Monday 22 April 2013, 07:01
We've been working for a while on some changes to the way BBC iD works which we hope will make it better all-round. Some of the improvements have appeared already but there are more to come, so this post is an explanation and an update on where we are.New look BBC iD
Before we get to that, it might be useful to say a bit about what BBC iD is and what it means to 'sign in' in the first place.
Who are you?
When you 'sign in' you're letting a website know it's you. By 'registering' you set yourself up as someone who can sign in and be remembered by the site between visits. In order to make sure it's the same you each time and not someone else you choose a password.
This process is more or less the same all over the web but the reason you sign in can differ wildly from one site to the next.
For some websites signing in is fundamental. They present information specifically for you, created as a result of the information you provide (via the things you do) over time. If you don't sign in, there is no 'you' and that exchange can't happen.
Today most visits to BBC Online are by people who are not signed in. This is because watching, listening and reading aren't, by themselves at least, activities where who you are is fundamentally important.
But there are many things you can do when you're signed in at the BBC and thousands of new BBC iDs are registered every day by people doing them. They may be commenting on a BBC News or Sport article, or on a blog post like this one.
Many of them will have added programmes or recipes to their list of favourites so that they can come back and find them later. And thousands of children play CBBC's games, signing in to record their high scores or to challenge their friends to play with them:
Sign in to play CBBC games
As time goes on there will be many more features of BBC Online that build on the fact that it's you who's visiting and they’ll be spoken about in future posts by the people building them.
Meanwhile signing in, particularly across multiple devices, is becoming an increasingly useful thing to be able to do, and we're working hard to make it that as easy as possible.
Now, the update.
Simple sign in
There are two things to tell you about: the first is the introduction of an improved version of BBC iD and the second is a specific feature of it.
For a little while now we've had two versions of BBC iD: the old one, first announced back in 2009, and the new one launched just before the Olympics last year. We're gradually switching from one to the other and most areas of BBC Online have made the move.
Importantly, these two versions are able to work together which means that you don't need to re-register or do anything differently.
Apart from looking slightly different and being able to handle more people using it at the same time, the new version is simpler. Central to this is that it collects less information.
Less is more
In the past the BBC iD registration process asked for quite a lot of things. Regardless of what you were doing you had to think up a username, choose a password and enter your full date of birth.
It then asked for your email address and gave you the option to choose a 'display name' to appear next to any comments you might or might not make.
While this process was justified at the time it was designed - when commenting was the main reason why people registered - there are now things you can do on bbc.co.uk that don't need to know as much information.
For example, iPlayer Radio lets you save programmes and clips to listen to later with the 'add to favourites' button. You need a BBC iD for this feature to work (otherwise we don't know whose favourites are being added and they won't be able to move between devices) but your age doesn't matter in the same way that it can for other things.
Sign in to save your favourites on iPlayer Radio
If something doesn't matter for what you're doing right now we won't ask for it.
If you decide later to do something that does need your age, such as make a comment on an article or blog post, we'll ask for it. Similarly, unless we specifically need your email address you're free to sign in with a username instead.
Taking this to its logical conclusion we've added the option to register without having to provide any information at all. No password, nothing.
Other ways to sign in
As explained at the start of this post, registration is about setting up a way to let a site know who you are. Signing in is being able to prove (to some level at least) that it's you. The email address (or username) and password that you set up during registration are the things that give that proof.
But if you already have a way to prove that you are who you say you are with another website, then, with your permission, we can take their word for it.
Doing this involves BBC iD being able to exchange specific information with other sign in systems and this is done with a standard mechanism called OAuth 2. When you want to sign in to the BBC we send you to your chosen site.
The options available to sign in from other sites so far are Facebook and Google, and you sign in there as normal. They then send you back to the BBC, along with an access code that lets us check that it's you. If you're already signed in to the other site, then this process is instant.
It's important to say that the integration between BBC iD and external sites like Facebook and Google is deliberately limited.
Nobody has any access to your activity at the BBC and nothing is shared or posted on your behalf.
Linking your BBC iD to one of these sites is purely to remove the need for you to think up another password and make signing in easier.
We don't take any personal information from external sites and nothing goes to them, either at the point of registration or at any point after that. (If any of this were to change it would only be with your permission.)
All in all this makes signing in and registering about as simple as it's possible to make it: by default you don't need to provide any information at all. If you want to comment, you still have to provide some extra details, but to 'add to favourites' it's just a matter of giving permission and... that's it.
If you already have a BBC iD you can retrospectively link it which means that you too can sign in without having to remember another password.
Sign in everywhere
Finally, sitting in the top left of all BBC pages you'll have noticed the 'sign in' link. This doesn't yet mean that all BBC products can make equally imaginative use of the fact that you're signed in but it does mean that, having seamlessly signed in with a single click, you can consistently access your settings and yes, sign out if you want to.
We'll be making lots of improvements and additions over the coming weeks and months and there will no doubt be things to iron out as we go along. If you have any questions, suggestions or feedback, please feel free to comment. You'll need to sign in of course.
Richard Northover is the product manager of BBC iD.
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