This week's edition of Ariel, the BBC's in-house weekly magazine (and website!) has a feature by Claire Barrett on the official first ten years of bbc.co.uk. It's called Revolution Not Evolution: The Birth of bbc.co.uk, and we've asked to republish the piece here on the Internet Blog as part of our tenth birthday celebrations.
Caricatured as a Dalek, and famed for making decisions after rigorous analysis, exhaustive research and thorough documentation, it must have been a madcap moment back in December 1996 that saw John Birt act on impulse.
At the eleventh hour, the former director general reneged on a deal struck with computer company ICL to create a commercial website, called beeb.com, for BBC content. He withdrew news and sport from the equation, deciding instead to make them public service offerings. And so the bbc.co.uk we know today – the UK's third most popular site with 16m unique domestic visitors every week – was conceived.
"It was the most important thing he ever did," reckons Jem Stone, the FM&T exec producer who was one of the first BBC web producers. "To this day, news and sport account for 50-60% of the traffic to the site. They are the very heart of bbc.co.uk."
Ten years on from its official launch on December 15, 1997 – when the DCMS approved a one year trial (ratified a year later) – there can be no underestimating Birt's hunch.
To boldly go...
"He’s not my cup of tea," admits Bob Eggington, former project director for BBC News Online, "but had he not brought his determination and authority to the internet, it just wouldn't have happened."
Indeed, the early history of bbc.co.uk is full of bold moves, as the pioneers trusted their instincts, dodged bureaucracy and forged a path through unknown territory. "We were making it up as we went along," confesses Eggington. "It was an immature industry."
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