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Introducing the new mobile homepage beta

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Richard Titus Richard Titus | 09:21 UK time, Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Just under two years ago I joined the BBC.

As one of my first projects at the BBC I led the development of the BBC's homepage leading the industry and our audience into a new personalized future. The page has proved enormously successful driving higher usage and deep engagement (over 30% of the audience personalise the page still to this day a year later).

The mobile team has taken the initiative to take this thinking to the mobile homepage, which makes a ton of sense to me. Mobile devices (including phones) are very very personal, (more than 90% of our mobile phones have personal A/V content (photos, videos, etc) on them. We carry them everywhere. To me this project is the beginning of a personalised, audience centred roadmap for the BBC, and a great step forward for the mobile service and team.

Ulyssa MacMillan, who leads the BBC Mobile Browser team, has written the blog below which I'd like to share with you today, I am immensely proud of her and the team with their hard work to get this service live!

Richard Titus is Future Media Controller, Audio and Music & Mobile, BBC Future Media & Technology

The Mobile browser team has developed a customisable mobile homepage and we're sharing it with you today so you can try it out and give us your feedback. It is currently in beta form linked from the main homepage. Over the next few weeks we will be adding new features, fixing issues and building in changes based on feedback until we are ready to remove the beta status and replace the current homepage at the end of March.


For best results, view full screen.

This is significant for everyone involved in developing mobile services for the BBC - the homepage is dynamic and it is served from Forge (the BBC's new dynamic web serving infrastructure), and it is the first milestone in an ambitious roadmap for the development of our service to be contextual, social, personal, immediate, device and location aware. Whilst complimenting bbc.co.uk, it will take into consideration the unique properties of Mobile and of the audience needs when they are on the go. We will build on the learning and experience of this project to reinvent BBC Mobile.

Features

- Customisation helps users surface their favourite areas from the site and access them directly from the homepage, Music, entertainment, News, Sport...
- It gives the ability to create a localised content set - News, Weather and TV schedules where you live.
- The homepage has a more live and up to date feel - with the latest schedule and iPlayer featured content (see end of mail for supported device details) as well as News, Sport and Entertainment top headlines.
- It takes advantage of a user's handset and network capabilities to give them the best possible experience - e.g. a different experience and image sizes for touch screens and iPlayer/audio and video if supported.

Functionality

- Reordering topics (news, sport, weather, entertainment, television, radio & music, featured sites) - Removing and/or adding topics to the homepage
- Setting and changing location
- Adding extra news and sport sections
- Changing the television/radio stations and schedules
- Saving the page (via cookies - if supported by your carrier)

Supported devices

iPhone, iPod Touch and Google Android; handsets running the Opera browser; all Nokia N Series and high-end Nokias; Sony Ericsson and Samsung running the Net Front 3.3+ browser; some Blackberry's 4.2+.

If you are unsure about whether your handset is supported, just give it a try. If you try to access the homepage on an unsupported handset you will be redirected back to the current homepage.

Accessing the homepage

Put the url www.bbc.co.uk/mobile/betahome/ into your phone or text BETAHOME to 88822. You will be charged 10p to 12p to send the text and it will not come from your text bundle. You may receive two different messages to ensure you have the best format for your handset but there will be no extra cost.

Future features/releases

This is only the first phase of our plans for the BBC mobile homepage.

While it's a vast improvement on the current offering, we'll continue to review the content, functionality and design, and we'll continue to listen to users about what they want to be able to do with their homepage.

We will give users the ability to customise the mobile homepage from a desktop PC, and in the future to share preferences across mobile and the fixed line where appropriate to do so. We will also introduce an element of implicit recommendation - telling users about more content they might be interested in that they may not be aware of - and bring a whole new audience to the content available.

We'll also widen the range of handsets and browsers supported, and build on our new dynamic device-intelligent architecture to offer the best possible experience, whether you are on a low end device or high end touch screen.

We are exploring ways of allowing users to add more content whilst being mindful of page weight - we will tie this into device detection too, so that handset capabilities are taken into consideration for the best experience possible. Adding favourite football teams and following the latest sports news and results direct from the homepage would be a really popular example of additional content, and we'll look at adding this option in the very near future.

If our users spend time and effort telling us about their favourite subjects and UK location, it makes sense for this to shape their experience across the whole BBC mobile site so we'll be looking to offer a more customised experience across other areas of the site too.

We'll also be looking at how to better surface the vast range of content on the site - mobile search, using dynamic navigation and links, and looking at how we can use location-based technology.

Users of our international site will also see their homepage change later this year - making it more customisable using the functionality we've developed for the new beta homepage.

We'd appreciate any feedback you have about the new homepage. We'd especially like to find out what you think of the functionality, user experience, design and the speed at which it loads on your phone. It's a little heavier than the current live homepage as it has more content in it. And if you have any other comments about the features you'd like to see on the homepage, we'd love to hear those too.

Ulyssa MacMillan is Executive Producer, BBC Mobile.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    I keep geting this on my iPhone, and it's really annoying, because the only reason I visit the home page is to see the list of new blog posts, the one thing the mobile site doesn't show.

    Plus, my phone is perfectly capable at displaying the normal page.

    How about a cookie to choose?

  • Comment number 2.

    #1 - I'll second that, majorly annoying when bbc.co.uk started to redirect to the mobile page instead of desktop page on the iPhone. I've used the beta a little as well and although in theory this is a one off operation, the customisation of the screen is not the most efficient, I'm being forced to refresh the page every time I remove a module, to move a module from the bottom of the list to the top has taken me an age!

    Please can I have the option to just load the desktop page!

  • Comment number 3.

    Loving the new beta home page for mobile Mr Titus sir. Tested it out just now. Its bookmarked and I'm looking forward to doing a spot of customisation ... Nice work.

  • Comment number 4.

    Completely agreed with the above - please stop the mandatory redirect to the mobile page on the iPhone. It's extremely irritating, and even worse that it doesn't remember my preference that I don't want to use it. I can't believe you asked any iPhone user if they wanted that before doing it.

    At the very least, give the full homepage a permanent url for us to bookmark that doesn't have a redirect. Some way to move the boxes around on the iPhone would also be very nice.

    Phazer

  • Comment number 5.

    Agreed: please allow those of us with fully featured browsers to opt out of the mobile-specific pages.

  • Comment number 6.

    Tried to configure my local settings to SN5 or Swindon, Wiltshire and it leaves me in Salisbury?

  • Comment number 7.

    Agreed here too: very frustrating being automatically redirected to the mobile site on an iPhone.

    Do like the look of the new mobile site though, however would like to have Blogs as a customisable section.

    Would also like to listen to streaming radio on the iPhone.

  • Comment number 8.

    *Please* add World Service listings. Thanks to it being on Radio 4 overnight, it's available on more platforms in the UK than BBC 7 and 1Xtra, but woefully overlooked on the mobile site.

  • Comment number 9.

    It works on my Google G1, but it's not exactly fast over the 3G network.

  • Comment number 10.

    To posts #1, 2, 4, 5 & 7.

    We introduced the redirect to save mobile users from accidentally getting the desktop version, which is too big for the screen on many phones, slow to load and much more data-intensive (ie. expensive - particularly if you don't have a data package).

    But we know that not everyone wants to be redirected to the mobile version - particularly those with more capable devices such as the iPhone - so we've made it easy to opt out of this.

    Follow the 'Go to desktop site' link at the bottom of the BBC Mobile homepage. That'll take you to the desktop version. Then bookmark it. You need never see the mobile version again - unless you want to!

  • Comment number 11.

    To #8.

    Fair point. I'll find out if there's a reason why we haven't included these so far and, if not, get it sorted asap.

    Alice
    (BBC Mobile team)

  • Comment number 12.

    "But we know that not everyone wants to be redirected to the mobile version - particularly those with more capable devices such as the iPhone"

    So... why divert iPhone users? It's perfectly possible to divert other phone browsers but not iPhone users. It's perfectly possible for the BBC to detect if users are on wi-fi (and done on iPlayer).

    Anyone who has an iPhone legitimately in this country is on an unlimited data tarriff anyway/

    Again, did you actually ask any iPhone users if they wanted to be diverted?

    "Follow the 'Go to desktop site' link at the bottom of the BBC Mobile homepage. That'll take you to the desktop version. Then bookmark it."

    Two things -

    a) no use when following external links.

    b) it doesn't work. Still intermittently diverts you to the mobile site.

    Phazer

  • Comment number 13.

    Hi Ed - we are working on enabling the storage of preferences for the desktop or mobile site. Watch this space - I'll let you know as soon as it's up there. In the meantime, bookmark the desktop site after accessing it from the footer of the mobile site and use that for access. We are also working on putting the blogs on the mobile site.

  • Comment number 14.

    I've had similar problems to #6; after setting my location to Norwich, the weather module instead displays the weather for Norwich International - the airport north of the city, rather than the city itself.
    Arguably less of a mixup than Swindon and Salisbury, but it'd be nice if you could take a look. :)

  • Comment number 15.

    I also have an iPhone and at the moment tend to prefer the full sized homepage (well, for BBC News anyway). I like the new iPhone mobile page more than the old mobile page, but it is still too chunky/not enough content for the iPhone compared to the normal webpage.

    Additionally, when you navigate beyond it, you then get the traditional mobile pages for content - far too simplistic for the iPhone browser. So, for the time being I prefer the normal rather than the iPhone page. However, don't give up on the idea of an iPhone specific view... I think with more content and less clunky 'furniture' it would be well worth the trouble. I'd also be interested in a iPhone news homepage that is somewhere between the full version and the mobile version - ironically, the old narrower homepage worked better on the iPhone.

    On to a couple of specifics though:

    - Irritated tonight to get a football promo splashed at the top of the page when I've specifically customised it to tell it that I don't want sport stories.

    - Also annoying is the space taken up by the 'customise this page' link under the main page banner. I can see a need to have this the first time you access the page, but it takes up valuable space the rest of the time. I'd suggest that after users have customised the page, the link disappears from under the banner we are just left with the one in the page footer. (For what it's worth, I also think the [Add more../set location/reset] bar on the standard homepage should be much more subtle after any customisations have been completed)

    I do appreciate that the iPhone isn't the only mobile device out there and you need to produce a system that works with many devices or can be adapted. However, the trend for mobile will be to higher resolution/larger screens - so I think it is key to be heading in the right direction.

    If you are going to write an iPhone specific site, how about one that makes better use of the interface; for example take a look at the Facebook iPhone web site (not the Facebook app, but the iPhone FB website), it makes really good use of the interface, it is so good it almost feels like an app.

    Hope this helps.

  • Comment number 16.

    Ive had been watching and listening to the bbc on my iphone3g for weeks until today when i i was prompted with;

    "sorry to watch or listen to bbc programs you need to switch to a wifi connection"

    How stupid is that, if i didnt have a wifi connection how could i browse the iplayer, I hope the bbc sort this elementary problem soon !!!!

  • Comment number 17.

    @bigjohn67 - I've been told the problem you experienced has now been fixed.

  • Comment number 18.

    I like the new beta page - looks good, and fits in with the overall BBC branding. Nice one.

    Just one small thing(!) Whenever I make a customisation to the page, it doesn't seem to retain the settings when I close the browser. Not a huge problem in itself, but sort of defeats the object of customisation.

    Using a Nokia N95 8GB by the way - Not an iPhone! The speed I get is more than adequate - refreshes nice and quickly.

  • Comment number 19.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 20.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 21.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 22.

    @bigjohn67 Maybe you need the 3gs iphone with its add ons to help with your problem? The 3gs seems to have the wifi you need.
    http://mobilephones.name/blog/phones/new-iphone-3gs-arriving-19th-june.html

  • Comment number 23.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 24.

    Quite like the new home page but if I set it as my home page and then later, click on the home page button I get all the tabs I've opened in the current day. I think it adds the set of tabs that were open on the last opening of firefox, leading to duplications and tabs no longer required. Just for the record, I've gone back to the previous live version and that is OK.

    cheers

 

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