AlJazeera.Net in English on the web
Since the launch of the associated television channel on 15th November, I've been itching to have a poke around and review AlJazeera.Net's new online English edition.
My interest in the site is of course partly because of my general interest in online news, and partly because AlJazeera.Net has something of the shock-of-the-new about it compared to our "Western" news media. Not least though, my interest is because a couple of years back I spent three days in Dubai having interviews with a different news organisation based there, whose strategic aim was to become the leading English language online news service in the region. Presumably, had I taken that job, I would have spent the last few months in a cold sweat once I found out that AlJazeera.Net were going to be launching into the same market.
Although it has settled down a little since launch, global demand seems to have far outstripped supply in terms of bandwidth, and I have had trouble accessing the new site for long enough in order to assess it. And sites under load can behave oddly, so even when I have been able to reach it, I've not been sure whether I have been seeing it as intended.
One thing that has particularly perplexed me has been the choice available of viewing the site in both Flash and HTML formats. Whether due to the heavy load the site is under, or some quirk of rendering in Firefox, the Flash version of the homepage of the site has been appearing to me with only black and white images, which turn to colour when I mouseover them.
This appears to be the only difference between the two versions. If this is indeed how the Flash site is intended to work, it seems a very odd design choice to me, making AlJazeera.Net English the world's only online news service trying to give a first impression of being a newspaper before the advent of cheaper colour printing.
This isn't the only feature I find odd about the homepage. In the left-hand navigation there is a very prominent RSS icon - but no feeds are auto-discovered from the homepage.
The <HEAD> tag of their homepage may not have room for a link to their RSS feed, but it does contain a meta refresh tag, forcing a reload of the page every three minutes, which must surely be having an impact on their ability (or lack of) to serve the page in reliable volumes.
Another feature that doesn't appear to be working to the optimum is the "Most emailed stories" feature. Whilst three of the stories are recent, as far as I am aware, the self-referential 'Al Jazeera English goes live' has been the most emailed story since, well, when the site went live.
With the best will in the world, I find it difficult to believe that 25 days after publication, what is essentially a puff PR piece is still the most viral story published on the site.
Anyway, over the next few days I'll be posting about some of the other features on the new AlJazeera.Net English site that have caught my eye.