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Relaunching the News & Sport mobile sites

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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...

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