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BBC Online - Putting Quality First

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Erik Huggers Erik Huggers | 12:23 UK time, Wednesday, 11 August 2010

In March this year, the BBC announced a new strategy - Putting Quality First. These proposals, which are subject to BBC Trust approval, chart a new long-range direction for the BBC and would enable the BBC to deliver on its public purposes in the digital age. Central to this strategy is a proposal to transform BBC Online.
In its initial conclusions on strategy review, the BBC Trust said they "endorsed" the proposed budget reduction for the service, but wanted to "understand and approve the editorial changes involved".This work has now begun, so while I'm not able to outline changes in precise detail today, I hope this gives a sense of where we intend to take BBC Online as a whole.
I'm proud of what this organisation has created online. One of the first "traditional" media companies to embrace the web, I continue to be impressed with its ability to innovate and BBC websites such as News, Sport, iPlayer and others are highly valued by our audiences.
But the service as a whole has sprawled. In striving to stay relevant, we have sometimes not been clear enough about our limits and boundaries. We're getting a better sense of what BBC Online should be for and I believe it's possible to make the service better with less.
Many of you will be familiar with the headlines of the Strategy Review. By 2013, we propose a BBC Online that:
• Does fewer things better, against the BBC's five editorial priorities
• Has half the number of top-level directories (i.e. /sitename) down from the 400 we have today to 200
• Costs 25% less (i.e. the BBC Online Service Licence for 2010/11 is £135m - we intend to cut spend to £100m)
• Will send double the traffic we currently do to other websites, helping the broader UK digital economy
While it's natural that people focus on the 25% and which directories will go it's worth noting that this strategy is not called "Retreating From the Web" or "Cutting BBC Online". This is because the web is an important part of our future.
Today, around 70% of UK homes have broadband and we expect this number to rise to 90% by 2012. So in just two years the internet will have taken its place as the nation's third medium, available in almost as many homes as TV and radio.
Beyond the home computer, mobiles are already the primary point of web access for many people. With innovation from companies such as Apple, Google, Sky, Virgin, Project Canvas (in which the BBC is set to become a shareholder) and others - this may soon be true for the TV set.
As a public service media company, it's essential that we move with our audiences, but while we reach 84% of the population on TV and 73% on radio, our online reach lags behind at just 54%. Continued sprawl is not the answer; we need a focused service that gives audiences the content and services they want at their fingertips, meets our public purposes in the digital age and leaves space for others to thrive.
From building websites to managing products
The image below gives you an idea of what we are trying to achieve.

BBC Online started with text-based journalism on the web - similar to the service on Ceefax. Then, as the web began to mature, new media budgets were given to the BBC's divisions to go and build websites that aimed to meet our public purposes online - but with no central strategy.
Our first major change will be a shift from "building websites" to "managing products".
First I want to explain what we consider to be a "product". It's a self-contained entity within BBC Online, which unites technology and editorial to meet a clearly defined audience need. Each product has a simple and concise proposition that's easily understood by the audience, is kept up to date, fits the overall strategy for BBC Online and has clear editorial leadership.
It's a strategic approach for the service as a whole - framed by what our audiences need from the web, rather than what we produce today for TV and radio - a change in culture for BBC Online.
Audiences will see products organised into five content areas (portfolios) supported by a common technical platform.  
Powerful functionality to help audiences find great content and services
Before I talk about the proposed portfolios, a word on what's going to be common across the site.

Under the current structure, people come to BBC Online from a range of different places, get what they are looking for and leave. By making other content elsewhere in the site easier to search for (or navigate to) we offer better value for money as audiences uncover interesting content and services that they may not have been looking for.
While the homepage provides an overview of what the BBC does, most people don't come through our front door. In addition to search, navigation, and consistent design, social functionality through BBC iD can harness the power of recommendation on networks outside the BBC.
Underpinning all of this, we'll have a common technology platform powering the whole service delivering economies of scale and cost-saving technologies such as programme-page automation.
The platform allows the service to be location-aware, providing the right content in the right language to users across the UK and globally. Dynamic content publishing makes it simple and cost-effective to repurpose content for use in mobile or TV applications and world-class accessibility features aim to build on the pioneering work the team has done to bring subtitles to BBC iPlayer.
Finally, the platform houses the BBC's rich archive content: video and radio programmes, the written archive, programme information and more can be stored and in time be made available through all the product portfolios. This is a major project that will take years to complete, but we are putting the building blocks in place now.
A commitment to deliver the best online journalism in the world
The first proposed product portfolio is News, Sport and Weather. BBC journalism stands for quality, impartiality, accuracy and distinctiveness - a major reason why the BBC as a whole is one of the most trusted and respected organisations in the world.

News, Sport and Weather will remain a cornerstone of the BBC's web offer, partly because the immediacy of the web lends itself well to journalism. Each will remain pillars of BBC Online, delivering the best journalism in the world for the UK and in national and global editions.
As video on the web comes of age, we intend to further enrich our web journalism with audio-visual content - drawing on our strengths in broadcasting. Already we're making progress here with the recently redesigned BBC News site and the BBC News smartphone application.
But our News, Sport & Weather products need to do a better job of sending traffic elsewhere, both internally (e.g. sending sports journalism to BBC Radio 5 Live or weather forecasts to science & nature) and beyond. Already the BBC is the second biggest referrer of traffic to online newspapers, something we want to do even better.
And sport will make a major contribution to our fifth editorial priority - major events that bring the nation and communities together. We're committed to creating compelling editorial partnerships for London 2012, and beyond.
Outstanding children's content in a safe online environment
Providing outstanding children's content is another of the BBC's five editorial priorities and we will continue to deliver this in a safe, social environment.

As we recently announced, our FM&T product team will be joining BBC Children's in a new digital hub in Salford. The CBeebies and CBBC brands have been a huge success, and our online proposition will build stronger bridges between the two. BBC Children's will use their unique knowledge of this audience to provide links to other BBC content such as news and learning.
As children enter BBC Online through an environment familiar to them, they can quickly access a broader range of content to expand their horizons.
Knowledge & Learning to become a cornerstone of a new-look service
Despite the internet's roots as an information tool, the BBC has been a pioneer in online knowledge and learning. We have developed compelling online content for learners and teachers, and created some well-known online learning brands (such as Bitesize) in the process.
5.jpgThis new portfolio aims to replicate the success of News, Sport & Weather. We intend to enhance informal learning by creating a mix of original and archive knowledge content, focused on key areas of BBC expertise - and create distinctive formal learning propositions for two age groups: under and over 19s.
By bringing these two important areas together, presenting them clearly and coherently, and making the content easier to find and navigate to from elsewhere in the site, we intend to make knowledge and learning another cornerstone of the reshaped BBC Online.
Bringing radio & music together in one portfolio
Our Audio & Music division has been incredibly innovative in embracing emerging digital technologies, such as podcasts, live online listening, and creating an in-depth music offer, many music events websites and rich radio network websites.

6.jpgBut BBC radio and music online remains highly fragmented and the audience doesn't move between websites as much as we'd like, or to elsewhere in BBC Online.
We intend to bring together all BBC radio and music - including network, local and nations, news, events and archive - in one coherent online package. And true to the live and interactive principles of radio, we'll focus on social media to interact with our audience in real-time.
Harnessing the passion and knowledge of BBC experts, our aim is to continue as a music tastemaker and become a hub for online music discovery - but with strong integration with Radioplayer, internal linking, and links to external music sites to broaden horizons.
A coherent TV proposition, to build on the success of BBC iPlayer
The BBC iPlayer has been a great success for the BBC, making online video consumption a mainstream activity for millions of people. At first a TV catch-up service, it's evolved into an online product for live and on-demand BBC radio and TV content.

7.jpgBut as in radio and music, the journeys for audiences looking for video content can be confusing, with multiple entry points through automated programme pages, the archive site, bespoke channel and programme sites, drama and comedy and the BBC iPlayer itself.
We intend to create a coherent TV & BBC iPlayer proposition, pulling all these TV propositions together, optimised to help audiences find, watch, share, and interact around our TV-related output.
Not only will this new-look portfolio be richly interconnected with BBC Online's other four product portfolios, but we'll be sending traffic to services outside the BBC through the metadata partnerships announced at the launch of the new BBC iPlayer beta in May.
Broadening audiences' horizons - aiding content discovery beyond the BBC
One of the wonders of the web is its ability to inform, educate and entertain every person in the world, right down to the exact specific interests they have. It truly is a platform that can be customised for anyone.
But the BBC cannot and should not do everything.
In news, rival media outlets will take a different editorial position on the news agenda. There's an inherent public service in highlighting these other points of view.
Other cultural institutions, such as the British Museum and British Library have rich and different web content than we are able to provide, and equally, there's little value in the BBC duplicating the public service information on offer elsewhere.  We can work together to create compelling public service partnerships.
Collectively, these new portfolios would combine to create a far more focussed, smaller, higher-quality BBC Online that will serve our audiences well, leave plenty of room for others and double the traffic we send externally by 2013.
Today, I've updated the BBC staff on our intentions for the service. By properly harnessing the incredible talent we have in this organisation, I believe we can make BBC Online an even better service for our audiences, and spend less in the process.

Erik Huggers is Director of BBC Future Media & Technology


  • Comment number 1.

    There's still a mix of platforms and genres in the new diagram.

    What happens with a pan-BBC initiative like World Cup or History of the World where output sits on TV, Radio and Genres?

    By having platforms in there at all, it seems to negate a cross-platform approach to content delivery.

  • Comment number 2.

    Does any of the above explain why the RSS feeds are now completely 'overloaded', or why there is a reluctance to enter in to any type of dialogue about this problem.

    e.g. the current feed at :


    Contains 80 items - not only is this this far too many for a manageable feed, but they appear to be open to un-modulated inclusion by a number of sections within the News Department - and have little if any chronological regulation.

    All in all they have gone from being a valuable tool to being a disorderly conglomeration.

    This seems to have happened at the same time as the re-design of the Web Site, and I have been living in hope that it was be an oversight that would be corrected, but it seems not.

  • Comment number 3.

    All very laudable, I'm sure, but am I alone in thinking that there are thousands of us out here who would be deliriously happy NOT to get the "This content doesn't appear to be working. Please try again later" message when one tries to "Listen again" on Radios 2, 4 and 7? All very irritating, especially when one is trying to follow a serial. I've lost count of how many programmes I have missed, even when trying again later!

  • Comment number 4.

    'Our first major change will be a shift from "building websites" to "managing products".'
    Please don't - I'm quite fond of websites. You say that products are "self-contained" entities. But one of the beauties of the web is its interdependencies. I don't want to see lots of individual silos each doing its own thing; I'd prefer to see lots of pages richly interlinked with each other. The value of the web comes from the links, not the pages themselves.

    Also, I don't really get the reasoning behind some of your new categories. Why are TV and Radio in separate categories? Does this mean that iPlayer will no longer have any radio content? And what about the many programmes that appear on both media? (Proms, Doctor Who, Eurovision, Olympics, Glastonbury etc.) Radio 4 has much more in common with BBC4 than Radio 1 - I don't see why you're making such an arbitrary distinction based on whether or not pictures get broadcast along with the sound.

    May I suggest my own 5 categories for BBC online?

    Programmes are at the heart of the BBC. Ask anyone around the world what the BBC does and programmes will the be the main answer. It doesn't matter if these programmes are on TV, Radio, Online only or through some new technology yet to be invented.

    The concept behind /programmes is a very strong one: One page for every programme. It doesn't matter what medium the programme is on. It doesn't matter whether the programme was broadcast decades ago, or is due to be shown next Tuesday. It doesn't matter who holds the right to the programme. Every programme gets its own page.

    The current problems arise when you start to duplicate content. Recent programmes get added to iPlayer. Some older programmes get added to the archive. Children's programmes get added to the cbeebies site. Flagship programmes get given their own bespoke pages separate from /programmes
    The solution? Get rid of all the duplicates. Just have one page per programme. If you have the rights to show the programme, embed it on that page. If its a children's programme, add some bright colours and rounded corners so that parents feel its safe. If you want a top level directory for a programme, make it redirect to its programme page.
    But whatever you do, you need a consistent structure for providing information about the BBC's output across all media.

    I agree with you that news should be a pillar of BBC Online. (And I noticed you didn't mention blogs on your diagram, so I've stuck them in here).

    Its important that the BBC help support learning for both children and adults through things like bitesize and Jam (R.I.P.)

    BBC Programmes contain lots of information and its very helpful to be able to reference this information online. Resources such as Wildlife Finder, Recipies and /music are invaluable. It would be great to see resources such as these available in other areas too.

    The BBC already makes games such as Doctor Who: the adventure games and Bamzooki Zookkit. In the press, games are often portrayed as an anti-social waste of time; but they are, in fact, an excellent way to educate, inform and entertain all at the same time. The BBC should make more games.

    You may have noticed that I left out the children's category. This is because I think the BBC should provide content suitable for children in every category: Newsround articles in the news, recepies that don't involve hot cookers in /food and Bob the Builder in /music. By all means link to them from a central /children portal, but the content should be part of the relevant part of the BBC site.

  • Comment number 5.

    Unlike a poster above I am unconcerned about how you split the areas (msg #1 & #5)into 5 "platforms" as I realise overlap will occur, and the schematic is necessarily an oversimplification

    _ SUCCESS _
    I am also glad you intend to continue iPlayer and iPlayer TV (or TV & Radio) output. As clearly the internet is a fast growing opportunity that, is developing as a basic essential utility of modern life. The BBC rightly have a prominent and respected position on the web.

    _ FAILING _
    A major disapointment is that the BBC quality control, fault reporting, and customer feedback is a total shambles. more befitting a third rate for profit retailer, than a technologically advanced service sector leader.
    - The BBC has no consistent way of advising iPlayer users of problems in a timely & efficient manner.
    - The contact form system is apparently designed merely to deflect all complaints and enquiries in to an easily confined trash bin to be ignored, or dismissed.
    ( one of my comments on this and the vicious circle explained )

    An example of the sort of improvements we can expect with this will I suppose be something similar to the IMPROVED contact form mentioned above, that was a global improvement, forcing iPlayer users to restrict comments on technical matters to 350 characters, and making a nonsense of the BBC's own instructions in some BBC FAQs that users submit logfiles to the BBC technical departments by pasting them into contact forms.

  • Comment number 6.

    I'm pretty much in agreement with lucas42's comment. It's a web. It's the web. It's not an archipelago.

    People don't really care how the internal BBC org chart draws the battle lines, and so distinctions between departments shouldn't really end up leaking out into the public eye on a medium where it doesn't matter.

    That said, some positivity: there's a lot of cruft sitting around on bbc.co.uk, and some of it's quite tricky to find (other parts of it aren't as tricky to find as some might like, too!). But there's also some brilliant stuff. /programmes and /nature are works of art, for example (especially when conneg's working).

    Quietly and gradually, we're seeing a shift from bbc.co.uk being a great big (clever) brochure for everything else that the corporation does into being capitalised upon as an important medium in and of itself, and one which is a smaller fish (one site) in a massive pond (the whole Web). This is a Good Thing.

  • Comment number 7.

    As I mentioned in another comment, the BBC should look to utilizing the 'man-power' of the millions of visitors it receives to the site. The BBC wants to put quality first, so lets put the BBC to the test and give us the tools to 'like' or 'vote' content and articles that we like, and to 'recommend' comments added by users, so that we can help the best of the best surface to the top and help save us time by burying the mundane to oblivion.

    If any help is needed with usability testing and working out the best practice approach, I'd be happy to discuss it further with anyone, just get in touch. :)

  • Comment number 8.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 9.

    How low can you go?
    I have noticed steady decrease in quality of BBC news over the years.
    Lately especially the decline quickens. You seem to be transfixed by the USA model of highlighting trivia, rationalised as “human interest”.
    I notice often (usually on the lower right-hand side of your website) a little picture of a dog or cat who has made the international news by having performed another miracle. I have nothing against dogs and cats, but when I look at BBC I want to find out the important international news. There are plenty of dog and cat websites I can refer to when I want these interesting little titbits.

    I suppose your rationalisation is that “the public likes it” and this is the way you attract people to your website, and make them happy.

    However, you are of course fooling yourselves. We want the important news of the world - that is why we turn to BBC. You are just distracting us with those cute pictures and incomprehensible headlines, so that we are forced to click just to understand what the riddle is all about.

    The worst is the type of headline I see today: “Paris Hilton sued for wearing ‘wrong hair’. I have absolutely no interest in Paris Hilton or hair styles. But this very strange, ununderstandable headline forces me to click. I dutifully click, read the absurd story, satisfy the false curiosity, and at the end realise that I have just wasted my time reading something I have absolutely no interest in reading. You have succeeding in diverting me from the important news of the day. In doing this, you are doing me (and the world) a great disservice. If you had put the headline in a simpler way, like your first sentence: “Paris Hilton is being sued by a hair extension company which alleges she wore a rival's hair product.” I would not have bothered to click.

    I am sure you can find more important news somewhere in the world.

  • Comment number 10.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 11.

    I do wish you and Mark Thompson would stop using the phrase "doing fewer things better". Do you not realise it's nonsense? "Doing fewer things, but doing them better" is presumably what you're trying to say. Instead it reads as though you want to do fewer things better than the competition, or to reduce quality across the board (which may be the net result of your plans - we'll have to see about that).

  • Comment number 12.

    Also: "Today, I've updated the BBC staff on our intentions for the service." Not in my division you didn't, but then most BBC staff are well used to hearing announcements in the press before they're relayed by Internal Comms.

  • Comment number 13.

    Interesting blog with laudable intent and insightful comments.
    Alas, one month after the news redesign debacle all I could think of was that this blog title was written with either irony or (see above comments on customer feedback) sarcasm.

  • Comment number 14.

    All a bit too fluffy and woffly for me.

    What I'm looking for is:
    * A reversion to long, detailed, news stories on a news web site considerably better than the one currently on offer. Less prominence to video and other high-bandwidth-only content.

    * an end to click-click-click multiple page hierarchies. For example, why is it so clumsy getting from http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts to actually listening to Mark Kermode? Why are there separate podcast and programme pages, and why are both of them so woefully empty of actual content? Most are like empty picture frames.

    * A simple way to get radio station schedules, and click straight from the timetable to 'listen again' or a web page. Ideally 'listen again' would display the programme web page at the same time as running the audio. I don't want a whole tab full of the iplayer front panel for no sensible reason at all. There is nothing to read there.

    * live cricket scores that are just a scorecard, not a load of surrounding decoration. Perhaps with the option to play TMS directly and without loosing the scorecard display.

    * more, and better, science reporting. By informed people. Ben Goldacre is a treasure, and Tim Harford effortless to listen to. We need more like them.

  • Comment number 15.

    LOL. More like putting BBC Worldwide, and advertising revenues first.
    Quality was lost with the farce that is the News site, and Herrmann's refusal to continue any dialogue.

  • Comment number 16.

    I guess this is just another blog in which its author tells us what we want instead of actually asking us what we want - just like the 5000+ comments about the News website re-design and the unmanageable (and apparently unmanaged) RSS Feed.

    As per usual, the BBC will pay lip service to the people who pay their wages and carry on regardless.

  • Comment number 17.

    Hello Again

    I can't tell you how relieved I was to see johnon's post.

    I was beginning to think it was just me.

    What has happened to the RSS feed.

    Could some member of 'staff' explain current thinking or confirm that there is none.

    Why is a dialogue on this topic ignored?

    The very least response would indicate in which direction discussion should be aimed.

    Please don't ignore us.

  • Comment number 18.

    Hello John Prince and Jonon,

    Here’s a response from the technical team.

    The number of stories shown in each RSS feed reflects those shown on the page it represents – in this case the News Front Page. As part of the refresh, we now show more stories and features on the Front Page – hence why the RSS feed now shows around 80 entries. The order in which they are shown is down to the individual RSS reader and this hasn't changed since the refresh – Internet Explorer shows RSS feed in publication date order, whereas Firefox shows the RSS feed in the order the stories are shown on the index page.

    Best wishes,

    Bridget, Editor – About the BBC website

  • Comment number 19.

    @Bridget: Thanks for the response and the explanation.

    However, I can't help feeling it sort-of defeats the object of what should be an up-to-the-minute RSS Feed. In Firefox, the list scrolls over more than two pages on my 1280 x 1024 screen to contain 81 items. Sky News manages to catch the salient points in just 10 items.

  • Comment number 20.

    Hello Bridget

    Thank you so much for your reply.

    It is probably just a coincidence that 'johnon' and I appear to have the save first names, but I can only echo his comments above.

    What used to be a valuable source of, and in my case anyway, was the first port of call for news, has now deteriorated into a worthless item.

    I also use Firefox, as do about at least a third of European Internet Users, and even when used in conjunction with the LiveClick Add-on I'm afraid your product has become far too unwieldy to be practical.

    Just as an example there is far to much 'provincial' material. If I want local news, from whatever part of the U.K., I can get that by subscribing to the relevant local pages.

    We also seem to have a direct line to the Glasgow, Cardiff and Belfast newsrooms and receive their content regardless of its relevance to the U.K. as a whole.

    Also, instead of News, 'Magazine' type articles abound - I could give you many examples - but just have a look at the feed, and I'm sure you will see what I mean.

    My main question was whether the inclusion of items on the News Home Page is Moderated/Edited, or whether it comes about as a result of an amalgamation of inputs from various sources?

    Is there/could you provide an alternative RSS Feed which would re-create the service which appears to have become a casualty of the recent changes, or will we be forced to look elsewhere for an unbiased summary of current and up to date National and International News Headlines?

    I'm not sure where that would be as the B.B.C.'s most important USP is that unbiased view.

    Techinically the answer may lie in 'tagging' of articles, as it is possible to exclude items based on their tags, but all my experiments with this have failed in the past due to inconsistencies at the initial creation of them within the Corporation. [e.g. Not all sports items are tagged as 'sport']

    Whatever you resposnse to this, can you say if this is the best place to provide input on this important matter, and if not where you would suggest it should be discussed.


    John Prince

    PS I have tried subscribing to the individual feeds for U.K. and World, but these does not provide a suitable solution.

    PPS Is there any current consultation process being undertaken by The Trust that is considering this aspect of your service?

  • Comment number 21.

    Just to support Karen... the doing fewer things better certainly hasn't happened to News.... which has has rapidly lost its more serious resders judging by the 'Popular' list. unless the idea is to give up on 'news' values and replace it with celebs, kittens and 'fancy that' It looks as though Murdoch has won....

    As for the proposed strategy.... just give us a heap, some tags, and a proper search engine, and let the programme makers fight for space if they want it.

  • Comment number 22.

    One good thing (amongst many) about the Independent online is that each main heading (UK, World, Business, Science, etc) has it's own separate 'Most Popular' list.

    If The BBC adopted a similar approach, each separate list could be given its own RSS Feed. The readers themselves would then determine what appears in each list. And each list would be a more sensible 10 - 15 items.

  • Comment number 23.


    Thank you all for your comments. I've already posted responses to some of the comments about RSS - and from a further conversation with Anthony Sullivan who is responsible for BBC News products, I understand that the BBC News RSS feed strategy will be reviewed in the near future and we'll feed your comments and suggestions into this.

    I haven't been able to respond to some of the other points because Erik is on holiday at the moment. We'll come back to you in September when he's back.

    Bridget, Editor, About the BBC website

  • Comment number 24.

    Bridget - Thank you again for your refreshing input.

    I'm sure that all the regular users of the RSS Feed Service will be heartened to hear that the issue will receive some attention soon.

    We can only hope that this will give us back something of the wonderful resource it used to be.


    John Prince
    [Willing volunteer for Betas]

  • Comment number 25.

    Hello World -

    Not sure where to raise this, but the RSS Feed links appear to have gone AWOL from the BBC News Pages.

    They still work if you are lucky enough to have them already.

    I know there was some criticism of them here, but I hope they are not on their way out.

    Good Prognosis - They are being 'improved'

    Bad Prognosis - They are being discontinued.

    Are you there Bridget?



  • Comment number 26.

    Here is a possible solution - wonder why it has been hidden away :


    Much more manageable.




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