New Release For BBC Mobile
We've been calling this the "refresh release" and the team has been working on it in earnest since November. It's the first of three major releases we are planning for 2008 and brings together a number of enhancements that are probably long overdue.
There are upgrades to the code base and to the hardware, the replacement of a critical piece of hardware that was seven years old. The team is currently petitioning for release of the relevant box from the server farm so we can display it like the Toyota Hilux that wouldn't die on Top Gear. These parts of the project mean that you should notice an improvement in the speed with which we are able to publish stories.
This release has been focussed on consolidating the existing mobile version, so there is not a great deal of new editorial material at this point, although there is more local content and Newsbeat has been included for the first time.
You'll also notice the new design. I believe a new design for the site is long overdue - but, like all design changes, I'm also sure it will divide opinion.
The BBC has had a presence on the mobile internet since 1999. There was a major overhaul of the mobile version of bbc.co.uk in 2003, when we moved from a black and white WML 1.0 service to one that used more colour and images. At the time, some people felt we had betrayed the simple elegance of the previous design.
In reality, we were changing our design philosophy to the mobile internet. In the earliest days, we adopted a lowest common denominator approach that allowed us to reach the widest range of devices for the lowest possible effort. Considering the number of people using mobile devices to access the internet at the time, this seemed reasonable given the value-for-money obligations that go with licence fee funding.
In 2003, as new devices emerged and audiences began to grow, it was clear that this approach was going to restrict what we could achieve on the platform. Our philosophy evolved as we attempted to provide the richest possible experience based on the capabilities of the device with which you were accessing bbc.co.uk.
At that time, we knew that we would be signing up for a significantly more complicated challenge. The continued fragmentation of the mobile device market since then has only proved us right. Because the mobile internet is so important to the BBC, I feel that the extra effort is worth the return.
The 2003 design upgrade has been tweaked over the years. In reality, the capabilities of the devices accessing the service at the beginning of 2008 have outstripped the templates we were using. In addition, the launch of the new bbc.co.uk homepage - the beginning of a new design language we are trying to develop across all our platforms - presented a great opportunity to have another look at the design of bbc.co.uk on mobile and to create something that works well with the mobile devices accessing bbc.co.uk at the moment.
I see this as a foundation that positions us for the next release, which is focussed on supporting a number of major events over the summer like the Olympics. We have added over a million users in the last year alone and are still growing fast.
Your comments are welcome.
Matthew Postgate is Controller, Mobile, BBC Future Media & Technology.