BBC Now: New ways of viewing content on the BBC Homepage

Product Manager

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Hello, I'm the product manager of the BBC Homepage.

In November 2012 I wrote a blog post about a project I was working on with an agency called Red Badger as part of the BBC’s Connected Studio initiative.

I’m really excited that we have now been able to put the link to this pilot live on the Connected Studio website.

Watch a film about the BBC Now pilot


The BBC publishes and broadcasts thousands of pieces of content a day both online and across our stations and channels. BBC Now gives us a new way to share more of this content but in a digestible way.

We know how busy people are and that we all expect the latest most relevant information to be there for us almost instantly.

We have therefore created a time based ‘fast lane’ of content on the right hand side of the BBC Homepage. This tells people what’s happening right now and brings out the personality of our brands.

It not only helps people discover new content they might have otherwise missed, it also uncovers the conversations around that content which happen every day.

A quick look at BBC Now gives you the top four trending or most popular terms. This updates dynamically as soon as another item is published which makes it even easier to follow a news story just as it's breaking or a big event like Glastonbury.

I wanted people to be able to find out what’s happening in the BBC and the world right now without having to move around different areas of the BBC website. You can get your Travel News, see which song was last played on 6 music, read headlines from journalists overseas, see what’s about to start on BBC One and of course get the latest Sports results all in one place.

The stream is made up of a mixture of recently published content and official BBC Twitter accounts including BBC News and Sports journalists, Radio shows and DJ’s, popular TV programmes such as Have I Got News For You, Daily Politics or Strictly Come Dancing and Radio 1’s Newsbeat. These accounts are all used as additional ways to communicate and have conversations directly with audiences.

I know people feel passionately about the BBC brands so it was important that every feed includes the appropriate logo. The Twitter Feeds also include the twitter handle for example @BBCFood, we then display the whole tweet.

The internally published content, i.e. content that sits on bbc.co.uk, is slightly different.

We make sure the brand that the content lives under is still prominent then, for example, for music we display the artwork of the song which is currently playing, and there is a prompt to listen live.

BBC iPlayer feeds work in a similar way: we show an image from the show, a brief description and a prompt to watch now in iPlayer.


Why do a prototype?

We do prototypes to test ideas quickly. It also gives us the opportunity to use a range of technology which means we can build as much as possible in the time available, which in this case was just four weeks. So unlike our current Homepage this prototype won’t work on older browsers or devices.

David Wynne, from Red Badger, shares some insight on how they built the prototype

By combining a variety of data sources and data strategies we created a unified stream of real-time BBC data which is delivered to each user's browser via Server-sent Events. Using our custom BBC Brand database we ensure each update is first associated to a configured brand so by the time it reaches a users browser, the update has been contextualized to a common brand. The stream of data is also passed through our trend analysis module, which uses a natural language query processor to extract common terms and aggregate trends occurring over the last six hours across the BBC.

Node.js is at the core of BBC Now, being suited as it is to real-time web applications. We used MongoDB to power the BBC Brand database and Redis to facilitate inter-application pub/sub. The trend analysis module uses Python and the NLTK (Natural Language Toolkit). We used Vagrant to provide virtualized development environments, provisioned by Chef. We also used Chef to provision production environments.


What next?

I’ve got several user testing sessions booked in where we will test the prototype with users across the country.

As this is a prototype this is just the start. My vision is that by offering different levels of manual and automatic personalisation each person will get live information on the things that they are most interesting in, be it Wimbledon, Grimmy, MasterChef or Northern Ireland News. This could be an optional piece of functionality, allowing people to chose how they want to see and receive their content from the BBC.

I would love you to give me your feedback by leaving a comment below or tweeting using the hash tag #bbcnow.

Eleni Sharp is the product manager, BBC Homepage.

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Comments

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  • Comment number 22. Posted by gooseholla

    on 26 May 2013 09:15

    The best BBC website was the one where you could move the individual blocks about, change colours, customise it etc. This current BBC homepage is awful, and well, to be fair, this prototype is awful. It is basically the website currently but on one page, with annoying twitter stuff. Is it not enough that the Beeb recently wasted £100m, that they have to keep experimenting with rubbish like this? I'd hate to think how much all this costs for a website which is basically a bland white page with tables and texts.

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  • Comment number 21. Posted by Josh Silvani

    on 25 May 2013 18:56

    Don't like it. It's a good idea but it doesn't work, on the current homepage you can see everything that you want to without scrolling, and if you want to see more you can click the different left/right buttons.

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  • Comment number 20. Posted by Eleni Sharp

    on 20 May 2013 14:55

    @Webbswonder This could be an optional piece of functionality, allowing people to chose how they want to see and receive their content from the BBC.

    @lettice The feeds shown on the pilot are a selection of BBC accounts from various channels and stations but we will be including more and accounts if we launched this on the BBC homepage.

    @Briantist Thanks for your comment and suggestion, we purposely didn’t put all available feeds in the prototype, I will bare in mind a podcast feed for future developments.

  • Comment number 19. Posted by Briantist

    on 17 May 2013 16:25

    @Eleni Sharp: I have kept the feed on the side of one of my monitors for the last few days (it might be handy to have a "pop out" version, one which opens links in a new tab).

    I've been watching the BBC Now and I think you might have missed one of the input feeds - the BBC postcasts - http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts.xml .

    Excuse me if I've got it wrong.

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  • Comment number 18. Posted by lettice

    on 17 May 2013 13:33

    Been looking at the pilot page for a while over last few days.
    The twitter blogs update so quick they are not possible to read or take in.
    I'm not a user of twitter and tend to ignore it in other sites and forums, but for those bbc ones, who writes the comments, some real odd, childish and pretty irrelevant comments there!
    Would be better to just have more page content.
    So nice to not see the carousel anymore. Never used it as it was unintuitive to make a mouse go right to left. So glad to have a good proper scrollable page back.

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  • Comment number 17. Posted by Squirrel

    on 17 May 2013 12:22

    "For my tastes stuff updating faster than I can read is of no value and distracting"

    I quite agree!

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  • Comment number 16. Posted by Webbswonder

    on 16 May 2013 18:07

    A second thought, Allow closing of the BBC NOW, so it is optional whether to have the feed visible or not . For my tastes stuff updating faster than I can read is of no value and distracting, but others might like it. In my last look, 8 feeds appeared and disappeared down the screen in less than 5 seconds.

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  • Comment number 15. Posted by Webbswonder

    on 16 May 2013 17:23

    The Homepage looks much better now without the twitching and flashing carousel of the awful current Homepage. I would prefer it without the Twitter feed on the right hand side. I would remove the twitter feed and expand the home page, the Twitter feed updates far too often to be useful and just adds noise to the page as all the information is irrelevant (how many people will want to know what one extra is playing, and there is a closed road in devon, and a BBC Sport guy has just seen a horse and a producer has just filed a report and BBC three is now playing something in a constant stream of drivel every second. I will use Twitter when I want Twitter, and choose my feeds. The BBC Now might work if it was restricted to major news updates and perhaps BBC outputs such as radio and TV shows starting. But the twitter feed is too much. The scrolling with the mouse downwards is a 10000x better than the horrific flashing and twitching carousel on the current homepage. I stopped using the homepage when the carousel was introduced.

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  • Comment number 14. Posted by lettice

    on 15 May 2013 15:54

    Oh no, half the page of the homepage taken up with with twitter and facebook, no thanks.
    You mention customization, yes lets go back to the old homepage, that just worked.
    Still only people look at News,Sport and weather, perhaps that is what they want!

    Who is this audience who tested it. Cannot believe anyone would really say they loved it.

    From what I read on these blogs here when the current homepage was launched it was never really liked by much of the audience.

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  • Comment number 13. Posted by Silke

    on 15 May 2013 13:38

    Okay, here we go. I find the Twitter feed very distracting because it changes too often and is too prominent on the page. The font is too large and varies between tweets (the whole Twitter section looks messy in my eyes). I wonder how many people would use the BBC homepage for Twitter updates rather than customise, say, TweetDeck. Personally, I barely look at the homepage but go straight to BBC News. So how can you encourage me to change my viewing behaviour?
    The "Explore" section at the bottom of the page is still boring and does not invite me to see what other interesting things I can find on the BBC site. Why not make more use of the space that you have and go way beyond the fold. Scrolling up/down is so easy nowadays. Show me spotlights of various feature sites.
    Why is does the Twitter feed take up the entire right-hand side of the page? You've allowed me to scroll down the tweets independently to the page. Why not make the Twitter box shorter and use the space below it to promote other sections of the BBC?

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