"This website is nice": CBBC website relaunched
Last week, one section of the CBBC website was relaunched in a radically improved and more easily navigable format, so I'd like to explain what it is that we have done and how we got to where we are.
The first CBBC website
The first incarnation of the CBBC website appeared back in 1995: in this video you can see it being introduced by Toby Anstis. The world was a different place back then, and I should warn you that statistically 3.4 of you will actually die laughing while watching this, so please view with assistance nearby.
I have scoured our archives and there is just no record of the page Toby introduces still in existence; but here I have found a version of the site from 1998:
There are a couple of nice touches here: in those days we used the Comic Sans font which is now prohibited in the contracts of our designers, and it also includes one of my favourite sentences on the entire internet which I have stolen for the title of this blog post:
There was also an animated version of the site, hence the reference to the 'Normal version', but the animated one apparently included 'a massive rocket'.
The digital hub of Children's lives
There are two recurring themes I will write about today, and if we move forward to 1999, you will see the first of them emerging:
Comic Sans has now been dropped, but you also see a great example of the phenomenal breadth of content that is the cornerstone of CBBC:
This juxtaposition is a particularly heroic one, but for me, the ability to cover many parts of life, introducing them to children in a way that is both engaging and not patronising is a core strength and indeed essence of CBBC, both on TV and online.
We see this again on the CBBC homepage on September 11, 2001.
Managing increasing amounts of content
Later in 2001 we see the first emergence of my second theme: the website struggling to cope with the sheer volume of this content:
This continues in 2002. At this time, CBBC got its own TV channel, and content for younger children was spun off into another channel and website: CBeebies. So, there was now less to show, but how to show it all remained a problem:
In 2005, for the first time, CBBC moved into a technical platform designed to manage content, which addressed some of these problems:
The content remains both varied and magical: as well as a cartoon about spies called The Secret Show, there is some content around 'Saving Planet Earth', again an area of huge concern for children. In the bottom row there are tips for staying safe on the internet, and also children's voices directly on the CBBC homepage in the 'Message Boards' section - albeit (ahem) with a bug on the example above so no messages are actually showing. It worked
some a lot of the time.
However, in 2007 the legacy content management system the CBBC website was being phased out and this website went back to being managed editorially. This was accompanied by a fantastic new design:
However, after the first set of 7 shows which are chosen by the CBBC team, it is actually randomised as to which ones appear: every user testing session we go on includes a hugely depressing 30 seconds or so while children pull the lever as many times as is necessary to see the logo of their favourite show.
The relaunched CBBC website: allowing the CBBC audience to find exactly what they want
So what we have we arrived at today? The CBBC homepage remains as above, but if you go into the section marked 'Things To Do' in the top menu you will move into a modern, database driven website.
You will notice that there is not a vast visual difference between this and the previous version of the site: this is both because Things To Do is side by side with sections still in the old system, and a reflection of the visual strength of the current design.
However, over the coming weeks, you will see firstly that the other sections will be are moved into the new system and benefit from all the architectural advantages, and then, when the whole website is ready, we will tweak the design further. This will include replacing the 'Pull' lever navigation: no 'clippy' style wake is currently planned, but suggestions are welcome. The Games section is coming next, followed by Watch.
I'll post again when the further sections are out, but please let us know what you think.
I'd also like to thank the team for their tremendous efforts in delivering what I think is a fantastic website.
Phil Buckley is Portfolio and Product Manager for BBC Children's and BBC Future Media & Technology