Archives for March 2009

The greatest car chase in the world

James Howard | 16:46 UK time, Tuesday, 31 March 2009


The first Grand Prix is over and the wires have been burning with emails flying back and forth late at night between developers, product managers and editorial on the weekends action. A few late nights for everyone but we feel it has been worth it to get the live experience as smooth as possible for users of the site.

'Live on the web' is an important part of Sport and we wanted to develop some of the work that was around the Olympics last year for the new F1 season.

Rolling out our dynamic text updates was a crucial part of the project (no need to manually refresh the page and helps save all those f5 buttonsand prevent RSI) and we will be looking at rolling this out across the rest of our live sport coverage.

Live Video (for the UK user) now means multiple streams and Higher Quality Video. From our intial stats for video usage can see that:

• Users watched our new high quality live streams for much longer than standard quality streams - with an average of 37 mins for main race coverage
• Sport video and audio (excl. live streams) got as many unique users as the opening day of the Olympics (incl. live streams)
• Live coverage for the race grabbed approx. 183,000 AV requests - higher than the Euro 2008 final between Germany and Spain (approx. 169,000)
• Hiqh quality video accounted for 1 in 5 AV requests in practice and qualifying and 1 in 7 on race day

which is pretty good for a first weekend. Hopefully people will give them a go and I am expecting some offices to come to a standstill on Friday afternoons when the F1 circus hits the European time zones. Live practice over lunch. Excellent.

Around most sporting events there are a massive number of feeds that have to be dealt with - mostly around sport statistics - and we wanted to push them a little bit more this time. The leaderboard is updated regularly by the sport editorial team and further enhances the live page - data, text and video.

From the rest of the Beeb we are using feeds from weather (a crucial part of a Grand Prix weekend), iplayer, programmes and search terms to try and reflect all of the content the BBC are doing on race weekends.

The circuit guides have been a real collaborative effort with an external company - concentrating on the 3D anaimations and in-car video synched with Mark Webber's commentary. We will add a more in depth blog covering technical and product issues on this.

As a small trial we also wanted to look at making broadcast data available in formats that users may find useful (ical, Outlook, google calendar etc). One of my colleagues, Tom Scott, trialled some feeds around programme info and it is something we will be looking at around sport.

Our trial seems to have gone well, with hundreds of feedback emails asking for the whole season (we just trialled Australia) suggesting other events we could look at (The Lions! Football!) and on which browsers / apps it didn't work.

There was also some immediate feedback on the presentation of the F1 coverage overall on Twitter - amazing how many people in the UK seem to follow sport on laptop and TV at the same time.

We will be making ongoing changes to the Sport site in the next few months looking specifically around navigation and the build up to the new football league season that will present some other challenges around video.

Today we have launched the first stage of this with a footer on the site which displays an A-Z list of all the sports that are covered on the Sport website. We will be making additions and changes to the navigation as we move towards a more flexible model.

Giving data a human face

Bella Hurrell | 09:07 UK time, Friday, 13 March 2009


A data project that we've been working on for a while took on a more human face last week.

The UK fatalities in Afghanistan and Iraq is a data-led interactive that was first published on the BBC News website about a year ago.

casualties.jpgBefore that we had a basic web page which provided a simple list of names, but such an important story demanded more of our attention. So after much digging and data checking we published a sortable table.
This was followed by a dynamic visualisation of the figures in Flash. Last week we added the In Pictures page, which is an aggregation of thumbnail images of all those who have been killed in the conflicts.

This latest page strengthens the coverage, adding another dimension that makes it far more personal, rather than purely a functional way to view the raw data. 

Projects like the military casualties interactive work best when championed by one or two people - journalist John Walton has carried this one forward in a persistent way alongside a host of other projects. 

But one niggly issue with data projects is the resource required to keep them all up to date. We have a number now (recession tracker, school league tables, house price database, teen homicides to name a few) all requiring either ad hoc, weekly, monthly, quarterly or annual updates, not to mention regular development. It's quite a commitment for projects that may go for some time without high-profile exposure.

On a recent visit to the BBC newsroom former LA Times data journalist Eric Ulken told me the LA Times faced similar problems when looking at resourcing of the LA homicide map. At one point the future of the project was in doubt, but thankfully some extra money was found to take it forward.

Finally I should reference some of the inspirations for our casualties project: Washington Post's Faces of the Fallen was possibly the first widely known memorial site for US soldiers killed in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the New York Times Casualties of War has some impressive mosaic image functionality.

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