BBC iD: Making sign in simple

Monday 22 April 2013, 07:01

Richard Northover Richard Northover Product Manager

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Hello, I'm Richard Northover and I'm the product manager of BBC iD, the BBC's sign in system.

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.

id_new_1024.jpg 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:

cbbc_game.jpg 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 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.

id_favourites_608.jpg 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 private

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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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    All well and good - and the concept of only asking for minimal relevant information is in line with accepted data handling principles - but the current dearth of any meaningful HYS opportunities at the moment makes it pretty pointless. What is going on? The only stories being opened for HYS are banal non-stories, no issues to discuss at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    This is only a suggestion, but would it be possible to have a mechanism using one's BBC ID to go direct to my local region for local news, weather, travel ect.?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    I do miss being able to see my recent views on the ones there refer only to the older system and not the April refits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    So, for some features:

    "You need a BBC iD for this feature to work [...] but your age doesn't matter"

    but the OAuth based sign-in says this:

    "Please only use this if you are 16 or over"


  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Good work! The importance of a top-notch sign in process shouldn't be underestimated.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    It would be good if the following could be done.

    1. There was some sort of link between having access to BBC services and having paid for a TV licence.
    2. There was a limit to the number of BBC IDs an individual could have (ideally just one).
    3. Posts on BBC blogs and HYSs showed the user's IP address.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Fast, clean, simple and secure. What's not to love?

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    A huge improvement! Much simpler now. Hopefully this will encourage more people to register making more personalised experiences worth creating in the future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Thanks very much for your comments so far…

    Megan: I'll try to get an answer to your HYS point.

    G J Warner: This type of feature is being looked at - I'll try to find out where News, Weather and Travel are with their plans.

    _Ewan_: A really good question… this is an area that led to lots of discussion, as you might imagine. BBC iD handles sign in for CBBC as well as for the rest of BBC Online. While we don't directly prevent under 16s from signing in with external services, it was decided that offering the "other ways to sign in" feature inside CBBC wasn't right, as the main audience for CBBC is quite a lot younger than sites like Facebook allow. For children visiting other areas of BBC Online (where, as you say, age doesn't matter in the same way) we needed to find a way to remain consistent, so we added the "16 or over" notice.

    Mark, Giv, Benjamin: Thanks :-)

    jrperry: At the moment we're not planning to introduce these kinds of features, as this would change the way BBC iD works in quite profound ways. Thanks very much for your suggestions, though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    One of the problems I have had since setting my BBCiD up a couple of years ago is that I am always having to log in, after a few days it seems to log me out. It happens on several computers and different browsers. Its very annoying and doesn't happen with any other website where I have to log in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Oh and when is the option to choose favourite radio stations coming back? Thanks

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    and how do I sign out and what cookies do you set?

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Thanks again for your comments and questions.

    NickyBoy001: Sorry that you're having problems. If you tick "Remember me", you should be signed in for 30 days. If you don't, you should be signed in until you close your browser. If this isn't happening, you can email and we'll try to investigate further. (The iPlayer Radio favourites page says the team is working hard to fix it, so it shouldn't be much longer.)

    cping500: You can sign out using the "sign out" link ( in the menu at the top of every page. We set two cookies when you sign in, one called IDENTITY and one called IDENTITY-HTTPS. You can read more about BBC cookies and how they're used at If you have any specific questions, please feel free to ask.

    G J Warner: I spoke to the News team, and they've said that they regularly review the use of localisation features, and will continue to talk to users about whether they would find more options like these (including links with BBC iD) valuable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Thanks Richard for your reply. I do tick the 'remember me' option, however I didn't know it only remembered me for 30 days, so that could explain my issue. Out of interest, whi is it only for 30 days?

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    yeah its simple...:)


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