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Roger Bolton talks to Steve Herrmann about the redesigned news homepage

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Editor's note: this week's item from Feedback, Radio 4's accountability programme, concerns the redesign of one of the BBC's biggest web sites - SB.

Most of the comments - OK, complaints - we get on Feedback are about programmes (and of course trails, and grammar and pronunciation and presenters like Jonathan Ross and the attempted execution of 6 Music, and management pay, and travel expenses!).

Before the beginning of this month I would have said that I couldn't remember when we last had a complaint about the BBC News website. Like so many of you, I've been a great fan, and my family, and particularly my student daughters, have found the site invaluable not least for the context it provides to foreign news stories.

Now all seems to have changed utterly with what Steve Hermann the editor of the BBC News website calls "the biggest rethink of the design of the site since 2003."

As Mr Hermann said on the News Editors blog "Most of you commenting here... have been critical." Well here at Feedback all the correspondence we have received has been critical. The concerns range from alleged difficulties of navigation, wastage of space, the new banner which is "immoveable", "ridiculous classification" and unwanted ads. Faced with this barrage of criticism we asked Steve Herrmann to come onto Feedback and I began our interview by asking him why he believed such a major revamp was necessary:

So please keep letting Mr Hermann and Feedback know what you think about the redesign and any tweaks that may be made. By the way next week on Feedback I'll be talking to Kirsty Young about how she prepares for her Desert Island Discs interviews and trying to discover if she dislikes any of the guests, and we hope someone from the Today programme will be coming on to talk about the ever-shortening weather forecasts at 3 minutes to 8. No, make that 2 minutes to 8. No...

Roger Bolton presents Feedback on BBC Radio 4

  • Listen again to the whole programme, get in touch with Feedback, find out how to join the listener panel or subscribe to the podcast on the Feedback web page.
  • Visit the BBC News web site and see the new design for yourself.

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  • Comment number 70. Posted by dizt3mp3r

    on 19 Oct 2010 07:48

    Because Steve Herrmann has refused to revert any of the changes (none requested by any users) We have come up with a simple tool that converts the site to look like the old. This is FREE and was created because we cannot bear the current 'monstrous' look. Steve Herrmann won't do anything about it so 'we' have to.

    o Gives you back the left hand menu with the previous 'look and feel'
    o Changes the masthead to black and reduces the font size
    o Removes the new top menu
    o Reduces the headline font size
    o Changes the default font to verdana
    o Reduces the section font sizes
    o Reduces the garishness of the Most Popular tabbed group
    o Removes a few news sections that intrude on the browsing experience
    o Removed new promotional sections used for non-UK advertising
    o Removed unnecessary extra images

    This change does require Greasemonkey and Firefox web browser. Sorry about that IE users... Once those are installed then install the "BBC news fix to awful new website" script that can be found here:

    http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/87428

    Gives you back the previous look and feel to the BBC news website, peace at last!

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  • Comment number 69. Posted by xTunbridge

    on 28 Aug 2010 14:49

    66 Danny Chapman

    I dont think the BBC can use obscure FOI refusal reasons to totally deny access to information.

    Under para 23.(f) of the BBC Charter it MUST ensure that the BBC observes high standards of openness and transparency.

    Perhaps a request under this rule would not allow them the FOI defence that they use.

    A further refusal would prove the point that the BBC is being not just obstructive to reasonable requests for information but that it is open to accusation of being in breach of it's charter.

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  • Comment number 68. Posted by emanresu65

    on 27 Aug 2010 08:56

    Actually, I will take some of that back! There is now a UK tab and it has been tidied up a bit. At least it is no longer "in your face" as much as it was. Those adverts are still annoying though....

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  • Comment number 67. Posted by emanresu65

    on 27 Aug 2010 08:43

    Myself and a work colleague used to always peruse the BBC News website, but now no longer do. I agree with all the comments saying it is garish and difficult to navigate. We can't even find specific UK news like we used to. Steve Harrmann is wrong to talk about a flurry of complaints in the first few days; they would still be coming if they opened up their blog to comments again! A few months down the line and still no real improvement, I registered today just so I could add my voice to those asking for it to revert to the previous (not old) style that worked very well. Steve, "step back" and take a look at the twaddle you have been spouting and be man enough to give the public what they want - not what you are saying they want.

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  • Comment number 66. Posted by Danny Chapman

    on 8 Aug 2010 22:19

    Obviously individual opinions are just that, and I don't see that it's a problem for one person to say they like it, or another to say they don't. If nobody said anything, nobody would know anything. There's no need to resort to name calling just because someone has a different opinion/way of using a website.

    However, it's pretty worrying/odd that the BBC actively refuse to back up their claims that the changes are for the better, and are approved of by the public. For example:

    http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/publication_of_all_feedback_post

    indicates that the BBC refuse to

    "make available all feedback submitted to the BBC via the
    feedback form whether it be positive, negative or general comments
    / suggestions"

    on the grounds that it is "information the BBC holds for the purposes of journalism, art or literature", a reason that gets used extremely often (and arbitrarily, it seems to me) for FOI requests.


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  • Comment number 65. Posted by Hatenewnewssite

    on 8 Aug 2010 19:58

    @ The_Pied_Piper 64

    The "universal condemnation" is of the BBC NEWS site, i.e.
    news.bbc.co.uk

    Did you think they were of the main site www.bbc.co.uk?

    Audio/video content is available from the main site (or even a television receiver): the news site is supposed to be for NEWS.

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  • Comment number 64. Posted by The_Pied_Pipes

    on 6 Aug 2010 13:48

    Having an open forum like this attracts almost universal condemnation because the VAST, VAST majority of people like the site, and don't feel the need to log their approval, so of course these comments are mostly from naysayers and dinosaurs.

    I'm not the only one who thinks the new site is clean, easier on the eye and bringing the audio/video content that I want to the fore. Hoorah for the BBC for being bold.

    Let the dinosaurs go elsewhere.

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  • Comment number 63. Posted by Cairngorm McWomble

    on 3 Aug 2010 09:41

    I have to admit that the closure of the blog for comments, smacks very much of the Beeb sweeping the whole thing under the carpet!

    The attitude is obviously we're not going to change it so just stop wingeing and get used to it.
    Why else would there be no other comment or feedback since the 21st July.

    Very very disappointed - I'm trying to like the new layout but just find it unusable beyond a 60 second scan.

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  • Comment number 62. Posted by xTunbridge

    on 2 Aug 2010 23:56

    61 demain44

    Thank you Sir.

    That about sums up the disgraceful position we are in.

    If Roger reads his blog, and he wants it swamped, can he make it known that it is open for business on the News Page debacle. Thanks

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  • Comment number 61. Posted by demain44

    on 2 Aug 2010 20:00

    I posted the following through the BBC Complaints website yesterday (Sunday 1 August):

    I am writing to draw your attention to the controversy surrounding the recent changes to the BBC News website.

    These changes have met with widespread criticism, yet this criticism appears to have been ignored. It was the subject of an interview on a recent Feedback programme, but Roger Bolton seemed unable to get Steve Herrmann to accept that mistakes may have been made. Roger Bolton has pointed out that 100% of the messages he has received are critical of the new site.

    In summary, the key complaints are:
    • The new website was launched without making it available as a parallel beta test. This would have enabled the site to be refined before being fully released.
    • An extraordinary number of complaints have been posted (now over 5000, more than 1000 of these since Steve Herrmann’s last posting on the subject). Many of those complaining have registered for the first time in order to comment.
    • Many of the complaints have been detailed and constructive, covering both technical and aesthetic problems. A frequent comment has been “it wasn’t broken, why did it need to be fixed?”.
    • Since 21st July there has been complete silence from Mr Herrmann and his team, and no apparent changes to the website. Meanwhile there are reports of a substantial drop in page visits to the site. Many people posting to the website blog have said they no longer use the BBC as their default news site, and this includes myself.
    • On 29 July, the link to the website comment blog was removed from the News website. Those who wish to log a complaint now have to be fairly determined to find the blog.

    I would be very interested to hear the Governors views and whether or not they plan to take action.

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