Archives for May 2009

Relaunching the News & Sport mobile sites

Gavin Gibbons | 16:55 UK time, Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Comments (12)

Over the last year, I've been really encouraged that usage of the BBC mobile site has virtually doubled. BBC Mobile now reaches around 4m UK users and much of the ongoing growth has been driven by the appeal of BBC News and Sport content, which currently accounts for the bulk of traffic on the mobile site.

Back in 2008, Journalism embarked on a significant project to deliver a quicker, richer and easier to manage mobile service, to build upon the considerable achievements of the existing news and sport sites.

The project presented a number of challenges for the team, not least because it involved rationalising the systems used to produce the site. It's now managed and produced directly from the same system BBC journalists have been using for years, to publish content to the desktop sites. So it kind of felt like returning mobile to the mothership.


So now that we've re-launched the News and Sport mobile sites, how does this actually benefit the audience?

One of the biggest improvements is not something immediately obvious: Speed. Stories will now update around 60 seconds after journalists hit publish. That's comparable to the desktop site. My guess is that footy fans will be the first to notice the difference... live text commentaries will appear more...well, more 'live'.

Many Sport fans would already accept that the BBC's scores and results service on mobile is pretty quick, but faster publish times across News and Sport stories will also have a positive effect on the provision of breaking news stories. Let's face it, if users can't access the very latest content, they'll go elsewhere.


The new sites also surface more content, which strategically brings us more in line with W3C's One Web approach. So the 'More Top Stories' link has been scrapped, in favour of displaying those additional stories themselves. Headline browsing can be done at homepage level, without waiting to load unknown stories via the Next Story link.

At the bottom of each story page, we've also included related stories, special reports and comment forms in place of the 'Next Story'. So, although the 'Next story' links have gone, the links to a richer experience around the story you're reading should be a more useful replacement.


Navigating this greater depth of content should also be an easier task - such as jumping between the News and Sport homepages - and users will notice the familiar navigation panel from the desktop site. Also, improved access to more buried content now really complements the excellent new customisable BBC mobile homepage.

But it's not just great news for our audience; it's also been designed to streamline editorial workflows, as it means one less system for journalists to learn, making it easier to manage.

Operational support is also simplified and mobile now enjoys equality with the hi-web, in that full 24/7 support is now part of the deal. So dependability is a key feature, which is vital for Journalism. A multi-platform approach using a single system should intrinsically be more resilient, with fewer boxes involved in the publishing chain.

If all of this sounds rather mundane, then fear not, because there's still plenty of scope for innovation around news and sport on mobile. We need to be flexible about how we engage with existing and new audiences - and there are some fantastic initiatives underway which we hope will excite mobile users and deliver value for money.

It now puts us in a much better position to more rapidly iterate in future, so the journey is far from over. Beyond launching the service for international users in a couple of months and retiring the old PDA site, the next features to be added will be contextual audio / video (eg video links within stories), improved pictures, a much more useful sports results service and device-specific optimisation of the browser service. And watch out for greatly improved weather and travel sites on mobile - coming soon...

Mapping the news

John Walton | 12:39 UK time, Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Comments (15)

"Great idea...and computing technology at its best," on the one hand and on the other: "Don't like it. Too fussy and can't really see the relevance."

These are two of the e-mails we've had from our users commenting on the usefulness, or otherwise, of the dynamic maps we've started to publish on the BBC News website over the last few weeks using Microsoft Virtual Earth and an editing system set up by Airlock.


The maps give us a new way to set out our content and have also helped to give a sense of location or a sense of scale to stories from the G20 in London, the Italian earthquake disaster, to the Indian elections. Most, but by no means all, of the feedback has been complementary but for all we think these maps have added to our news coverage, we are aware that they are still only a work in progress.

Ease of navigation was a major concern for many readers, and more is already being done behind the scenes by colleagues in FM&T to improve the presentation and navigation of the BBC content we place on the maps.

But there was one surprise that stood out from the feedback.

So far all the maps have been produced using Microsoft Virtual Earth and many readers assumed that the BBC was responsible for the maps themselves not just the editorial content placed on top of them - which was a tiny bit unfortunate when some of those who saw the G20 map pointed out that "Waterloo Strain Station" (see image above) isn't really that bad a place...

But we're glad to have dipped our toes in the water of dynamic mapping and already have a raft of ideas of what we'd like to do with them next.

Making the new BBC Weather site

Peter Deslandes | 10:50 UK time, Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Comments (22)

I was introduced to the project to deliver a new BBC Weather website in early 2008 and spent the following 12 months running it. It has been an interesting experience!

We took over responsibility for the BBC Weather website in 2007 and began work on a new version of it almost immediately. We had a really clear vision & scope from Weather and a strong set of designs based on audience research and thorough user-testing. For various reasons we decided to run it in a more specifically agile way than had been done in FM&T J before.

We put together a team, including a business analyst who produced a full set of written requirements. The developers, from a broad range of teams within the department, produced high-level timescale estimates from the requirements. This was all quickly prioritised by the stakeholders and a release schedule was drawn up in place of the usual project plan. The schedule just says what we expect to release when, and is easily adjusted if priorities change.

WeatherProjectPostItNotes.jpgA space was found that the project team could occupy together. We had wall space for all sorts of visual project aids such as the designs, post it notes and 6" x 4" record cards that had each of the high level requirements written on them. These are some of the things that make agile projects work well as you can review the project status quickly with other members of the team and scribble on the designs and notes if necessary. The high level requirements are then used on a weekly basis to plan a few days of work in small increments.

A preview version of the site became available in September 2008. Between then and the actual launch date we continued to work on it, tweaking things and adding more content until we were finally ready to go live in March 2009.

The "agile" life doesn't seem to be for everyone. The little-and-often development process, which requires everyone to think in little bits, can take some getting used to. Perhaps less-noticed is that collocation is not always welcome, sometimes moving people away from such comforts as friends, a much-loved view or perhaps a slightly faster walk to the train home.

However, the effectiveness of a dedicated, collocated team certainly appears to outstrip that of others and easily justifies the cost of making the effort to change. Furthermore, I am fairly confident that the immersive nature of collocation has brought many other benefits. I'm not sure if the term "peer pressure" really applies, although it is used a lot in agile theory - I'd rather talk about "peer motivation" - but there is no doubt that the constant attention of colleagues and the quick verbal exchange of information results in a higher quality of output, both in terms of the coding and the design. This all adds up to project success.

NewWeatherSiteScreenShot.jpgAs I write this we are preparing the results of a project review. It is pleasing to note how many agile concepts have been identified as positive factors. There are still lessons to learn but we certainly benefited from the things we did well.

Next up is a series of audience reviews of the work so far while we continue to improve and update the new site and the infrastructure. There are still some old-style pages to be moved, and we will be adding new features and a brand new feeds system. The mobile Weather site will also get a makeover very soon.

Peter Deslandes is Product Manager for Weather in FM&T Journalism.

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