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BBC Music Website Relaunch

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Matthew Shorter Matthew Shorter | 16:27 UK time, Monday, 23 March 2009

I blogged here last summer about the beta launch of music artist pages. I'm delighted to announce that we are launching today a full public beta of the pages, alongside a new BBC music website.

Much of our focus over the last few months has been on building the internal tools and databases to enable us to harvest and represent relevant data around our broadcast activity - in data terms, how our domains at /music and /programmes intersect. This means that we expect the play count data we display on artist pages to improve over the next weeks and months as these tools are rolled out. Currently this data still has significant gaps which is why we're still retaining the beta label. It should also enable us to begin generating really useful contextual links from our programme pages, such as making artist names clickable on tracklists. This work also represents the foundation for future views of data which might enable us, say, to provide navigation and aggregation around the broadcast of sessions or live events.

We've also added a few more innovations to the pages themselves since the beta was launched last July. We've added links to BBC news and blogs (here's how) and links to our own album reviews. We've made it easier to access the pages by guessing at a human-writable URL redirect so you don't have to rely on the ungainly-looking MusicBrainz ID that sits in the page's URL, though of course the pages are also now available via BBC search and web search.

We've added our "Now On The BBC" feature to artist pages (here's one for Bonnie Prince Billy). Set against our aspirations for fully domain-driven design and semantically linked data, this is something of a blunt instrument, as it's effectively linking data to flat pages. But compared to where we are now, we think it offers some pretty neat features. It gives us the raw material for an enhanced artist gateway, and the tool that sits behind it also lets us publish in a streamlined way to an artist page at the same time as we update the homepage and genre pages of the new music site.

It's also one of a number of APIs that we are making available with the new site (alongside the playcount data, news and blog updates and album reviews). If you're a developer or publisher of a third party site we'd love to hear your ideas on working with this data.

Elsewhere on the site, we've brought our overall template and design conventions into line with most of the rest of BBC Online. We've added contextual programme recommendations to our album reviews - so if you're reading a review of Marianne Faithful's new album and would like to hear the kind of programmes that broadcast her music, you can follow the links to Nemone, Iyare and Shaun Keaveny's programme pages. We're experimenting with a new Flash interface as well to display our "most played" artist data on the homepage.

We've been grappling with some fundamental editorial questions in bringing the artist pages to full public beta. As mentioned when we launched the beta, we are now publishing several hundred thousand pages automatically, which harvest third-party content from Wikipedia and MusicBrainz, both sites run by the contributions of a dedicated, self-appointed pool of experts. This is new territory for the BBC, and we've had to give careful thought to our policies and how we communicate them to our audience. We would love to hear your feedback on the approach.

We have a lot of plans for building on this foundation. In the short term, we'll be working through a somewhat miscellaneous snagging list which includes everything from making sure we build URIs for all the resources windowed on our pages to getting audio clips back on our album reviews. We're keen to get our content around artists and albums on to the mobile platform. We're looking at ways in which we can reflect and link to activity around artists from the rest of the web.

Most importantly, we'll be working hard on systems to automate meaningful aggregation of all of the BBC's own content around artists, so that you will never miss, say, a documentary featuring a given artist, or an interview that's available on one of our programme pages. Coupled with that, we'll be building a variety of ways of navigating contexutally between different kinds of content (music, programmes, topics and so on). We'd also like to bring our users into the picture, by gathering attention data, fanship and the like and starting to offer personally useful journeys around our content.

I've posted some more details about the changes we're making to the front end of the website on the BBC Music Blog here and here.

As I say, we'd love to hear your views - comment here or mail us directly.

Matthew Shorter is Interactive Editor, Music.


  • Comment number 1.

    So no more artists are getting special treatment and free advertising like U2 did a couple of weeks ago?


  • Comment number 2.

    neiltc13 - your comment is off topic. Any more comments in this vein will be removed.

  • Comment number 3.

    Some good changes, I'm not keen on the flash interface though.

  • Comment number 4.

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

  • Comment number 5.

    I really love some of the latest work coming out the FM&T department, in particular the /music and /programme domains. Coupled with the iPlayer, and new TV and Radio websites, the level of care and detail put into providing a joined up system, in which different services support each other, and help avoid duplication is immediately obvious. Congratulations!

    Also noted is the use of a Swiss typeface (if you can call Arial Swiss) rather than Verdana, which other teams within FM&T seem insistent upon using. Whilst I can understand the arguments for better readability, I'd much prefer to see Arial set at 13px rather than the wider (and uglier) Verdana. It's use on other sites such as BBC News Online, particularly for headlines in my opinion makes those sites look rather dated and amateurish. Luckily the Music site excellently demonstrates that Arial can give sites a more contemporary look, and it's used should be encouraged elsewhere on the site.

    As to the comments on U2, whilst I can see why they were removed, I'm in total agreement with their viewpoint. Luckily I have seen a post about U2 elsewhere on the BBC Blog Network, so I shall register my complaint there. However, am I allowed to suggest that the moderation on this post has been a little heavy handed?

  • Comment number 6.

    You can suggest it, although you're off topic. I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't. This post is not about moderation either.

  • Comment number 7.

    Nick Reynolds - such is life at the BBC I would imagine! However life at the BBC is off topic also ;-)

  • Comment number 8.

    Hi Nick

    Will there be any way of listening to artists directly on the new music pages? A la Myspace Music? I went to an artists page hoping to listen to a song or to but found only links to external sites..?

    Don't get me wrong I can see what you're trying to do and it's great to see the BBC championing all music. But - if I go to Myspace then I can listen to a band AND read their bio...find related music...upcoming gigs...etc.

  • Comment number 9.

    @paulrobertlloyd I appreciate your thoughtful comments on the font - I will pass them on to our designer.

    @rob_murray you're absolutely right. We know that our users rightly expect an artist page to contain audio - it's what happens everywhere else on the web, isn't it? And we're on the case - there are technology and rights issues to consider here, but we think there's a way round it. Watch this space.

  • Comment number 10.

    @Matthew Shorter

    Thanks that answer my question. I'm a big fan of the BBC's innovative approach. I've blogged a short review of BBC Music Beta www.socialmediamashup.blogspot.com


  • Comment number 11.

    Is it possible to add a link to bbc.co.uk/radio on this page?


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