It started out as a head-to-head debate on the BBC Arabic
online site. Two working mothers - one an Israeli journalist,
the other an Egyptian schoolteacher, sharing their views on
the prospects for peace in Middle East and their impressions
of each other's culture. Their conversation was highlighted
by the English language news site, and users from all over
the world added their comments. The episode typified a
year in which dialogue flourished and the "global debate"
began in earnest, linking people across linguistic as well as
New interactive sites were launched to promote dialogue
between communities in the Islamic world and western
countries. Combining thought-provoking editorial content
with cutting edge technology, three sites in Arabic, Persian
and Urdu are constantly updated with new debates,
weblogs, quizzes, and photographs sent in by users.
The debate continues in English in the 'Islam and the
West' webpages which give users a chance to offer their
perspective and hear how world leaders and experts
answer their questions. The forum is a model for the "global
conversation" which is a centrepiece of the World Service's
'Through the internet, the BBC is making connections with
audiences everywhere, not just in regions where our radio
programmes are broadcast,' says Head of New Media,
'Our Arabic site for example gives us a connection into
the Arabic-speaking audiences all over the world, and that
material can then be used on the English site. This kind of
synergy really is unique to the World Service. The BBC's
range of languages gives us exceptional access to different
countries and opinions, enriching our content and bringing
us closer to audiences. The real change in the last 12 months
is that our online sites are now much more interactive and
connected with users.'
By the end of the year, World Service sites were achieving
279 million page impressions a month, compared with
only five million five years ago. There were over 16 million
individual users each month. The rate of increase is doubling
every year and augurs well as plans develop for further
'The Arabic and Persian sites are performing particularly
strongly in less developed Middle East markets as well
as among users worldwide,' says Myra Hunt. 'Websites in
Portuguese for Brazil and Spanish are doing exceptionally
well by syndicating their content in a much more competitive
marketplace and placing it on internet service providers,
bringing it to new users. Use of our English news, available
on line, on mobile phones and PDAs, grows each month.'
It was not just world events that led the BBC's online growth.
Cricket attracted a strong following, with a record number
of 6.4 million page impressions in Hindi and Urdu during
India's cricket tour of Pakistan in March 2004.
Responding to rapid technological development in the highly
competitive new media market, World Service introduced
significant improvements to the look of the site and the
introduction of a multilingual radio player made programmes
available on demand in all languages. Breaking-news text
alerts are being launched for PC users.
Research using mini-surveys on major language sites drew
responses from users. The results showed that typical users
are in their mid-30s, younger than traditional radio listeners,
demonstrating how online services are introducing the BBC
to a new generation.