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...

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Hi Squirrel thanks for the spot - it is indeed the right hand side of the page not the left. I have updated the post to reflect this.

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    @Eleni Sharp: I'm rather impressed with this new feature, which certainly makes the BBC Homepage more interesting.

    There seems to be a bug (I'm using Google Chrome version 26.0.1410.64 m) that shows two vertical scroll bars when you hover over the window.

    I'm not utterly convinced that the selection of "EU", "Oxford", "Cornwall" and "Team" for the filter is that well targeted on someone in London.

    Perhaps the filtering could take advantage of HTML5's navigator.geolocation.getCurrentPosition() to work out where the homepage user is?

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Great minds (or great broadcasters?) clearly think alike: very similar function launched on the Norwegian NRK's news page a few weeks ago...

    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Hi everyone,

    We open ourselves up through this forum and all feedback on the Pilot is of course carefully considered. As mentioned, this is a prototype and the purpose of such is to test its features and functionality so it can be the model for subsequent iterations.

    @Wibbly the purpose of the HPSN Connected Studio was to deliver a live feel to the Homepage while building on its existing design. The Feed on the right does include tweets, but it is also full of recently published content from the BBC, whether it news stories or what is about to start playing on your favourite radio station

    @Briantist thanks for your comments. At the moment the feed isn't personalised to your location, but this absolutely could be in the future and would make BBC Now more relevant to you, its great to hear you would be interested in this sort of a feature. Due to the quick turn around of this project we did as much testing as we could but weren't able to test on every single browser and version, so you may come across the occasional small bug.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    I confess to actually liking the BBC Now concept. The right hand latest news column featuring emerging stories by popularity across the BBC Products (Channels) works well for me. If you view the page on a smartphone you can see that the BBC Now column fits perfectly to the screen and may indicate a potential app to alert the mobile audience to breaking news with links to fuller detail about the stories within the main site. With Glastonbury on the horizon I can visualise being alerted to my favourite band on stage and featured on radio one or live on TV to add to my enjoyment of the event.
    The only suggestion is that the current homepage has the now familiar, sliding carousel which provides an opportunity to show case regional news, sport and entertainment. By continuing with this compressed, dynamic showcase it will eliminate the accusation of plagiarism in following the Windows 8 tile design, despite the redesign of the, using a similar design, predates the Microsoft design. It may also free up valuable real estate to showcase archive content, that with the centenary of the First World War next year, may further enhance the ‘shop window’ that the homepage provides to the rich content available from the BBC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    What I really like is that we can finally use the scroll wheel on the mouse again and scroll vertically instead of the dreadful carousel.
    I know this pilot is about the BBC Now box only, but how nice it it to see a proper working homepage again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    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?

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    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.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    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.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    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.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

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

    I quite agree!

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    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.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    @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 - .

    Excuse me if I've got it wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    @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.


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