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Ten Publishing Principles for BBC Online

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Seetha Kumar Seetha Kumar | 10:42 UK time, Tuesday, 10 March 2009

I wrote in January about our ongoing efforts to improve the quality of user experience across BBC Online. Now that our mothballing and archiving activities are well under way I am looking to the future and at how we can ensure that we raise the bar on quality across the business.

Last week I shared with my commissioning and production colleagues a set of ten principles which should underpin all new activities on BBC Online. These principles are based on a looser set which has existed for a couple of years (and can still be found on Tom Loosemore's blog) but I have tightened them up.

I want to inspire editorial and technical teams to think not just about their project in isolation but how it will really work for the audience, how it will relate to or build upon the best of what already exists on BBC Online and how we can be part of the wider web.

The principles are:

1. Web sites and products should be designed to meet a clearly-defined audience need

Anticipate needs not yet fully articulated by audiences and meet them with products that set new standards and even exceed expectations.

2. The best websites do one thing really, really well

Do less, keep it simple, execute perfectly.

3. Ensure there is nothing similar already published on BBC Online

We are all contributors to one website. How are you adding to what exists already? Can you reuse what has been built and is your content, in turn, reusable? Don't create a web cul-de-sac - we have so many of those already!

4. Any website is only as good as its worst page

Ensure best practice editorial processes, technology and UX standards are adopted and adhered to. Your content may be linked to, forever, so plan for the full lifecycle. Consider how will it look in three year's time, how it can be curated. Will it degrade gracefully - or should you set a date for it to be mothballed or archived?

5. Accessibility is not an optional extra

Sites designed that way from the ground up work better for all users. Your site should, where appropriate, easily translate into other languages.

6. Maximise routes to content

How will people know your site exists? Keep the URL as simple and memorable as possible (and remember that all URLs should be lower case). Optimise your site to rank high in Google and other search engines. Develop permanent URLs and contextualise with as many aggregations of content about people, places, topics, channels, networks and time as possible.

7. Free up your content for consumers to take away

Don't reinvent Facebook or Bebo - just make it easy for users to take nuggets of content with them, with links back to your site or the wider BBC from wherever they are. Wherever and whenever users find your content make sure the feedback loops work.

8. Do not attempt to do everything yourselves - "do what you do best and then link to the rest"

Link to other high-quality sites - your users will thank you. Use other people's content & tools to enhance your site and vice versa.Don't feel you have to host the conversations about your content, just link to them or join in as appropriate.

9. Consistent design & navigation needn't mean one-size-fits-all

Users should always know they're on a BBC website, even if it doesn't look exactly like another. Clear signposting is vital to ensure users won't get lost within or beyond your site.

10. Personalisation should be unobtrusive, elegant and transparent

After all, it's our users' most personal data - respect it. And adhere to our forthcoming cookie policy!

These will be reviewed every few months and we welcome your views. We are also currently reviewing our Standards and Guidelines and I shall be writing about this soon.

Seetha Kumar is Controller, BBC Online.


  • Comment number 1.

    Nice set of guidelines... I've been sat here for several minutes trying to think of something you've missed, but that seems fairly complete!

    Now it's just the unenviable task of making the website meet them!

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    I miss "Your Granny won't ever use Second Life". Although I always thought it should have been "your mum won't ever use Second Life, nor will she have heard of it" ;)

  • Comment number 4.

    this messgae is very helpful...a golden guideline.

  • Comment number 5.

    I have a question concerning the 8th principle. I can see the overall purpose and sense of it, but I have a problem in understanding and accepting your associated explanation "Don't feel you have to host the conversations about your content" in relation to certain services and channels. Taking a particular example, para 5.4 of the Radio 4 Service Licence states: "Radio 4 should facilitate and support the growth of communities of interest around its output and enable them to interact with programmes and with each other online."

    Although this service requirement does not require Radio 4 (to take this example) to explicitly 'host' online conversations about content, in current practice, and in the current absence of any evidence that it is 'facilitating and supporting' external places and growing those communities, Radio 4 does host such online conversations and interactions in messageboards and blogs, as a means of satisfying the licence requirement.

    I have no problem in the service requirement being satisfied in this way, but it seems to me that your explanation accompanying the 8th principle needs considerable clarification and refinement.


  • Comment number 6.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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