A Facelift For The World Service Website
I'm Sally Thompson, and I head up the web team at the World Service. And while the BBC's domestic home page has had a "lick of paint", we've been busy too with a relaunch of the BBC World Service site.
I can't believe that it's been more than four years since we last relaunched, but this December is the World Service's radio station's 75th anniversary and so an ideal occasion for for a much-needed facelift. Very neat.
For the past four years, our site's front page has effectively been a clone of the BBC News website's. We did not make it easy for people to find out more about what was in our programmes - or to listen to them, for that matter.
Times have changed and so we turned our focus to what our users expect from a website that showcases the diverse nature of BBC World Service's radio output. How could we best serve the savvier user who just doesn't have the time or inclination to dig through a site in the hope of finding something they may have heard on air?
How you helped us
How did we know what you wanted? Because you told us. In fact, we gathered extremely lively opinions of more than 200 of you in a community set up using Virtual Surveys.
Feedback from the community shaped our work. We let them know how we were planning to change; they told us what they'd like to see more of, and what they wanted to see ditched. We shared our early designs with them; they told us what they liked, and what they thought was hideous.
We asked them about lots of other stuff too, for example, labelling - what does "genre" mean to you, what do you expect when you see the word "participate"? Also, we wanted to get a sense of what they wanted to see on the site when a large news event was breaking.
What you get
- A clean site, de-cluttered and with room for the fantastic audio content to breathe - less is more
- Neat refreshing microsites for BBC World Service's iconic programming in news, documentaries and a portal to all our output in English to Africa
- The radio channel now has its own personality and distinct style
Behind the scenes
Aside from the front end, what's really exciting is what is going on under the bonnet.
We delivering not only a completely redesigned site to an immovable deadline of the 75th anniversary this week (so not much pressure, then), but also a completely new Content Management System developed in-house and known around Bush House as Topcat.
Our design team worked frantically to get wireframes of the proposed site ready for user testing. Once the basic premise of the site had been proven, developmental focus then shifted from using Topcat as an abstract tool to tailoring our work to meet more specific requirements of the new site.
We now have a site that's semantically marked-up and makes use of microformats where possible; and a new web-based CMS. (For the technical amongst you, it uses the LAPP stack [Linux, Apache, Postgres & Perl] delivered into an AJAX GUI; the output uses XSLT 2.0.)
That's not all, folks...
This is only the beginning... Topcat is a system which has allowed our teams of journalists and producers to publish and update content and to be even more creative.
However, there's plenty still to do as we are just starting the rollout over the coming months of numerous enhancements both to bbcworldservice.com and our portfolio of BBC World Service language sites. We'll keep asking you what you think; in the meanwhile, here's the team "pressing the button" for launch...
Sally Thompson is Head of Future Media for BBC World Service.