Olympics Online: Who Wins The Gold Medal For Best Website?

We're well into the second week of the London 2012 Olympics, so which media website is winning with its online coverage? NBC fell at the first hurdle with its TV scheduling, but did the network get back into the race with its website? What about the New York Times, with its muscular web development? Or hometown favorite the BBC, with the crowd behind it - not to mention the wallet of the British taxpayer. In this post we'll compare the main media outlets and see which ones are medal-worthy.

Gold: The New York Times

The New York Times Olympics website is as sleek and good looking as an American track athlete. The site is a compelling combination of facts and figures, news analysis, interactive graphs and multimedia (video and photos). It's also beautifully laid out, with clear navigation. Not only did the NYT build an Olympics site for itself, it partnered with Reuters to syndicate the data and content to other publications.

A highlight of the NYT website is its data-based graphics. Here's an example from the 400m freestyle swimming race, won by China's Sun Yang:

It's a relatively simple graph showing when Yang won the race (the last quarter). Below that is a geographical view of previous winners of this event. I was able to click on my country, New Zealand, to see Danyon Loader's name pop up for 1996. Although I was unable to click on Loader's name - or Yang's for that matter - to find out more details about the swimmer.

Here's another example, which is more in-depth. It's a bubble-based view of the medal table.

Hover over a country and you see its medal tally. Click on it and the data underneath the graph changes to show all of that country's medal results.

Silver: The Guardian

Just about anything the Guardian does on the Web is innovative and polished - and its Olympics coverage has been no exception. The NYT seemed slightly more satisfactory to us in terms of breadth and depth of stories, and ability to move around the site, but the Guardian does have some outstanding features. In particular, a "second screen" subsite.

It's a browser website, but it works best on a tablet. The idea is to offer real-time information - news, statistics, photos, tweets and more - on your tablet device while you watch the Olympics on TV. Very handy!

Like the NYT, the Guardian makes a good attempt at offering interactive data services. For example, a daily updated Olympic medal table ranked by GDP, population and team size.

The New Zealand team ranked third, by population. That's something for this author to be proud of.

Bronze: BBC

The host nation's public broadcaster, the BBC, has been widely praised for its television coverage. There are up to 24 live channels devoted to the Olympics at any one time. As for its website, the coverage is solid - if unspectacular. There is plenty of Olympics news and photos, with a bias towards Team Great Britain (as to be expected with any national publication).

One of the more interesting features is the BBC's Event Guides.

These guides not only explain the various Olympics sports - very helpful for sports like fencing and equestrian, which only enthusiasts follow outside of the Olympics - but they encourage you to give the sports a go yourself.

Runners-Up

The Official London 2012 Olympics Website

While not a media website per se, the London 2012 Olympics website is a good place to get the latest news and photos. It features Facebook integration, including the dreaded frictionless sharing ("Your friends will see the articles you've read and the events you've celebrated."). The official site has been active too on its Facebook and Twitter accounts - we've noticed athletes re-tweeting the official account a lot.

The Telegraph

The British daily has a comprehensive website, including some interesting infographics.

USA Today

USA Today brings its trademark strengths of storytelling and explanatory graphics to the Olympics, with an informative website. We recommend you check out the interactive section.

NBC

NBC's Olympics website was the place to go for American viewers who wanted to watch the Olympics live. Alternatively people could access live coverage online in other, sometimes less legal, ways. Apart from the live video though, NBC's website is solid but unexciting.

ESPN

ESPN has a nice collection of video commentaries and written opinion pieces, if you can stand the eye-scorchingly bright red background of its Olympics subsite.

Yahoo

Yahoo's coverage is fine, but there are better places to get your Olympics news and results. It does though have some useful athlete profiles, along with a sappy "Team Mom" section (featuring interviews of mothers of athletes).

Reuters

Reuters has a standalone website, in addition to partnering with the NYT. Its own website is well designed, but seems devoid of the personality of other media sites.

Of course there are many other media websites out there which have good coverage of the Olympics. If we missed your favorite, please add it to the comments!

See also: Social Olympics: Does The Gold Medal Go To Facebook, Twitter or Google+?