As the halfway mark of the Beijing Games passes, here's some thoughts on how the major news websites are covering the Olympics with their special Olympics sections. Some have improved on their "road to Beijing" sites since I looked at them a month ago. By now they should have ironed out any kinks.
(Meanwhile, the Globe and Mail provides an analysis of CBC commentators at the games)
The CBC website is a class above all the others, as well it should be since they have the broadcast rights.
Naturally, there's plenty of video, including most importantly live video feeds from various events. Unfortunately, they've Windows Media and never worked for me properly, making them kind of useless. The schedule is tied to broadcasts, which means you don't get the schedule for individual events and races. Items in the schedule also aren't linked to more information about them or lists of Canadians who will be participating.
The "Higher Faster Stronger" page has video profiles of athletes, but they're not sorted in any useful way. The videos themselves are also pretty uninteresting. The athletes give one-liners saying where they're from and what sport they play, and then finish off with meaningless inspirational statements like "I refuse to let fear dictate my actions"
Medal standings page allows you to sort by G/S/B and total medals. Each country also links to pages showing who won medals for that country.
There's also a blogs page with blogs from both Olympic athletes and CBC personalities.
Bottom line: This is everyone's first destination for Olympics news. It does what it's supposed to do well, but there's definite room for improvement.
(Disclaimer: I work for The Gazette, though I had nothing to do with its Beijing website)
Canwest Interactive created a Beijing Games portal which has been copied for reuse by all Canwest papers. Stories are updated automatically on all websites without individual papers having to deal with them. With the exception of some local pointers to paper-specific pieces, all the websites are identical.
The design is visually appealing. The main feature is a "photo of the moment," which cycles between four recent photos. While it looks good, it also pushes the main story downpage, so visitors have to scroll down to find out the biggest story. The photos are also not linked to the Olympic events they feature, so even though the main photo might be of a Canadian athlete winning a gold medal, clicking on it won't get you the story of how awesome that was. You have to scroll down to find it.
URLs are unfortunately excessively long. Though the papers provide shortcuts, they disappear the moment you put them in, which doesn't aid in memory retention. The Gazette's Olympic homepage is at http://www.canada.com/montrealgazette/news/sports/beijing2008/index.html.
The stories almost all originate from Canwest News Service. On one hand this is good, because you want to promote your own stories (the wires have hundreds of Olympic stories running every day). On the other hand, it means every story has a Canadian angle. Unless a columnist writes a story about Michael Phelps or other non-Canadian athletes, the stories won't appear here.
There are separate sections for each sport, which include stories, (some) athlete profiles, schedules and results, all copied from the Beijing database.
Though Canwest has been making a big effort online for these Games (even sending an online editor to Beijing), a lot of the content clearly seems to have been destined more for newspapers than websites. This list of Canadians to watch, for example, is horribly formatted, includes no times and no links for more information on these athletes or their events.
There are news videos and animations of event rules, but both are provided pre-packaged by Reuters and Agence France-Presse. Same with things like medal standings.
There are some mistakes that make a perfectionist cringe. "Mens" and "Womens" aren't words, for example. And clicking on "schedule" gives the schedule for Day 1 instead of the current day (and unless you remember that it's Day 11 you have to guess at what the current schedule is).
Finally, it includes a trivia "game" with questions such as this:
What's unique: Little separates the sites from other similar ones, but the stories, which are the most important, are Canwest-produced.
Bottom Line: All in all, a good effort, and good copy from Canwest's journalists, but a bit too reliant on repackaging non-story information from other sources.
Homepage looks good, with a main story and matching main photo (like most websites, you'll notice their layout requires horizontal photos). Design for medal counts/results is also sleek, with circular cropped flags (rectangles are so 2004).
A proper schedule page (with times and everything), but no indication there what events feature Canadians, which is what we want to know.
It includes a podcast page, which apparently nobody at the Globe looked at because the thumbnail images next to audio links are actually 6 megapixel images (over a megabyte in size) that the browser has to download in order to shrink to 1,000th of the size. The latest podcast is now four days old, and is just a series of interviews with Globe writers in Beijing. No interviews with athletes or audio of anything even remotely interesting. (There are athlete interviews like this one, but those are linked to from different pages
URLs are simple, short and sensical. globeandmail.com/beijing2008 for the main page. The boxing page is at globeandmail.com/beijing2008/boxing, as you would expect. URLs for individual stories, however, follow the standard Globe template and are far too long.
Stories are provided from eight Globe journalists in Beijing, but most comes from Canadian Press/Associated Press, and little to no time is spent formatting stories for the web.
What's unique: "Games on the Box", a blog about TV coverage (mainly from the CBC and NBC).
Bottom Line: In many ways, the Globe has led Canadian media in its approach to online, in terms of design and ideas. Audio interviews, podcasts and blogs certainly shows that. But this website is a pretty big disappointment from Canada's national newspaper. I expected better.
A repackaging of Canadian Press content along with some videos produced for CTV National News and Canada AM. A joke of a website that I won't dignify with a review. This is from the people who are going to bring our TV coverage of the 2010 games in Vancouver?
A nice homepage with a simple URL (olympics.thestar.com). You have to dig a bit to get pages for individual sports, and results pages for those sports are nothing but (badly) rebranded pre-packaged pages from The Sports Network. Medals page (from CP) allows you to sort by total (ascending and descending), but in order to sort by gold you have to click on "POS".
There's a videos page with a mix of Torstar and CP-produced videos (sadly you don't find out which is which until the video starts). Instead of simply being embedded on the page, clicking on a video brings a video browser in a pop-up window (and then doesn't show the browser part). It's more hoops than should be necessary here.
Schedule page provides a list of what sports are on what days, and clicking those sports gives a schedule for that sport on that day. Very good. But no hints at sports with Canadians in them, and there's no general page with a schedule for all sports on a certain day.
What's unique: There's a Star-produced Olympic history timeline, and an interesting "in Chinese" page, with content provided by Sing Tao newspapers. The best part is probably the Athletes page, which lists all the athletes and provides pages for each one. Those pages include the standard CP biography plus links to stories that mention the athlete. It's simple yet elegant.
Bottom line: It's not perfect, but a very impressive effort from a single newspaper without the mega Canwest or Sun Media empires behind it.
URL is simple but needlessly repetitive: http://slam.canoe.ca/Slam/Olympics/2008Beijing/home.html
The events page is called "Events", "Disciplines" or "Sports", depending on whether you look at the URL, the navigation bar or the page title. The individual pages there are needlessly gray, and the content provided entirely by AFP. (The country flags, where used, look like they were designed by three-year-olds using MS Paint).
Schedule page (also provided by AFP) distinguishes between competition and finals, but otherwise provides no details.
Athletes page sorts by publication date, not by name or sport, which kind of makes it useless.
Bottom line: Far too reliant on AFP and other wire copy. No reason to choose this site over any other.
Page is the kind of boxy layout you come to expect from Cyberpresse. Main difference is that it includes a bunch of Flash-based widgets from Presse Canadienne which slow down page loading.
The URL is short but non-intuitive (like all Cyberpresse pages), with sections called "CPPEKIN01", "CPPEKIN02", etc.
Athletes page doesn't include a list of athletes, but a list of profiles sorted by publication date.
There are separate sections for athletics, "acquatic sports", gynmastics and "other" instead of having one for each discipline. (The "other" page includes "team sports" "racquet sports" "combat sports" and "other" -- how insulting is it to be on the "other" "other" page?)
Schedule page is very basic, with times but no other information
What's unique: A photo album from La Presse photographer Bernard Brault.
Bottom line: Not much to write home about. There are good stories here republished from the paper, but the website design is severely lacking.
No Olympics website to speak of. A single page includes wire stories that were printed in the paper. Epic fail.