A 'beta' version of the BBC's new homepage

Wednesday 21 September 2011, 11:00

Phil Fearnley Phil Fearnley General Manager for News & Knowledge

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Screenshot of the new BBC homepage, launching in beta testing on 21 September 2011, with the hashtag #BBCHomepage

In my role as General Manager for News & Knowledge at BBC Future Media, I oversee eight of the 10 major areas (we call these 'products') of BBC Online working with my editorial counterparts - including the BBC homepage. Today, we relaunched the homepage in a test ('beta') version for public use and feedback. The new page is accessible from a link at the top of the current homepage, or directly at beta.bbc.co.uk. I hope that users who give the new homepage a go find it much improved. My colleague James Thornett has written about the relaunch in more detail over on the BBC Internet Blog and would like to know what audiences think. Please leave your feedback comments on his blog post.

As users start to use the new homepage, I wanted to explain why we've introduced changes.

In last year's Strategy Review ('Putting Quality First') we proposed a BBC Online which:

  • Had half the number of top-level directories, down from the 400 we had then (i.e. /sitename)
  • Cost 25% less to run (i.e. the BBC Online Service Licence for 2010/11 is £135m - we intend to cut spend to £100m)
  • Sent double the traffic we did then to external websites, helping the broader UK digital economy
  • Made more Nations & Regions content available
  • And, critically, did 'fewer things, better'.

We're making progress in all of these areas and in January of this year, we outlined how we would address the challenge of doing more with less - importantly a move away from building websites via separate new media budgets, towards one cohesive online service with clear lines of accountability.

But this is more than just sound governance - the changes will create a more distinctive, joined-up service for licence fee-payers which is recognizably 'BBC', and greater clarity for the industry in terms of how much we'll do on the web, setting boundaries for what we will and won't do online.

We've arrived at a BBC Online service comprising ten distinct areas or 'products'. Each product is at a different stage of its life: BBC News and BBC iPlayer are both concrete propositions; others, like the fledgling BBC Knowledge & Learning product are approaching the final stages of definition. All will be built on the same shared infrastructure to allow a more seamless transition between them.

The third dimension to our strategy is to provide greater value for money for licence fee-payers, by broadening access to our products across four screens - beyond the web to mobile, tablet, and connected TV. Our BBC News product demonstrates this commitment: it's available on the web, as a mobile and tablet application, and more recently has been optimized for connected TV, launching on the Samsung Smart TV platform in June.

Slide illustrating the idea of one service, ten products, four screens

One service, ten products, four screens

So we summarise this strategy as: 'one service, ten products, four screens'.

The homepage occupies a unique position within BBC Online: though BBC Online is a distinct service, and the homepage a single product within it, editorially the page can show off the breadth of content we make available on the web. But showing this breadth has been our perennial challenge. To date we've made tweaks to a relatively static page to better fulfil this purpose; with the move to a new technical platform, we've had the opportunity to rebuild the page from first for the 9 million-plus average weekly unique browsers.

The new BBC homepage launched in beta today marks a departure from the way we've approached this challenge until now and introduces a new, more visual approach to showing off our content on the web, and eventually on mobile, tablet, and connected TV devices too. Other features include:

  • Simple filters enabling users to tailor the page based on their interests.
  • Sliding 'drawers' to reveal more or less detail from showcases of the most popular content from all of BBC Online at any time and real-time listings for BBC TV and Radio.
  • At-a-glance aspects - news and sport headlines, weather forecasts with lottery and travel news updates to follow, plus traditional index-based navigation for quick look-up.
  • In time, nations' homepages united into a single product to provide relevant local and national information based on a user's choice of location - a key 'Putting Quality First' commitment.

We believe the redesigned page makes it easier for visitors to find the content they're looking for, whilst discovering something new - I hope you agree.

Phil Fearnley is General Manager for News & Knowledge, BBC Future Media

  • More about the beta release of the new BBC homepage in the press release on the BBC Press Office web site.

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    Comment number 1.

    I'm sorry to say the new homepage is awful compared to the innovative, customisable old one.

    I had the old one customised to show me exactly the news, tv, weather and sport I was interested in; with a simple scroll down I could see all the headlines I wanted to.

    The new one shows me very little content, and what little is shown, it's not what I'm looking for. Far from making it "easier for visitors to find the content they're looking for", it actually makes it much harder to find the content I'm looking for by only showing me content chosen by the BBC.

    It is clear that this would be a good design for a tablet, but as a desktop homepage it is atrocious. It costs nothing to keep the original homepage as a desktop homepage and use the new one as a tablet homepage or for the (I'm sure few) users who prefer it as a desktop homepage.

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    Comment number 2.

    It is a pity that the international viewers cannot enjoy the benefits of version 4 (?) of the BBC homepage. I do understand that the international viewers need to see advertisements to cover the costs, but why can overseas viewers not see the same page as we see.
    Have you ever been abroad and looked at the BBC homepage. Not exactly something you can be proud of.
    So, will the international version of the hompage be changed to mimick the UK version? And if yes, when?

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    Comment number 3.

    How do you change the location. I'm not in London, I'm in Brighton and Hove. I expected to be able to click on "LONDON" to change it.

    Is there supposed to be some way the location is being determined?

    It looks OK. Not sure if "CBeebies" is my kind of "knowledge" but I guess this new home page isn't for people with any actual intelligence...

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    Comment number 4.

    Thanks for your feedback.

    Piet, I understand that there are no plans to update the international homepage at the moment.

    Briantist, you can't currently set your location on the beta homepage. You'll be able to in later versions. James Thornett, head of the homepage, has more in a comment on his post for the BBC Internet blog. And CBeebies is included in knowledge because that's where it lives in the BBC's organisational structure. I know that the homepage team will be looking at the organisation of content areas on the page during the testing period.

    Steve Bowbrick, editor, About the BBC

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    Comment number 5.

    It's ugly. There was NOTHING wrong with what is the current home page in my opinion. It allowed me to view what I wanted, with as much detail as I wanted (eg regional news, football if I wanted it to show me 7 stories on the homepage under the regional news section, it'd show me the 7 most recent regional news stories), and if I didn't want to see a section, eg knowledge, gardening, science, etc, I could just get rid of it. The new version I can clearly see is going to be absolutely horrific compared to the current version. I seemingly won't be allowed to customise the new version, putting things where I want, getting rid of the things I don't want to see, unable to increase the number of news stories I see on the homepage, forced to see things I don't want to see, in a cluttered, messy, ugly way. I implore you to abandon this change. It looks horrific.

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    Comment number 6.

    i dont like the new bbc, it does not have relevant infomation that i care about, please dont change it!

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    Comment number 7.

    One thing which makes the current BBC homepage great is the ability to customise where you want each subject, such as News and Sport, and get rid of others that are of no interest to me. The new, more visual, homepage seems very impersonal, and not very useful. I think the beta would be a massive improvement on the current one - but only if this feature is retained.

    Also, the second and third pages on the 'BBC online today' section seem to be lacking in theme. I don't really know what content I would get if I change pages - distinct sections would be better than shuffling them around.

    There seems to be quite a bit of white space in between headlines - hopefully that will be fixed as the beta is fine-tuned.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 8.

    @Steve Bowbrick: Thanks for the replies.

    I'm sure that there's a rule-of-thumb somewhere that says "no one is interested in internal corporate structures", but it's a beta so I'm sure this will get looked at.

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    Comment number 9.

    Two blogs on the same subject, so I do not really know where to post my comment.

    What I really miss on the beta is the customise option. Yes we can choose between 4 views and change location later, but I want to customise the homepage myself like with the current version. Like putting sports and tv on one page with iplayer module.

    So if this can be added than this might be a good homepage.

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    Comment number 10.

    Piet, Sorry to confuse! The homepage team are watching James Thornett's post on the BBC Internet blog for reactions and suggestions relating to the new homepage so it might be worth posting a comment there if you have a specific response you'd like to be heard.

    Steve Bowbrick, editor, About the BBC

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    Comment number 11.

    I really like the new homepage! It's incredible how resistant people are to almost any change. Sure, the old design had its merits but the time has come to move on. "Don't fix it if it ain't broke" they all cry. If Henry Ford took that on board, we'd all still be riding horses!

    Good job BBC. I for one think you're doing a fantastic job reinventing and focusing BBC online.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 12.

    Isn't the BBC supposed to be an international organization? I'm sitting at my desk in New York and when I looked at the beta version and the current version I saw no difference—and that's because there was none! Obviously you don't have the new beta design enabled for your international users, or at least not users in the States. What a shame you didn't get this right.

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    Comment number 13.

    johnvasko You're right. The BBC is an international organisation but it's worth pointing out that some of the various international homepages are run by BBC Worldwide, the Corporation's commercial arm. They have their own strategy and their own set of products and they may choose to offer a different homepage to non-UK users.

    Steve Bowbrick, editor, About the BBC

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    Comment number 14.

    I agree the new homepage is horrible...I can't really add much to what has been said about it already! All I can say is that I can't believe they got rid of 606 to pay for this!

    And yes, this is "change for the sake of change". I can cope with, and welcome, change...but in my opinion there was nothing wrong with the old homepage!

    Indeed Henry Ford developed the Model T and revolutionised the way people and things were transported. The new homepage will not revolutionise the way I use the BBC website...it is ugly, a waste of time, effort and money!

  • Comment number 15.

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

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    Comment number 16.

    I can understand the BBC wanting to make a homepage which can be used on multiple devices, but this is awful. News stories from different topics seem to be arranged haphazardly across the three screens.
    The concept of horizontal scrolling has been far better implemented in the excellent BBC News app which I have on an iPhone and an Android phone.
    This has a single scrollable horizontal row for each topic (UK News, World News, Sport etc.). These rows are all the same height, are arranged below each other and are customisable.

    Any contributor to this forum who hasn't already got this app on their IOS or Android device should download it to see what I mean. If you like what you see then please tell the beeb by posting here.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 17.

    The design of the new beta homepage is truly dreadful.
    It's ugly, overwhelming with too much content, no choice to remove unwanted elements. Cumbersome, slow and is nothing like the sleek and easy to navigate current homepage.
    To answer the J.Henry Ford comparison. This new design definitely has hooves.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 18.

    No I do not like all those pictures. It is confusing and I cant pick out what I want to see as soon as it loads. I dont want this change. I didnt like the last change I could not customise it as well as before; the designers seem to just change it for the sake of it. I can not devine anything in it that has improved it for the general public to use. Sorry- you had better have saved our money.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 19.

    I am really hating the new homepage. It looks like a shotgun blast of colour and text. It is difficult to follow or find what I want. Why role out a new site that is not complete? You are going to alienate people with the lack of customisation, and I for one am already looking for an alternative site after just one day of looking at this new beta site. I don't want to be blasted with Blue Peter or Football.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 20.

    On the BBC Internet blog there is a new blogpost on this issue "operation whitewash". All our complaints are brushed aside.

 

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