|Al-Ahram Weekly Online
7 - 13 March 2002
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
Lighting up the NetNoor launches its new portal at the end of this month and Al-Ahram Weekly was granted an exclusive preview.
Portals in Egypt do not have much of a pedigree. Most expired long ago; others are hobbling painfully along, their cash innards inexorably prolapsing away for no return. But undeterred by these gloomy portal portents, one hardy bunch of souls intends to launch a new one at the end of this month.
The move makes more sense when you learn that the company behind the portal is Noor -- a big Network Provider. Noor's portal is not intended to make money; instead it will be a showcase, encouraging users to log on with Noor's dial-up and take advantage of Noor's premium services. And perhaps severing the portal from the need to pay its way has had a liberating effect: Noor.net boasts some excellent ideas.
The site designers have carefully tailored their efforts to Cairo's young. Noor.net divides into five sections: Music, News, Film, City Life and Digital World. This makes for a straightforward interface that is easy on the eye: a welcome change from the mindless clutter that pervades most Web sites. No brain-dead polls here. The look is in-your-face and funky: pics of Jennifer Lopez smouldering and Sting looking sultry dominate the home page. The colours are a little curious: muted neon is about the best description -- all orange, yellow, purple, green and brown. Layla Tahoun, head of content says the brasher hues fit the youth market Noor aims at.
But content is the thing, as they say. The music and film sections contain in-house reviews and listings (with a focus on stars of the moment); news contains latest happenings; digital world features gadgets and other tech stuff, while the city guide helps you find the best things in Cairo.
Each section has a special feature. Music, for instance, boasts a two-channel Noor-patent on-line radio: one frequency plays Arabic and Western pop, the other plays house music. Noor's mix-guru, Shaza Saker, told Al-Ahram Weekly that several more channels are planned, playing everything from smooth crooners, to slow dances, to Egyptian favourites. As Noor's Web site is held on servers in Egypt, uplink should be fast and glitch-free.
The site glides easily from entertainment to utility: the special feature in the outstanding City Guide lets you choose something you want to do (be that eat, shop, visit a gallery, buy flowers, go swimming) and locates the best place for it in each city district. It also spotlights the latest city crazes, and showcases weird news to titillate the prurient. The cinema section helpfully lists where films are showing, while the tech section tells you where you can buy all those gleaming lifestyle accoutrements and devotes a fun section to unusual Web sites.
The site also encourages users to become part of the Noor family. Noorheads can chat, e-mail, dispute (on the bulletin boards) and schedule all their online fun with a helpful calendar. The site displays in both Arabic and English.
Not everything is perfect. E-mail is not in Arabic (yet), though Tahoun told the Weekly that it is coming. Another ommission is a facility letting users check each other's public profiles so film lovers, say, can unearth and e-chat to each other direct (not everyone wants to go public on the bulletin boards). It would also be helpful to attach clips to the music reviews, so users can hear snatches of what is being written about. Licensing issues may make that a problem, but some labels, especially regional ones, could be persuaded to cooperate. Saker told the Weekly that deals with big record companies were under discussion. In any case, the content team seems open to ideas, and will look carefully at user feedback. One good idea, not yet implemented, but coming, is to allow users to post their own reviews, as on Amazon.com.
That said, the site's content team are already doing well enough on their own. Despite a slight tendency to slip into Just-17 speak (the youth market again?), the site's text is punchy, and refreshingly error-free. All in all, Noor are not trying to do too much with their portal -- and as a result what they have done looks a treat.
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