BBC News website redesign: Frequently asked questions

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We've made some improvements to the design and layout of the BBC News website. You can read a summary on the BBC News Editors blog or look at our picture gallery describing the changes. Below is a video and the most frequently asked questions we have received, with answers.

The BBC's George Alagiah explains the improvements to the BBC News Website

What's changed?

• a clean, new design with more space for the main stories of the day, video and pictures, highlighting our original and distinctive journalism

• better navigation making content of interest to you easier to find, wherever you are on the site

• a bigger video player, with better quality which is easier to use

• easier for you to see which stories are most recent with the "NEW" stamp

• easier to share your favourite stories with friends

Why have you done this?

The BBC has a remit to provide high-quality, up-to-date, easily-accessible online news. Our last significant design change was in 2003; since then, the fundamental layout has remained the same. We've looked at the changes in the way you use the web and we've set out to make it easier for you to find, use and share. The full range of content is still all here - the best of the BBC's journalism, in text, video, audio and graphics. We have also updated the behind-the-scenes production system to allow our journalists to work more effectively.

Are any of the main sections of the site changing?

There have been small changes to the names - for example, the Education section was renamed "Education & Family" earlier this year, and with the redesign we will re-label the Entertainment section "Entertainment & Arts" to fully reflect the content of the section which has always included the arts. Among the international regional indexes, the Americas index is being split into a "US & Canada" index and a "Latin America" index.

Why have you rearranged the story pages?

In contrast to a few years ago, many of you now arrive on our site directly into story pages rather than starting at our front page. For this reason, we now provide a selection of top content from across the news website in story pages so that you can find content that interests you however you choose to navigate.

We think that the most natural place for you to see content related to the story you are reading is in context within the story body, and at the end of the story, so we've moved these too.

Why have you stopped providing a low-graphics version of the site?

The low-graphics version was switched off in April when the News website story HTML was upgraded. This is the system that is used to create the page layouts of the site and the new system did not support the old low-graphics version.

The low-graphics version 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. We are now making improvements to the site which will meet most of the needs of the people who used the low-graphics version.

Our executive product manager has blogged about this at the BBC Internet Blog.

How will you ensure the site is still user-friendly for those with disabilities?

We know that people used the low-graphics version because it was simpler to read and we now offer the mobile version of the site online which provides a similarly simplified presentation.

We've completely redeveloped the code that makes up our pages, and accessibility has been a key consideration every step of the way. We believe that you should find it even easier than before to navigate the site using accessibility tools such as screen readers and to enlarge the type on our pages.

This summer, we are also expecting to roll out an additional suite of accessibility tools which we hope will make your experience on the site even better.

These are designed to provide much better support to a range of users - especially those with lo-vision, asperger syndrome, 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.

Why have you chosen to include more video?

The BBC is a broadcaster and one of the largest producers of video news in the world with correspondents filing video from all over the world every day. With our audience increasingly looking to consume video news at a time that suits them, we hope the improvements will make it easier to find video news of interest.

We want to be able to tell each story in the best combination of text, video, audio and graphics. For all significant stories of the day, we'll always give a choice of text.

How can I make sure videos will not start automatically?

Our redesign gives a better indication of which stories are stand-alone audio or video pieces, so that users who wish to avoid them can do so.

Will bigger pictures and more video change the loading time of pages?

No. We have improved the way our site is served, so that the pages are lighter, and we make better use of caching and compression. This counterbalances any effect of larger images and more video. We monitor the response time of our site regularly from several locations around the world.

Will video play on iPhones and other devices that don't support Flash?

We are working to ensure our video will work on devices which do not support the Flash software, but which do support other video standards. Although this functionality will not be available immediately on the redesigned site, we hope to be able to roll it out later in the year.

How do I use the UK local news and weather box on the front page?

This feature allows UK users to personalise the BBC News front page so that they can see the top stories from a given area in addition to the headlines from around the UK. If you wish to use this function, all you need to do is insert your postcode in the box marked "Add your local news and weather" and your local headlines will appear there as well. All the local content will also be available on your BBC Local page as before - we're only making it easier for you to access it. You can also click on the "World News" tab if you wish to see a snapshot of the main headlines of the day from around the world.

Why are you making changes to the web addresses? Will my bookmarks still work?

While the BBC News website has always been promoted as bbc.co.uk/news, the more observant of you will have noticed that this has for many years redirected to news.bbc.co.uk. We have now started the move towards hosting the entire site at bbc.co.uk/news, as this will allow us to share the same, much improved, infrastructure with all other bbc.co.uk websites.

Any bookmarks you have to news.bbc.co.uk will continue to work and we have no plans to stop supporting old news.bbc.co.uk URLs, however we would recommend that you begin using the www.bbc.co.uk/news address from today as it will now offer the most direct route to the site.

Internationally, the address will change to www.bbc.com/news (rather than bbc.co.uk). If you are an international user, you will automatically be redirected to this address if you go to news.bbc.co.uk.

Why are there social media links on the site?

A range of social media tools has been available for some time to users of the site already including Facebook, Delicious and Digg. The new design will continue to allow people to share their favourite articles with their friends; we have now included Twitter and Facebook recommendation options and made them more visible.

While the BBC in the UK does not link to a site in return for money, goods or services, we are a part of the wider web, and the way that many of our users now use the internet involves social networks. We want you to be able to share and comment on the content we produce if you wish to, and these links make that easier.

What are the social media components on the site and how did you choose which to include?

The previous design let audiences bookmark articles they liked with Facebook, Delicious, Digg, Reddit and Stumbleupon. We will continue to allow people share their favourite articles with their friends, and we'll be updating the social media facility of the site with Twitter and Facebook Like.

You will not need an account with the BBC to use these. When you click on the logo, you are directed away from the BBC News website and you log on as normal to the social media services. The BBC won't ask you for any personal information.

We looked at the most popular social media services, both from current usage via our site, and on the wider internet. All of the services we have included are, at time of writing, free at point of access for users, which was another important factor for us. We will continue to review the list of services we include as the social media landscape develops and user habits change.

This page gives more information about BBC News and social networks.

Why has the Facebook button changed?

We have changed the Facebook share button on the BBC News website from an 'active' button hosted by Facebook, to a 'static' button hosted by the BBC because the active version conflicted with our Embedded Media Player on some computers. We're working with Facebook to fix this and hope to reintroduce an active button feature in due course.

Are you providing options on story pages for user comments?

Discussion is currently hosted on our Have Your Say pages, but once our new layouts have bedded down, we will be looking at ways to integrate comments into stories more effectively and to encourage interactivity around our content.

How are you linking to external sites?

We have been linking to external sites from the earliest days of News Online and we shall continue to develop and improve our approach to linking. The BBC director-general has made clear that we will share more traffic and improve linking from the website as a whole. For the News website, this includes linking to a wide variety of local news and community sites as well as other editorially relevant external sources.

Are you improving the BBC search function?

The existing search function is used across BBC Online, so this won't be changing as part of the redesign of the BBC News website. However, our colleagues in the BBC Online team are planning to launch a new search system later this year. The improved system will automatically scope the search results to the part of the site which the user is on when he or she enters the search terms - so if you are on the News site, you will automatically get a date-ordered list of News results. In addition, each scoped search will offer relevant search filters - for News, these may be audio/video or text, byline, date and so on - making the search function better to use and the results more relevant.

Is the international version of the site changing?

Yes. Three sites - UK, global and a new North America edition - will share the same design and layout, as well as the same functionality and content. This ensures that our audiences around the world benefit from the same consistent experience. One project team has been working on the design of the three sites so it has been done cost-effectively and we have avoided any duplication.

What is the North America edition of the BBC News website?

The North America edition will still contain all our existing and future content, including the full range of coverage from the UK and news from around the world. Our editorial team in the BBC's Washington bureau will tailor the indexes of this edition accordingly, working to provide the most relevant and timely news and analysis for users in the US and Canada. This content will of course be available to all users, wherever they are.

We are doing this after listening extensively to what our users in the US and Canada have said, and with the backing of the BBC's commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, which funds our online service internationally.

Can I access the North America or international edition in the UK?

While it's not currently possible to switch between editions of the site, it is important to point out that content on all editions is available to everyone, apart from particular rights-restricted video such as BBC iPlayer content - it is simply re-ordered and prioritised accordingly.

Will the BBC be launching more region-specific versions of bbc.com?

BBC Worldwide will, in time, be looking to introduce more locally-tailored news sites, as this is an important step in growing the reach of the site.

Why are there adverts when I access the site from outside the UK?

The BBC website is used by over 50 million people outside the UK, although they don't directly pay for the website via the UK licence fee. Through the placement of advertising on the site outside the UK, BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the BBC, is able to generate revenues to go back into the BBC's core services.

There are strict guidelines around the placement and delivery of campaigns on bbc.com and we do not accept advertising from inappropriate advertisers. Protecting the BBC brand is of great importance to us.

Why was there no beta site for users, as there was with the new version of the BBC iPlayer?

Making the site better for audiences and hearing feedback was very important for us: to ensure audience participation in the development of the new site, we invited thousands of users to try out prototype versions of the new site.

Running a beta would have meant keeping the new (beta) site as up-to-date as the live BBC News website. Because the new site uses a different content-management system, running the two sites together would have required our editors to do everything in their day twice, once in each system, which could have compromised the quality of the service we provide to our audiences.

Will other parts of BBC Online such as BBC Sport website be redesigned as well?

Yes, some will in the near future. The News website redesign is one part of a wider update of the design across the whole of BBC Online - including the Sport website.

A member of the BBC's design team wrote a blog post about the background earlier this year.

Are there any known issues with mobile devices?

We're hearing from some of you that the redesign and changes in how the web addresses of stories are made up have caused some problems on certain mobile devices. We are actively looking into this - we think we have sorted many of them already, and aim to sort any others we discover as quickly as possible. The details and screengrabs you have been sending us have been very useful in this process.

Why is the "local" box giving me unexpected results?

When we relaunched the site, we discovered that some postcodes and place names were returning incorrect results. We believe we have resolved most of the issues and have reset any incorrect settings. Our system does not currently support all UK place names, so if you do get an unexpected result, we suggest you also search by postcode to see if that resolves the issue.

We do have a live issue with Jersey, Guernsey and Isle of Man locations and are working on a fix.

Where have certain sections of the site gone?

As well as moving our navigation bar, we've also changed some of the things that go in it - which some users are finding inconvenient.

This post at the BBC Internet Blog describes the thinking behind the changes to navigation.

Why is there more white space on the site?

Some of you feel there is too much white space on our new pages. Over the last day, we've been rolling out more of the components that make up the pages, so some of them have appeared with more space than will be typical.

The redesign's Creative Director Paul Sissons explains the thinking behind this element of the design at the BBC Internet Blog.

Are there any known issues with font display?

A small number of you have let us know that the fonts were not displaying correctly. e believe we have resolved a problem affecting the display of Helvetica Neue by defaulting to Arial for all browsers except those that we are confident can properly support Helvetica.

Where has Europe and other world regional weather gone?

We are currently working on better ways to present weather in our world regional sections, and hope to re-introduce it soon.

Why don't you have a single list of the main News blogs linked from the front page?

We do not currently have a single destination page aggregating all our News blogs, but we link to blogs individually on relevant section indexes around the site, also on related stories and on the front page, depending on the news agenda. All the blogs are also linked to from the right hand navigation within any individual blog post. There is now a new section on many of the main indexes called "Expert Views" which does provide a home for blogs in the respective subject areas. For these reasons we do not currently have a permanent link to all of them on the front page.

Why does video slow down my story page download?

Some of you have reported that the video player in our stories is sometimes slowing down your experience of using our site. This will be particularly true if you are using a slower connection, but we are aware that it is an issue and are working to resolve it as soon as possible.

Is the site designed just for large screens?

We tested the site extensively on all modern browsers and screen resolutions, however, we have received a number of comments from some of you with small screens saying that the text on our pages is too close to the left hand side of your screens - we are still investigating this.

Why are some of the sections that I am used to seeing in the main navigation not there when i visit some sections?

In the new design we are not running a permanent sub navigation. This is because some top level sections have their own contextual areas e.g. On the site for UK audiences, Africa, Asia Pacific etc sit below World.

We studied the data on what users click on from the navigation and made sure that the most used areas remained in the top layer so can be reached with one click as before.

There are some other issues we are still working to resolve. Again, your feedback has been invaluable.

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