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A Facelift For The World Service Website

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Sally Thompson | 15:31 UK time, Thursday, 20 December 2007


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.

free_to_speak.pngI 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.


  1. At 06:46 PM on 20 Dec 2007, Frankie Roberto wrote:

    Any chance of some screenshots of the Topcat user interface? (I think CMS UI design is interesting - most 'enterprise' CMSs seem to use a 'Windows Explorer' style interface...)

  2. At 05:58 AM on 23 Dec 2007, Paul wrote:

    Will SportsWorld still be BLOCKED for international listeners,fans and expats ( because the program carries a live second half of a Premiership game ? ) and therefore only be available on Short wave ( on which the BBC has drastically reduced coverage ).

  3. At 05:57 PM on 26 Dec 2007, Natasha Allan wrote:

    Hi Sally and team,
    Just surfing while I wait for my podcasts to download ( guess what this chick got for xmas!). Am really thrilled to see the World Service site has got its personality back!!! The new site looks fab.


  4. At 12:06 PM on 29 Dec 2007, Winfried Vath wrote:


    you have redisigned your website. But there are a few snags. Suppose I know one broadcast time of a programme I am interested in but this is an inconvenient time for me. How can I find out the other times a programme is broacast?

    Another thing I find strange is that you never mention the fact that you also use Astra 19.2 degrees East for BBC World Service. This of course is of special interest for listeners in Germany.

    Kind regard

  5. At 04:15 PM on 29 Dec 2007, C McKee wrote:

    Nice redesign, clear crisp and it doesn't look like the crayola kids creation that the BBC homepage has become.

    Nice move, and nice design.

    Just a few tiny notes...

    * The text links top right dont really provide much contrast with the background blue, white links would probably have been a better choice or just some form of background.

    * The orange>silver listen buttons look like they started life smaller then were streched in paint. Only a small thing though.

    * The code isn't really fully semantic but its a good attempt.

    Once again nice work; how about you try and do the BBC home page next ;o)

  6. At 01:03 PM on 31 Dec 2007, Jim Hodgetts wrote:

    Listener in Chennai, S.India, most regularly at 0300GMT/in week, and 0400-0600 Sundays.

    I am interested in repeats. For instance when I miss half of Politics UK I want to know when to catch that same half hour. Your site is mean with this sort of user-friendly info.

    Both the site and the broadcast is stingy with presenter info. Here you have made an enormous effort with a few but I want much, much more, because I watch tv also and get used to the voice and the face. Want an example? There is a good newsreader now on Sundays with a strong north american accent and a long name. Why not focus on her, and underline she is not from CNN (maybe Canadian?).

    Sport is the big problem, particularly the volume control on the first minute of football which disturbs things you wouldn't know about (eg babies sleeping)
    Also here in India we like other sports than football or cricket. Although one presenter up there was a tennis teacher you never give the tennis scores, which is a great chance to use the radio and the website because matches are often completed in different time zones. (Worse, women's matches are ignored presumably for silly macho reasons. Shame, they get the ratings !!)

    Please stop plugging the site on the air. You overdo it so much we just hate the site and the broadcasts at that minute.

  7. At 11:34 AM on 09 Jan 2008, Kevin Murphy wrote:

    I am sorry.....but I can find nothing to enthuse about with the new build site. I believe the techies are right about the increased sophistication of the actual package.....BUT....if traditional users can't manouvre easily around the site what's the advantage? I think that the colours on the main page are also a step backwards...not enough contrast! Where is the "make this my homepage" tag? which is where a lot of 1st time users will want to access?

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