Al Jazeera Labs, the home of the multimedia team's experiments in beta, has allowed users to see such developments in progress before they are turned into 'actual products', Al Jazeera head of new media, Mohamed Nanabhay, tells Journalism.co.uk.
Online cultural developments over the past couple of years mean people expect and demand this experimentation, Nanabhay says.
"We're in perpetual beta. We've had a lot of positive feedback, talking about how it is a very positive development. While it's quite rough, it's in a very useable form," he says.
Nanabhay explains that while the technology is still in development, there are 'no issues' over the quality of the editorial product, which is led by the broadcast channels. 'So there's no impact on the editorial integrity of what we're doing', says Nanabhay.
"People are willing, especially early adopters, to come in and use these products in interesting ways. I don't think we have 'Joe Public' coming to the site," he adds.
That may be the case, but a wider audience is now watching Al Jazeera's English and Arabic channels via social media, especially for their coverage of the war in Gaza. The Al Jazeera Gaza Twitter handle, @AJGaza, had 5,773 followers at time of writing, while maps of the conflict using the Ushahidi project attracted attention across the net.
"Our English channel was the only international English station with people on the ground - our coverage was unsurpassed. Our footage was the main coverage coming out of Gaza - I think there's no doubt about that, although there were other Arabic stations in Gaza," he claims.
Gaza coverage built on the 'main pillars' of the Al Jazeera brand: "There's a very important emphasis on field reporting: having people on the ground, who know the local environment, who understand the local culture - that's very important to us."
Opening up video material under a Creative Commons 3.0 attribution licence, is another point of enthusiasm for Nanabhay: "People have mixed it to music, mixed in with other content. No mapping as yet, but they have spliced videos up and put them online.
"Al Jazeera is very forward thinking. We're going to get the best people coming to work for us, because we're doing all this cool stuff."
But there are challenges, in particular using third-party applications and software, which often do not cater for the Arabic language and its characters. Twitter, which has a number of Arabic users, is an exception and can handle Arabic updates, adds Nanabhay.
Ushahidi, 'a platform that crowdsources crisis information' also incorporates the Arabic language, he says. There are still some problems: 'you can put stuff in Arabic but it doesn't always come out very elegantly,' he explains, adding that he hopes to use Al Jazeera's experience of the site to help its developers.
Working in countries with stringent media controls does not affect the technology team too much, Nanabhay says.
"When we put stuff online we're not trying to get past anybody - it's the same editorial content you'd find on the channel. New media is not the [news] editorial team - we work with the news team to innovate, but it's a technology team.
"Both [English and Arabic] websites service people from all over the world - we can cater for people with low, and also high bandwidth," he adds.
As for the future: web 2.0 is 'a very exciting opportunity,' says Nanabhay.
"Now with the market crash it's a bit glum, but how do we take this and make most of this? There is the possibility for visualising news in new and interesting ways to add depth for our audience," he says.
Free daily newsletter
- Soo Meta launches to help journalists build quick multimedia stories
- The Snow Fall story: Marrying long-form narrative with captivating visuals
- New York Times puts all online video outside the paywall
- Pulitzer goes to New York Times 'Snow Fall' journalist
- 'Social media needs to put the person at the heart of the story'