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BBC News website's content management and publishing systems

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John O' Donovan | 22:00 UK time, Tuesday, 27 July 2010

As part of the BBC News site refresh we have been making substantial changes to the underlying systems that manage and publish the content.

The BBC has one of the oldest and largest websites on the internet and one of the goals of the update to the News site was to also update some of the core systems that manage content for all our interactive services.

In this post I'll highlight a few areas where we have made some important changes.

CPS

The CPS is the system that manages content production for BBC News, BBC Sport and over 100 other websites across the BBC. It also produces the content for multi-platform journalism, such as the BBC Mobile services and Interactive TV/Red Button services and even content for the mighty Old Skool Ceefax is born in the CPS.

If the BBC website is one of the largest and oldest on the internet, then the CPS has been around nearly as long. As a rule of thumb, if you remember Bagpuss you are older than the CPS. If you grew up watching Teletubbies, you probably are not.

Let's not confuse old with legacy though. The CPS has been constantly evolving and we should say, that when looking at the requirements for the new News site and other services, we did consider whether we should take a trip to the Content Management System (CMS) Showroom and see what shiny new wheels we could get.

However there is an interesting thing about the CPS - most of our users (of which there are over 1,200) think it does a pretty good job [checks inbox for complaints]. Now I'm not saying they have a picture of it next to their kids on the mantelpiece at home, but compared to my experience with many organisations and their CMS, that is something to value highly.

The latest version of the CPS - version 6 - underpins the new News site and has made substantial changes to systems and workflow, but it is still focused on the task of managing content which fits into a general journalistic pattern. It does not try to be all things to all people, and this in no doubt plays some part in its success.

There have been a number of requests from people asking to see more of the CPS but as there is a lot of detail to go into, I'll just focus on a few headline points for now. We will be doing a more in depth blog post on it soon.

Moving to a more structured approach

Some of the major changes in approach are in the Client which is a .NET 3.5 client, taking full advantage of WPF. The screenshot below shows an example image from the CPS which illustrates some new features.

cps-crop.png

This shows a snapshot of a story editing window. Around this are site navigation and other tools (like Search).

As you can see there is a component based structure to the story content with a Video, Introduction and Quote shown. These components are predefined and can be dragged in and added to the story showing that the CPS is not primarily a WYSIWYG editor. The CPS focuses on content structure because in a world where you are publishing to many platforms that have hugely different rendering possibilities WYSIWYG becomes a pointless feature but there are previews showing the output.

Previously, users could add HTML and Custom CPS tags directly into the story body to control the content presentation and the components, similar to the way you would insert code into your content on Wikis and Blogs. This causes a lot of problems for quality and content structure though, so now these things are managed as components where the user can change the content and behaviour of the component in a controlled manner. We will come on to the importance of that next.

HTML Standards

Another part of the CPS that changed considerably was the way content is published. Requirements over the years have caused features to be added organically to the way content is published, leaving it a bit messy with a lot of layout based on HTML tables. A key goal here was to improve the technical quality of content produced and support standards as we move from <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd"> to <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd">

For example, we are aiming for fully valid pages to be published based on the W3C Validation Checker.

valid.png

If you look at some of the older pages published you will see they don't pass this test, and some pages, such as http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/olympic_games/default.stm, produce a lot of errors:

validationerrors.png

Ouch!

This is especially tricky to fix where the CPS is pulling in content from other systems or services which don't comply with these standards, but though there is still some work to do here, generally we should be down to 0 or very few errors now.

You will also see in the image above, that older stories are based on the iso-8859-1 character set, whereas new stories will all be UTF-8 encoded for better international support.

Semantic Structure

We will also no longer be using tables to layout the content, instead we will be rendering the pages using CSS layout and only using tables for data.

There are lots of reasons to do this, but some include making the content more efficient, more standards compliant and faster to render. It also allows us to publish semantic XHTML, which means that content blocks are better marked up to describe what they are and has benefits like creating a better header structure to help screen readers.

Better structure also means you will see a more consistent presentation of stories in Google and search engines with, for example, story dates and author information showing more clearly.

This reflects a new content model which is now largely based around a simple and generic data model of assets and groups of assets which are typed (meaning we don't just manage blocks of content, we use metadata to describe what is in the blocks of content) and publishing through templates and services based around Velocity.

Again this is about supporting content standards better as described here for making better use of headings and lists.

Take this example showing how a component is put together.

betterheaderseg.png

Previously the HTML would have looked something like this:

betterheaders01.png

But now it is much more structured and would look something like this with headers clearly marking out the sections of content:

betterheaders02.png

Using CSS for layout also makes a big difference to our HTML and makes for a better separation of layout and content. This rather messy layout...

betterlayout01.png

becomes

betterlayout02.png

The table elements used in the first example are gone and the layout relies on CSS to manage the positioning of content.

URL Structure

Finally a quick note on the change in our URL structure where you may have noticed a couple of significant changes. These are the tip of an iceberg of substantial changes we have made to our networks and infrastructure also part of this relaunch.

The first is that our News URLs have moved from the http://news.bbc.co.uk to http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/ in order to consolidate our domains. As part of the News site changes this involved us making significant updates to our networking infrastructure to allow better sharing of content across our domains. Moving all our URLs onto the http://www.bbc.co.uk/ domain also consolidates some differences which are there largely for reasons no longer necessary.

All URLs should redirect to the appropriate place, but if you do find any broken URLs please let us know.

We also wanted to simplify our URL structure removing much of the baggage in the previous structure for managing different types of content and editions of the website.

Now the structure is basically:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/ [SITE] / [SECTION] - [SUBSECTION] - [STORY-ID]

For example:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-10721364

This has made URLS shorter and simpler.

We considered making even shorter URLs - you will have seen some stories were published this way while we transitioned the site to the new design, such as:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10250603

The changes we have made will allow us to make URLs more flexible, and there is more work to do yet on how we might use even shorter URLs (such as http://www.bbc.co.uk/10250603) and longer more descriptive ones http://www.bbc.co.uk/story-about-something-interesting.

If you would like to know more about any of this, then let me know by leaving a comment.

Thanks for reading.

John O'Donovan is Chief Technical Architect, Journalism and Knowledge, BBC Future Media & Technology.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Its great to see tableless layouts and attempts at making pages validate. Welcome to the 21st century! :)

    How did you decide on the new urls? When I first saw the new site, I thought the /news/<story-id> urls were great, but now I'm not too sure about the /news/<section>-<subsection>-<story-id> ones; they seem a bit clumsier.

    Many stories don't easily fit into one specific category, especially as you have geographical categories and non-geographical ones; there's always going to be overlap. (e.g. are the 2012 Olympics sport news or London news?) And if you are going to have section and subsection, wouldn't it make more sense to use /news/section/subsection/<story-id> ? That way removing the <story-id> would get you to the main page for that subsection. (Also it isn't clear what /news/world-asia-pacific means - it could be interpreted as /news/<section>-<subsection>-<subsubsection> meaning it only covers the east coast of asia)

    Anyway, overall I think the new site is great. I hope you don't get inundated with comments telling you to bring back the old site. Good Luck!

  • Comment number 2.

    Great post! I asked to see behind the scenes of the CMS (or CPS) over on The Editors blog when talk of the new design was coming through and it's really interesting to see it done.

    I must I say agree with lucas42 though - the short urls were great; and, if sections are going to be included in them, they should really be separated by slashes rather than dashes. Whilst there's obviously no rules to URL structure, users will be much more familiar to slashier URLs than hypenated ones, and will feel a lot more confident with them.

    Interesting that you're no using a true WYSIWYG - it makes perfect sense but was never something I'd considered before.

    And congratulations for making the move to strict HTML. I guess it's always tempting not to, with all the work, but I'm a sucker for pretty, standardised code and have to geekily admit I'd noticed improvements when browsing your source.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Comment number 3.

    Great stuff.

    It certainly is excellent that the output now correctly validates, and the basis of the CPS CMS purposing content on many platforms is excellent efficiency.

  • Comment number 4.

    Great article - I've always wanted to know more about how the BBC manages structured content.

    I'd be really interested to find out a little more about how the data is stored behind the scenes - maybe a topic for a future blog post?

    Thanks!

  • Comment number 5.

    If you are trying to make the URI's nicer why not drop the www. which is generally considered to be superfluous.

  • Comment number 6.

    Yeah, I'd agree with dropping the www. Also, why the move to the strict doctype rather than the newer HTML5 doctype - <!DOCTYPE html>. Would this not save you hassle to do this now rather than at some point in the future?

  • Comment number 7.

    publishing to many platforms that have hugely different rendering possibilities

    Can the low graphics news rendering return? It was headlines and summaries in order of importance. Very simple to generate. Very easy to read everywhere. Screen readers, text browsers, low bandwidth etc.

  • Comment number 8.

    Some international BBC sites already show what is possible with your systems and they look great! It is unfortunate that the main BBC News Online site can not learn from the visual design of the international sites. Smaller headlines, reduced whitespace, condensed index pages, link density, use of color.

    Compare

    news.bbc.co.uk

    with

    www.bbc.co.uk/indonesia/

    www.bbc.co.uk/mundo/

    www.bbc.co.uk/portuguese/

    www.bbc.co.uk/turkce/

    www.bbc.co.uk/vietnamese/

    and a full set

    http://newsreader3.blogspot.com/

  • Comment number 9.

    Interesting stuff. Are there alternative URLs available for archiving or are all URLs guaranteed to be stable from here to eternity?

    I like the URL structure that imparts some information (much like Wordpress does with it's blog URLs) but being able to iterate through article IDs might be useful for scripts doing analysis on the site. Does the CMS system offer an "all published items" feed for these sorts of meta analysis?

  • Comment number 10.

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

  • Comment number 11.

    I assume the new publishing system is part of the reason why older articles are unlikely to be converted into the new format. It does seem slightly odd to use http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-10784971 instead of http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world/10784971, when http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world is a valid URL. Hopefully remaining updated section (eg. 'also in the news') can be updated to use the new layout and provide consistency.

    @6: I imagine the reason for not using the HTML5 doctype is due to the specification for HTML5 being draft state. It could be many years until a final standard is decided upon (see http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/programming-and-development/?p=718 ).

    @8: I seem to recall in an past blog entry it was mentioned at the worldwide sites use a different content management system to BBC News.

  • Comment number 12.

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

  • Comment number 13.

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

  • Comment number 14.

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

  • Comment number 15.

    Briantist and Boilerplated - you are both off topic on this post. If you have a comment to make about moderation, please leave it here.

    Thanks

  • Comment number 16.

    The content management system may be very clever and wonderful, but the new site is so bad that most users of the old site have abandoned it.

  • Comment number 17.

    Great post, great to see you are finally following the Standardista route. Congrats.
    New look is great, though I'm missing the right hand col links for More On this Story.. are you getting the same traffic now they are at the bottom? You could fit a 2 column layout, Story left, More on right.??

  • Comment number 18.

    Interesting stuff John.

    Be interesting to hear how you feed and manage the iPad applications from this system - perhaps another post soon.

  • Comment number 19.

    For the URL's I think a better solution would be to use slashes, such as

    www.bbc.co.uk/news/wales/cardiff/

    I'm probably a little off on this, but slashes have a more "RESTful" appearance, which seems to be gaining a lot of ground on the web. It also just seems like a more logical way to separate sections than a mix of slashes and dashes?


    Then for the unique ID of the article you could have

    www.bbc.co.uk/123456
    www.bbc.co.uk/news/wales/cardiff/123456
    www.bbc.co.uk/news/wales/cardiff/123456-the-title-of-a-story

    linking to the same story so that we get a choice of short or descriptive.

    Most browsers have a suggestive address bar which suggests pages you've recently been to on a website, so the descriptive titles would be much better in helping you get to "that article I read yesterday but didn't bookmark"



  • Comment number 20.

    Really interesting - would love to see more about the URL structures and your views on inclusion of subject matter in the URL for SEO. Also, more CPS info please and images!

  • Comment number 21.

    Hi - John is somewhere where he can't get access to the Internet so he has asked me to add this comment on his behalf:

    "Thanks for all your comments

    Lucas24 and Greg Tyler: we were originally going to put in all the section elements of the URL and keep them as short as possible. They are not there for seo, in case you were wondering, but one of the reasons we had to put them back in was for some external sites to be able to track and audit traffic. It was not our choice to put these back in but we had to and therefore made some compromises to accommodate them.

    As you may have noticed on mine and Jem's blog posts on the world cup you will see we are moving to a model where the content is not tied to URLs so eventually content will be able to appear in different guises in all the relevant sections of the site. The meaning of the section path starts to become interpreted differently in this model.

    The rules to URL structure are an interesting point. We were using +'s in some of our URLs (such as to group sections such as between Asia+Pacific) but we had to take them out as they don't work on many sites, being interpreted as a space due to being wrongly encoded.

    Ed: in the follow up CPS post we can talk more about how data is stored but we are transitioning to new publishing models at the moment. The CPS is based around Oracle in case you were wondering.

    Ianhubbard and Stuartmemo: will consider the use of www but currently this is not the way we use URLs on the www domain.

    The HTML5 spec and doctype has been so in flux during this project it was not something we could stabilise around yet. We will start to look at it now but it would have just delayed things.

    PeterH: due to a number of requests we are looking at the return of a low graphics site. Anthony Sullivan has blogged about this previously.

    The News site is the first site to now implement the new BBC grid and layout guidelines. You can read Paul Sissons blog about that here. The World Service sites are implementing it soon.

    Alex: all urls will be guaranteed stable though we may redirect old urls to new ones for consistency.

    We may also make shortened or different versions of URLs available as well, such as ones with just a story I'd.

    We do have a latest stories feed but not a public API with things like an all items feed. You can find all stories in the bbc search. The CPS does have an internal API which has these features and we will be exposing more of this functionality over time. We are also exposing more metadata about content as RDF.

    As mentioned above, there are some compromises in the URLs.

    Richard: it's too early to see how people are using the new features of the site but we will be evaluating soon.

    Garethrees: yes we did think about using different URLs and canonical URLs to join them together. However we made so many complex changes to the site design, content and infrastructure we had to draw the line somewhere and decided to refine the URLs over time, especially as we had to make some late changes as above.

    As there are so many questions on URLs we will do a separate post on this and what we are doing next with them.

    The News website is a complex, iterative and on going product so the new design is a milestone but we will be moving forward with more updates and improvements.

    Cheers,

    Jod"

  • Comment number 22.

    @11: I'm another who'd prefer the link format of [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator] to one that uses hyphens partly because I'm quite fond of the "UP" button on the google toolbar for navigating websites.

    As for standards, this is what I get for the blog page, http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/bbcinternet/2010/07/

    Errors found while checking this document as XHTML 1.0 Strict!
    Result: 93 Errors, 39 warning(s)

    Not much 'better' than the 'lots of errors' from the sports page you chose for comparisons, (although there are many repeats of the same types of error in both checks).

  • Comment number 23.

    @ 21 Nick Reynolds

    "...the new design is a milestone..."

    If the new design is not changed to something much more like the old VERY SOON you will find that it was more of a tombstone than a milestone. Have you read the thousands of responses to Mr Herrmann's blog?

  • Comment number 24.

    Comment 23 - this post is specifically about the new content management system behind the new site. If you wish to comment about the design please go to this post.

    Thanks

  • Comment number 25.

    @ 24 Nick Reynolds

    Sorry if my posts are off-topic, but are you sure that the terrible useability and appearance of the new news site are not partly forced by the constraints of the new CMS ?

  • Comment number 26.

    Comment 25 - usability and appearance are not the subjects of this post. Please stay on topic. Thanks.

  • Comment number 27.

    Is the page layout stored with the article under the latest CPS? If so when the site gets redesigned in future is it likely the articles will be stuck with the current layout.

  • Comment number 28.

    #22. At 4:46pm on 29 Jul 2010, typo wrote:
    "As for standards, this is what I get for the blog page, http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/bbcinternet/2010/07/

    Errors found while checking this document as XHTML 1.0 Strict!
    Result: 93 Errors, 39 warning(s)

    Not much 'better' than the 'lots of errors' from the sports page you chose for comparisons, (although there are many repeats of the same types of error in both checks)."


    Hi typo

    Thanks for your comment. It's a very good point you make about the validation of pages on the Internet blog. Two things I did want to mention:
    1. The page you cite isn't built by the News CMS so the fixes John describes haven't helped us in this manor and
    2. The team who do look after the technical back end of blogs across the BBC are working on fixing the number of errors blogs throw up at the moment.
    Best wishes
    Paul

  • Comment number 29.

    Going back to the URLs the new special report URLs are a definite improvement, comparing http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_depth/americas/2010/oil_disaster/default.stm with the much shorter http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/special_reports/oil_disaster/. I'm assuming the removal of the year from the URL is to allow for reports/sections which end up spanning multiple years (eg. Middle East).

    Do the various programmes hosted on the old news sub-domain (eg. Click) use the same CMS? It looks like they're still publishing under the old format. I'm assuming these programmes will eventually be given new URLs along the lines of www.bbc.co.uk/news/programmes/click or similar.

  • Comment number 30.

    Great post -- very interesting to see some of the mechanics!

    I wanted to re-emphasise the earlier comment regarding the HTML5 doctype -- it's been carefully crafted as to work with pretty much everything (while still flipping strict standards mode in browsers which need it), and shouldn't need to change until we're on something which isn't HTML any more.

    I'm slightly puzzled by some of the mark-up. is a bit bloody weird :)

    The URL design is interesting... but seems the oddest of all. Why...

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/ [SITE] / [SECTION] - [SUBSECTION] - [STORY-ID]

    and not...

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/ [SITE] / [SECTION] / [SUBSECTION] / [STORY-ID]

    ...which would make them more predictable without prior knowledge, and also mean that you can immediately match on the last path component (the story id) before doing anything else, and then later compare the relevant path components with the canonical URL (or, I guess in some cases, URLs plural) for the story. That way, if somebody links to, say, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/123457890, everything will still work (inserting or redirecting, as appropriate. It'd also mean that short(er) URLs could be achieved quite easily, by aliasing /news to /n, and so the aforementioned would be http://bbc.co.uk/n/1234567890 -- at the moment the 'sharing' tools use the full URL and there's no obvious way to compress it without a third-party service.

  • Comment number 31.

    BBC CMS being dotnet 3.5 and relying on something which can't be reliably supported via open source (hackish) Mono must be co incidental as your boss is ex Microsoft right?

    You are relying on a Windows only technology while Web's largest entities (except you) relies on standard/multi platform technologies such as Python, Ruby, Perl. You also tried to use MS Silverlight which has horrible mobile platform support for iPlayer, remember?

    So what happens if someone dares to use OS X (very popular in media) at BBC? Or, God forbid... Linux? It is amazing that you seem to care about web standards and yet can't figure where the errors and the fact that, only IE renders BBC fine comes from. It is done at Core level, by Microsoft's flawed (on purpose) generation engines.

  • Comment number 32.

    Great to see you have set out along the 'standards compliant' route with CSS replacing tables for layout of the news site -
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/

    However, you have a slight error in your main style sheet at
    http://static.bbc.co.uk/frameworks/barlesque/1.3.2/newnav/style/main.css

    Some way along it has }} instead of }
    This disables (at least in Firefox) the following style specification:

    #blq-container.blq-gvl-3{background-color:#fff;padding:0;}

    Just thought you might like to know ...


    oldencrabbit

  • Comment number 33.

    I live in Scotland (Tayside & Central) so I like to see T&C news items.

    How about expanding the options under the drop-down "Scotland" link in the horizontal nav bar to include the Scottish regions (abbreviated if necessary) beside the "Politics" and "Business" links ?
    Then I wouldn't have to suffer that gruesome black and grey box with the non-functioning area selection on the map: I could use an element-blocker to suppress it.

    And by the way - Don't N. Ireland and Wales have any business to go with their politics ?

    And another thing - In the interests of comfortable readability, how about editing the style sheets to give us a few pixels left margin when the window is too narrow to let the page centre itself ?
    At present I'm reduced to using a style manager add-on.

    oldencrabbit

  • Comment number 34.

    I wondered how long it would be before someone brought Microsoft up.

    @Ilgaz: You obviously don't know much about the problems & risks associated with large-scale software deployment.

    Consider this - the journalist's need for a reliable desktop application (not every computer and laptop out in the field can be connected to the internet all the time) and the need to target the primary corporate operating system that is supported across the BBC (that's most likely Windows, like it is in most other big corporations). Journalists, other than technology ones, don't use Linux or OSX.

    Forget anti-MS dogma: building a native client in .NET is the only sensible route from a technological POV. If the BBC had taken any other route they'd be completely crazy. No matter what you think about them, given certain constraints, sometimes Microsoft technologies are the right choices.

  • Comment number 35.

    I'm impressed by the structural content editor, as opposed to the traditional and much-maligned WYSIWYG. I've been looking into semantic/structural text editors for a while, there doesn't seem to be that much out there so its nice to see a real-world implementation.

    As you note structural editors are useful when the content is distributed to different devices with different templates. Seems to me its just as valid for (nearly) all websites, since content should almost always be separated from the layout. Content writers can stick to writing, web designers can stick to laying stuff out. Shame the vast majority of CMSs out there don't seem to think the same way ;-)

  • Comment number 36.

    "...the new design is a milestone..."

    Sorry, I read that as millstone, and it made far more sense.

  • Comment number 37.

    36 Sorry, I read that as millstone, and it made far more sense.

    Bob: no, the CMS design is great, because the HTML it produces is highly structured and relies on CSS for layout and appearance. It separates content from presentation. That's good because the presentation can be altered.

    See this post (actually you already have): http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/2010/07/bbc_news_website_redesign_5.html?page=3#P98968130

    So I suppose I agree with Simon at #35.

    Nick/Paul: Steve H has closed that blog for comments, so unless he's writing a new one it's quite likely that this blog will get comments about how the CMS output is rendered for presentation.

    In passing, I would endorse a request to allow URLs to use just the article ID, even if it's redirected to the full URL. It's easier to quote .../news/10808720 than .../news/world-latin-america-10808720; and using punctuation like hyphens in URLs can make for difficulties when they break over lines in emails.

  • Comment number 38.

    I seem to remember e-mailing the Beeb five years ago about XHTML, CSS, structured markup, WAI, 508 and all that.

    Five years later...

    Perhaps it's a lesson in not relying too heavily on 'x' software for your content, or putting too much reliance on 'x' individuals for their opinions.

    Five years on, and now the Beeb roll out the important news that they have joined (or are trying to join) the ranks of the web standard websites. Just checked your news home page and it doesn't validate.

    Get in touch. I can help you out with that. ;)

  • Comment number 39.


    Hey John

    Can you ask Steve why he is not taking anymore comments on the website design debacle? Content is one thing, the way that it is displayed is another. Cant have one and not the other. Give him a nudge will you?

    Cheers mate.

    Thousands of people

  • Comment number 40.

    The new design of the BBC site is satisfactory. What is not amicable is the lack of updated news, the Breaking news bar, and the overall uptodate news of the world. BBC is, was the benchmark to meet for all news. It appears that the United Kingdom has defeated in not only this media, but just about everything else. What a pity! This no doubt caused by the Labour government.

  • Comment number 41.

    Hi all - thanks again for comments - just catching up...

    Typo: All comments on URLs are being noted and we will look again at this very soon.

    On the errors on the page you mentioned, these are published from a Movable Type based system used for the blogs and is separate to the CPS.

    Hatenewnewssite: The Content Production System has very flexible layout based on the Velocity Template system and CSS, so the CPS does not place any restrictions on layout or usability per se.

    On the design itself, I have to point you here to comment: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/bbcinternet/2010/07/bbc_news_redesign_telling_the.html

    You can be assured that key people are always reading and taking note of comments on the blogs.

    Keith: No the page layout is stored separately to the content so it is posible to change the layout at any time.

    Also yes - the year in the URL was baggage which could be removed with the new URL structure

    On the programmes and other elements of the site not updated, we chose to roll the changes out gradually so some areas will be updated over time. Which programmes sites we manage and how is currently being discussed.

    Mo: As mentioned earlier, there are some compromises in the URL structure in order to meet our launch dates. We will be making further changes to this including shortened URLs and more descriptive ones.

    We will do a follow up post on URLs.

    Ilgaz: There is no affiliation with any technology for any reason other than using the best tool for the job and BBC Journalists do use a Windows based desktop. This is what they wanted. However there is also a demand for lightweight web based editing tools and these are one of the next things to look at integrating into the workflow. You will note from our many other blogs how much we support and use open source where it is appropriate.

    We never used Silverlight for BBC iPlayer – though I think this is drifting a little off topic now.

    oldencrabbit: The barlesque style sheet actually just controls headers and footers and some other global site elements. I’ll let the team that manage this know about any errors.

    The missing left border on the style sheets is being fixed.

    Will post a more detailed response here on the navigation options for Nations sites..

    hexenductionhour: Thanks for you comments

    Simon R Jones: Our need to manage content on so many platforms make it essential for us to think about content structure, so this is the key driver.

    Warden: Thanks for your coments

    Yes that blog is closed for comments but the many comments have been read and the feedback they provide is being carefully considered.

    I will pass on any relevant comments here to Steve.

    The URL structure you mention is one of the ones we would like to move towards.

    FergieWinsAgain: It’s easy to be flippant about standards, but if you compare the pages on most content driven sites (in fact most sites) you will see that it is hard to support.

    Very few mainstream large scale sites produce less than 5 errors. Most produce over 100. The News homepage currently has only 1 error and it is not from the CPS, but from a third party include in the page which is not published by the CPS. As mentioned before, these are things which are difficult to control.

    I can’t speak for when you wrote in as it was before my time in this role, but I’d rather be open and honest about the journey we are on here to improve the technical quality of the site, as well as the editorial and other elements talked about at length elsewhere. I think it’s important to see that this is something we value.

    toughtopperbrown: I’ll pass your comment on – as mentioned above, Steve is reading and taking on board all comments.

  • Comment number 42.

    @Mo (#30) H4 tags inside list items are acceptable markup. I agree it's a little weird here since they are more commonly found in nested lists to differentiate hierarchy and here it just seems to be used for story links. Maybe they've chosen to do that for SEO.

    Thanks for this great article, I will look forward to more. And, as a web developer with what I consider to be fairly advanced CSS expertise, I would like to say thanks for posting the source code. I have just learnt about the rather graceful way of clearing floats in short containers with the advanced clearfix method rather than my usual {clear: both} additional divs. :-)

  • Comment number 43.

    @Simon (#42): While I'm aware that h4 elements are valid, they fail utterly semantically. they're simply not headings. choosing them with SEO as a basis would be... somewhat bonkers, and then some, given how they're being used.

  • Comment number 44.

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

  • Comment number 45.

    With regards to URLs the special report boxes which appear within articles (eg. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-10862893 ) are still using the old URLs to link to the section (ie. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_depth/americas/2010/oil_disaster/default.stm ) instead of the new URLs.

    Also on a links note the URL for 'Videos & Audio' in the header is http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10473693, despite it having changed to http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/video_and_audio/.

    @41: Personally I think quite a few of the programme sites which are hosted on the news sub-domain could be better managed via the /programmes database. Breakfast & Andrew Marr show spring to mind as examples of programme sites where content on the sites is either links to news articles or info about past episodes (which is presumably also stored in the programme database).

  • Comment number 46.

    Replying to jod, #41:

    I see the left margin has appeared, thanks.
    That's a real improvement for readability.

    Now I look forward to expanded region options
    on the horiz nav bar on page
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/scotland/

    That grey / black box with the (still) non-functional
    map / geographical selection tool is still an eyesore.

    Continual improvement!
    Keep up the good work!
    Onwards and upwards!
    Infinity and beyond!

    oldencrabbit

  • Comment number 47.

    oldencrabbit: Thanks.

    Also in answer to your earlier question...

    BBC Wales and Northern ireland do not have business indexes - they produce some business content but not enough for a full index hence there is no dedicated business section in the Nav. BBC Scotland have a business Editor and produce more of this type of content to warrant a section.

    We are looking at the map in the grey box and the way this works with the navigation. The Nations and Regions teams quote that for them, the Grey box is more prominent than the top nav and allows the importing of 3 headlines per area which means more local content is surfaced than before.

    But will pass your comments on...

    Cheers,

    John O'Donovan

  • Comment number 48.

    The Nations and Regions teams quote that for them, the Grey box is more prominent than the top nav and allows the importing of 3 headlines per area

    All of which is valid (although some collections like Yorkshire & Lincolnshire only get two headlines per area). But it's so prominent visually that it dwarfs everything else. Why is it so dark? What's the point of the map taking up space? The map and the colour can be toned down so it's easier on the eye and takes up less real estate: have a look at my treatment which is explained at http://www.acleach.me.uk/neater-news/

    PS: I'm glad to see the margin and font issues have finally been looked at. And I realise we're in danger of straying from content to presentation...

  • Comment number 49.

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

  • Comment number 50.

    On the blog thread "BBC News website redesign (1,2,3,4,5)"*, the editor Steve Herrmann wrote: "Most of you commenting here on the Editors blog have been critical, with many urging us to change the design back to the way it was." ... and then goes on to make arguments in support of the new design.

    If readers do not like the new design, change it back before we leave in droves. The response was clearly a massive rejection of the new site and with good reason. Not only is it more difficult to navigate and find the desired section, the editorial choices also seem to have changed; moreover, the content itself also seems below par.

    Listen to your readers, they are saying: "it wasn't broken, so why 'fix' it?" Of course, it is difficult to admit that the redesign was a mistake but ultimately childish not to do so. Please demonstrate the maturity that we expect almost uniquely of the BBC.

    * Why is that thread closed? Clearly, plenty of readers have not had a chance to comment.

  • Comment number 51.

    melty - you are off topic. This post is about the BBC news content management system. If you wish to comment on the design please go here.

  • Comment number 52.

    Video is content served by the management and publishing system, therefore I ask why on earth is it not working. Any page that contains video is all but unable to scroll to read the text content until (which is often never) the video has been fully delivered. Before it is suggested this is not a bandwidth problem, iPlayer at twice the resolution plays fine.

    Oh well blocking http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/player/* for another day.

    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 53.

    To Ed:

    "It’s easy to be flippant about standards, but if you compare the pages on most content driven sites (in fact most sites) you will see that it is hard to support."

    I was not being flippant about the standards. On the contrary, I was commenting on how major companies, organisations and the like talk of 'aiming to come to web standards', but fall very short of the mark. Both public and private sector. Five years ago I was putting myself about in such fields, but few were interested, so now I feel I can preach a little.

    On the subject of the Beeb site, there is one error and four warnings, and all would take me less than a minute to fix. As I say, I am not flippant about standards. I don't preach about them either, but I find it annoying that I can see the errors in a second, when the editor of the site says it's not fixable (or words to that effect).

  • Comment number 54.

    I've seperated to two posts, as I feel this is a slightly better way to answer them both.

    "I can’t speak for when you wrote in as it was before my time in this role, but I’d rather be open and honest about the journey we are on here to improve the technical quality of the site, as well as the editorial and other elements talked about at length elsewhere. I think it’s important to see that this is something we value."

    I am completely in agreement that you (the team) should value your efforts and at least attempt to aim for specific targets. I have read some of the Editorial Guidelines:

    "Accountability
    We are accountable to our audiences and will deal fairly and openly with them. Their continuing trust in the BBC is a crucial part of our contract with them. We will be open in admitting mistakes and encourage a culture of willingness to learn from them."

    Now that's an excellent point. If I may make one or two (or ten)suggestions...

    1. The new site layout - too much whitespace/length - too many images, videos and objects.

    You have to appreciate your audience, and unfortunately for you (the team), your audience is pretty much everyone in the UK with an Internet connection. However, there are ways to make everyone happy (surely not!).

    First there are many who have very slow Internet connections. At 510K, your news page takes 30 second to load for the poor folk on 256K out in the broadband slowspots. Less images, objects, trim, compress, reduce, remove. Or offer a low speed alternative, such as text only (the mobile site isn't quite what I mean, but it would be a stop-gap).

    Whitespace/length: Three pages of scrolling with a 1280 x 1024 monitor. Personally the previous setup was better in that regard. The new links along the top (Home | News | Sport | etc) are about 10-20mm wide and as tall. Some people will find those hard to find in all the information on the page, or will have to scroll a lot to get the same info further down.

    I'm sure I can find ten, but I'm not as grumpy as you might think :)

    I've chatted with a few people about the site. Here's a selection of quotes (both site and people witheld):

    "Driving me completely nuts. I don't want a load of videos - it's too time-consuming. I don't even want a load of pictures. I just want to be able to read and get what I want quickly.

    I think I'm going to have to go somewhere else for my news. They've scored a huge own-goal here, as I'm starting to think it might be worth paying the subscription for The Times."

    "The BBC seems to want to become a tabloid."

    "Less cluttered, but a tad too minimalist for the purists."

    "It seems harder to see all the news. Don't like it."

    "I loath it. with a passion."

    You have a fan though:

    "I like it!. It's much less cluttered and it's easier to navigate to the various sub-sites. And is does fit in with what seems to be an increasingly prevalent style."

    So...not all bad. :)

    Hope you take it all objectively. For what it's worth the comments are from 'seasoned' Internet users of varying ages. I think that's enough from me. Bye!

  • Comment number 55.

    I'm glad to see that the BBC is opening up about its content management systems, it will be quite interesting to see the internal workflow processes and interfaces.

    On the topic of semantic web and linking data together, this could lead to the same content being published on different pages, which is fine in itself, but will the BBC be using any 'canonical urls' to indicate which page or url is the original and authority link? For example, if you have duplicate content on multiple pages and somebody is searching that content via the search engines such as Google, how will those search engines know which page to display first? Usually a canonical url will indicate which is the original and/or authority page. So this is something to be aware of as you begin publishing the content via multiple outlets and sections.

    Another thing I'd like to see discussed is the possibility of having social (voting) interactions for articles and comments around the site. It could follow the social models as implemented by popular stories posted on Digg.com where users will 'vote up' content articles that they like and 'bury' those that they don't. This could be particularly helpful for the comments section as the BBC regularly receives hundreds of comments on many posts and this can lead to a dilution of the value of those discussions, having a comment voting system in particular could help the most popular, helpful and interesting comments surface up to the top, providing greater value to the majority of BBC visitors who read such discussions (but don't actively participate).

  • Comment number 56.

    Guv-nor: you are about to see some significant speed up in the loading process for video in the next day or so. Changing the way video is loaded on story pages to make it much faster.

    joenade: we are already using canonical URLs where relevant and will continue to do so. The social features are being more integrated into the site rather than being in separate forums, so your ideas are well recieved.

    FergieWinsAgain: It's not that they are not fixable, I said they are difficult to control. The error is from code added in by a third party service so it goes on the snagging list but is not fixable by the CPS alone.

    Again, thnks for all your comments.

  • Comment number 57.

    Please ,editors, why do you not put a small flag or logo on each news item? The logo could be the Union Flag if the news item pertains to the whole of the UK. If the item is only relevant to Enland then fly the cross of St. George or if about Scotland and its unique educational and legal system then fly the St Andrews cross. This is what you do for sporting items so to stop confusion among your viewers why not add an appropriate logo to the news?

  • Comment number 58.

    The glimpse at your CPS is quite fascinating (and has distracted me from what I ought to be doing!) but I have a question.

    How easy is it to use?

    Now as a webhead and e-learning specialist, looking at the samples it seems quite straightforward and I expect I'd be turning out usable pages in short order. But how do people who are journalists or writers rather than computer geeks get on? Or is your model for the journalists and writers to provide the stories to a specialist CPS-herd who makes it all happen?

    You see, I'm always looking at ways to make it possible for the non-computerate to be able to generate their own content - in my case, for teachers to produce e-learning materials for themselves - so I'm wondering how your CPS performs in that respect.

  • Comment number 59.

    In reply to:
    56. At 02:57am on 17 Aug 2010, jod wrote:
    Guv-nor: you are about to see some significant speed up in the loading process for video in the next day or so. Changing the way video is loaded on story pages to make it much faster.


    It was nice of you to let me live in hope, but a week later it seems I am destined to die in despair.

  • Comment number 60.

    The BBC Website is the worst I have ever encountered.
    It seems to have been composed by a class of high school students whose idea was to include everything they could think of on each page.
    As example: BBC 5: Try looking for Cricket and the Test Match live commentary.
    Once you have waded through multiple misleading choices you can discover it hidden in plain sight, in small type over in the far right column under a sponsor's advertisement. Even finding the way in to post a comment is not without trial & error.
    DON'T YOU HAVE ANYONE WHO KNOWS HOW TO DESIGN A WEBSITE?
    WHAT YOU HAVE NOW IS PATHETIC!
    YOUR WEBSITE LACKS EFFICIENCY AND ANY ORGANIZED METHOD OF SORTING.
    PLUS: IT IS CLUTTERED TO THE EXTREME!

  • Comment number 61.

    Guv-nor: please no despair :o)

    The change made several weeks ago is that the player does not load when the page loads. for example on a page like this...

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-11201945

    the page load is not waiting for the video player to load, and the player only loads when you click the video to play. This should remove all video related delays when loading a page. Be interested to know if this is not working...

    Megan: The CPS is focused on being easy to use and is used directly by over 1200 journalists across the world, who are trained in using the system.

    It is worth remembering though that the CPS is designed primarily to meet the needs of a Journalistic branch of content management and publishing tasks. This makes it easier to be flexible in meeting the needs of this group.

  • Comment number 62.

    jod: Your suggestion that the situation has been resolved is at variance with my real world experience, I have checked just now and page scrolling remains at the mercy of the unwanted video loading unbidden.

    I shall continue to block newsimg.bbc.co.uk/player/*

    Perhaps it is my chosen browser, Opera, which from a BBC perspective is causing the problem but the waiting to load behaviour that you describe is not happening. Of course from a users perspective the BBC have messed up, if only by testing in a restricted number of browsers.

    Thank you for your interest, but my visits to the news site has been greatly reduced since the redesign and Opera is not much used in the USA so you will not be disenfranchising the apparent favoured BBC market.

  • Comment number 63.

    #61 jod wrote "The change made several weeks ago is that the player does not load when the page loads."

    That explains why my Greasemonkey script is broken -- often what is now a video holding image simply disappears. It doesn't happen all the time, though, so there's a timing issue somewhere, I suspect. Well done with the holding image though: I hadn't noticed it wasn't the video player (since my script stopped auto-play anyway).

  • Comment number 64.

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

  • Comment number 65.

    @warden #63
    A script rather similar to yours is offered at
    http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/87428

    Is it any good?

  • Comment number 66.

    How interesting the video that was previously served for each story from newsimg.bbc.co.uk/player/* is now being served from news.bbc.co.uk/player/* and as well as the change in source address there has been a change in the video being served such that it works (for me) as intended.

    When this change occurred I have no idea, my visits to the BBC news site having reduced in number and frequency since the site redesign.

  • Comment number 67.

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

  • Comment number 68.

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

  • Comment number 69.

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

 

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