSNBC agonized much over this decision.

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