has an interim report on the quirky new online edition of our largest English newspaper

The Japan Times is beta than ever. The venerable organ “without fear or favor” launched the beta version of its new online edition on Jan. 23.

At first glance, it looks good. The HTML5-based design is crisp, clear and easy to navigate on a mobile, that is. It’s been designed to work on PCs, tablets and mobiles without a special app, but it’s quite obvious that the focus has been on the latter two understandable, perhaps, in a country where mobiles dominate the world of internet access while the former suffers as a result.

On a PC, there’s too much “air” from taking the creative use of white space concept too far. The typeface is needlessly large on all devices, meaning relatively little content can be viewed at one time. On the whole, the new JT website looks more bloggish than newsy. The websites of the Guardian and The New York Times are the gold standard for online newspapers, and the JT should take a leaf from their books.

The “beta” tag means the revamped site is still a work in progress. Not all the content from the older site can be viewed on the new site. “We will be migrating the legacy content over the coming weeks,” the JT explains in the webspeak that is geekdom’s vernacular.

The JT promises more multimedia content as the site develops. You can already view movie trailers that are handily placed at the top of reviews by the paper’s terrific trio of film critics (Fazio, Schilling and Shoji). Very cool.

One of the old JT website’s major failings was its wonky search function, which delivered incomplete results that weren’t in chronological order. The beta version’s search engine is something of an improvement, but the results are still inconsistent. Using my surname as the search term yields several stories I’ve written over the past few years, or articles by other writers who’ve quoted me (for reasons best known to themselves). But some of my stories and those by various colleagues just don’t come up at all unless you use another search term. Definitely a bug that needs fixing.

In my December column, I lamented the lack of a readers’ comments feature on the JT’s website. Well, now it has one.

As you’d expect, readers’ comments are moderated, which makes sense. The JT helpfully suggests that people “ . . . take a deep breath and consider the consequences of your comment before you submit it.” Wise words, indeed but it seems more than a few readers are holding their breath, judging from the relative paucity of comments posted on the site so far.

One exception is Ian Martin’s excellent Feb. 1 analysis of the imbroglio surrounding AKB48 member Minami Minegishi’s head shaving penance for engaging in some shagosity with a member of the male gender, contrary to the rules laid down by the group’s management. As of Feb. 14, 67 JT readers had posted comments about the story, and there were 330 online “reactions” (mainly tweets) to the piece.

The Club’s own Bob Whiting chimed in with a very perceptive and well informed comment regarding a Feb. 11 story titled “Violent coaching rooted in militarism,” pointing out that violent coaching methods predate the onset of militarism in Japan.

We’re told that JT readers can also look forward to an email update service in the near future. I guess that’s a good thing, but I hope it doesn’t mean a deluge of emails in my already overcrowded inbox.

Steve McClure has lived in Tokyo since 1985. Formerly Billboard magazine’s Asia Bureau Chief, he now publishes the online music-industry newsletter