So, for all of you interested in the first option, read on. What's changed since the situation was last looked at? You may insert the standard lament for the Acorn Cybervillage here, if you think it will help. (Note that I've deliberately only reviewed English sites, and ignored sites such as ArcSite - I don't believe I could give them full justice by reviewing them through an online translator.)
Established April 2006 • Staff Cheatwarrior, DoomRider • URL www.acorngamez.tk
First impressions of AcornGamez are, frankly, awful. The full-page advert on entry to the site is really annoying (and looks terrible). The stupid thing is that this is easily avoided - just publicise the URL acorngamez.blog.com instead - it's not much longer, and would also get rid of the annoying .tk ad across the top. It would also solve the irritating problem that with the .tk address, the whole site is included in a frame, and acorngamez.tk is the only address kept in the address bar - making it irritating to link to specific pages.
This feeling of sloppiness continues, with the main navbar obscuring part of the header. Oh, and the header stops halfway through the image, with an "ACORN G". This is just really bad design work. It should just be one logo, not a repeating one that gives out halfway through.
It has to be said, however, that once you get past all these annoyances, it's a pretty good site, with regular updates - an impressive feat for a platform with not much games news. Sure, the news isn't gone into in much depth - but it's a nice collating of stuff from various sources. If the .tk address was abandoned, the page was tidied up layout-wise, and the exclamation marks were laid off a bit, it would improve the site no end.
ANS - Acorn News Service
Established February 1998 • Staff James Sears, Stephen Courtney • URL www.ans.org.uk
The first thing that hits you with the ANS site is how gorgeous it looks. Clean, simple, yet beautiful - and very easy to navigate. Excellent stuff.
This site is set up rather more differently than most other sites listed here. There's a Drobe feed on the front page - but the meat of the site is their email newsletter, sent out more-or-less every fortnight. This outlines the latest RISC OS news in a simple, clear way - it won't win any awards for analysis, but then it's hardly meant to. Of course, it's no good if you want to know the latest news immediately - but as an easy-to-read roundup, it excels.
Established July 1992 • Moderator Andrew Conroy • URL groups.google.com/group/ comp.sys.acorn.announce
Obviously not your usual news portal - but as it's a place where people get news, I thought I'd better cover it here. And, of course, it's extremely useful for what it is.
But it's also the ultimate example of why news portals are important. They aren't just there to blindly publish press releases. They're there to filter and to challenge. As Drobe say - is the latest special offer from a company news? No, unless it's a really good one. Is the latest version incrementation of an obscure piece of software news? Not a jot. To say nothing of proper investigative reporting, or decent tutorial articles being hugely important. And let's not forget - one of the most important jobs for a news organisation is to call bullshit.
Let's not be under any illusions that if every RISC OS news site was to shut down, then csaa would be a worthy substitute. As wonderful as it is in its own right - it wouldn't.
Established October 1999 • Staff Chris Williams, Ian Hawkins, Martin Hansen, Theo Markettos • URL www.drobe.co.uk
Drobe's great, innit.
But I suppose I'd better write more than that. So: no other RISC OS site reports news so thoroughly. It is truly comprehensive: you never for a minute wonder if you're missing some vital piece of news, and have to go and check elsewhere. And it's proper reporting - extremely well-written, and questioning the news - not just a hastily rewritten press release. Their show coverage in particular is always extremely good. It also reports on things not covered anywhere else on the net. It's just a joy to visit. And it's more than just news - they also publish some excellent features as well.
On the minus side, I've never been particularly impressed with the current look of the site. Their logo is fantastic, and so are the graphics used in the articles. But I'm a great lover of white space on websites - and Drobe doesn't have nearly enough, making it more difficult to read than it needs to be. The layout of the articles on the standard front page could be clearer too - the 'Published' and 'Comments' lines just blend into the article text. The masthead is also too busy - I preferred it when it was just plain colours, rather than with the background image. The creased-paper background is also unnecessary, to say the least - rather 1996 Geocities. Also, it was a lot nicer when all the news stories has a proper byline naming the person who wrote the article - "By the Drobe news desk" makes the site feel rather impersonal, which is a shame.
But it's difficult to criticise the site too much - indeed, the only reason the previous complaints are worth mentioning is because the site is so good. Drobe is an essential part of the RISC OS community, and whatever disagreements have arisen between them and some people, nobody should forget this. They are absolutely vital to the future of the platform.
The Icon Bar
Established March 2000 • Staff Richard Goodwin, Andrew Duffell, John Hoare, Jeffrey Lee, Phil Mellor, Andrew Poole • URL www.iconbar.com
Obviously, being a contributor to TIB, I can't be seen to be in any way impartial in reviewing the site. Still, it's perhaps worth giving a few thoughts on the site since our relaunch. Personally, I think we've got one of the most beautiful site designs out of any RISC OS site - and no, I didn't design it.
Mind you, part of the point of the relaunch is that we aren't really a RISC OS portal at all any more - we'll cover the odd RISC OS-related thing, but we've broadened our remit to cover... well, what we feel like posting, really. It's no secret that this decision was made due to our apathy about posting much to do with RISC OS - an apathy that was evident with the paucity of updates throughout 2005 and 2006. None of us use RISC OS as our main platform any more, and so none of us feel like posting about it much. And besides, it's rather hypocritical to promote RISC OS when you don't use it much yourself.
I was initially worried when we made the decision to become a more general geek-related site - I thought that it might be too broad a focus. Take it too far, and who wants to read TIB over Slashdot? I thought we might be better off concentrating on becoming an Acorn retro site. But this worry has been largely unfounded - mainly due to, as the blurb says, "The sensibilities that Acorn instilled in us still influence our interests and writing." There is a specific feel to the content and writing on TIB that I think makes us worth reading. And I think what we post is, in the main, interesting and well-written.
TIB has the potential to become a wonderful site again. But - and it's a big but - it's currently constrained by the lack of regular updates. With the wider subject matter covered, there should be an update at least once a day - and at least a couple of juicy articles a week. It needs more effort putting in for the site to really take off. Speaking as a contributor - if we're at all serious about making the site a success, there's no excuse for not having posted anything to the site for 11 days.
My RISC OS
Established August 2001 • Staff cheatwarrior, Steve Potts • URL www.myriscos.co.uk
In a word: poor.
The site design is bland. The logo is awful. There is an unbelievable amount of spam in the comments, which is as unprofessional as you can get. But most importantly - most of the stories are either rehashes of csaa postings - or in some instances, a direct reposting. I'm also concerned by the current top story on the site - there is nothing to say that the person posting the article is advertising their own product! It needs to start with a disclaimer, at the very least. Yes, it's obvious if you delve a little further, or know about Blasts of the Xtreme - but that's hardly the point.
The site adds absolutely nothing, and hasn't improved one jot since it was last reviewed. You'd be better off just reading csaa instead.
Established July 2000 • Staff Paul Vigay • URL www.riscos.org
Disclaimer: Paul Vigay provides hosting for TIB at a discount. Move along, lads. No scandal here.
Now, I wouldn't dream of saying that riscos.org is a bad site. It clearly isn't - there's lots of excellent stuff on there. As a news service, however it's pretty poor. There's not nearly enough updates, and whilst the writing is fine in itself, there's not much added value to any of the announcements. Presumably, this is the exact intention - but you'd be better off reading ANS, which is more comprehensive, and updated more regularly.
In my opinion, it would be better off to get rid of the news altogether, replace it with a Drobe feed, and concentrate on the stuff the site does well - maybe some more tutorials, or feature articles. Because it's a good site - just not for news.
Established November 2006 • Staff Sion Cleaver • URL www.ronews.2itb.com
First impressions of this site do not inspire confidence. Two sets of ads, badly laid-out? A horribly big search box? A bloody pop-under? And when I click onto another page, another bloody pop-under? Yeuck. Seriously, there is no reason for this kind of thing. Set up a free blog on webspace that isn't so awful. Anything. It makes the site look ridiculous. As for the front of the site, I can see the rationale - spreading the word, and telling people what RISC OS is. In the end, though, the front page of your site needs to be the news page - the page that's updated the most regularly. All you're doing is annoying your loyal visitors, by inflicting a "What is RISC OS?" piece on them every time they visit.
The news page itself is even worse. It's hardly updated (the last post was a month ago), and when it is, it's stuff that's either rewritten csaa posts, or reported better on Drobe. AcornGamez, co-written by the same person, is well worth a visit, despite its problems - RONews aren't doing anything that isn't done far better elsewhere. It's currently a waste of time.
There is, of course, clearly no question which the best RISC OS news site is - Drobe. By a country mile. You didn't need an article to tell you that.
More interesting perhaps, is the question of how useful the other sites are. The Icon Bar, whilst not now a strictly RISC OS site, has the potential to become something special - but frankly needs a lot more effort from the people writing it to make this happen. ANS does what it does very well, and csaa is also great for what it is. AcornGamez, with a bit of improvement on the design side, could also become well worth reading for games news.
With My RISC OS and RONews, it's hard to see why they bother at all, when other places do the same thing so much better. Both badly need a redesign - but more importantly, both also need a purpose. There's plenty of things they could do to differentiate themselves from the competition, with a bit of effort - if either site could do something new, then they'd be well worth doing. Do some interviews with developers, write some opinion pieces, do some software reviews - those kind of things would make the sites well worth visiting.
So, what do you think? Have I been too harsh? Or too generous? What would you like to see RISC OS portals doing?