Arab News Redesigns

Finally, and after many long years of stagnation, Arab News gave their website a redesign. Nothing groundbreaking, but certainly an improvement over their old one which looked like a website from the mid 90’s.

True to its nickname, the Green Truth, the new design features the green color heavily, using it for all headlines and links. Although I have to say that the green .com next to the newspaper name is pretty lame and it looks rather outdated. The website also uses more pictures in a much nicer way than the old one. But more importantly, they finally introduce RSS, but the feeds are not full so you will have to visit the website to read the articles.

They also decided to open all articles to comments by readers, so that’s something as well. The very first comment on the new AN was about the Grand Mufti’s call for monitoring of massage centers, and it reads: “That’s all this blind man cares about?! I expected him to encourage MOH to care for the poor patients who lose thier (sic) lives due to mistakes and recklessness. I guess massage pose a greater danger!!!”

I guess it will be interesting to watch their policy when it comes to comments. Is it going to be like al-Arabyia’s ‘everything goes’ policy, or something like al-Watan’s which its editor Jamal Khashoggi recently bragged that he employs ten girls whose their sole job is to monitor comments.

But back to the redesign itself, it will be inevitable to compare it to the other English daily in the country, Saudi Gazette, which has also gone through a redesign last year.

While Saudi Gazette uses a solution developed by the local company SmartInfo, which Fouad al-Farhan recently sold, Arab News uses Escenic, a CMS developed by a Norwegian company that was also used for the website of al-Majalla. However, when compared to other regional and international newspapers, both remain pretty barebones. Nothing out of the ordinary, and nothing that really stands out.

It is very obvious that newspapers here are still approaching the web with their old mentality. Except for al-Riyadh, which has a very good team of local smart developers, none of these newspapers think of their websites as an important part of their service. None of them has an ‘online newsroom,’ and none of them think of their websites as a new medium where they can build a community where they can engage their readers in ways print cannot do.

I believe that the local internet scene is still lacking on many levels, and there are many opportunities to create excellent Saudi content especially in Arabic. The attempts that we have seen so far in this field are very weak and leave much to be desired. I have been thinking about this a lot lately, and I have some ideas that I’m working on, so if you are interested please get in touch.

Qaym Redesigns

It has been a year since I wrote about Qaym, the user-generated restaurant reviews website founded by my friend Jihad al-Ammar. I was invited to a press conference last night where Qaym announced launching a new design and new interesting features.

Jihad said the website has enjoyed a steady growth over the past year and attracted an active community around it. He then introduced the new design which included a new logo and color theme. No major changes on the interface, but the little tweaks here and there should improve the usability and make it easier for users to find their way around the site.

Qaym logo

The most important new feature for me is the addition of Google maps to the restaurant pages. Jihad says that it took them a long time and much effort to make it happen, but they are pleased with the how they finally implemented this. Since they only rolled out this feature yesterday not all restaurant pages have them yet, but you can check out this one to see how it is working.

Jihad announced during the press conference that Qaym is expanding by adding two new developers to the team: Mashhour al-Debayyan and Omar al-Amoudi, and that they plan to expand Qaym to include reviews for other services and products. A mobile version (and maybe an iPhone app) of the website is scheduled for later this year, he added.

I have to say that I’m not just impressed by how far Qaym has evolved, but I’m also extremely proud of Jihad and rest of the Saudi team behind the website. Their hard work and commitment to provide a great service coupled with high quality is to be admired and respected. It is a real shame that they don’t get the recognition they deserve, but I hope that this will change soon.