Dot.life - where technology meets life, every Monday
By David McCandless
If the Olympic judges were to rate each city's bid on their websites, who would win?
Over the last few months, the five cities competing for the 2012 Olympics - London, Paris, New York, Madrid and Moscow - have pulled out the stops to impress the judges from the International Olympic Committee.
But what about the websites? What do they reveal about each city's bid? If you were to rate each on the same criteria as the cities - technical competence, commercial flair, overall style and presentation - who would come out on top? Who has the best facilities? Who sells the best Olympic dream? And, more importantly, who has the best interactive map?
Bold, slick and full of teeth - everything you would expect from New York's bid for Olympic glory.
New York - flashy, but too ambitious?
Love of sport. Passion. That's what this site is selling. Plus a big dollop of diversity drawn from the breadth of the Big Apple's migrant population. And the fact that the city's essential services have signed a 10-year "no-strike" pledge to cover the bid.
A glossy interactive map in ten languages outlines the grand plan to transform the wharves and warehouses of NYC's waterfront into a luxury Olympic village. They even manage to slip in a hitlist of NYC attractions for any browsing tourists
Visually, the site is impressive. The clever logo juxtaposes half the Statue of Liberty with the upstretched arms of a race victor. Yet more still frames of triumphant winners await on every page. Could 2012 be the year, you wonder, when America wins gold in every category?
Alas, a false start on the technical side. NYC2012.com is a Flash-only site. There's no HTML version. Tut-tut. What if the IOC panel want to browse it with their Palms?
In summary, confident and brassy. But too confident? And too brassy?
Predictably, the British bid site is the only one thick with celebrities: David Beckham, Bradley Wiggins, and more mysteriously, Griff Rhys Jones and Joanna Lumley.
Solid, but could it be just a little too dull?
London has a strong emphasis on public involvement. All visitors are encouraged to "Back The Bid online". If you do, your name appears on the homepage, albeit fleetingly. Nice touch.
The site also has a strong focus on what could be London's weakest link: transport. A futuristic train on the homepage leads to a breathless section on the bid's transport system. In 2012, you learn, the new Olympic Javelin shuttle service will be able to carry participants and audiences from continental Europe in just 45 minutes! And London's entire network will be free for ticket holders (presumably so they can't claim a refund when it all collapses).
London also shows off its entrepreneurial flair with a well-stocked online shop, selling 2012 themed T-shirts bags and keyrings. Might as well earn a few bob from the bid process as well, right?
Content-wise, every possible angle is covered, every nuance of information delivered. All backed up with a good swathe of audience-friendly features: kids' area, e-cards, and downloadables. Design and delivery however lack excitement and gloss. The whole site appears a bit "civil service".
Overall, though, an extremely thorough and well-organised offering.
Feels like a rush job
On the first impression, Madrid 2012 has a strong case for its pitch. Over 27,000 volunteers have signed up online to work on the bid. It's a great city - and relatively small. Its excellent transport system would provide the smallest concentrated area for the games. Just 10km, over say 32km for New York City.
But, judging by this site, the Spanish bid is a bit of a mess.
Right from the start, the technology breaks down. The site is not fully compatible with any of the browsers on this judge's Mac. The navigation doesn't work properly. The FAQ links are broken.
Simultaneously, reams of dull information on the individual stadia and facilities clog the visitor experience. The corporate sponsor section is just a list of logos. The design is drab and monotonous.
All in all, the impression is of something slapped together on the evening before the IOC deadline. Half-hearted and not very inspiring. Thumbs down.
The Russian online bid emphasises the stunning architecture and beauty of the city alongside the country's impressive sporting achievements over the past century.
There's also a big focus on the Moscow River as the symbolic centre and main transport artery for athletes. (Alas, the militaristic map used to present the locations looks disturbingly similar to a diagram for the blast radius of a nuclear bomb.)
Glossy and informed, but the map's a bit militaristic
Plus the site is a little hazy on details about the environmental impact of the games. Other sites lead with their eco-credentials. Moscow's are more of a footnote and very non-specific.
Nevertheless, the site works well as a glossy presentation for any passing IOC members. It comes in the broadest range of languages and boasts a remarkable number of supporters. More than 1.1 million have signed up on the site or in person in Manezhnaya Square in Moscow.
The text is dry and informative, and tightly organised with a refreshing lack of "sell". Solid, old-fashioned technology provides few bells and no whistles such as an interactive map (which is a good thing having wrestled with the maps on other sites). This could be a contender.
Clean, pretty, colourful with lots of pictures of the Eiffel tower.
Not too many surprises on the Parisian site, but then many - including the French - believe they already have 2012 in the bag.
Vive la difference - the Paris site is perfectly pitched
Online, the Parisians lead with their impressive environmental credentials, including zero net greenhouse emissions for the entire event and widespread use of renewable energy.
They also make a big shout of super hi-tech facilities that will include a deluxe Olympic Village. Their interactive map, however, while good-looking is overblown with features and icons. This particular judge kept getting desperately lost in the thickets of virtual Paris.
Nevertheless, something about this site radiates quiet confidence. It mixes a love of sport ("L'Amour Des Jeux" is their slogan) with impressions of playfulness and high culture. Solid technology provides speedy menus with not too much fanciness. Design is clean and understated. And it's the only site that doesn't go on and on about its worth. Each section is limited to a single page of text.
Overall, it's impressive. If the IOC decided to forgo personal inspection and VIP visits to the cities and just fired up their modems instead, this website would guarantee Paris the win.