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News and Sport low graphics switch-off

BBC Sport blog editor | 15:14 UK time, Tuesday, 23 March 2010

This blog entry was originally published on the BBC Internet Blog by Anthony Sullivan. Please visit the original entry to comment.

We are in the process of making some major improvements to the BBC News website.

These changes will roll-out over the next few months and include a redesign of the site and a re-engineering of the supporting technical systems. We'll be sharing the details on these changes in this blog in the coming weeks.

The first set of changes we are making will see us upgrading the News Website story HTML to use CSS layout instead of table-based layout. The appearance will be the same. The new HTML will be lighter-weight and more accessible. At the same time we will cease to publish the low graphics version of both the News and Sport websites. These versions are scheduled to be switched off on 6 April.

The low graphics version of the site was designed as a low bandwidth alternative to the full website at a time when most users of the site were using slow dial-up connections. Now, most of our users are on much faster broadband connections and as a result, the percentage of users of this service has steadily declined to a current level around 2%.

The reason to close the low graphics is not simply based on the percentage of users but because we are making a wider set of improvements that meet most of the needs of people currently using this version.

We know that there are some users who are accessing the site on slow connections or via a mobile device. For those users we are providing a clearer link to the mobile version of the site. This site shares many of the characteristics of the low graphics site in that the pages are simplified and have a much lower page weight than the full web site.

As Erik Huggers, Director of Future Media and Technology recently explained, we are also working on improving our range of mobile services beginning with an application for the iPhone followed by services for other platforms.

For users of the Sports site, using the mobile version has the additional benefit in that it provides a much richer service around live coverage and statistics than the current low graphics site.

We know that another major reason why people use the low graphics version is that it is simpler to read. For people with reading difficulties this is very important. The mobile site alternative we will now be offering provides a similarly simplified presentation.

And as mentioned above, at the same time that we are turning off low graphics, we will be upgrading the HTML of News story pages to a much improved CSS layout. The News front page and other section pages will be following soon after alongside a redesign of their layout and the Sport site will be similarly updated later this year.

This summer, we are also expecting to roll out a suite of accessibility tools. These are designed to provide much better support to a range of users - especially those with Lo-vision, Asperger's, Dyslexia, ADHD, or those who find text hard to read. For those who have been using low graphics as a more accessible version, these new tools will provide a much better service. You can find out more about it over on the Ouch website.

We're also aware that some enterprising developers have built services off the low graphics output. For people interested in building on our content, visit BBC Backstage for more information on BBC feeds and APIs.

What about old content?
When we make this change, all previously published low graphics will no longer be available. We will be applying a redirect on all low graphics URLs to point at the full site alternative. This is the best way of ensuring that the content context of the link is preserved.

At the same time as these changes we are also switching off our legacy PDA site and Avantgo services. These predate our browser mobile service and the URLs for those services will be redirected to the mobile site.

Anthony Sullivan is Executive product manager, BBC news website.

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