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

Tuesday 14 May 2013, 10:18

Eleni Sharp Eleni Sharp 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.

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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, 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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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Oh my - yet another tiled interface that looks a bit like Microsoft's Metro. Urggg :-( If Microsoft aggressively patented this and stopped others from copying it (as no doubt Apple would have) we'd have been spared this kind of thing. Such a shame that we get one idea for a new way of representing something and so many essentially copy it like sheep. You'd think the backlash on Windows 8 UX would have been taken as a clue this kind of thing really isn't liked a lot. Come on - where are the FRESH and NEW ideas? Sorry, it's a big rotten tomato thumbs down from me. :-(

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    The pilot is also a triumph of style over substance. 1/2 my (wide) screen is white space, requiring otherwise unnecessary scrolling. And full 1/3 of the used space on the right contains what looks like a social/Twitter feed that contains irrelevant material (to me) and changes so rapidly it's benefit seems only to provide some dynamic coloured tiles to the page. If this ever made it to production it would finally force me to move from the BBC web site as the go-to place for news. Over successive iterations of the design and style of (including news) information is getting harder and harder to find and consume.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Have you actually read the blog post, Wibbly?

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    In the text you refer to this twitter feed as being "on the LEFT" but in the images and on the pilot home page itself, it is clearly on the RIGHT hand side!

    Is the right hand side now the new left?

    So the promotion of Twitter(TM) and Facebook(TM) every twenty minutes across the BBC "Brands" (which I still think of as channels) has not delivered enough members of the BBC audience to the advertisers.

    Just another reason to bypass the new, worse than useless, BBC Homepage IMHO. I am sorry that you find yourself "Product Manager" of a web page and that this has left you unable to tell left from right. Who knew web pages required marketing teams, branding and product management in a not for profit, PUBLICLY FUNDED SERVICE?

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Yes Pale Weasel, I have. I understand the theory of what they want to achieve. It's the implementation and user experience that's resulted, that's a mess in my opinion. I accept that this is just a prototype too, and in my opinion that's just as well - hopefully it won't make it to production without some major changes. Good that the prototype has been opened for comment by the masses. My opinion is only one, so I took a no-holds-barred approach. Others are free to say they agree or disagree, of course... Do YOU like it? You have no opinion at all so far, other than asking what I read...


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