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A new website for The Archers

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Leigh Aspin Leigh Aspin 17:53, Wednesday, 17 November 2010

a screenshot of the Archers timeline from BBC Radio 4's Archers web site

During the last 18 months, we've been relaunching parts of the Radio 4 website, redesigning for the wider page template now in use at bbc.co.uk and taking advantage of new technologies on offer.

The last programme website to move across is one of our most popular - The Archers, which consistently receives more 'listen again' requests per month than any other BBC radio programme. A site tour takes you through the features page-by-page.

Where should you start?

If you're an Archers newbie who has always been intrigued by the happenings in Ambridge but never taken the plunge, then start with our short introduction, kindly read for us by Archers fan Stephen Fry. And then listen and explore the links from the latest episode panel on the homepage, to find out more about the characters and locations in the current storylines.

Lighter or lapsed listeners can quickly get back up to speed with our timeline and a series of summaries of selected storylines, listed beneath.

And I hope that our regular users will adjust happily to the new layout for familiar content, and enjoy the regular news from the Archers blog, edited by our web producer and Archers scriptwriter Keri Davies. The blog will include a regular round-up of conversations and opinion from Archers audiences on our messageboard and on social networks - there are now more ways than ever for you to talk with, and be entertained by, your fellow listeners.

As always, we welcome your feedback, which helps us to continue to improve what we do - so please leave your comments.

Leigh Aspin is Interactive Editor at BBC Radio 4


  • Comment number 1.

    Well, you may think it's a fancy wonderful new web-site, but regular users of The Archers Messageboard remain unconvinced that our licence money has been spent with any wisdom or expertise in revamping the Message Board. It is now MORE difficult to use, and is visually off-putting (indeed, I find it visually illiterate). We have lost a lot of functionality, and it is fiull of glitches. It might be useful actually to read the numerous threads and discussions by regular users over there in Mustardland.

    It might behove you to remember that we Archers fans are amongst your most loyal listeners and great supporters and defenders of the BBC. What a pity you treat us this way.

  • Comment number 2.

    Sorry, but dislike this new page, it is ugly and unwelcoming. Much prefer the old one.

  • Comment number 3.

    I have to disagree. I think the new Archers Web site is excellent. What I think is a pity is that so many 'regular' users of the message board seem to be so relentlessly negative. Many people have been driven from the 'Discuss the Archers' messageboards for that reason, and now, after all Keri Davies's hard work, they're still (predictably enough)whinging.

  • Comment number 4.

    ...and when I say 'they're' I mean some of the 'regular' posters of course, not the people who were driven off the message board by the clique!

  • Comment number 5.

    As an Archers listener, I think the new site is rather nice. Unfortunately, the message boards are virtually unreadable unless you zoom the font size up significantly, which affects all the bbc.co.uk sites causing the "nice" site to fall apart.

    And the message board is both slow and inefficient. Message threads have 25kB+ of CSS loaded *just* for the generic BBC header/footer ("Barlesque") and one of the side frames downloads 40 links plus descriptions to your browser and then hides 35 of them...!

  • Comment number 6.

    I can read the messageboards perfectly well---the font size is fine viewed through my browser (IE 8). (The size is fine if I view through Firefox too, although the lettering becomes less clear, but that always happens if I try to use Firefox, which my laptop doesn't seem to like!)

  • Comment number 7.

    The Message Boards may be fine for you Nemo, they probably are if you have 20/20 vision, no health issues, the latest hardware and software and like "whizzy new things".

    Most of us have had to install new software, spend hours changing fonts/styles/colours/insert as appropriate simply in order to be able to view the pages without getting headaches/eye strain/vertigo/insert as appropriate.

    The Beeb is supposed to be championing "Accessibility".

    The following is taken from the Accessibilty Help/BBC Standards and policies:

    " Accessibility is a partnership between site producers like the BBC and the creators of the operating system, browser, and specialist assistive technologies which many disabled users employ to allow them, for example, to view websites in easier-to-read colours, with larger fonts, or as spoken text."

    What went wrong then?

  • Comment number 8.

    I'm really sorry to hear other people are finding the new website difficult to view, but I'm puzzled all the same-I do lots of internet surfing, go on all kinds of messageboards/blog sites etc. and the new Archers board looks fine to me, just the same as all the other sites I use, and well up to standard, if not above. I don't have 20/20 vision, as it happens, (far from it!) but haven't had to upgrade my software on my old laptop, (I've been using IE8 for some months.)
    But if there are problems, contact Keri Davies--he's quite open to sorting out any glitches.

  • Comment number 9.

    I was prepared to give it a fair trial, and I'm shocked that this is the work of that nice Mr Keri. For those of us who had downloaded the script, which was created by a couple of very skilled programmer users of the Board, it is even more of a disappointment.

    Equally, the talented Peet who gets most of us less skilled out of our difficulties has got it right, as have Redbookish and Winter Drawerson.

    There are no cliques on the Archers message board, but some posters have earned the respect of others through the wisdom of their views over a longish period. New posters are generally welcomed, and the more wise seem to and tend to go through the process more quickly.

  • Comment number 10.

    It sounds to me as though there was at least one clique, i.e 'those of us who had downloaded the script'.

  • Comment number 11.

    I think casual and possibly new readers of this blog may need to be aware that there is one frequent respondent on here who is suspected elsewhere of being not entirely disinterested in the need to be positive about the new mb.

    Anyone reading the mb responses to the actual new messageboard itself will see instantly a huge number of new, long term and occasional respondents who are strugglinh with the terrible glare, the tiny 'bog-roll' format of the actual messages space, the emoticons, the difficulty of navigating around the site, and are deeply and often highly technically sophisticated AND critical of the new messageboard.

    This is not the usual Archers conservatism at all. Views on the mb are day in, day out exceptionally diverse, but on this occasion I have been amazed at the unanimity of disappointment.

  • Comment number 12.

    What an extraordinarily nasty comment that is, in paragraph 1, of post 11! For the record (assuming that I am the 'frequent respondent' referred to there), I am ordinary member of the public, a retired person, who surfs the internet widely and uses many different kinds of message boards/blog sites etc. I do not work for the BBC!

  • Comment number 13.

    Thanks for the comments. Appreciated. A couple of parish notices to get out of the way. This is a blog post, as Leigh outlined, about the whole of the new website; the new look, highlighting characters in the catch up, ambridgevillage, the blog, and so on. Not just the message board where as you know Tayler is collating feedback and responding over on the mboard itself. It would be easier for Tayler and the team responding to feedback if users could highlight issues over in Mustardland or er, BRL.
    Also I confirm that no user on this thread apart from myself works for the BBC or has any relationship with the BBC. Please respect all users' opinions about this issue both negative and positive.

    To respond to some of the points; the actual message board space/width is unchanged but i accept given that the page is now 3 columns wide that it might seem smaller.Similarly the font size although not absolute, given which browser you are using and other factors, but again it should be no different than before. That said the background colour/text font i'm going to promise to have another look at given the posts where users have been complaining about clarity. Clearly there is more to do there. Likewise links to the messageboard itself on both the homepage and the discuss page is another frequent well made point. Tayler has already announced a couple of changes in the last few days (removal of emoticons) where we've listened to feedback and made a change.

    The messageboard community is incredibly important to the Archers site so we obviously regret users upset at the changes we've made. We are, however, collating this feedback, reading every post, and feeding it back into changes as quickly as possible. Apologies if we've got this wrong.

    * For more background info about the changes: I spoke about the Radio 4 change on Feedback last month and it has some useful contextual/background links. http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/radio/2010/10/changes_to_the_radio_4_messageboards.html

    (Jem Stone, Exec Producer, Communities, BBC Radio and Music)

  • Comment number 14.

    Mg 12

    I merely note that with almost uncanny timing [and ubiquity], a brand new poster's whole chain of comments supporting the changed messageboard format has appeared online and on the Archers website.

    Coincidence? You might say that. I could not possibly comment.

  • Comment number 15.

    14 @dracsm1 I, Tayler have read hundreds of comments about the messageboard change and its true to say that many of them are negative about a small number of issues. That said hundreds, as you'd expect, have just carried on discussing Jazzer, Harry, Stir Up Sunday, Lynda Snell as before.

    However I'll say again, that noting that someone deviating from this negative line is somehow suspicious is at best ridiculous and at worse insulting to Tayler, and your fellow posters.

  • Comment number 16.

    We are, however, collating this feedback, reading every post, and feeding it back into changes as quickly as possible.

    Jem, the issues highlighted by the users of The Archers message boards are the same issues that users of other upgraded boards have reported. Will the fixes be rolled out to all the affected boards at the same time?

    I apologise if this is off-topic, but there has been no update from David Williams on his blog.

  • Comment number 17.

    Smilie. Yes. Some of the issues are. We are collating feedback for David's team to look at and obviously talking to them regularly. His team have already made a number of updates with more changes to follow as I mentioned above.

  • Comment number 18.

    Thanks Jem, I appreciate that David and his team are rather busy at the moment. :-D

  • Comment number 19.

    It had nothing to do with their negativity or lack of it - though as you quite rightly point out, given the level of unanimity elsehwere you have to admit that being robustly positive about the changes was likely to make them stand out just a teeny bit.

    It was more a comment on the suddenness of their arrival simultaneously on many of the various Archers / R4 access sites as if from nowhere - i.e. AFAIK never having been present on another Archers platform in any shape or form [ apparently].

    Enviably uncanny timing, just as the slurry hit the air-conditioning. Ah well.

  • Comment number 20.

    I am astonished Jem Stone can assert that the appearance of the font size on the messageboards "should be no different than before".

    This combination of screenshots clearly shows the difference in font size between the old-style and new-style boards.


  • Comment number 21.

    Perhaps a distinction needs to be drawn between comments on the new Archers website and comments on the new messageboards. My comments are about the website as a whole.

  • Comment number 22.

    Russ: Appreciated. Its certainly clear in your screenshot about the differences between the old and new boards. Thanks for going to the trouble to illustrate that. I accept that much of the feedback has been about box width and clearly there is a little more that we can do, even given that some of this is down to browser, OS etc. I'll have another look.Watch out for announcements from Tayler over there.

  • Comment number 23.

    Jem has pointed me to this issue about the central column width. The CSS for the archers board overrides the base template on that column width at the moment, however, this will be changed and the default width will be applied. This will be applied tomorrow.

  • Comment number 24.

    Jem - concerning the centre column (the "bogroll") widths, there is not much room for alteration, given the state of the stylesheets - here is the comparison between Mustardland and Radio 4 bluey (and POV) centre column widths. Please note however the Radio 4 blueys are currently (since Friday, I believe) breaking their page structure container widths, whereas POV boards are not.

    Host posts on Mustardland break their message border containers, and the page navigators are inconsistent in style, and they break their format containers where the page numbers are more than one digit.

    The stylesheets are in a dreadful state, and I remain of the view that all new-style messageboards should have an identical basic template for structure, layout, font-size, kerning, line-spacing etc.


  • Comment number 25.

    If you're tweaking the basic templates, can I once more add a plea for a "Subscribe/Unsubscribe" link on every thread page? Please? Pretty please?

    I can't think of any other message board system where users are trading URL hacks that allow them basic functionality.

  • Comment number 26.

    I've just wandered over from The Archers discussion.

    I am using Firefox 3.6 on Linux. With the default user-agent, this is the website I see:

    However, if I chage the user-agent to IE8 and reload, I see this:

    This is the same computer - all I do is change the user-agent string.

    I haven't seen this sort of UA-dependent degradation for years. Why???????

  • Comment number 27.

    The first image of the homepage Serendipitous Llama shows in #26 is the one I see on my iPad.

    There is no way to access the rest of the site from the homepage. I can only download the latest episode, read a synopsis or see the 'who's who' section.

    I had to google to get to the messageboard.


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