« Previous | Main | Next »

How we assign our page numbers

Post categories:

Andrew Bowden Andrew Bowden | 10:00 UK time, Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Page number entry box Yesterday I posted a list of all the page numbers used on the BBC Red Button service - all 160 of them. They're used by many of our users to quickly jump to their favourite parts of the service, without having to spend time scrolling and selecting items from the menus.

Some people may find our numbering logic a bit odd - indeed it was one comment made on the Digital Spy forums that inspired me to write this post.

As one of the people who added page numbers to BBC Red Button five years ago, I can tell you that there is a very sensible logic behind the numbers we assign. It just doesn't look like it!

The first thing is to say is that, where possible, we use the same page numbers as Ceefax. We want people to be able to switch between the two and find their favourite content without problems.

However there are times when that's not possible.

For example, BBC Red Button has some content that Ceefax doesn't have - like News Multiscreen or CBeebies.

This was a bit of a conundrum for us, because we didn't want to use page numbers in promotional material or trailers, and have people think they work on Ceefax as well. After exploring several options, we opted to use four digit page numbers - thus clearly marking them out as something that would only work on BBC Red Button.

We were rather concerned about what people would think about the four digit numbers - would it confuse people for example? So we put it to the test in some user testing, and found that most people didn't bat an eyelid about them. When asked about them, the common response was "It's just a digital thing" if anything. After all, there wasn't any logical reason why numbers couldn't be four digits...

Another problem we encountered with numbers is that occasionally BBC Red Button structures content differently to Ceefax.

Ceefax's Golf and Tennis menu

A prime example of this is Golf and Tennis. On Ceefax these share a menu page (480) due to capacity constraints on Ceefax - it's not that the BBC thinks Golf and Tennis are the same thing! On BBC Red Button we don't have the same problem, so we can have separate menus for Tennis and Golf.

However this left us with a problem of what numbers to use for each menu. On Ceefax they both share 480. In the end we used 481 and 485 because one is the first Golf page on Ceefax and the other is the first Tennis page. Over in Business, there's a similar example and we used a four digit number. This is really not ideal, however it's not possible to change Ceefax to make life easier for us!

Regional content also offers some challenges. Ceefax only covers regional news, regional sport and weather for the area you live in. So if you're in Cardiff, you'll get content for Wales.

On the other hand, we broadcast all regional data across the UK - you may be in Northumbria but you can still get the weather for Devon.

But this means we can't easily use the same numbers as Ceefax. Instead of going to the news for your region, 160 goes to a page which allows you to pick your region. The individual regions then have their own page number - so 1620 for London, and 1645 for the East Midlands.

Another thing you may notice about BBC Red Button is that not every page has a number.

Most of the menus do however most stories and tables don't. The reason for this is actually technical - our publishing system doesn't make assigning numbers to these pages easy.

We also would have wanted to use the same numbers as Ceefax for the same story, and the two systems didn't talk to each other in such a way as to make that possible.

It turned out this wasn't a major problem. Our testing showed that overwhelmingly people would jump to the menu pages using a page number, then scroll through the available options. Not many people want to jump to the 5th news story by a page number it seems.

When we do assign page numbers to stories or tables, it's for pages that people will want to jump to quickly - for example, the flight arrivals for Liverpool Airport have their own number (463 if you're asking.)

So yes, the list may look a bit odd in parts. And the logic might appear a bit mad at parts. But it all comes together and works rather well. Especially if you try not to think too much about it!


  • 1. At 12:11pm on 12 May 2009, Sue_Aitch wrote:

    I do think BBC Two Ceefax pages 460, 461 and 470 could go off air now that NHS Choices and Directgov are available on Channel 4: please would you ask the Travel Unit to investigate, Andrew?

    Complain about this comment

  • 2. At 7:53pm on 12 May 2009, Brekkie wrote:

    Ooh, I'm famous!

    "I can tell you that there is a very sensible logic behind the numbers we assign. It just doesn't look like it!"

    That would suggest to me it needs reviewing then.

    The list published indeed has made it even more confusing - being used to page numbers for football I always skip 302 and head straight to 303 or 316 - and hence had no idea you had sections dedicated to the Premiership, Championship and SPL, and would never have guessed their page numbers.

    It would be interesting to get the stats now on the percentage of people using "BBCi" compared to Ceefax, considering 85%+ now have Digital TV. It does seem strange that Ceefax is still dictating the digital text service when it's days are numbered. Hopefully once it's gone considering individual pages are no longer numbered thins like football can be indexed on 310 for example, with the sub sections then 311, 312 etc., rather than dotted around the 300s (and 3000s).

    Rugby Union is the obvious one - while 481 and 485 are obvious for Golf and Tennis as you showed in your blog, 368 makes little sense to me for Rugby Union. And a whole other debate, but I'm surprised Rugby League takes priority at home on 370.

    P.S. A note of praise though for your regional news and sport sections, especially as Teletext are now closing their local sport pages. I'm sure it's for technical reasons rather than out of choice, but having access to the pages from every regions really adds to the service.

    Complain about this comment

  • 3. At 2:12pm on 13 May 2009, Andrew Bowden wrote:

    Ah well it's very difficult to make a logic that's both understandable and workable, and keep some parity with Ceefax. Believe me, we tried :) Yes, Ceefax will be gone in three years, however it's still with us now and we want to make sure the transitions for Ceefax users is as easy as possible. So we have a system that doesn't appear logical, but which we know how it works.

    The football numbers do on the face of it look a little odd. I had to think why we made them that way. If I remember correctly the reason was so we could assign a number to each club page if we wanted to. So 3101-3129 would be reserved for Premiership Clubs, 3130-3249 for Championship Clubs and 3251-3299 for Scottish Premiership. You'll note some obvious padding in those number ranges - that was just to ensure the numbers in the leagues could grow if they needed to.

    We never actually implemented it because at the time we couldn't. And it got forgotten about until just now if I'm honest!

    As for the Rugby one, the original plan was to use 368 and 371 however the Sport team asked for it to be 370 instead. I can't remember their reasoning - it was a long time ago. At the time 368 was the first Rugby League story, and 371 was the first Rugby Union story. They've reshuffled things on Ceefax since then as 367 is now the first Rugby Union story, and 371 for Rugby League.

    The original designs for page numbers actually had a little feature for such pages as 480 (I think it was 380 at the time - they moved it later) and 370. When you typed in the 380 it would flash up the two options to point you in the right direction.

    I believe the code to do that still remains hidden away in the Sky service - we never built it on the other platforms...

    Complain about this comment

  • 4. At 6:40pm on 17 May 2009, Highestman wrote:

    I would like the letters page ported from ceefax

    Complain about this comment

  • 5. At 6:49pm on 17 May 2009, Highestman wrote:

    Add this please:


    Complain about this comment

  • 6. At 2:47pm on 21 May 2009, Sam Jacobs wrote:

    Surely the full title of this page ought to be "How we assign our page numbers on every platform but Virgin Media," Andrew? [/sarcastic and unhelpful comment]

    Sam (who has realised that he is a licence fee payer these days, and is really struggling not to prefix everything with "As a licence fee payer...")

    Complain about this comment

  • 7. At 12:10pm on 27 May 2009, Sue_Aitch wrote:

    Would like to see once the Entretainment Extra Revamp is completes:

    Album Review 527

    Entertainment Extra 515

    Entertainment Features 516-526

    Entertainment News Index 501 (504 Top Story as now)

    Film Chart 529

    Music Charts 528

    Complain about this comment

View these comments in RSS


Sign in

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.