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How we assign our page numbers

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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!

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