Newspapers 2.0: How Web 2.0 are British newspaper web sites?
Over the last two weeks I've reviewed eight British newspaper web sites in depth, trying to identify where and how they are using the technologies that make up the so-called "Web 2.0" bubble. I've examined their use of blogs, RSS feeds, social bookmarking widgets, and the integration of user-generated content into their sites.
On the whole I have found that most newspapers have adopted most of the technologies to some extent.
All eight offer RSS feeds and claim to publish blogs, even if some of them don't publish very frequently (The Independent) or in a very standard blog format (The Sun). The majority of them have some social bookmarking links incorporated into some of their content (except The Sun and The Independent in this instance), and nearly all have facilities for users to send in their comments on individual stories.
All of the newspapers I looked at now provide a range of RSS feeds. Most provide not just their main news and sport content, but also feeds of a selection of features and comment. Some provide feeds for bespoke events, like Big Brother or The Ashes.
For a long time people have spoken of 2007 being a watershed year for RSS to gain momentum as a technology with a critical mass of use, now that it is incorporated into Microsoft's dominant Internet Explorer browser and Office suite of software. British newspapers are well placed if that increase in consumption happens.
Some of the newspaper use third parties to serve their RSS content - The Mirror and The Sun are powered by Mediafed, whilst the Daily Mail uses FeedBurner. Some implementation problems still exist though, notably with the Daily Express and more seriously with The Times.
Of the newspapers I looked at, The Independent provided the most feeds - if you discount the literally thousands of per-author feeds spewed out by The Guardian's "Comment Is Free" site, and all of the newspapers I looked at only provided snippets of articles in their feeds.
Take-up of social bookmarking links and widgets across the newspapers varied considerably.
A couple of the more cautious papers have only placed a couple of links on their site. The Mirror opts just for Digg and del.icio.us, and The Times opts just for del.icio.us and Newsvine.
The Daily Mail's slightly curious approach is to include a range of social bookmarking links on pages covering softer topics like Sport and Entertainment, but to exclude them from pages in their main news index.
The Guardian, The Sun and The Independent had no social bookmarking links in their main content at all, however The Guardian does include some on their "Comment Is Free" off-shoot.
Incorporating User Comments
Several newspapers have made a move to incorporate user comments on a story directly on that stories page. The Express, Mail, Times and The Sun have all done this. The Express and The Sun have gone further with their personalised services. The latter allows users to blog and to upload images. It seems several other papers, including The Telegraph, are following suit.
The Guardian has the extensive ability for users to comment across their blogs and the Comment Is Free site, but is yet to integrate user comment into their made body of content in any great way.
The Independent sticks out like a sore thumb in this category. Aside from being able to reply to a barely updated blog, the only user comment on The Independent's web site are republications of the letters to the editor that have made it to the print edition.
All of the eight newspapers I examined have areas of their site that they call 'blogs', although some of these are seldom updated (especially The Independent), and some have virtually no hallmarks of being a blog at all except for the title (particularly on The Sun).
The blog offerings from The Guardian, The Telegraph and The Times are the strongest of the eight newspapers I looked at - The Telegraph in particular cover a wide range of topics with an impressive roster of authors.
The most popular recognisable blogging platforms amongst the eight papers are Typepad and Intersource.
There is a lot of evidence around the newspaper sites that they are beginning to really "get" some new media and Web 2.0 concepts.
The Daily Mail site is vastly more engaging by virtue of the reader's comments appearing alongside stories. The Sun's MY Sun community is only recently established, but the impression is given of a good deal of activity taking place, which is sometimes being fed back into the print edition. The Telegraph's blogging roster is impressive. The Times provided prominent feedback on what users are reading and commenting on.
There are still some areas where sites are very much Print 1.0 rather than Web 2.0.
I'd like to see one of the papers take the plunge and offer full ad-supported content feeds, rather than requiring a click through on every story (especially if the link goes to the wrong destination).
There are some areas which remain untapped, like personalised RSS feeds for search results, and putting content tagging on news stories, not just on some blogging posts.
And I'd like to see the blogging restricted to those journalists and columnists who want to blog, rather than newspapers offering a wide range of content from obviously unenthusiastic staff.
It has been a lot of work putting these reviews together and preparing all the screenshots - but I must say I have enjoyed it, and picked up a few new interesting RSS feeds to subscribe to along the way.
The feedback I have had on the site and via email has nearly all been positive, and I'd like to thank those of you who have taken the time to email me or leave comments, which has included Neil McIntosh from the Guardian, and Tim Malbon at blogging platform provider
I hope you've enjoyed the series anyway.
Over the next few weeks I'll be posting some other smaller articles which I have written during the course of researching the main reviews.
These will include some funny quirks I spotted on the sites, and some tables illustrating the different blogging, social bookmarking and RSS features I noted. I will be looking at RSS feed uptake, and I also intend to publish some OPML files collecting together lists of newspaper and blog RSS feeds. These build on those published over at dave.org, and represent information that is sadly not made available in this format by the sites themselves.