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BBC - BBC Internet Blog

Archives for 2007

"The WWW Info-Rainforest"

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Alan Connor | 00:00 UK time, Tuesday, 25 December 2007

...and other analogies that didn't catch on

This post is part of the tenth birthday celebrations of bbc.co.uk.

THE BBC is launching an on-line service from May 11 through the BBC Networking Club. Members will be connected through PCs and modems to a bulletin board where information and real-time conversation can be exchanged with others. A password will give members access to The Internet and more than 20m people worldwide. The cost of joining will be £25 and a monthly fee of £12. Details on 081-881 8236.
From The Sunday Times, April 17th 1994

babhead.gifOne of the frustrating things about the image of one of our first homepages as seen below is that you can't (yet) click away and see what the pages looked like.

Well, since it's Christmas, Cathy Smith of BBC Information & Archives has let the Internet Blog into her world of floppies and laserdiscs to catch an exciting glimpse of some Beeb HTML from around February 1995.

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New BBC Home Page: Your Reaction

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Richard Titus Richard Titus | 21:13 UK time, Friday, 21 December 2007

When Nick Reynolds asked me if I would write a blog post I assumed that few people would read it and even fewer would care.

At the end of my first post I asked you for your comments and promised to engage in a conversation. I expected maybe a dozen or so replies. So imagine my astonishment when, as of this morning, more than 280 + of you have taken time to give us your views and criticisms on the new betahomepage.

This level of engagement is exactly why I came to the BBC. The generally positive nature of the feedback was even more wonderful. The success of the web as a media platform has been driven by its ability to rapidly connect people and ideas. Delivering a better BBC homepage must be based on a lively and frank conversation with our audience, so thank you for keeping up your side!

The team and I have been reviewing the feedback over the past few days, from the original post, the wider blogosphere and the feedback form on the home page.

Despite some unconstructive, or should I say, 'personal' responses, ("yankee go home" was my favourite) I am delighted that so many of you have taken time out to explore the new page and tell us what you think.

Some of the key points...

Customisation and Personalisation

One of the fundamental challenges you raised was the philosophy behind our introduction of customization and personalization (as I'm a Yank, please note my use of the Z in personalization rather than personalisation. it seemed disingenuous of me to change to an s when I so prefer the letter z).

Some suggested this indicates that the BBC no longer has a voice or knows what it wants to say. I disagree.

Customization is about collaborating with our audience. As a linear broadcast medium, the web is no better and in many ways far worse than other mediums. The web's power comes from several key strengths...

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A Facelift For The World Service Website

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Sally Thompson | 15:31 UK time, Thursday, 20 December 2007

Hi.

I'm Sally Thompson, and I head up the web team at the World Service. And while the BBC's domestic home page has had a "lick of paint", we've been busy too with a relaunch of the BBC World Service site.

free_to_speak.pngI can't believe that it's been more than four years since we last relaunched, but this December is the World Service's radio station's 75th anniversary and so an ideal occasion for for a much-needed facelift. Very neat.

For the past four years, our site's front page has effectively been a clone of the BBC News website's. We did not make it easy for people to find out more about what was in our programmes - or to listen to them, for that matter.

ws_news_homepages.png

Times have changed and so we turned our focus to what our users expect from a website that showcases the diverse nature of BBC World Service's radio output. How could we best serve the savvier user who just doesn't have the time or inclination to dig through a site in the hope of finding something they may have heard on air?

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Herding Digital Cats - Pt 2

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Martin Belam | 09:50 UK time, Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Or, Ten Years of Information Architecture at the BBC

This post is part of the tenth birthday celebrations of bbc.co.uk

The BBC has two domains in use for public service content - http://www.bbc.co.uk and http://news.bbc.co.uk. It ended up that way more by accident than design. Why not, for example, http://radio1.bbc.co.uk or http://eastenders.bbc.co.uk. Or, for that matter, why not just radio1.co.uk?

Promoting everything on TV and Radio with the mantra "Bee bee cee dot co dot ukay slash whatever" implies that the site is one, rather than a collection of mini-sites. Other UK broadcasters have chosen a different path, using a selection of content or channel specific top level domains like skysports.com, news.five.tv, channel4radio.com and so on.

If you promote one URL - bbc.co.uk - then as a consequence you have to put something for everyone on the front door. Initial homepages for the fledgling BBC web services in 1997 were graphic heavy, and had content areas very much classified by the departments that made them. The labels are not terribly intuitive for the user.

10_01-1997homepages.png

Looking back on it now, I have no concept of what I would actually get if I clicked the link labelled "Technical Services", and why that would be any different from the link labelled "IT" on the other side of the page.

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Brandon's History Of Online BBC

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Brandon Butterworth | 13:27 UK time, Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Brandon Butterworth is a Principal Technologist in the BBC's research and development team and the man who first registered the bbc.co.uk domain. He's such a key figure in the history of the BBC's technical infrastructure that he has a room named after him at bbc.co.uk towers. This post is part of the tenth birthday celebrations of bbc.co.uk. [Update 24/9/09: Brandon is now Chief Scientist, BBC.]

Imagine there's no interweb...

...that's unpossible. We have a lot to thank the internet for - besides a new language and LOLcats.

The first 10 years were the best

bbc_button.pngWhen I put the BBC on the net, it wasn't a 2001 moment; we had to keep banging the rocks together for a while. We had email, file transfer, BBS, Usenet and piracy since the late 1980s, ours via dial-up UUCP through Brunel University to UKnet.

The USA had proper internet.

I wanted it.

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John Birt on the birth of bbc.co.uk

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Alan Connor | 13:20 UK time, Tuesday, 18 December 2007

This post is part of the tenth birthday celebrations of bbc.co.uk.

John Birt, as mentioned below by Ashley Highfield and Claire Barrett, was the BBC's Director General at the start of the ten years we're currently celebrating.

Radio 4's iPM has interviewed the man now known as Lord Birt about the big changes of a decade ago. You can listen to the interview below and leave a comment at iPM.

Alan Connor is co-editor of the BBC Internet Blog.

The World's Favourite Website At 10

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Ashley Highfield | 12:00 UK time, Tuesday, 18 December 2007

This post is part of the tenth birthday celebrations of bbc.co.uk.

bbc_pioneers.pngI've only been with the BBC for seven years, so much of the hard work on bbc.co.uk - getting it up and running in the first place - had already been done by the time I arrived, and my hat goes off to those founding heroes: John Birt, Brandon Butterworth, Mike Smartt, and Jonathan Drori all spring immediately to mind.

My history therefore starts from 2000, when bbc.co.uk was the tenth most used website in the UK - about 3.5m users, reaching a quarter of the then online population of 14m. It's been a long and sometimes winding road since then to get us to where we are now - ranked in a recent Ipsos Mori poll as the highest quality media service in the UK - and this post is a hopefully honest recollection of the highs and lows on this journey.

The early lead we gained online during the first few years was critical. bbc.co.uk is nothing without News and its sister sites, Sport, Weather, and regional output. They are at the heart of the offering, pumping the life-blood around the site, giving it its vitality and essence. Richard Deverell, Pete Clifton, Ben Gallop and the team built a rock solid heartland audience, and a global reputation for quality.

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Herding Digital Cats - Pt 1

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Martin Belam | 10:04 UK time, Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Or, Ten Years of Information Architecture at the BBC

This post is part of the tenth birthday celebrations of bbc.co.uk

In his introduction to this set of tenth birthday articles, Nick Reynolds said that he couldn't recall a time when the BBC didn't have a website. This raises the question: if the BBC's Director General woke up tomorrow, and suddenly realised that the BBC had forgotten to ever build a website - what would Mark Thompson ask to be built?

If you set yourself the task of imagining building bbc.co.uk from scratch, there are quite a few things that probably wouldn't look much different. A page for every programme? That makes sense. A place to download TV programmes and catch-up on radio? Likewise - although the way we now take listen again and DRM-free podcast downloads for granted belies the innovation, technical and legal complexities in delivering those services.

You'd probably also think about building something pretty similar to the BBC News site. I suspect, though, that it in the regulatory climate of 2007 it would be rather harder for the BBC to launch. The howls of protest to the BBC Trust Ofcom and the DCMS from the commercial news sector would be deafening.

There are some things that, on reflection, you probably wouldn't build.

Why have BBC only TV listings on bbc.co.uk, when BBC Worldwide has a perfectly good Radio Times site covering much more, and, as the TV promos might have said, "other listings web sites are available"?

09_01-babel-fish.pngThe Telegraph recently ran an article with a list of rather odd bits on the fringe of the site that the BBC could perhaps cull - although visiting the ever-entertaining h2g2 in order to look for something obscure or esoteric was rather like shooting Babel fish in a barrel.

Since the breadth of coverage on BBC Online has always been vast, and because in 1997 the BBC was so wedded to the concept of being a linear broadcaster, it has been problematic to organise the site.

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From Microsoft To The BBC

Erik Huggers Erik Huggers | 11:50 UK time, Monday, 17 December 2007

It has been six months since I joined the BBC as Group Controller in Future Media and Technology and while flying back from Rome to London, I figured that this was a good time to join the conversation.

Many people have asked me: “why on earth did you join the BBC? They have no stock options and by the way do you realise that you are now a civil servant!?!” Believe me, there are days that I ask those questions myself!

99% of the time however, I am exceptionally pleased, excited and proud to be part of this organization and to serve the licence fee payer. The BBC is unique in so many ways that I do not even know where to start; perhaps a better way to start is why I left Microsoft...

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Goldrush

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Nigel Chapman | 10:01 UK time, Monday, 17 December 2007

This post is part of the tenth birthday celebrations of bbc.co.uk

In early 1999, the web and the BBC presence there was like a goldrush in the Wild West. All the programmes were putting stakes in the ground for their individual sites, but few people outside News had looked around and seen that people were increasingly navigating by genre or subject, not programme title. That had to change - and we did by 2000 - but it was very difficult.

The other big challenge was technology, and how to produce web pages efficiently and quickly for areas like sport. News had invented its own brilliant Content Production System, but everyone else had methods more like bespoke tailoring than mass production. Ambitions to produce a single BBC system floundered on cost and political infighting. Eventually, News and Sport agreed to use News CPS to drive both sites - that took some brokering and that gave the second biggest genre on the web its BBC breakthrough.

bbc_journalism_cps.png

1999-2000 were exciting times, but exhausting. People had big ambitions, talked a big talk, but were simply unaware (with the exception of BBC News) of what it took to support major web operations across such a wide waterfront.

But crucially, a cup half full was a lot better than most other broadcasters, and all in the UK. It may have been bumpy, but that landgrab has served us well. Others are still catching up in the UK.

Nigel Chapman is Director, World Service.

Remembering myBBC

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Martin Belam | 12:00 UK time, Saturday, 15 December 2007

...the previous personalised BBC homepage

This post is part of the tenth birthday celebrations of bbc.co.uk

The freshly redesigned BBC homepage comes complete with a swishy new interface that allows users to customise the way the page appears to them. It isn't the first time the BBC has dabbled with personalising homepages.

For some time now, users have been offered personalised weather on the BBC homepage, and BBC News has had a small panel for UK users allowing them to get their local stories straight away by entering their postcode.

The BBC homepage also used to have "targeted" promotions in the early 2000s. As users visited places around the BBC, a cookie would pick up where they went, and identify them as one of four types of the BBC's web audience. When they visited the homepage, they would see a promotion appropriate to their audience type - i.e. whether they were a soaps/entertainment type, or a Radio 4/factual type.

The biggest attempt at personalisation on the BBC site, though, was a service launched in 2000, called myBBC. In some ways, it was rather ahead of its time.

08_01-mybbc-banner.png

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Podcast Interview: Anthony Rose

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Matthew Cashmore | 10:23 UK time, Friday, 14 December 2007

Well, it's podcast time again and yesterday I got the opportunity to speak to Anthony Rose - head of all things iPlayer here at the Beeb.

We managed to talk for several minutes before DRM was mentioned, but this is a great listen if you want to know a little about the man behind the future strategy and tech delivery of the BBC's iPlayer project.

Listen to the podcast at Backstage.

Matthew Cashmore is Development Producer, BBC Future Media & Technology, Research and Innovation.

A lick of paint for the BBC homepage

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Richard Titus Richard Titus | 14:30 UK time, Thursday, 13 December 2007

...at least, that was the job spec I was given on my second day as Acting Head of User Experience at the BBC.

(You may also find James Thornett's post about the 2011 BBC Homepage beta of interest - inserted Ian McDonald 21 Sep 2011)

I joined the Beeb after moving to the UK with my wife just over a year ago. I needed a fresh challenge and was excited to be part of a truly world-renowned media company with a public service remit which makes it 100% user-focussed. For me, the BBC is one of the last great important places.

So when the BBC's Internet Controller Tony Ageh suggested - or, should I say, vehemently recommended - that we give the BBC homepage a "lick of paint", it seemed the ideal way to get my head around the BBC and its immense universe of content and services.

customise_homepage.png

We drew inspiration for the new page from a variety of sources.

It was a no-brainer to move to a layout that would be cleaner, more open and more easily readable. There was also a desire to get away from the tired and monotonous blue base colour of the original page.

From a conceptual point of view, the widgetization adopted by Facebook, iGoogle and netvibes weighed strongly on our initial thinking. We wanted to build the foundation and DNA of the new site in line with the ongoing trend and evolution of the Internet towards dynamically generated and syndicable content through technologies like RSS, atom and xml. This trend essentially abstracts the content from its presentation and distribution, atomizing content into a feed-based universe. Browsers, devices, etc therefore become lenses through which this content can be collected, tailored and consumed by the audience.

This concept formed one of the most important underlying design and strategic elements of the new homepage. The approach has the added benefit of making content more accessible, usable, and more efficient to modify for consumption across a wider array of networks and devices.

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Razzmatazz, Fame And Fortune

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Jonathan Drori | 11:03 UK time, Thursday, 13 December 2007

This post is part of the tenth birthday celebrations of bbc.co.uk

Before BBC Online, I'd been working in BBC Education for some years. I'd found the work there very rewarding and the opportunity to invent interactive output for the web with a group of expert colleagues was fantastic. I think we had a level of autonomy perhaps only enjoyed by BBC News and Current Affairs at the time. Then the BBC Online job came up and with it the possibility of creating a coherent BBC website, with razzmatazz, fame and fortune.

The role of the BBC was clear in news and in education (where we had been so desperately wanting interactivity for years) - but for the rest of the BBC, I think it was less certain. Just what we should be offering for children, teenagers, new mums, businesspeople and everyone else across every subject area (sport, cookery, gardening, science and nature, film, entertainment...) needed to be debated. That was the easy bit.

Audiences were telling us that they found aspects of bbc.co.uk confusing. We wanted to give them some consistency, with common navigation and branding across the whole site. This was easier said than done, as the BBC at the time (not now of course) was a series of fiefdoms, each of which argued strongly that they needed their own totally different system of navigation and very distinct and assertive branding.

On top of that, in a medium without channel slots and with unlimited airtime, everybody wanted to be a commissioner. I seem to remember matters coming to a head when the BBC very nearly had separate Edinburgh Festival websites from Scotland, Entertainment, News, Drama, Education and several others.

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The Days Before Launch

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Mike Smartt | 12:03 UK time, Wednesday, 12 December 2007

This post is part of the tenth birthday celebrations of bbc.co.uk.

It is only ten years ago, but it seems a lifetime away.

Actually, it is nearer twelve years since BBC News decided on an internet presence, but it took almost two to launch News Online. The Corporation doesn't do much in a hurry, which is probably a good thing when there are big sums of public money at stake.

msbbclogo.pngIn those two years, MSNBC might have been MSBBC instead.

There were exploratory talks with Microsoft - but, after the software giant suggested it might like some editorial input, the BBC pointed out its independence was sacrosanct, and that was that. Microsoft also thought of starting its own rival to the internet and we trialed the company's own HTML-killing programming language called Blackbird, which wasn't bad.

But then Bill Gates came to his senses, realising that actually - by the mid-nineties - the internet was already too well established to defeat.

So eventually, after expensive outside consultants had spent several weeks preparing a report for the BBC on the pros and cons of a technology not even experts understood, the okay was given for BBC News Online. And, inevitably, after months of stop-stop-stop, it was suddenly go-go-go.

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Tomorrow's World

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Katharine Everett | 12:33 UK time, Tuesday, 11 December 2007

This post is part of the tenth birthday celebrations of bbc.co.uk.

If nostalgia is not your bag, then read no further!

tomorrows_world.pngI remember vividly my first encounter with the internet. It was in 1995, and took place fittingly in the office of Edward Briffa, who was then the editor of Tomorrow's World and who was to become launch director for bbc.co.uk.

I had asked him to explain the internet to me. He showed me what I now know to be a website and said excitedly: "It's amazing, There is this huge warehouse full of books somewhere in the US. You can order any book you want from this computer and it will be sent to you."

It's impossible for me now to remember what a world without Amazon was like. It was the first place I conducted an internet transaction and is one of my four most used websites. Though I haven't yet cracked the problem of owning more books than my bookshelves can accommodate - and no, I haven't read them all and never will.

But back to the early days. My second clear memory was a couple of years later; I was in charge of launching the BBC's first digital entertainment channel, BBC Choice. I recall a meeting in the BBC's council chamber of a number of "digital friendly" senior creative leaders, being encouraged to share their knowledge of the web (which took abut five minutes) and to hear from Edward and his strategy team about the upcoming launch of bbc.co.uk.

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"And If You'd Like To Contact The Programme..." Pt 2

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Martin Belam | 12:32 UK time, Tuesday, 11 December 2007

This post is part of the tenth birthday celebrations of bbc.co.uk. Part 1 is here.

In my last post, I was looking at how email and message boards have revolutionised the relationship between the BBC and what used to be a much more passive audience - even if the technology powering those boards was a little temperamental at times.

By 2003, it was clear that the BBC needed to move to a new system, and the decision was taken to migrate the message boards to the DNA software that the BBC had acquired when it purchased the Douglas Adams-inspired h2g2 site in 2001.

06_01-pov-sky.pngAshley Highfield wrote on this blog the other week about his so-called public "spat" with James Murdoch, but Sky haven't always had a rough deal from the BBC's New Media department. In 2004, one of the first boards to move to the new system was Points Of View, which fell under my remit. In the process, I inadvertently signed off as approved a design that included a very prominent Sky remote control in it, rather than the more neutral "sticky-backed plastic"-type of branding that BBC regulations require.

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"And If You'd Like To Contact The Programme..." Pt 1

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Martin Belam | 09:52 UK time, Monday, 10 December 2007

"...send a stamped, addressed envelope to..."

This post is part of the tenth birthday celebrations of bbc.co.uk. Part Two is here.

05_01-swap-shop.pngIt is easy to forget how rapidly email has revolutionised the way that the public interact with organisations like the BBC. I still remember the phone number of Multi-Coloured Swap-Shop, and the postcode of Radio 1 from when I was a kid. Now a good proportion of interaction is done rather more rapidly via SMS and email. In 2004, Chris Kimber, then Head of Interactive at BBC Radio & Music, said:

"Only 10 years ago, radio was a one-way experience, but digital technology has given the radio ears that provide programme-makers with instant feedback. Before they had to rely on getting letters back but now we have chat rooms, message boards, text messaging and e-mail. Programmes can really connect with audiences in a way that 10 years ago they could not".

The recent furore over the Radio Five Live phone-in about the Madeleine McCann case highlights how real-time this feedback loop is.

The BBC has often struggled to deal with the sheer volume of correspondence it receives.

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Mind The Gaps: The BBC's Website Archives

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Martin Belam | 10:20 UK time, Friday, 7 December 2007

This post is part of the tenth birthday celebrations of bbc.co.uk

If you extrapolate current statistical trends, by 2025 40% of the UK population will be obese, 1 in 3 of us will be Elvis impersonators, and increased electronic storage will mean that you'll be able to carry a video of your entire life around with you at all times.

Well, maybe not quite, but it's certainly true that over the last ten years physical storage of digital media on servers and removable storage has got cheaper and smaller - and it wasn't exactly big in 1997.

All of which raises the question - why can't I just link to the 1997 version of the BBC website, or the 2000 version, or to exactly what it was like on Christmas Day 2002? A lot of those things are simply not there anymore.

When I joined the BBC, I was always told that Andrew Neil had the first individual programme support site - but that, for example, is no longer on the BBC site. The pages credited the production of the HTML to Mark Himsley, just as the BBC would do for a television programme.

Even in cases where an original BBC website from the 1990s is preserved, there is no guarantee that any of the functionality will survive.

In 1997, the BBC covered a general election online for the first time. The pages are still on the web, but sadly, Peter Snow and company no longer swing like they once did. Clicking the 'Interactive' option from the menu generates a 403 Forbidden error.

07_01-virtual97.png

Sometimes, although the HTML has been kept live on the BBC's front-end web servers, some of the dynamic applications at the back-end have been decommissioned, accidentally wiped, or have simply broken as the BBC's technical infrastructure evolved.

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Ask Us A Question

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Nick Reynolds Nick Reynolds | 12:27 UK time, Thursday, 6 December 2007

In a week's time we'll be recording our very first podcast (or perhaps more accurately, download of an interview in audio) for this blog.

rory_cellan_jones.pngRory Cellan-Jones (technology correspondent, BBC News) has very kindly agreed to act as interrogator.

And sitting around the microphones will be Matthew Cashmore and Ian Forrester of BBC Backstage, James Cridland of BBC Audio&Music Interactive, Giles Wilson (editor, BBC News blogs) and last, and very much least, myself.

The discussion will be about how the BBC is using blogs to try and talk to licence fee payers, ("blogs as accountability", if you like), rather than the technical or broader editorial questions about the BBC's blogs, which have been covered by Robin Hamman here and here.

But I suspect and hope the conversation will range far and wide. So if you have any questions you would like Rory to ask, please do leave a comment on this post.

The results will be published before Christmas.

Nick Reynolds is editor, BBC Internet Blog

External Web Istructurenfra

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James Cridland James Cridland | 12:01 UK time, Wednesday, 5 December 2007

There's been quite a lot of discussion about a recent post on I am Seb, which was prompted, in part, by a piece on the BBC's Radio Labs blog about a product we're internally calling "Perl on Rails". Much of this discussion has spilled over to places like Slashdot, too.

Parts of these discussions haven't been too accurate; but all of them have been interesting and useful to read, and have been discussed internally here. Tom Scott, the original poster of the Radio Labs blog entry, has also replied to some specific points on his own blog.

barcamplondon3.pngWe demonstrated one of the products built on top of "Perl on Rails" at BarCampLondon3 last week, to a good reaction - at least, we filled up the room! And, after a discussion with our colleagues, I'm pleased to be able to let you know that, yes, we will be adding this to the BBC's open source projects. More details will appear on the BBC Radio Labs blog when we're ready.

I think it's fair to say that the BBC's external web infrastructure isn't the world's most advanced - deliberately so, given the amount of traffic we have to deal with on some occasions like emergencies. However, as Seb says, there is some work in place to refresh this (not quite using the stack he suggests); it's been given new vigour by some of the new senior management team who've recently joined the BBC; all going well, you should see some of the fruits of this project in the new year.

On the other side, our internal tools use a variety of different technologies (I've seen PHP, Ruby/Rails, Perl and ASP at least), so if you're thinking of working for us don't think that you're totally useless to us if you don't

sub job_requirement {
my $target = shift;
$target = 'perl' unless defined $target;
return "understand $target.\n";
}
print job_requirement("this");

James Cridland is Head of Future Media & Technology for BBC Audio & Music Interactive, and wrote his last line of Perl in 2000.

Revolution Not Evolution

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Alan Connor | 16:29 UK time, Tuesday, 4 December 2007

This week's edition of Ariel, the BBC's in-house weekly magazine (and website!) has a feature by Claire Barrett on the official first ten years of bbc.co.uk. It's called Revolution Not Evolution: The Birth of bbc.co.uk, and we've asked to republish the piece here on the Internet Blog as part of our tenth birthday celebrations.

john_birt_portrait.pngCaricatured as a Dalek, and famed for making decisions after rigorous analysis, exhaustive research and thorough documentation, it must have been a madcap moment back in December 1996 that saw John Birt act on impulse.

At the eleventh hour, the former director general reneged on a deal struck with computer company ICL to create a commercial website, called beeb.com, for BBC content. He withdrew news and sport from the equation, deciding instead to make them public service offerings. And so the bbc.co.uk we know today – the UK's third most popular site with 16m unique domestic visitors every week – was conceived.

"It was the most important thing he ever did," reckons Jem Stone, the FM&T exec producer who was one of the first BBC web producers. "To this day, news and sport account for 50-60% of the traffic to the site. They are the very heart of bbc.co.uk."

Ten years on from its official launch on December 15, 1997 – when the DCMS approved a one year trial (ratified a year later) – there can be no underestimating Birt's hunch.

To boldly go...

"He’s not my cup of tea," admits Bob Eggington, former project director for BBC News Online, "but had he not brought his determination and authority to the internet, it just wouldn't have happened."

Indeed, the early history of bbc.co.uk is full of bold moves, as the pioneers trusted their instincts, dodged bureaucracy and forged a path through unknown territory. "We were making it up as we went along," confesses Eggington. "It was an immature industry."

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Accessibility In A Web 2.0 World?

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Ian Forrester Ian Forrester | 15:14 UK time, Monday, 3 December 2007

accessibility_podcast.pngOne of the less talked-about issues recently has been accessibility. The web has moved on quite a bit in recent years, but it seems like we may be making some of the same mistakes we made back in 1999.

The latest in our BBC Backstage podcasts looks at this very difficult area of web development/design - and thanks to our participants, it's a lively and positive discussion.

There are more details on who's in the episode and how to get it at the Backstage Blog.

Ian Forrester is Senior Producer, FM&T bbc.co.uk projects.

The BBC's Homepage On July 7th 2005

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Martin Belam | 14:12 UK time, Monday, 3 December 2007

This post is part of the tenth birthday celebrations of bbc.co.uk

power_surge.png

Although I was Senior Development Producer for the BBC's homepage at the time, I wasn't actually in the office to help with coverage of the July 7th bombings. By the time I'd started travelling that day, television was already reporting "power surges" on the London Underground.

The BBC, of course, has a whole raft of plans and procedures for national emergencies. There was already an established process of handing control of the main picture promotional area of the homepage directly over to BBC News in the event of a major story breaking. However, that didn't seem to go far enough that day.

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Step Back In Time

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Richard Titus Richard Titus | 13:32 UK time, Friday, 30 November 2007

bbc1_clock.png

One of my first memories of the BBC was as a child on my first trip to London. We stayed at a hotel in Piccadilly, a magical place for a young man from California, drank sugary watered-down tea and, due to jetlag, woke up and slept odd hours - which meant we were allowed to watch television whenever we awoke.

The BBC clock, the history of which you can learn more about at Andrew Wiseman's Television Room, is a memory which stuck with me from that first trip to the UK. I didn't yet know what the BBC was, but the clock signified to me the wonderful, eccentric strange place that England represented. It signified James Bond, Mary Poppins and all the best bits of CS Lewis.

This year is the tenth anniversary of the BBC's presence on the internet; it's a time of celebration of the past and of proud steps into the future. Watch for the return of the clock - a piece of the entire BBC audience's childhood - in a few weeks...

Update 2008-02-29: Alan Connor of this parish has written about the clock for the BBC News Magazine.

Richard Titus is Acting Head of User Experience & Design, BBC Future Media & Technology. Many thanks to Gary August of BBC Heritage for the photo.

The Net At Breaking Point? Pt 2

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Ashley Highfield | 14:45 UK time, Wednesday, 28 November 2007

I was at a meeting on Monday chaired by RT Hon Stephen Timms (minister for competitiveness), and attended by John Hutton, Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.

All the players were there, including CEO of BT, Ben Verwaayen and his sidekick Ian Livingstone, CEO UK Cisco, board members from every ISP, the heads of the regional development agencies, etc.

cables_cubicgarden.pngThe main thrust of the debate was:

Firstly: "Is the internet currently at creaking point?"

The view from most players: "no".

Secondly: "Will it get to creaking point in the short term?"

The consensus: probably not. There is still much that can be done to the main backbone infrastructure to improve performance before the massive step change of fibre to the home is needed, a conclusion similar to the US study I mentioned in my previous post.

Thirdly: "Does the business model exist to invest the billions to upgrade the 'access infrastructure' (the last bit to the home) to fibre?"

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The Net At Breaking Point? Pt 1

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Ashley Highfield | 14:11 UK time, Wednesday, 28 November 2007

There have been an increasing number of articles and reports about the internet reaching its capacity.

The Internet Innovation Alliance in the USA is trying to raise awareness about what they predict will be a crisis in available bandwidth, which could lead to slow-downs in about three years' time.

connector.pngThe focus is chiefly on North America, where the authors conclude that core fibre and switching/routing resources will scale well "to support virtually any conceivable user demand", but that making sure that Internet access infrastructure keeps up will require an investment by service providers of between US $42-55bn -- about 60-70% more than they currently plan to invest.

This is an issue that seems to raise its head from time to time in the UK too, the question being:

Should Internet Service Providers be allowed to start to "traffic shape", single out particular content that their subscribers want to access, and charge the content supplier - or even the subscriber - an additional fee?

Or should they remain effectively ignorant of the content that passes through their pipes: "net neutral"?

From the BBC's side, we have been in regular discussions with the ISPs for months about this. All those I've met personally, either individually (e.g. CarPhoneWarehouse's CEO Charles Dunstone) or in BroadBand Stakeholders Group meetings (e.g. BT's CEO Ben Verwaayen ) said that services like BBC iPlayer should help drive take-up of broadband, and drive demand for higher bandwidths, and were enthusiastic.

I’ll return to this subject in my next post, but do you think the Internet is about to reach its capacity?

Ashley Highfield is Director, BBC Future Media and Technology. Part 2 of this post is here.

Developing Search At The BBC - Pt 2

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Martin Belam | 10:54 UK time, Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Part 1 is here. This post is part of the tenth birthday celebrations of bbc.co.uk

When he was at Ask, Tuoc Luong once put the demands placed on search engines very succinctly:

"We need to read users' minds."

He was referring to the tricky job of interpreting the very small amount of information that the user gives when the type in a search query. Does someone looking for "jam" on the BBC website want some recipes, to listen to a documentary featuring Paul Weller, or to find out what the traffic will be like on their way home?

The "lilac" search results I described in the first part of this post only lasted for a few months, as in 2002 there was a major push to integrate web search within the BBC's search engine. Previously, as part of the BBC's remit to be a "trusted guide to the web for the UK", there was a directory of links called WebGuide - a small-scale Yahoo!-style directory which linked to sites of UK interest.

By now though, Google was indexing billions of web pages, and it was obvious that maintaining a small directory of sites wasn't going to scale up to the growing size of the internet. The BBC turned to search as a tool, trying to provide a web search that was safe for children, promoted UK content, and which, unlike all of the major commercial search engines, didn't take advertising in return for prominent placement.

02_01-websearch2002.pngIn the summer of 2002 this launched as the main search box on a newly designed BBCi homepage. Getting involved in web search wasn't a popular move in some quarters. Commercial sites saw it as a threatening land-grab, and the BBC was accused of artificially inflating the ranking of BBC content within the results.

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iPlayer and Kangaroo

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Ashley Highfield | 14:39 UK time, Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Some of you may have noticed the announcement today that BBC Worldwide has joined forces with other UK broadcasters to offer a commercial portal to British television programmes.

I believe that it is much better for the BBC, ITV and C4 to have a say in a distribution service rather than leave it just to the likes of Joost or Babelgum to own the relationship with our audiences after the public service window. Better for our audiences too, as more money will return to the BBC from ad revenues to be invested into new programming.

kangaroo_175.pngI believe Kangaroo (only a working title), is complementary, and quite different, from BBC iPlayer.

BBC iPlayer offers a totally free seven-day catch up service (which very soon will offer streaming as well as downloading) to UK licence fee payers, with no advertising. It will soon also incorporate the highly successful BBC Radio Player (Kangaroo is video only).

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Developing Search At The BBC - Pt 1

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Martin Belam | 14:26 UK time, Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Part 2 is here. This post is part of the tenth birthday celebrations of bbc.co.uk

Until a couple of years ago, I was a Senior Development Producer at the BBC's New Media department. Whilst I was there I used to blog rather enthusiastically about my work, and the team at the BBC Internet blog has asked me to contribute some articles here about the history of the BBC's web site.

I first started to work at the BBC in 2000, as a junior member of a small team looking after the BBC's search engine. Back then, searching the BBC site was a bewildering and perplexing experience, as there was no global search across all of the content.

Instead, on the Today site, you could find a small box in the top right-hand corner that only searched the Today site. Or, if you were on the EastEnders site, there was a long search box at the bottom of the homepage, that only searched the EastEnders site, and so on.

As well as being somewhat randomly placed, the search boxes weren't even all using the same technology. BBC News used a product from Autonomy, whilst other bits of the BBC were indexed using software called Muscat. The results could be pretty appalling. One of my first jobs involved artificially putting the right URLs at the top of search engine results.

This wasn't a hi-tech solution. We had a spreadsheet that listed search terms, and the URL that should be displayed if a user employed them. We used to improve it based on the frustrated emails we got from the public. A mail would come in saying "I searched for 'Jeremy Paxman' and I never found the Newsnight site", and the team would dutifully add that 'jeremy paxman', 'paxman' and 'rottweiler' should produce bbc.co.uk/newsnight as the number one result.

The Muscat search engine was also unable to distinguish between different languages, so if you typed in 'Tony Blair' you were just as likely to get a news story mentioning his name from the BBC's Portuguese news site as from the English language site.

01_01-search1999.png

It was obvious it needed to be improved, and as part of the re-branding of BBC Online to BBCi in 2001, a new global search was introduced. The grey 'toolbar' was added to the top of (nearly) every BBC web page, placing a search box on every page of the site.

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A Brief History Of Time (Travel)

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Martin Belam | 12:10 UK time, Monday, 26 November 2007

Or, 10 Years Of Online Doctor Who

This post is part of the tenth birthday celebrations of bbc.co.uk

I don't think I've been to a meeting, presentation, or read a document from the BBC in the last couple of years that doesn't cite "Doctor Who" as a shining example of something-or-other.

Well, I'm about to indulge in the same vice myself, as I think you can get a pretty good snapshot of the development of the BBC's web activity over the last 10 years by looking at the programme.

Paul McGannPrior to the RTD-inspired revival, 1996 was the last time the BBC tried out Doctor Who on TV, with a one-off movie starring Paul McGann in the role. Promotion was strictly on air and in print - there was no such thing as a BBC Doctor Who web site.

During the gap between the TV movie and the arrival of Christopher Eccleston in the title role, there was plenty of off-air activity around the show. The BBC had a successful range of books based on the subsequent adventures of McGann's 8th Doctor, and Big Finish produced a monthly series of audio drama CDs featuring actors from the Doctor's past, some of which have now made their way onto BBC7.

And then there were the webcasts.

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Ten Years Of bbc.co.uk

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Nick Reynolds Nick Reynolds | 11:22 UK time, Monday, 26 November 2007

I am very old. As you get older, time speeds up and your memory goes. In fact, I can't remember a time that bbc.co.uk didn't exist. But I'm reliably informed that December 15th will be the tenth birthday of bbc.co.uk (or "BBC Online", as it was then called).

networking_club_logo.pngSo, to celebrate the BBC's achievements online over those ten years (and to jog my memory), the Internet Blog has commissioned Martin Belam (occasional BBC man and curator of the excellent currybetdotnet blog) to write a series of blog posts. Martin has done lots of web work for the BBC over the years. His posts will look at various aspects of the development of the BBC's web services. You can read them, and the other anniversary posts, here, and we'll also list them below as they go up.

I'm also hoping for contributions from key BBC executives giving their personal memories, and some juicy glimpses behind the scenes as the BBC's web offer evolved.

And memory can play tricks. So please do comment on anything you read on the posts, add your own perspectives and reminiscences, and suggest anything you'd like to see covered.

Posts so far:

Nick Reynolds is the editor of the BBC Internet Blog.

Web 2.0: Mainstream Media Not Dead Yet

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James Cridland James Cridland | 10:33 UK time, Thursday, 22 November 2007

So, my first blog post here. Hello there. Nice to see you. Pull up a chair, grab a cup of tea.

electric_proms.pngAs it says on the bottom of this blog posting, I rejoice in the job title of "Head of Future Media & Technology, BBC Audio & Music Interactive" - a job title which results in a business card with some really quite tiny writing. If you're interested, I head up one of the "embedded" teams for Future Media & Technology - a set of people who work on our radio and music websites, mobile sites, DAB Digital Radio, our radio services on Freeview, Sky, Virgin Media, and, yes, the BBC Radio Player. We produce stuff like the recent BBC Electric Proms, as well as the award-winning BBC Radio 1 website, and the website behind the ever-more-popular BBC podcasts.

The BBC has a number of these embedded FM&T teams. Each of our teams act as knowledge-centres for particular types of BBC output. My team's work is around radio stations that have over 29 million listeners a week, so it's us that people turn to whenever they have questions about how audio and future media are mixing these days. I've worked in radio for over 18 years (as a presenter, a commercial copywriter, a webmaster and digital director), so I'd hope that I understand a thing or two about radio - even though I doubt that Chris Moyles would be entirely delighted if I did the show before him these days, instead of at the station we both worked at in the 1990s.

I got an email recently, asking something like: "Is Web 2.0 a threat or an aid to traditional media, like radio? How might we see traditional media adapt to stay competitive in this new world?"

Read the rest of this entry

Music Podcasts

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Chris Kimber Chris Kimber | 11:14 UK time, Wednesday, 21 November 2007

This is an extract from a post on the BBC Radio Labs blog. You can read more and leave a comment at the original post.

BBC music podcasts"We're now in our second week of rolling out our music based podcasts. This is big news for Audio & Music interactive and we're pretty excited about it.

Why? Well we've been offering radio programmes as podcasts since late 2004 now, but so far we have not included any commercial music for rights reasons. We have included unsigned music from various new/unsigned radio programmes such as Radio Northampton's Weekender and 1Xtra's Homegrown shows, but up to now we've had to offer speech-only podcasts from radio stations who mainly broadcast music..."

Continue reading here.

Chris Kimber is Managing Editor, BBC Audio&Music Interactive.

N.B. Photo of Chris taken from Ian Fenn's Flickr stream.

Groklaw Interview

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Ashley Highfield | 10:07 UK time, Monday, 19 November 2007

groklaw.pngOne of the comments on one of my previous posts on this blog suggested that I do an interview with Groklaw (this Wikipedia entry gives a good summary of what Groklaw is).

So I did an interview over the phone last week and it's now been published; I hope this helps to move the debate around a number of issues, especially DRM, onto where we go from here.

Ashley Highfield is Divisional Director, BBC Future Media and Technology Division.

iPhone BBC Podcasts Reaction

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Nick Reynolds Nick Reynolds | 13:55 UK time, Friday, 16 November 2007

I should be honest and tell you that until recently I worked in the BBC's Audio&Music Interactive department.

And I think they're great.

iphone_screenshot.jpgBut it doesn't matter what I think. What matters is that their nifty ideas to make the BBC's podcast service easy to access on the new iPhone has gone down well with bloggers.

This post from the Radio Labs blog explains the detail. And the reaction? Well, Andrew Skinner says:

"The other handset manufacturers must be kicking themselves, asking why they can't create a product that to all intents and purposes is still niche but commands a place in the market that prompts the BBC to release to my knowledge the only device specific page on their site for their radio podcasts"

"This is very cool. Very cool indeed." adds Andrew Grant on Shiny Things. Digg's description is "pretty nifty". For Einar Vollset, it's simply "another reason to love my iPhone".

While Pocket Picks says:

"God bless the Beeb: they may come in for a critical shoeing from time to time, but if they're spending my licence fee on making shedloads of podcasts available for my iPhone, I'm happy."

Nick Reynolds is editor, BBC Internet Blog.

A Tale of Two Conferences

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Ashley Highfield | 15:08 UK time, Thursday, 15 November 2007

I recently attended two Media/Convergence Conferences talking about the changes coming down the line. They could not have been more different.

The Monaco media conference wheeled out the traditional media's heavy hitters: James Murdoch, Barry Diller, Maurice Levy (the CEO of Publicis), and some really interesting new media rising stars. (Amongst many, my favourites included KickApps, and Hillcrestlabs who demonstrated a highly impressive TV UI capable of intuitively navigating through vast amounts of video in a way that makes the old Sky-like EPG grid look like it's from another century - which, of course, it is).

Talking of Sky, I apparently had an angry exchange with James Murdoch at the Forum.

The FT's Andrew Edgecliff-Johnson told me it was worth the price of the flight. All that actually happened was that, from the floor, I corrected James' assertion that the BBC was a "State Broadcaster" and pointed out that our editorial independence was perhaps one of the reasons why our audience valued us. This drove him to exclaim that the BBC is a "state agency with police powers to collect a tax." At least you know where you are with the Murdochs!

The agenda at Monaco dealt with the well-worn issues of convergence, and whether the new players complemented or competed with established media.

071115bill_clinton.pngMuch more thought-provoking was last month's Google Zeitgeist. This US conference, by comparison, dealt with what the conference organisers believed was the biggest issue our industry faces: climate change and corporate social responsibility more generally. It wheeled out even bigger guns, Bill Clinton, Al Gore (literally minutes before jetting off to pick up his Nobel prize), and Britain's very own David Cameron. There are some YouTube videos from the conference here.

Putting to one side the arguments about the BBC's impartiality in the climate change debate, what is the BBC and the technology/media/telecommunication industries' role to reduce both our and our audiences' consumption of energy?

I have no policy to propose on this subject, just a strong feeling that there is more of a debate to be had. Here are some thoughts:

  • What is the most energy efficient way of distributing our content?
  • Does digital satellite produce a lower energy footprint than DAB for getting Radio 1 into the home?
  • Is peer-to-peer a good use of energy if it requires your home computer to be left on?
  • Rather like grams of C02 per km travelled, is there an equivalent measurement of distribution efficiency? The amount of content distributed divided by energy taken to do so? (Mb/s ÷ Kj). Does this include the power consumption of the receiving devices (I heard that DAB radios consume seven times as much power as FM radios. I also heard from a reliable source that apparently the Sky+ set top box in 'power save mode' actually consumes almost the same amount of energy as when it's fully on whenever its receiving push-VOD content overnight).

This issue can only become more important. Our responsibility to save energy inside the BBC is obvious: but what is our role with respect to our audiences? How far does "Inform & Educate" take us with energy issues?

PS: Finally, a nice counter to James Murdoch's views about the BBC came from Five's CEO Jane Lighting, who, interviewed at the Plymouth Media Partnership event - which was jointly organised by the Royal Television Society - highlighted the BBC's iPlayer as one area where the corporation was a pathfinder for the commercial TV sector.

"Thank God they [the BBC] have made that investment in what is a risky area", she added.

Ashley Highfield is Divisional Director, BBC Future Media and Technology Division.

18 Months of Blogs (Part 2)

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Robin Hamman | 20:20 UK time, Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Part Two: Editorial Dilemmas and the Future

Earlier this week, I posted a brief history of the BBC Blogs Network and provided some insight into the technical dilemmas we've faced since launch 18 months ago. Today's post looks at the editorial challenges.

I don't believe that every BBC television or radio programme or personality should have a blog, nor do I know of anyone within the BBC who would want this, yet hardly a week goes by without at least one request for a new blog.

There's a process for the proposal of new blogs which, currently, doesn't capture whether or not our would be bloggers have what the Guardian's Emily Bell calls one's "inner blogger". Without an author who has a "drive to blog", a blog that looks great on paper ends up lacking in substance and appears soulless.

evans_adie.pngMany people don't have an inner blogger and not every BBC presenter, reporter, producer or editor wants to blog. Indeed, there are some who think the BBC shouldn't be blogging at all. For example, earlier this year, the BBC's Senior News Correspondent Kate Adie said to a blogger:

"... journalists shouldn't have any time to blog - there are too many stories waiting to be told!"

Adie has a point - blogging does take time - but I disagree that it necessarily takes time away from more fruitful journalistic and production activities. In fact, I'd argue that, where blogging is an integral part of the process of journalism or production, it's quite beneficial to both the final product and audience's understanding of it.

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Open Source Consortium Meeting/Backstage Podcast

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Nick Reynolds Nick Reynolds | 10:35 UK time, Wednesday, 14 November 2007

I am a newcomer to the BBC's Future Media Division, and consider myself to be well "behind the curve" on all things webby and technological compared to the clever people who work here.

mark_taylor.pngSo I was flattered to be invited to the meeting last week between the BBC's Tony Ageh (Controller, Internet) and Mark Taylor of the Open Source Consortium [pictured, right]. The meeting's aim was to have a discussion about the BBC's iPlayer.

Mark's already been interviewed about the meeting elsewhere and there's been a statement from the Open Source Consortium and some comment on blogs.

Last Friday the estimable Backstage team recorded a discussion with Mark Taylor, Becky Hogge from the Open Rights Group and Robin Doran, Matthew Browning, Jonathan Tweed and Ben Smith (all BBC Staff connected to the development of the iPlayer).

This is now available to listen to as a podcast here.

If you have any thoughts on the podcast, please do comment.

For me, what was good about the original meeting was its grown-up tone. Some of the more extreme views expressed about the iPlayer seem to be based for example on the belief that rights don't exist or are irrelevant and that rights holders aren't important. So it was good to hear Mark saying that the OSC accepts that rights holders do have legitmate interests that need to be considered.

Tony outlined the iPlayer story to date. I don't want to give away any secrets from a private meeting. But Tony acknowledged that we haven't done ourselves any favours in the way we've explained our decisions about the iPlayer.

The outcome of the meeting was that George Wright, who leads a new development team within FM&T, is going to have more discussions with free and open source software people (some suggested by Mark and the OSC) to see if there are ways we can work together.

I'm hoping to get George to talk about these on the BBC Internet Blog.

Nick Reynolds is editor, BBC Internet Blog.

The Next Big Thing?

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Ashley Highfield | 16:04 UK time, Monday, 12 November 2007

dot_com_logos.pngBack in July, Bobbie Johnson wrote an article for The Guardian listing what he thought of as the top ten UK recent web start-ups. His list, based on his inside knowledge, was:

  • Dopplr Social networking for frequent travellers
  • Extate Intelligent search of property websites
  • Garlik Online identity management
  • MindCandy Alternate reality gaming
  • Moo Print on demand: cards, notes and stickers
  • OnOneMap Map-based property search
  • Touch Local Local directory services
  • Trusted Places User-created local information
  • Zopa Peer to peer lending
  • Zubka Recruitment 2.0

The article got me thinking about other criteria that could be used to identify the next big thing(s) on the web coming out of the UK.

One comment suggested looking at UK start-ups that have caught the eyes of VCs: "Of course, one way to pick likely winners could be to look at those that have managed to raise high six-figure to seven-figure funding. From memory, that list is likely to include: garlik, Horsesmouth, MindCandy, Reevoo, VideoJug, Zopa."

To take another approach, our internal research department works with the Nielsen NetRating statistics, and has pulled out a list of the fastest growing sites with reach still below most peoples' radar:

top_rising_sites.png

Source: Neilsen Online, UK NetView, home&work data, including applications, July-August 2007
Text version of the table to follow

What other ways can we track emerging web phenomena? How would you aggregate all this information, including what people are talking about on social networks and blogs, into a "best of the best" to help spot the next big British dot com?

Any ideas?

(IBM has a technology that can scan vast swathes of the net monitoring the "buzz", looking for things that people are talking about: we're working with them on it. Its called the 'semantic super computing environment' at their research labs.)

Ashley Highfield is Divisional Director, BBC Future Media and Technology Division. This is taken from a post on his internal blog.

18 Months Of Blogs (Part 1)

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Robin Hamman | 13:07 UK time, Monday, 12 November 2007

Part One: History & Technical Challenges

The BBC Blogs Network has been up and running for 18 months. This milestone provides a good opportunity to give you some insight into what we've been doing, how we think our efforts measure up, and where we might be headed in the future, editorially and technically.

That's a lot to cover, so we're splitting the discussion in two. Today's post deals with the technical aspects of our Blogs Network and later this week, I'll return with a second post looking at editorial challenges.bottle_bbc_islandblogging.png
So, first: some history. In early 2006, following several forays into blogging by the BBC, most notably BBC Scotland's Island Blogging, Ouch! and Nick Robinson's Newslog, the decision was made to customise and install an off-the-shelf blogging solution and create the BBC Blogs Network, which launched in April.

The graph below provides four snapshots, taken at six month intervals, of the unique visitors and visitor sessions for the BBC Blogs Network, starting with that first month and ending with October 2007.

blog_network_usage430.png

The graph illustrates that the BBC blogs have, in aggregate, found a large and steadily growing audience. Additionally, it's worth noting that the average time of each visit has remained fairly static at just under four minutes.

The downside of this success has been our technical infrastructure becoming increasingly unstable. It was built quickly and involved a number of customisations to the software which effectively ended our ability to easily install software patches and bug fixes provided by the vendor in order to deal with some of the technical issues we've faced.

Our technical woes will have been invisible to most people visiting a BBC blog, but this will be of little comfort to those who have encountered them first-hand, including Newsnight editor Peter Barron who recently posted on The Editors: "Often I try to respond to a comment or complaint about the programme and end up gnawing my knuckles in frustration as the response either doesn't appear for many hours or fails to materialise at all. Hardly the best way to have a free flowing dialogue with our viewers."

Read the rest of this entry

News Correspondents' Blogs

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 09:33 UK time, Monday, 12 November 2007

This is an extract from a post on our sister blog The Editors by the editor of the BBC News website. You can read more and leave a comment at the original post.

The ReportersThis week we launched the tenth in our set of correspondents' blogs, with Justin Webb's America. It seems a good time to take stock.

Over the past couple of years they have quietly changed the way in which the best of the BBC's journalism gets out to our audiences.

When Nick Robinson started his blog - which was the first of these - someone in the newsroom likened it to a kind of hotline straight to Nick's brain - because by reading it you got to find out - often way ahead of his appearance on any broadcast outlet - what angles of a story he was contemplating, and what his take on events was going to be. You still can.

Read on and join in at The Editors.

Steve Herrmann is the editor of the BBC News website.

Open Standards

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Ashley Highfield | 14:13 UK time, Tuesday, 6 November 2007

An example of a BBC podcastI have read all the posts here, and followed links to further discussion on various blogs, with great interest. The first thing I want to say is that I am genuinely sorry if I've caused any offence to Linux users, and certainly did not mean to imply that you are not important to us. The BBC is committed to open standards, across television, radio and the internet wherever possible.

We do maximise the reach of our services by distributing our content via closed or prioprietary networks (Virgin Media, Sky, Tiscali TV/HomeChoice, mobile platforms, etc.) where appropriate, but also try and ensure that our content can be consumed through open solutions (whether over IP, DAB, or DTT). Sometimes, due to issues somewhat beyond our control (e.g. rightsholders conditions), we need to use proprietary solutions. We are exploring open source solutions to these. We can, and should, always do more, but if I may, a few points you might not be aware of:

The vast, vast majority of bbc.co.uk is powered by open source components (Linux, Apache, MySQL and Perl being the chief components [the LAMP stack] - our Real Media content has always been available on a number of OSes - from Windows and Mac through to Linux, BSD, Solaris and HP-UX.)

We have released to the developer community a number of the building blocks used as part of the bbc.co.uk application development process. The complete list is on bbc.co.uk/opensource.

We intend to open up our Rapid Application Development office (part of the Research & Innovation department, in which we are increasing investment) to various software community groups and we are in conversation with some of the major distributors about options for GNU/Linux. The result should be that future applications get designed with "open-ness" built in from the get-go.

Of course, we should release more applications on backstage.bbc.co.uk, and we intend to increase the number of projects within the BBC's open source programme (foremost amongst these is Dirac, which far from being dead - as one comment suggested - was looking extremely healthy [and award winning] when I saw it last at IBC in September).

We're looking to do more to promote open standards within the BBC, and to invest in the talent that has developed within these communities.

I will also kick off a piece of research to look into the size and more importantly the growth of the open source community within the UK, and what role the BBC could and should have in promoting it.

It's also worth mentioning that our service of podcasts and downloads of radio programmes is DRM-free.

I didn't anticipate this blog would get off to quite the start it did(!), but that's what it's here for, and I hope you will, over time, recognise that this is a genuine attempt to listen and engage and that, being human, I won't get everything right (especially in wide-ranging lengthy interviews), but I'm certain you'll put me right!

Ashley Highfield is Divisional Director, BBC Future Media and Technology Division

Operating System Figures

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Kevin Hinde | 12:42 UK time, Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Chart from Martin Belam's Currybet blogOn Ashley's recent post about Linux figures, some people have asked for more detail on the information that the BBC gathers about the operating systems which are used by visitors to its websites. There was particular interest in whether the statistics for the web servers which host the BBC's News and Sport content were any different to the statistics for the whole of the BBC.

I posted the output from our reporting system to the BBC Backstage mailing list which Martin Belam has conveniently summarised on his blog.

There is some difference between Journalism and the rest of the BBC which may be explained, as Martin suggests, by the different usage patterns for the News site, although I don't know whether all the differences are statistically significant or could be explained by sampling error. (Compared to the rest of the BBC, more people visit the News site from an office computer, during the day. We have data from independent sources which confirms this).

All of the BBC's regular reporting mechanisms use the User Agent string to make inferences about the client operating system. In a follow-up post I should be able to give you information about how many User Agent strings are classified as "operating system unknown", and about the split between visitors from the UK and from outside the UK.

We will publish this data regularly on both the Backstage archive and this blog.

Kevin Hinde is Head of Software Development, Journalism, BBC Future Media & Technology.

A Page For Every Programme

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Sophie Walpole | 15:53 UK time, Monday, 5 November 2007

david_reed_windmill_rd1970.pngProgramme support. It used to be so easy. If you wanted to know when a show was on, you reached for the Radio Times. If you wanted to follow it up afterwards, you sent in a stamped, self-addressed envelope. If you missed it... well... you missed it. Since the earliest days of bbc.co.uk, the BBC has responded to the new worlds of on-demand and interactivity by producing thousands of lovingly crafted programme-related sites offering anything from listings, games, clips and educational information to Listen Again, the iPlayer and full live Test The Nation-style interactivity.

These sites serve all sorts of different needs, but are not always serving the best interests of the user - a point eloquently made on Dadblog a while back. And while our programme offering was vast, it was neither comprehensive nor was it permanent. Try searching the web for information about BBC Two's The Verdict (which had a substantial web presence when broadcast) and all you will find is this press release.

radio_times.pngA key plank of Tom Loosemore's bbc.co.uk 2.0 strategy was to ensure a base level of consistency, quality and permanence for all BBC programmes online. A single URL for every episode of every programme made for the BBC... forever. At the same time, we wanted to explore how to automate some of the process, capturing the metadata naturally produced in the production process and publish it dynamically so that users could find out the status of the programme at any point in its lifecycle. So /programmes was born.

As Tom Scott revealed, it launched last month in beta and you can expect significant changes in the coming months as we roll out new features and functionality. And as Martin Belam points out, it may be long overdue - but thanks to the talented technology team in Audio&Music Interactive, we have now made that crucial first step in a new direction...

Sophie Walpole is workstream leader for Automated Programme Support.

Linux Figures

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Ashley Highfield | 16:03 UK time, Friday, 2 November 2007

linux_tux_bbc.pngI have received and seen on the net a lot of comment on this point of the number of Linux users using bbc.co.uk, so I have had a good look into the validity of the figures I'd been given.

The BBC uses a range of systems to calculate user levels and the reporting system used to provide the numbers I quoted gave the lowest number (this is the system we use the most widely, and I've asked for a thorough check to see whether it is correctly picking up all Linux users).

Alternative analysis that we have run off which performs the measurement in different ways suggests that the potential number of Linux users could range from 0.3% to 0.8% (which, from a total UK bbc.co.uk userbase of 12.2m weekly users [source: TNS] could imply a userbase between 36,600 and 97,600. We'll try and get a more accurate picture: over 30,000 Linux users is a not insubstantial number, but we do have to keep this in context with the vast majority of users who use either Windows or Macs to access bbc.co.uk.

Ashley Highfield is Director, BBC Future Media and Technology.

iPlayer/DRM Podcast & Interview

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Ashley Highfield | 16:29 UK time, Wednesday, 31 October 2007

iplayer_podcast.pngThere has been much comment about the iPlayer and our current usage of Microsoft DRM (some of it even good!). I have done a couple of interviews with silicon.com and our own BBC Backstage to try and move on the dialogue from why we needed to make the decisions we did, to where we go from here, and to how we intend moving forwards towards universal access to our content in the UK. These are intended to open more meaningful conversation based on a mutual understanding of the issues and practicalities we face.

I'd be interested in your thoughts, so please do comment - either on this post or, if you are a subscriber, via the Backstage mailing list.

Ashley Highfield is Director, BBC's Future Media and Technology

It's Good To Talk

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Nick Reynolds Nick Reynolds | 16:23 UK time, Wednesday, 31 October 2007

This blog aims to talk about what the BBC does on the internet and in technology, including BBC websites, internet services and technology products like the iPlayer. It will feature contributions from BBC Future Media and Technology teams, interactive editors, executives, controllers and FM&T's Director along with your comments.

BBC Homepage 1997The BBC wants to be more open and accountable, so this site is a place for everyone to join the conversation. So please do criticize the BBC in your comments (I suspect you will not need much encouragement!), and ask tough questions. When someone makes a point that needs a considered response on this blog, I'll try to make this happen. I welcome comments on this post about what topics you think the blog should cover and how it can be improved.

This blog will also link out to the conversation about the BBC on the wider internet, and to individual blogs. I hope to point to where the good conversations are. As Tom Loosemore outlined in the BBC's Fifteen Web Principles, the web is a conversation. Rather than trying to own or control the conversation, I'm hoping to encourage BBC people to join in (and I may even join in myself!).

As Peter Barron (Editor, Newsnight) has pointed out on the News Editors Blog the technology supporting the BBC's blogs is not working as well as it should. But rather than delaying launching this blog until all the problems were fixed I decided to get something live, even if it's not perfect. Thanks to everyone at the BBC who made it happen.

Comments on this blog will be moderated. Due to the technical limitations mentioned, comments will be premoderated. So comments will be read before a decision is made whether to publish them. I aim to include as many comments as possible, but comments which are abusive, offensive, defamatory or wildly off topic may not be published.

When the current technical difficulties are resolved I hope to move this blog to post moderation so that the conversation can flow more easily.

If you want to discuss what the BBC does editorially on its News websites and its television and radio news services, go to the BBC News Editors Blog. The BBC blogs page shows the full range of where you can talk to the BBC through blogs. If you want to make things with BBC feeds, I recommend a visit to the rather wonderful Backstage blog.

Leaving a comment on the blog, is not the same as making a formal complaint. If you want to do that, this website will help you - and this way, you're guaranteed to receive a formal response.

Let battle commence!

Nick Reynolds is editor, BBC Internet Blog.

Welcome

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Ashley Highfield | 16:10 UK time, Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Hello and welcome to the BBC Internet Blog. The aim of this blog is to have an open, direct, and hopefully lively conversation about everything we do, and plan to do, on bbc.co.uk and all our on-demand platforms (such as interactive TV and mobile).

BBC2The BBC has always had a commitment to engaging with our audience, and we now receive millions of inbound messages a day across email, message boards and blog postings, but I think we have been slow to embrace blogs as a way of discussing our strategy and direction. This often leads to the debate happening elsewhere, based often on only half the information, and without our being able fully to join in the debate. We've not done ourselves any favours, and we want to use this blog to re-engage with our friends and critics.

The passion with which people let us know their views shows that they care. We should be much more worried if one day the 'in-coming' fell away: this would mean we'd lost our relevance: what we do, and the decisions we make - from what content we publish over I.P., to how we distribute it, to how we enable our audiences to engage with it and share it - would have become of no interest.

This blog is a small step, a start towards a closer understanding and a deeper level of engagement with the people who pay for the BBC, and who care about the decisions we make. If we get it right, we can perhaps harness the wisdom of crowds (or the Delphi Technique as it used to be called) to arrive at better strategies, products, and services to help keep the BBC relevant in the digital age.

Ashley Highfield is Divisional Director, BBC Future Media and Technology Division

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