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CBeebies website in non-dramatic relaunch

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Phil Buckley Phil Buckley | 14:30 UK time, Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Website re-launches, however well-intentioned and sensible, sure can annoy people. It is like when your supermarket moves all their aisles around: nothing is where you expect it to be and everything takes more time.

For children's websites this is especially true: children are just learning how to use computers, and when the sands shift they can no longer find what they want. Usage of your site can go down, and audience appreciation - a metric essentially based on asking people if they like the site or not - tends to tank, at least in the short term.

So a few months ago I blogged about how we were trying to address this by using a 'no-more-tears' approach to re-launching CBBC. Instead of a big bang, we started by keeping the design as it was and releasing major functionality improvements piece by piece; when children were used to moving their mouse in certain ways to get certain things, we unrolled a new design on top.

Did that actually work?

Well, that all seemed very clever - and those of you who are feeling so inclined would be very welcome to vote for CBBC as the relaunch of the year in .Net magazine's awards in fact. However, since then we have been monitoring our statistics to see if it Actually Worked, and if we should repeat this approach for CBeebies; a hugely loved site and one with an audience at an even earlier stage of using computers.

On balance, we concluded that the answer is yes. While we were releasing the new functionality on CBBC, the audience appreciation actually went up. When we unrolled the new design on 11 April, as expected we got a number of comments, not all of which were positive. However, most people preferred the new design, and there was even a clear majority saying that the new site was easy to use post-relaunch. Meanwhile in a vote on Wired magazine's kind review of the new CBBC site 65% said that they thought the new site was better than the old, while, a further 24% even claimed that they their children hadn't noticed the change.

Therefore, today we put the CBeebies website through the first stage of a no-more-tears relaunch, taking it from this:

Cbeebies website screengrab

To - and come with me here - this:

almost idential CBeebies website screengrab

Ta da! Come on!

Has anything actually changed here?

So: what we have done at this stage is simply to move all the CBeebies content, which was on an old technical system, to the same system as CBBC without touching how we present it at all. (For the technically-minded, we have achieved this by leaving the styling and HTML code literally untouched: we are just populating it from a different content management system with attendant database and query changes).

This is certainly the first re-launch I have been involved in for which I expect not a single negative comment from the audience; or indeed any comment at all. The only change that the audience may notice is that - ahem - in a couple of places our old system was creaking at the seams and some of our sub-indices were a bit flakey. They no longer are.

However, this work puts us in a very good place to roll out further changes across the CBeebies website. We've just updated our CBeebies Grown Ups site so that it is significantly more integrated with this new CBeebies, allowing parents to see much more closely how the content on CBeebies supports your child's development - you can read more about the improvements to Grown Ups here. Over the coming months we will be adding new features and hopefully improving the site even further.

There are other advantages to doing this. Firstly, now that CBBC and CBeebies are on the same technical system our editorial teams can work more efficiently; and when we do make developments to one site it will be easy to share this to the other.

It is also an essential building block to getting CBeebies and CBBC sites onto other screens such as mobile devices. Our Future Media Director Ralph Rivera has blogged about "one service, ten products, four screens" and this, perhaps the least dramatic relaunch in the history of the internet, is moving the children's products along that path. I hope to come back to the blog soon to talk about what CBBC and CBeebies will do on smartphones and other devices.

Finally, heaven knows it is significantly easier to come on here and show off these wonderful websites than it is to actually build them, so I would like to take this opportunity to thank the team involved for all their excellent work.

Phil Buckley is Product Manager, CBBC and CBeebies

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