Analysis: Byte-Size News: Who Breaks Stories on the Net? ; `Independent' Technology Editor Charles Arthur Goes On-Line to Assess the Best of the News Sites. and America's Answer to Brass Eye, the Onion

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ANANOVA

http:// www.ananova.com

News stories on front page: 21

Pop-up adverts?: No

News, "quirkies" (iconised by a flying pig), "entertainment" and plenty of celebrity gossip. A sort of mid-market news site, with a simple layout but there's no way that you'll get a clear idea of what the stories - rather than the headlines - are by scrolling. You have to click through to the stories, which isn't very satisfying; you have to click through to each category to get the bite-sized details from each story. The layout has tons of white space which feels wasteful rather than restful. Shouldn't news excite, especially onscreen? The lack of pictures on the category listings is also a loss compared to Google.

BBC

http:// news.bbc.co.uk

News stories on front page: 35

Pop-up adverts?: No

The one the others have to beat, frankly. Carefully designed to give the maximum number of stories while also emphasising what is important and what isn't. The top stories on the front page have multiple links to follow-up stories; there are quirky stories; and there's a splendid mix of stories from around the world. The site also has incredible depth, with free access to stories from the site's inception, plus video and audio clips. Sometimes the "news", especially in the more specialist areas, amounts to little more than press releases, but on the whole the BBC's news site is a tribute to its newsgathering operation.

CNN

http:// www.cnn.com

News stories on front page: 36

Pop-up adverts?: No

Impressive at the top but quickly falls apart as you scroll further down the page into a mess of subsections, none of which are very clearly signposted as to content, which makes clicking through to them something of a lottery. Still at least it has Larry King, who's never short of a celebrity to interview. But CNN does have plenty going for it: during the US elections it was one of the most- viewed sites as the election count accrued. The headlines could be much stronger: "Reporter fined for contempt" is hardly a world- grabbing headline for the law section, for example.

DRUDGE

http:// www.drudgereport.com

News stories on front page: 14

Pop-up adverts?: Yes (1)

The site that "broke" the Monica Lewinsky story, but also a stack of others which turned out to be wrong. The design appears to be from the 1930s, using a typewriter-like font which makes one believe Matt Drudge prepares it wearing a green eyeshade. The teaser headlines either intrigue, entertain or cause eyes to roll, but don't justify great interest. Repeated mistakes - such as the false allegation of John Kerry's affair with an intern - have lowered Drudge's stock somewhat. The stories, from standard sources, tend to be less exciting than the headlines. Of course, that could never happen in print.

GOOGLE

http:// news.google.co.uk

News stories on front page: 78

Pop-up adverts?: No

Available as a .com or .co.uk flavour; the UK one is slightly better because it polls more interesting and trustworthy sources. Pleasing, simple layout which allows you to swallow the news of the moment (refreshed every minute or so) at a single gulp, though (as we have previously revealed) the system works against sites which produce exclusives, in favour of those which have been updated most recently. Google claims that the ranking is done by machine. Frankly, this is hard to believe. But Google's strength in the search market means its news site also holds sway.

LOS ANGELES. TIMES

http:// www.latimes.com/ (free registration required)

News stories on front page: 42

Pop-up adverts?: Yes (2)

This site emanates from a city where the motor car is God and so a Freeway Watch link offers the chance to "check your commute". That's not to say it is parochial, with stories about Iraq, Iran and Sudan given top billing. …