Evolution of the BBC homepage
You may also find James Thornett's post about the 2011 BBC Homepage beta of interest - inserted Ian McDonald 21 Sep 2011
Last week we launched a new version of the BBC homepage at http://beta.bbc.co.uk. At first you might think the beta homepage seems pretty familiar, with its modular customisable layout. But take a closer look and you'll notice we've made a number of significant improvements.
Let me start by providing some background on why we released this new BBC homepage beta. Back in May 2008 the BBC announced plans to build a new service-oriented architecture, to help us scale our products and services, keep up with ever evolving web technologies and to deliver new features more quickly. The BBC homepage is one of our first sites to be moved to this new infrastructure.
Initially we planned a simple 'lift and shift' of the current homepage to the new platform. However, since we had to completely rebuild the homepage for the new architecture, it would have been remiss for us not to deliver some new features and improvements to the site.
The first improvement you'll notice on the beta homepage is the introduction of a new navigation bar across the top of the page. With the new navigation bar you'll get easier and faster access to the most popular sites across the BBC. If the site you're looking for isn't listed, simply choose from the 'More' drop down menu, or type what you're looking for in the Search box.
Very soon this navigation bar will appear across the entire BBC web site - not just the homepage. In order to fit the most popular links onto the navigation bar and allow for consistency across all BBC web sites, we had to keep its overall size down. As a result we have (somewhat controversially) removed the clock from the BBC homepage header. We've already received feedback from some users who miss the clock, but rest assured we are working on a clock module to be released soon, which you'll be able to add to your personalised version of the homepage.
One of the strengths of bbc.co.uk is that we have depth and breadth of online content. But it also creates a challenge, as we have too much content to try and fit onto the homepage all at once. The new Media Zone is a promotional area at the top of the page that showcases the range of content, and helps users discover more of the BBC. Simply roll your mouse over the thumbnails to scroll through the content.
Two key themes for our online team's product releases over the coming months are "Personalisation" and "Now", allowing you to tune your BBC experience to the things that you're interested in, as well as showcasing what's happening across the BBC at that time.
In terms of personalisation user testing showed us that while people liked the ability to remove, rearrange or add widgets on the BBC what people valued more was finer-grained personalisation of content within those widgets. So, for example, the updated music widget now lets you choose your favourite music genres and it delivers the latest matching music programmes.
We've also introduced several features to give you a better sense of what's happening across the BBC right now.
On the BBC iPlayer widget there is a new "Just In" feature that allows you to see programmes as soon as they become available in iPlayer. Another key part of the "now" proposition is the introduction of Topic Tracker, a new widget we're trialling which gives you a unique way to keep up to date with the topics you're interested in.
Topic Tracker allows quick and easy access to the breadth of BBC content tailored to your personal interests - from your favourite shows to hot topics and stories. Simply click on an image from the hot topics, or search for your own favourite topics. Then select the best match from the list provided and you're set to get frequent updates on your interests.
In the example shown, I'm tracking Barack Obama, Lewis Hamilton and Kylie Minogue. So when I return to the homepage I see the latest BBC content on each of my interests. In this case I've got the latest news articles related to Barack Obama and Lewis Hamilton, but there have been no new stories about Kylie Minogue in the past 24 hours.
You can expand or collapse the number of stories you see using the arrows next to the topic name. The topics listed in Topic Tracker are provided by our Search team. At the start of this year, we told you about enhancements to our site search, a consequence of which is that we can start to bring more relevant and up to date content to other BBC sites.
Topic Tracker already offers more than 11,000 topics from across the BBC, and we'll continue to add more topics over time. One of the benefits of Topic Tracker is that we'll be able to see the most popular topics across our audience, allowing us to create a real-time zeitgeist of the hottest topics, as determined by our users.
The new beta homepage also includes many design tweaks which you'll find makes it faster to load and easier to use. For example the iPlayer and Music module carousels now use simple left and right arrows to scroll through the carousel content. The addition of time stamps for the top news stories shows you the latest updates at a glance, and we've used a refreshed colour palette to simplify the page experience.
These visual changes are not actually part of the new global visual language (GVL) that we announced last month, but certainly stepping stones in that direction. As the GVL evolves we'll be looking to incorporate more elements of the new visual language on the BBC homepage.
Finally, the new technical architecture we mentioned at that start of this blog post will help us deliver many more improvements across all of our online products and services. In future you'll be able to seamlessly roam your personalised BBC homepage across all your devices. For example you'll be able to add your favourite football club to Topic Tracker, and then see your same favourite topics on your mobile phone, office computer, and perhaps one day even on your TV courtesy of services like Canvas.
We've made many other smaller improvements to the homepage, and the new platform will allow us to continue to deliver new features more quickly and easily. Try the new beta homepage and tell us what you think.
Jo Wickremasinghe is Head of Homepage and Syndication Services.