BBC Homepage beta: your feedback (#1)
Many of you have expressed opinions on whether the clock - shown here on a monitor near James' desk - belongs on the homepage.
Last week we launched a BBC Online homepage for the first time
since 2009 for over a year in beta mode for public use and feedback. I published a post on the day of launch to explain the rationale behind the changes. My colleague Phil Fearnley blogged on our About the BBC blog to explain the broader BBC strategic context.
Showcasing the breadth of BBC Online on one webpage is a huge challenge. The ambition with this redesign was to create a time- and location-aware experience which allows users to quickly find what they're looking for, whilst discovering something new. It's a big change but the response has been pleasing and we're delighted with the level of engagement we're getting.
We've opened up various routes for audiences to tell us what they think. We created a simple 'how to' guide which provided an opportunity for feedback via an online survey, and my original blog post invited feedback via comments. Alongside this, beta users have commented on Twitter via the #bbchomepage hashtag. On Twitter we were able to track real-time responses on the day of launch: following the first tweet of the day from The Guardian's @joshhalliday, 'new BBC' trended third in the UK at 11:30AM and mentions were generally positive - unprecedented for a new product launch, especially given the scale of change.
Early press coverage helped spread word also - from the Financial Times' summary of the challenges facing homepages across industry and our response to PaidContent's prediction that 'swipability' would characterise many sites' development in the future. Econsultancy acknowledged that though change of this scale often unsettles, response seemed more positive than negative in general.
As users become more familiar with change initial responses give way to more detailed and specific feedback. We've received some really constructive comments via our survey option though commenting on the BBC Internet Blog has questioned some principles of the page. There are some common themes emerging which I summarise below.
The beta represents work in progress and location setting isn't yet enabled (the page currently defaults to London). Location functionality will be introduced soon. Once enabled, a user's location will determine the nation edition that they see, and the preference will be stored via cookies. If no location preference is expressed the page will resolve via geo-IP to the relevant nation edition, with the largest city set as default location.
Beyond the web and touch screen functionality
The new homepage beta is designed for the web so isn't optimised for touch interaction; anyone viewing the product on a tablet isn't yet seeing a version created for that screen. We know from user testing that users found the carousel format "intuitive", "just like flicking through a magazine". In time, we'll be optimising the product for mobile and tablet; the interaction model will obviously lend itself very well to touchscreen 'swiping' expected on these handheld devices.
Surfacing more of BBC Online - showing less of more
In showing less of more we run the risk of crowding out some things. For instance, some users commented that technology-related content wasn't accessible from the new homepage anymore. This is because there is no 'top-level directory' (TLD) for technology content, as distinct from the Technology section of our BBC News site (bbc.co.uk/news/technology). The 'Explore' panel aims to provide a quick look-up for selected TLDs. We'll be reviewing what's pulled in here to ensure it provides an anchor to the right sections of BBC Online for a majority of the audience.
Rebalancing the page
There have been some comments around the de-prioritisation of BBC News and BBC Sport content, suggestive of 'dumbing down'. This doesn't reflect any shift in the BBC's editorial priorities. Audience research reflected that the homepage wasn't considered distinctive, with some users thinking that the BBC News homepage was our front page. Top news and sports stories remain, but we've aimed to increase the page's coverage to appeal to a broader audience. Over 70% of users entering BBC Online at the BBC News front page come direct, so the homepage needn't serve as a conduit for current affairs content exclusively. In fact, the homepages for BBC News and BBC Sport respectively are only one click away and remain the best place to get a comprehensive view of the latest news and sport from the BBC on the web.
Simple filtering versus customisation
A key point of complaint on the blogs especially is the reduced scope for customisation. This direction of travel - like all decisions behind the page - is based on audience research results. Less than a third of users used customization features, and two thirds of this engagement comprised a simple change to location. When we highlighted customization features to audiences the perceived value was mixed. The way people interact with the internet is changing; we've innovated to keep pace with user demand for simple filtering, rather than wholesale customization. This doesn't mean that we've given up on customisation completely. As we develop the new homepage we will be investigating more ways to easily filter out content that is of less interest, making the BBC homepage become increasingly relevant to every user's interests and needs.
The new BBC Homepage has been built with accessibility in mind - we've adopted best practice from first steps and intend to carry out a full accessibility review of the product as we work through beta feedback. We hope to make the finished product as accessible as we can for users with impairments.
To confirm, the new homepage will be made available in the UK only, and won't impact the existing international edition. We'll work with partners in BBC Worldwide to ensure we're delivering the best experience for international markets.
The new homepage is the result of ongoing collaboration between audience research, editorial, tech, user-experience and design teams and you can expect further updates from these disciplines throughout the beta period. And of course, we welcome your continued feedback and will use this to shape the launch product.
Thanks to all those who have shared their thoughts so far: we'll continue to review all comments around this work-in-progress version and address key themes in round ups to follow.
James Thornett is Head of the BBC Homepage Product, BBC Future Media