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BBC LiveUpdate

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John O' Donovan | 08:57 UK time, Wednesday, 2 July 2008

It seems you can't move for widgets down on the BBC farm these days. You certainly can't have a product without one.

But it's not right, the way they are treated. Packed into websites and often given no sustenance other than poor quality, recycled feeds, they suffer a cramped existence and don't have the freedom to develop.

So we decided to start setting some of them free to roam the desktop.

A free range widget

mini_motty.pngAs with all good ones, this idea is not new. We have had a desktop ticker and similar products like Mini Motty for some time; they're quite successful with hundreds of thousands of users. But there are some issues with the way they work.

Firstly, they only work on Windows and are built out of a variety of proprietary tools. We'd like these to work cross-platform but we need to build them differently to do so. They are also difficult to manage and expensive to maintain.

We considered a few approaches, but decided to grow our new widget out of Adobe Flex and Adobe AIR. This is firstly because these tools met our requirements to work cross-platform and deliver the desktop experience we wanted, and also because they linked up with in-house skills in the team which manages them, making them simpler to manage.

air_ticker01.png

So here's the first of a number of desktop widgets the BBC will be releasing over the coming months. It's an example of how we could develop our current ticker. It's a beta product, so it will have some issues and it is also not fully accessible, but we'd like your thoughts and comments on how it works, what you like about it compared to our current ticker and what doesn't work so well.

You will need Adobe AIR to install and run the application. If this is not installed automatically, you can download Adobe AIR from here.

And what does it do?

Well, it runs as a desktop application in a similar way to the ticker showing the latest stories and also updating you if there is breaking news. It updates stories about once a minute and should be fairly low bandwidth, as it caches data downloaded. You can take it offline and - unlike the current ticker - it also contains images and summaries of stories.

air_ticker02.png

You can have it running as a small application showing stories listed from News and Sport, or you can minimise so it just shows as a ticker, scrolling current stories.

You can open up the preferences to select which feeds you get and you can click the full story links to go to the website.

air_ticker03.png

You will see a BBC icon in your toolbar when the application is running and you can turn the application off from here. The first time it runs you will see the preferences window which allows you to configure the way the application works.

air_ticker04.png

And that's about it.

Installation and feedback

You can download the application here [NB Editor's Note 3.03pm: If downloading via Internet Explorer, you'll need to change the file extension from .zip to .air]• (Editor's note 12.52 Thursday - you may also find this download useful if you're a Linux user)

N.B. Editors' note 19th May 2009 - this application is no longer a live prototype, so I have removed the link to download it.

Send us your comments below or through the Backstage list.

Before you do, though, here are some of the known issues, caveats, disclaimers and apologies:

  • Scroll arrows are missing on scrollbar
  • Can be slow to startup the first time: try clicking the News or Sport Tabs
  • Accessibility support is not fully developed.

In terms of the last, we do take accessibility very seriously and would like to give some more detail on how this applies to this beta:

Accessibility issues

BBC Future Media & Technology's pilot widget application BBC LiveUpdate uses the Adobe AIR runtime, which is dependent on users downloading and installing a plugin to their desktop, but which unfortunately does not currently support screenreaders (or other software which relies on the Microsoft Active Accessibility layer for assistive technologies).

We're working with Adobe to make tools built with AIR more accessible than current products wherever possible and are committed to delivering accessible services.

As this is a beta product, there are also other limitations in how much we have been able to establish accessibility support in the following areas:

  • Colour contrast cannot be altered
  • Text size cannot be altered
  • Lacks consistent alt text
  • Lacks Title attributes
  • Is not entirely tabbable.

We are sorry if you are unable to use this BBC LiveUpdate widget fully - but the content within the BBC LiveUpdate desktop application is available through existing BBC services on bbc.co.uk.

If you would like to share your views with the BBC about accessibility and the BBC LiveUpdate widget, please do not hesitate to email the BBC Usability and Accessibility Team.

John O'Donovan is Chief Architect, BBC FM&T Journalism.

Editors' note: A tad more on accessibility in this statement from Adobe: Adobe has a long history of its commitment to accessibility and Adobe AIR 1.0 currently provides support for developers to create applications that are accessible to users with special needs. AIR applications presently support many users with disabilities, such as users who are unable to use a mouse or who rely on textual equivalents for audio. AIR applications incorporate Adobe Flash, PDF, and HTML content, and Adobe support for assistive technologies for both Adobe Flash Player and Adobe Reader ensures that developers are able to deliver accessible experiences in the individual players. Adobe is continually reviewing with customers how to improve access to applications deployed on Adobe AIR for users with disabilities, in order to ensure that future versions of Adobe AIR support accessible experiences and meet emerging global accessibility standards.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    I congratulate the BBC for providing yet another service to licence fee payers that don't run on Linux. Linux is a growing platform, used by more and more people each day... and yet large corporations insists on using development toolkits that only support Windows and Macintosh.

    C'mon guys, didn't you learn from the backlash you received with the iPlayer?

    "We'd like these to work cross-platform" - "cross-platform" means more than just Windows and Mac, you know.

    Don't get me wrong, the iPlayer is a wonderful tool and I'm more than happy with the streaming version that is available for me on the Linux platform, and the concept of these new widgets looks really promising... but please please please don't leave a not-so-small minority behind.

  • Comment number 2.

    Nice. I've got it up and running on linux.

    My open problem is that I don't get the transparent outline around the widget, all I get is a big black box. But I think that's an AIR problem rather than a Bug in the widget.

    It's good to see the choice of a cross platform tool so this is available for all users from the start.

  • Comment number 3.

  • Comment number 4.

    @chris_fleming

    Thanks for the link. Why doesn't Adobe point me to that location when I access the main AIR site, rather than just telling me that my platform is not supported?! Grr.

    @thebbc

    My apologies for the outburst above. Maybe you could edit the original post to include the link provided by chris_fleming?

  • Comment number 5.

    @muzicbugz

    If people like you bothered to do a bit of research before getting on their high horse, the comments pages would be a lot easier to read.

  • Comment number 6.

    @SteveoBagins

    I did apologise before you made your comment, but thank you for berating me anyway.

    My point being that surely if the official Adobe webpage tells me that my platform is not supported by Adobe Air, why would I think that it actually is? Far be it for me to believe that Adobe might actually be lying to me?

  • Comment number 7.

    The reason it's not linked is because the Linux version is an Alpha release, and not code complete.

    I presume once they've completed the code, it will appear on the main Air page. It would be nice if they'd put a link on there, with heavy warnings, but I can understand why they didn't.

  • Comment number 8.

    Haven't tried it yet, but from the screenshots it looks like it could do with a few improvements to the UI - two different types of scroll bars for examples, random shadows at the corners of the main area and are the gradients really not smooth?

  • Comment number 9.

    Hi...

    musicbugz:

    One of the reasons we decided to look at AIR was because of it's support for Linux so though Linux support is still in Alpha, we hope this will eventually enable desktop applications to reach all PC, Mac and Linux desktop platforms.

    Will get the Linux link put into the post to make this easier to find.

    Ed Lyons:

    Valid points that represent the unpoliashed nature of the application in Beta. We just wanted to put this out for comment rather than refine it behind closed doors.

    The UX team have done a great job creating new standards for these type of applications and we are only part way through implementing them within the application.

    Cheers,

    jod

  • Comment number 10.

    Stevobagins wrote:

    If people like you bothered to do a bit of research before getting on their high horse, the comments pages would be a lot easier to read.

    Wow, how rude. I don't think musicbugz was at all out of line in posting that rant. Much the same thoughts ran through my head when clicking on the link, only to find a stark: 'Your platform is not supported' message.

    Adobe might as well have plastered '*expletive* off' on that Web page. They should have said something like: 'Whilst your platform is not supported, we do have an alpha version available to test (if you're feeling adventurous)'. Which would have much avoided misunderstandings, and gained them extra testers.

    Could this blog entry be amended, to include a link to the GNU/Linux version, please? That would also help avoid confusion. :)

    That message back from Adobe really looks like a stock message they send to anyone with accessibility concerns. It's a shame they don't seem to care, even when an organisation like the BBC is telling them there's something wrong with their product.

  • Comment number 11.

    Just tested the application, there are the few bugs -- that the author already mentioned -- but aside from that, this thing is pretty slick.

    I was impressed with the Adobe Air installer, it integrates really well with Ubuntu, for something that's not in the package repositories.

  • Comment number 12.

    @Editor - The fact that the .air file is being downloaded as a .zip in Internet Explorer is (probably) because the Mime-Types for AIR applications aren't setup on your server - see link for more info.

  • Comment number 13.

    Thanks Psyked - yep we are already aware of this and are waiting for this change to filter through. See comment about renaming the file by the download ink in the interim.

    We are looking at how we can use the Adobe Badge to make the process of downloading and installing more smooth.

    Cheers,

    jod
    (John O'Donovan)

  • Comment number 14.

    Some feedback after running this for a day:

    Updates, then headlines only seem to update when I switch tabs, from News -> Sport -> News to see the new news headlines. The last updated text seems to update fine.

    Memory usage: This seems high 246M of virtual RAM.

    I lost my internet connection yesterday and the memory requirements rose to over a Gig of RAM before I killed the connection.

  • Comment number 15.

    It looks nice. The following are suggestions - I realise it is early days!

    Make the tabs changeable - allow people to get rid of sport / news tabs and change the order - drag and drop.

    Allow users to create new tabs based on the URL of a BBC page that they like, test if that page has an RSS feed associated with it, and derive the content from there.

    The system tray icon is grim. If it can't look convincingly like the BBC logo due to lack of space, then turn it into something else. It could be an abstract shape whose pattern changes depending upon the news stories, or something.

    When switching between the two view modes, the app seems to minimise, then maximise again... It would be realy nice if it just streched and squeezed to switch modes. The motion blur between panes is nice.

  • Comment number 16.

    Thanks for the feedback.

    Chris Fleming:

    We have noticed the application can get memory hungry if you leave it open in the full story list view. If you leave it in ticker mode it seems to be fine.

    If it is eating memory, in the short term while we collate and fix bugs, you can clear any memory hogging by moving between full and ticker view and back.

    If leaving it open for a long time, recommend you leave it in Ticker mode.

    tomhannen:

    we will feed these comments into the next version...

    Cheers,

    jod
    (john o'donovan)

  • Comment number 17.

    Thanks for making it work on ubuntu.

  • Comment number 18.

    Thank you very much...http://www.birsesver.com

 

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