AlJazeera's new English website disappoints

I’m really disappointed by AlJazeera’s new English-language website. There are hints that they’re trying to do good things with it… but the actual execution doesn’t really follow through. I have to say, this is in stark contrast to the super-polished nature of the new TV channel.

They offer both Flash and HTML versions of the homepage, for example: but it only covers the ‘top stories’ area, and it doesn’t do much more than offer a ‘hover’ effect, turning the photos from greyscale to colour. If that’s all they wanted to do, I guess they could have done it using javascript and/or CSS. But having made the decision to go with Flash on the homepage, I’d have hoped for something much more ambitious. I have yet to see a news site really pushing Flash to its limits for homepage (or story) presentation. Someone will do it, eventually, and everyone will love it.

The rendering of the stories themselves is a bit clunky, but that’s nothing compared to the appalling code markup under the surface. Sites shouldn’t be using TABLEs these days, for example – and they certainly shouldn’t have inline styling (‘font size=’ inside all paragraph tags? are you using FrontPage or something?). There’s also something pretty horrible going on with CMS buttons appearing in the page code. (Try turning off the CSS on a story page to see the true horror.) As promised, there are RSS feeds per channel (Americas, Africa, Europe, Middle East etc), but they haven’t bothered with autodiscovery tags. It looks like they’re using the unpopular Microsoft Content Management System product, but that’s no excuse.

Jeff Jarvis also notes the curious approach to video streaming: you get 15 minutes of free low-bandwidth video, after which you have to restart the stream. Continuous broadband-quality viewing costs £11.99 a month.

They clearly aren’t taking the web anywhere near as seriously as their TV product… and for an operation effectively starting from scratch this week, that’s unforgivable.