Web-site Review: The Nando Times
This critique is based on a single, 45 minute browsing session, plus a few return visits to check a few facts, so is far from comprehensive. Also, keep in mind that it reflects the state of the site on the evening of October 2nd, 1997- the site may well have changed by the time you read this!
The Nando Times is a site established by a group of small-to-medium sized newspapers, and is linked (for local news) to a slightly larger group of papers. These included the Sacramento Bee (which appears to be the flagship of the owning group), the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and the Dallas Morning News, as well as a dozen or so smaller papers. It presents frequently-updated stories on national and international news; business, health/science and other features, and links to some special services like a sports center with chat lines, an archive, in-depth feature areas, and some just-for-fun stuff like the Cyrano Server. Their official self-description is, of course, on their site.
The site came up looking pretty high tech. Frames show an index of features (available most of the time), a scrollable list of other stories (when you are reading a story on a given topic), the inevitable small ad (although they seem to be mostly internal "station identification" ads now), and some "teaser" buttons that suggest non-sequitur jumps to shifting topics. All this makes navigation relatively easy, but severely squeezes the actual space for the articles you want to read, and massively slows down response time. If this gets too bothersome, "no frames" and even "low graphics" versions of many pages are available; the first is no real advantage (same stuff, less organized) but the latter is well done- dominated by the stuff you want, with little index bars at the top and/or bottom of the scrollable pages.
As "new media", the site is only modestly successful so far. The stories are just AP, Reuters, and a few other syndicates' stories, possibly edited down (they are often very short), usually without pictures, graphics, or links. The very fast response time (new stories came up while I was visiting the site) is a plus, and the quantity of content was equivalent to a very big newspaper- plenty of stories on each topic. A few stories did have links to source material and/or related other stories, but this feature was underused- a non-scientific sample had about 20% of feature stories, and only one news story out of many, linked to anything. Most disappointing was the lack of pictures or graphics, or even links to them. There was a high-level "the day in pictures" feature, but clicking on the pictures led to only bigger copies of the pictures and a caption, not the related story.
A few features took advantage of the web. Weather and local news were handled by links to a weather service and a number of local papers, respectively. The later links were interesting, because the "local" papers included the fairly large ones listed above, and these in turn had their own national and international news pages. This theoretically enlarged the reach of the site, but not in practice- the stories tended to be the same wire stories available on the main site. The "sportsserver" included stories sorted by interest as well as chat sites; on the other hand, the "techserver" was little different from the main paper. Classifieds and employment ads were searchable, and included ads from several of the sponsoring papers.
The best feature was the "special in-depth coverage" sections, which had long, linked lists of articles on a given subject, including well organized chronologies and lists of organized background articles. The Nichols Trial got this treatment when I was browsing, with dozens of articles organized in eight categories. You could access one of these special pages knowing virtually nothing about a subject, and come away educated. There were also "archives" for looking up previous articles. These are nice examples of using the possibilities of the web as a serious media. The trick here is exploiting the fact it costs little to archive many days worth of content, as opposed to merely printing AP articles surrounded by style.
Perhaps the cutest feature is a java app called "News Watcher" that you can load up that flashes the headlines of new stories as they appear. Double-click on the headlines and a browser window opens directly at that story. For true news junkies, a way to ensure you will not get any work done...
Overall, an interesting start. What's wrong? Mainly the use of graphics for clutter to the exclusion of content. The fancy look of the navigation aids is not really worth the download time. Worse, pictures and graphics are not used or linked to in stories, which is weird given the typical print paper is very heavy on these now. What's right? The chat lines and cyranoserver are fun; the weather and local news links useful but pretty standard; the in-depth link pages are excellent. The last feature is typical of what is right with the web; they are not particularly high tech, but they save you hours of hunting through old newspapers if what you want is serious recent background on a given subject.