24/7 TV news websites: Part 10 - Search
Having individually reviewed the websites of 8 24/7 news channels that broadcast in Europe to identify their Web 2.0 type features, I wanted to look specifically at the way they handle a very Web 1.0 piece of functionality - search.
Al Jazeera is the only site I looked at with a search service that does not have a search box on the homepage, or in the templates of story pages. Instead, the user has to select a text link to 'Search' from the left-hand navigation.
When the user reaches the search page, they find a very plain user interface, which makes the omission of a search box from the global navigation even more puzzling.
Within the results page, the search term that the user has entered is highlighted within the results set. Each entry features a timestamp, but Al Jazeera does not display the destination URL. There appears to be no advanced search options available.
Al Jazeera also offers a specialised search across the user-generated debates on the site, which can be narrowed down to look over a specific date range.
This search box can only be reached from the Al Jazeera 'Your Views' page.
The BBC News site has a search box in the top right-hand corner of every page on the site. Keeping the search box in the same place on every page is an excellent piece of usability engineering, as repeat visitors get used to the positioning, and it provides an easy escape route out of a browsing session that has reached a dead-end.
There are, though, some usability issues when searching on the BBC News site. Every query is in fact directed to a search of 'All of the BBC' content, not specifically a search over the news site. Even after a couple of years I find this to be a disconcerting and unhelpful user interaction.
Up to four links from BBC News are included above a set of 'Best bets' for common search terms, which, if they are news related, will return BBC News content. However, the way these links are formatted looks similar to the 'sponsored links' on other search engines, rather than looking like the regular results. This means that the eye is drawn instead to the first 'proper' result - which very often is not from the BBC News site.
The test search term I used in this study was one that I hoped would generate lots of results on any of the sites - 'iran'. On this screengrab you can see that the first 'proper' results returned by the BBC's search system are from Radio 4. Having come from the BBC News site which has a wealth of material about Iran, this seems very counter-intuitive.
If the user finds and clicks the tab to re-iterate the search with only results from BBC News and BBC Sport, some of the elements in the interface change. Results now have a relevancy score and a date-stamp, and the user has the facility to sort them by either relevance or date.
The BBC allows users to subscribe to RSS feeds of keyword searches across BBC News content.
On their international edition, CNN's search box forms part of their global navigation header that sits on top of the page. It is co-branded with technology provider Yahoo!
I've been very impressed with the CNN site, but I find that their search lets them down badly. The default setting for the search is to search the web, rather than to actually provide results from CNN.
This is even stranger as a user experience than the BBC's non-news search. My initial search for 'iran' on CNN without fiddling with the radio buttons brought back in the #1 position a link to their search provider's news site.
The user is able to make a selection to change to CNN results after the search, and video and text results from the site appear alongside the web results in a panel to the right.
Once you've selected to search over CNN rather than use Yahoo!'s web search, results can be sorted by either date or relevance, and results feature a timestamp, although they do not display a destination URL. There doesn't appear to be any advanced search features.
I wanted to look at four services in this post, and four services in the next, but I won't have to spend too much time looking at Euronews. I mentioned that Al Jazeera appears to be the only site I've been reviewing that has search but doesn't have a search box on their homepage. Euronews also has no search box on the homepage, because it appears to have no search functionality at all.
I find this simply astonishing.
Even if you don't have the technology in house, or a big budget, both Google and Yahoo! offer the option of putting a free search box on your site to perform searches restricted to your domain. With Google's Custom Search you can even brand it with a logo and earn money from the adverts served next to the results - and Euronews clearly already have an AdSense account since Google adverts appear on the homepage.
In the next part of this series I'll be looking at the English language search facilities offered by France 24, ITN, Russia Today and Sky News.