Archives for May 2010

BBC Trust On-demand Syndication Consultation

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Nick Reynolds Nick Reynolds | 15:23 UK time, Monday, 31 May 2010

In all the excitement about the BBC iPlayer beta last week some readers may have missed a couple of things.

The BBC Trust published the conclusions of its review of the BBC's on-demand services, including the BBC iPlayer. Here's an extract:

The review, conducted two years after the launch of on-demand services, found that the iPlayer has performed in line with its usage expectations, has effectively promoted 'niche' or less well-known programmes, appeals well to its target younger audiences, and represents good value for money.

You can find the Trust's statement here.

The BBC Trust also began a consultation about the BBC Executive's proposed approach to on demand and syndication. There are more details here including the full management proposals. Here's an extract from those propoals:

An alternative potential solution would be to allow third parties to build their own delivery mechanisms for iPlayer - so called 'self-build'. This would mean variants of iPlayer built on different underlying technologies controlled by third parties and not the BBC. The BBC believes that self-build would compromise the ability of the BBC to ensure quality, especially around upgrading of the products.

There would also be a significant cost to the BBC to comply self-build activity and subsequent upgrade. The BBC will still work with third parties to adapt standard versions where appropriate, but ownership should remain with the BBC. Where it is more cost-efficient to take advantage of third parties' technical resource, the BBC will do so.

If you want to contribute you can do so at the Trust's website. The consultation ends on July 21st.

Nick Reynolds is Social Media Executive, BBC Online.

Behind the scenes of BBC iPlayer

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James Hewines | 12:51 UK time, Friday, 28 May 2010

Hello, I'm James Hewines, the Head of BBC iPlayer.

I look after everything you see as a user, including new developments and keeping things running smoothly every day across the many platforms we support.

Wednesday was a really exciting day for the iPlayer team with the launch of a major new beta version of the site - adding a range of personal and connected features, and rethinking the way the site is designed to keep things as slick and simple as possible. You can find out more about what's included in Anthony Rose's post.

The other big piece of news came in the publication of the latest figures for iPlayer - the highlight for me here was the record monthly play requests which are now hitting 123 million.

A big thank you for all your comments and ideas so far - we've had a great response so far and the team are closely following the reaction. Although I can't promise to come back on every question individually, we'll be posting updates as the beta progresses and give a response on the key things that come up starting next week. We'd love to hear what you think, so please:

Below you can check out the video we've put together to try and give people insight into some of the thinking behind the new site. It's a chance to meet some of the people on the team and find out a bit about how we work, and why we've changed it. This kind of thing is a bit of a departure for the BBC and we hope people find it interesting. Tell us if you do in the comments on this blog.


James Hewines is the Head of BBC iPlayer.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

What's On BBC Red Button: 29th May - 18th June

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John Horth John Horth | 11:12 UK time, Friday, 28 May 2010

Editor's note: the Press Red blog has now closed. But the work of the red button team will continue to be showcased on the BBC Internet blog. You can see previous posts here. A warm welcome to John, Andrew and their colleagues. (NR)

Here's our regular look at what's coming up under the red button...

World Cup 2010*

World Cup 2010 For the 2010 FIFA World Cup viewers with BBC Red Button will have access to a host of features including interactive coverage during live games, alternative commentaries and rolling highlights. Availability of Red Button content will vary depending on the digital TV provider, but they will include the following: Live coverage of BBC matches, which feature alternative commentary options, including Radio 5 Live. There will also be full replays of selected matches. At the end of the group stages viewers can choose between live coverage of two concurrent matches.
Highlights from all matches will be available after the final whistle and there'll also be rolling highlights and goal clips to help you easily catch up on the main action.
There's a dedicated news channel, updated daily, with reports and information on Fabio Capello's men in Rustenburg, news from Motty's World Cup and other features.
In addition viewers can whet their appetites with preview content including virtually every nation's qualifying campaign and classic archive from previous World Cups.

- World Cup Preview†
Look ahead to the 2010 World Cup with archive material, interviews and features showing around the clock
Monday 31st May, 6.30pm - Thursday 10th June, 6am
(Not available on Freeview)

- Live Coverage*
With audio options and rolling highlights
Uruguay v France: Friday 11th June, 7.30pm*
Argentina v Nigeria: Saturday 12th June, 3pm†
Algeria v Slovenia: Sunday 13th June, 12.30pm*
Japan v Cameroon: Monday 14th June, 3pm*
Italy v Paraguay: Monday 14th June, 7.30pm*
New Zealand v Slovakia: Tuesday 15th June, 12.30pm*
Spain v Switzerland: Wednesday 16th June, 3pm*
South Africa v Uruguay: Wednesday 16th June, 7.30pm*
Greece v Nigeria: Thursday 17th June, 3pm*
France v Mexico: Thursday 17th June, 7.30pm*
Germany v Serbia: Friday 18th June, 12.30pm*
Slovenia v US: Friday 18th June, 3pm*
*Limited availability on Freeview, rolling highlights may not be available
†Red Button features unavailable on Freeview

- Highlights*
Available following every World Cup game including ITV matches.
(Sky, Virgin & Freesat, limited availability on Freeview)
For an up to date schedule nearer the time, please check BBC Sport's Red Button listings

- How to Watch Football†
Mark Watson's guide to how, where and when you can watch all the BBC's coverage of the World Cup
Saturday 29th May, 6am - Saturday 5th June, 6am
(Not available on Freeview)

- World Cup Motty†
John Motson looks ahead to the 2010 World Cup with interviews and features
Monday 31st May, 6am - 11.55am
Tuesday 1st June, 6.30pm - Saturday 5th June, 6am
(Not available on Freeview)

Read the rest of this entry

BBC iPlayer on the iPad

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Morten Eidal | 22:00 UK time, Thursday, 27 May 2010

So, it's finally here. The iPad. And one of the frequent questions over the last few weeks has been if and when the BBC iPlayer will arrive on it. Most of you will be aware of the recent discussions around Flash not being available on the iPad and whether html5 be the answer.

This has led in turn to questions about whether we're going to support Adobe or Apple. But we don't back any one technical horse. We care about making our services available as widely as possible: for our audiences.

In the past we have optimised iPlayer to work on a range of devices, and the iPad (exciting as it is) is just another device we are adding to the ever growing iPlayer device portfolio.

The iPlayer site you are seeing on the iPad is what we call the iPlayer Bigscreen site where a small team build browser based applications to deliver content. The same iPlayer destination being used for iPad also works for PS3, Sony BluDisc players, Cello TVs, and in the near future, multiple other browser based CE devices.

So, back to the iPad.  How did it all come together?

Well, when the FM&T division looked at the functionality of the iPad we saw that there were two key aspects that we needed to consider: suitability of the app to touch screen and (critically) high quality video delivery.  In this particular case, the Bigscreen site was decided as the best solution. It had already been in use for quite some time, so as a core solution it was easy to see that it was a good starting point.

Just four short weeks ago, the project kicked off with the Bigscreen team.

Knowing where we wanted to be by the time iPad was to be released in the UK, the main challenges Bigscreen faced were not only how to overcome the technical difficulties (e.g. optimising a site built for pointer or remote control driven navigation to iPad, utilising gestures and touch style navigation) but also how to deliver it very, very quickly with a team that contained just 2 developers.

So, we concentrated immediately on creating a continuous rapid delivery process which could turnaround the most business value in the shortest period of time.  Drawing from the Agile Manifesto, Lean concepts and a Kanban inspired framework, we developed a variation of a daily board which tracked dependencies, tasks and features in real time.  Instead of a daily standup, we had four very short status updates per day where rapid prioritisation and block removal was agreed and actioned according to the aims of delivery for that day, which then was tied directly into the aims for each week and realistically connected the team to the overall goal.

Luckily, this gave us rapid, real time agility that allowed us to quickly produce results and feedback continuously, working around and within limited technologies - discovering quickly what worked and what didn't and guiding us to realistic, useful solutions.

Within this process framework, the technical implementation initially progressed well. For example, the iPad gestures came together quite easily; however the playback solution was much more complicated and required changes in several backend systems.

We decided that the best route to implement our video and audio player was playback using the html5 video tag. This allows us to integrate the native player into our site, where we serve two H.264 flavours, one 1500kbps for the high quality video (default), and a lower 800kbps you can use if you are bandwidth constrained.

In any case, the result is the Beta version you can see right now - we really hope you like it - delivered by a small team of 5 within just 4 weeks and with the generous support of our FM&T colleagues despite being already busy with the UK election, iPlayer V3, and now the World Cup.

And don't forget, soon we will embark on incorporating the iPlayer V3 features for Bigscreen.

But that is chapter two.

Morten Eidal is Development Manager, FM&T.

Round up, Thursday 27 May 2010: iPlayer Beta

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Paul Murphy Paul Murphy | 15:21 UK time, Thursday, 27 May 2010

The Internet blog's favourite headline from yesterday's new personalised iPlayer beta launch was BitterWallet's "BBC buff up the iPlayer and get groovy with the social networking craze" which sums up a lot of the new features in one pithy phrase.

As well as the BBC's official How to and tips guide, The Guardian have produced their own Need to Know guide.

Among other stories that emerged yesterday in the announcement was the BBC's support for the imminently available iPad from Apple. The Telegraph covered the story (and implied that it would be via an app and got corrected in several places including here as well as in their own comments) as did The Register who produced our second favourite headline of the day: "BBC iPlayer to run on iPads. Eventually".

The Register story includes some quotes from the press conference yesterday including this one from Erik Huggers:

"We're not wedded to Flash. Let's be really clear about that,,, Having over 25 devices out there for BBC iPlayer means we are quite flexible about the technologies we use to get our service out to consumers. Not all of our services are powered by Flash. The iPad is a very interesting device, the screen size is right, the battery life is right, and we will make iPlayer services available."

And this from Anthony Rose:

"For downloads you need to have rights management to limit the time availability. To do that you need DRM. The only DRM that works on Apple devices is Apple DRM which is a closed system. So for downloads, they are off limits for the moment. But for streaming there should be no problem... Sometimes we play out using RTMP, sometimes we use SSL, sometimes we use HTTP. It depends on the resolution of the content. On low resolution mobile devices, as with an iPhone, you sometimes don't need protection. As you get to higher resolution ones, you do. On iPad we're likely to use SSL based streaming."

The Telegraph also covered what's known as iPlayer interlinking whereby metadata from other broadcasters shows up in iPlayer searches with an external link to the programme. Their headline though would seem to imply more than that: Every terrestrial TV programme to be available via BBC iPlayer.

Catchy headline but not true. PaidContent's "BBC iPlayer Will Link To Commercial VOD Services" is probably more accurate.

And one last piece of feedback (from The Register) for the iPlayer team:

...and while we're at it, this is completely off topic but: to the people who made the BBC3 iPlayer ident, please please please get the audio remastered properly. I've stuck my head inside jet engines that were quieter. If I get my ears blasted by that thing one more time I'm calling my lawyer. Okay?
Paul Murphy is Editor, BBC Internet blog

BBC iPlayer press pack for April 2010

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Paul Murphy Paul Murphy | 14:58 UK time, Thursday, 27 May 2010

Here are the numbers and the monthly press pack for BBC iPlayer's performance during April 2010 (Download the PDF: BBC iPlayer publicity pack April 2010).
These are some of the highlights picked out by the Comms team who put together the pack:

  • April 2010 was the best performing month for BBC iPlayer with 123 million request for BBC TV and Radio programmes, up from 118 million in March 2010
  • Online requests also hit an all time high at 104 million, up 3 million from March 2010
  • The new series of Doctor Who also chalked up a new record of the highest number of requests a single programme has received in its first week, with 1.6 million requests for Episode 1. Outnumbered and Russell Howard's Good News also performed well
  • BBC iPlayer has also released a new beta version of the service

Paul Murphy is the Editor of the Internet blog.

Introducing the all new BBC iPlayer (This time it's personal)

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Anthony Rose Anthony Rose | 11:00 UK time, Wednesday, 26 May 2010

This is a big week for the iPlayer team - we're launching an all new BBC iPlayer with a host of new features designed to make it simpler to use, personalised and social.

The new site is in public beta right now - you can try it out at - where it will dual-run alongside the existing iPlayer site while we get your feedback, fix bugs, and add the remaining features that didn't quite make it into the first beta release.

But before looking at the new site in detail, I'd like to take a step back and try to explain the design challenges we were trying to solve and the solution we came up with (or, if you'd like to skip the background story and head straight to the list of new features, scroll down to features in detail below).

BBC iPlayer: the story so far

The current version of iPlayer, known internally as iPlayer V2, was launched almost two years ago in July 2008. Back then the main problems we had to solve were largely technical things like:
  • designing a platform capable of handling our rapidly growing traffic
  • ensuring that content became available in iPlayer as soon as possible after it aired on TV
  • providing the best possible video quality
  • improving the reliability of video delivery, including failover between content delivery networks, adaptive bitrate for people on lower bandwidth connections
  • dealing with massive peak loads - the so-called "Top Gear effect" when 100,000+ people descend on the iPlayer site directly after programmes like Top Gear and Doctor Who finish on TV
The iPlayer V2 hosting platform was also designed to scale across multiple platforms - mobile, TV sets, set top boxes, games consoles, PCs, iPhone, etc.

One issue that we needed to solve when delivering content across so many devices and platforms was that in some cases we only had the right to make certain programmes available on, say, PC platforms but not mobile or TV platforms. Additionally, the media files for each platform take different amounts of time to encode, which means that we need to deal with situations where a programme is available on some platforms but not others.

This meant that we couldn't make the same version of the iPlayer site available on each platform. That would mean people on mobile devices might get offered links to programmes that are not available on that device, giving an error when you clicked to play the programme. So we introduced a concept that we called Actual Availability, which allows the iPlayer publishing system to offer independent content sets - we call them Media Sets - to different devices.

BBC iPlayer V2 has proven a trusty workhorse, successfully scaling to 1.5 million users, 15 million page views delivering over 1.1 billion(!) minutes of video each month across more than 40 different devices and platforms. You can see the list at

A new iPlayer: the design challenge

Two years ago when we launched iPlayer our goals and challenges were largely technical - scalability, reliability, video encoding, etc. But as we began work on the next-generation iPlayer, it became apparent that our next set of challenges was not so much technical as social - and that turned out to be a much bigger problem to solve.

At the highest level, the fundamental problem that the iPlayer design team was trying to solve was "As people begin moving from television to the web, what happens to the role of the linear TV scheduler as the tastemaker?" Let's be clear: we are not there yet. Although iPlayer traffic is doubling each year, it still only accounts for 2-3% of linear TV viewing. But something seems to be stirring. Let me explain:

When you turn on your TV in the evening peak viewing hours and idly flip through the available channels, the programmes that you see are carefully chosen by each channel's scheduler. He/she picks the programmes that you can see, and since most of the country watches TV each evening, the scheduler is the leading tastemaker. By scheduling a particular programme at peak viewing time, the scheduler is both creating and satisfying the desire to view that programme.

Now, today iPlayer does a fine job of satisfying the time-shifted desires created by the scheduler: the BBC schedulers create the desire to watch a programme; iPlayer lets you see it at a time that's convenient to you.

But what if you no longer watched linear TV? Who becomes the tastemaker then? Right now this is a largely theoretical problem as very few people watch no live TV at all. However, for a small but growing number of people this is indeed the case, and the fundamental problem that I sought to address was "who becomes the tastemaker for such people in a world without schedules?"

Now I use Twitter periodically during the day to monitor what iPlayer users are saying about the service - "thank god for iPlayer", "waiting for Doctor Who to arrive", "iPlayer slow today", etc. - Twitter is a great early warning tool for spotting problems. But increasingly I began seeing Tweets from people saying "Watching ", "Loving Charlie Brooker on iPlayer", etc. I began clicking on those links, and found myself watching more programmes in iPlayer than I would have by browsing. In other words, for me, the Twitterverse is becoming the tastemaker.

Looking at developments across the industry in this space, it's clear that I was not alone. Particularly in the world of YouTube where there is no master scheduler who can shape demand. The tastemaker is rapidly becoming your friends.

Separately, our iPlayer stats told us that, while our users really liked the service, most only came back every week or two when they had missed a programme on TV - clear evidence that linear TV created the demand while iPlayer satisfied it. In order to get more users to iPlayer, we needed to make iPlayer something more than TV catch-up alone - we wanted it to become a driver of demand, so that you returned to iPlayer daily to see what new programmes were there just for you.

The question then is, in a world which cannot be driven by schedulers, who or what will play the role of tastemaker? Well, we think that's going to be a mix of things that your friends recommend, things that our servers recommend based on what you've watched, things that you tell us you like, as well as the linear scheduler, whose selections continue to matter to an important part of the online audience.

So, if schedulers are going to be augmented by your friends as drivers of consumption in the future, the challenge for the team was to integrate friends and social into the iPlayer site, and to do so in a way that doesn't alienate people who aren't interested in this kind of thing. Sure, it's easy enough to sprinkle Share, Recommend, Digg, Follow, etc. buttons across the site, but social shouldn't be a prerequisite to participation or add complication or clutter for those who just want to get going. It's about giving more choice and control.

The iPlayer design team thus found itself with a major challenge: Take a popular and mainstream product, and reinvent it so that it becomes not just a place you go to catch up on programmes that you know you missed, but to become the place where demand is both created and satisfied. Oh, and to do that in a way that doesn't make the site more complex, and in a way that delights both early adopters and the mainstream audience. Make it personal, make it social, and keep it simple.

Challenge #1: Making the site personal without creating a separate 'you' site

Here's an example of the type of challenge we needed to address: If iPlayer was to become your personal viewing portal, then there needed to be an area of the site that you could call "yours" - i.e. a place where you could assemble all your favourite programmes, and only your favourite programmes.

Initially we decided to create a new area of the site called My iPlayer, which would be your personalised place to find all your favourite programmes. But it became apparent that creating a My iPlayer page, separate from the rest of the site, would mean separate user journeys and duplicated content between the main site and your personal site. In the end we dropped the concept of a separate personal site and instead folded your personal experience into the fabric of the main site - something that will become apparent as we look at the features in more detail below.

In short, we sought to add a large range of personalisation and social features to iPlayer, making every feature part of a coherent whole, and avoiding adding anything that didn't have a clear purpose.

Challenge #2: Integrating social connectivity

Another challenge was how to integrate with Facebook and other social networks. Pretty much every site these days has a Share button which posts your activity to Facebook, Twitter or other social networking sites. The usual interaction model is like this:
  1. press the Recommend button on your site >> activity posted on Facebook or Twitter
  2. on Facebook or Twitter, see activity, click link >> go back to the site hosting the recommended content

That's great if you want to use social networks to increase incoming traffic to your site - which is nice - but that detour via an external 3rd-party site seemed to us to create a disconnect between the user pressing a Share or Recommend button and getting the reward for that action. And we want it, above all, to be seamless and simple.

Our thinking was that in order to create a lively social recommendation scene, we needed to make the recommendations and social graph visible within iPlayer, in addition of course to any external activity.

Additionally, we wanted to allow a single click of a Recommend button to post activity to both Facebook or Twitter (or any other network or micro-blogging site for that matter) where appropriate, in addition to posting that activity into our own activity streams.

The solution we came up with was to create a BBC login - known as BBC iD - which users can then connect with Facebook, Twitter or any other social network that we choose to partner with in the future, allowing us to create the following social recommendation ecosystem:

  1. press the Recommend button in iPlayer >> activity appears on your friends' iPlayer home pages >> AND activity posted on Facebook AND/OR Twitter
  2. on Facebook / Twitter, see activity, click link >> watch it in iPlayer

Basically, we use your external social graph to connect you with your friends within the iPlayer site, and make it scalable for other BBC Online services in the fullness of time. To do this, we connect Facebook, Twitter and where appropriate other social networking sites to your BBC iD login account, providing you with a single gateway to multiple social graphs and a single Recommend button that can post activity to multiple social networks.

The new iPlayer: features in detail

And so, without further ado, let's take a look at all the new features in the new iPlayer, with commentary explaining the rationale for each feature.

Some of the features listed below didn't make it into the first beta release and will be added over the coming weeks (features that are 'coming soon' are noted in italics below).

1. Favourites

The single feature request that we are asked for most often is "favourites" - and, as explained above, integrating favourites into the site was one of our early dilemmas. The solution that we came up with was to add an expandable Favourites zone to the top of every page of the site:
In response to our user research that told us that people only came back to the site every week or two to catch up on programmes they'd missed, we designed Favourites to be like your mail Inbox, showing the total number of items, how many are newly arrived, etc.

The great thing about Favourites in the context of iPlayer is that by simply adding, say, QI as a favourite, every time a new episode of QI goes to air, your favourites list will update and reorder itself to show the new episode. Adding items to your favourites takes only a single click, so I found myself spending the first 5 minutes on the new iPlayer site simply looking for any series that I liked and clicking to add it to my favourites. I now have - as can be seen in the image above - 48 items to watch right now, with the iPlayer servers constantly scanning for new episodes becoming available, adding them to my favourites, and very shortly sending me an email notification.

Now that I have so much stuff to view, I can almost ignore the rest of the iPlayer site and simply rely on Favourites to give me a constant stream of things to watch.

2. Roaming

You know how on many sites every time you do something simple like adding a programme to your favourites or trying to personalise the site, you get prompted to register - very annoying. So we carefully designed the new iPlayer site so that you could use most of the functionality instantly on first visit without being constantly hassled to register.

But... if you do choose to sign in, then all your favourites and other settings can roam across all the devices on which you use iPlayer. For example, we're planning on updating the mobile iPlayer site - the one you can access on a range of mobile phones - to let you access your Favourites as well - here's an image of Favourites in the new Mobile iPlayer site:


So now if I'm bored sitting in a train on the way home, I can look for new programmes to watch, add them to my Favourites, and when I get home they'll be right there on my home PC ready to watch.

Full roaming is coming to the mobile iPlayer site shortly - the initial implementation contains local favourites only.

But what will make this good service great is when we can synch up your BBC iD with your TV or mobile, so you can pick up where you left off on whatever connected device you have - the team are working on this now and we hope to say more about this soon.

3. Personalised iPlayer home page

Going back to our dilemma of how to provide a personalised iPlayer portal experience that was not isolated from the main iPlayer site, our solution was to create an iPlayer home page that can morph, under your direction, from a default view that everyone sees to something that's, well, just for you.

We wanted to create an iPlayer home page that feels almost more like an application than a traditional web site, making it a familiar place you return to frequently for your favourite comedy, drama, music and more.

Here's how it works:
When you come to the iPlayer site as a new user, you're presented with a nice simple promo zone at the top of the home page that contains the Featured and Most Popular zones that would be familiar to any existing iPlayer user:


Now, as soon as you've played a couple of programmes, our recommendations system has enough information to guess what you may like and offer personalised programme recommendations for you, and so when you next return to the iPlayer home page you'll now see two extra zones: For You and Friends:


Now here's where the personalisation comes in: you can slide open any of the drawers to turn the iPlayer homepage into the tastemaker of your choice. For example, if you'd like your viewing to be driven by programmes that the BBC editorial team has chosen, simply slide open the Featured drawer:


Or, if you're so inclined, sign up on the site, then connect iPlayer to your Facebook and/or Twitter social graphs, and you'll get a steady stream of recommendations from your friends:


These sliding drawers will remember the state that you left them in, allowing a single iPlayer home page to meet the needs of a mainstream audience looking for editorialised recommendations, through to users who look to their friends as the tastemaker.

Remembering the open/closed state of each of the drawers is being added shortly.

4. My Categories

In addition to Favourites - where you nominate your favourite shows or series - we also added a My Categories zone to the home page. To use it, simply navigate to any category that you normally like to watch (or listen to - this works for radio as well), click Add To My Categories, and then the iPlayer server will keep a lookout for any new content in your selected categories, and the iPlayer home page will show you a constantly updated list of new programmes in those categories. As you can see below, I like classical and world music, and science & nature programmes:


5. Better live TV

Although you've been able to watch live TV in iPlayer for well over a year now, this isn't that well known, but recently we've seen a big increase in live TV viewing in iPlayer - and with the upcoming World Cup being a huge driver of live online viewing, we're making the live viewing experience a little more prominent on the home page:

and we've also created a new Live Viewing page which allows you to easily view all the BBC TV channels in iPlayer:


6. New radio console

We created an all-new popup radio console that includes Favourites and other key features from the new iPlayer site, allowing you to find and listen to your favourite BBC radio programmes all within the popup console player:


7. Recommend to friends

The fuel for the Friends drawer on the iPlayer home page - and shortly on the playback page as well - is the Recommend button that appears below the playback window:


As mentioned above, you can link the Recommend button to the social network(s) of your choice via a single BBC login, and our servers will constantly check your social graph on those sites and import latest friends additions and deletions across all your networks.

8. Watch with friends

And now something that for some will be the killer feature of the new site: the ability to watch programmes with friends. If you already have a Windows Live Messenger account you can see which of your Windows Live Messenger friends (and other instant messenger services to be added in due course) are in iPlayer right now and what they're watching, and even how far into the programme they are. You can then sync your iPlayer with theirs and chat with them in real time, all within the iPlayer site.

Here's how it works:
On all TV playback pages in iPlayer you'll see a button to add the IM chat widget to your iPlayer pages. If you're a Messenger user and this is of interest to you, click the Get Started button.


After signing in to Windows Live Messenger with your Messenger credentials, you'll now see an extra panel that shows which of your Messenger contacts are online and in iPlayer right now:


Separately, while you're watching a programme, anytime you're feeling excited about that programme or even just a particular moment in the programme, you can shout about it to your Messenger friends - simply type whatever comes to mind into the text box and hit the Shout button - all your Messenger friends who are in iPlayer right now will get the message, and may then choose to sync their iPlayer to yours and join you to watch and chat together.

By the way, your shouts only go to your Messenger friends who are in iPlayer right now - they won't go to contacts who are not in iPlayer - so you don't need to worry about spamming contacts who don't live in the UK or who aren't interested in your shouts of "It's the Stig!" or whatever.

The Messenger that you can add to your iPlayer site is a JavaScript implementation of the Windows Live Messenger client - i.e. your private chat conversations travel over the same MSN network as regular Messenger IM chat.

Watch with Friends is being added to the site in the next few weeks - stay tuned!

9. Better video quality

For quite some time now iPlayer has had the ability to switch down to a lower bitrate video stream if you didn't have enough bandwidth to play the selected version. We're now rolling out the next evolution in our adaptive bitrate system which automatically adjusts the video quality up and down every few seconds, if necessary, to match your instantaneous line speed. The improved video quality will be most apparent in full-screen mode, where iPlayer will automatically switch up to our 832x468 1500Kbps high-quality SD streams as soon as you go fullscreen, seamlessly dropping to/from the 480Kbps and 800Kbps lower bitrate streams as needed.

This new adaptive bitrate system, coupled with Adobe's upcoming Flash 10.1 release with H.264 hardware acceleration, should give better quality, less jerkiness and lower CPU usage on PCs equipped with a graphics cards that support H.264 hardware acceleration - see for technical details.

10. New iPlayer Desktop

In addition to the new iPlayer web site, we also have a greatly enhanced version of iPlayer Desktop, our Adobe AIR-powered iPlayer download manager, now with two great new features: Series Downloads and live radio & TV.

This means you a) don't have to wait to download programmes you want and b) you've got your favourite programmes already downloaded to your computer ready to view when you're offline.

Downloading whole series to your computer is easy - just click the Download button on iPlayer playback pages and choose the "Download future episodes" button:


iPlayer Desktop will now automatically download every future episode for you, including where possible downloading episodes before they air on TV, making them available for you to play back within minutes of the programme finishing on TV.

To avoid iPlayer Desktop maxing out your internet connection we've added the ability to tell iPlayer Desktop to schedule all series downloads between, say, midnight and 7AM:


Additionally, iPlayer Desktop will pause any automated downloads if previous episodes start expiring without being watched, avoiding end of month bandwidth surprises.

One of the features that I'm really liking is the new feature in iPlayer Desktop for live TV and radio too, which puts the BBC's 17 network and national radio stations....


and 7 TV stations...


...all right there on your desktop for instant listening and viewing.

10. And finally...

As I hope you can see, this relaunch represents many months of work for the iPlayer team and gives us a platform that will serve as a base the next wave of innovation over the coming months.

As in any beta there will be bugs, and we still have some features to add. This new site is a big step - and a big bet - for us, and we'd really welcome your feedback - look for the Site Feedback link at the bottom of each page on the site.

We really hope you like it. As some of you may know, I am moving on to become CTO of Project Canvas, and this is the last major piece of work from the team under my leadership. It's been quite a journey for me and the BBC since I got that call from Erik in late 2007 "Anthony, I could use your help with something" and I'm very proud of what we've created.

Please keep a lookout for additional blogs from my colleagues on how the new iPlayer site was built, the Java/PHP hosting platform that powers the new iPlayer site, BBC iD and how we connect to social networks, and more.


Anthony Rose is Controller, Online Media Group and Vision, BBC FM&T.

The new BBC Comedy website

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Will Saunders Will Saunders | 17:28 UK time, Monday, 24 May 2010

comedy_home_595.jpgComedy on the web works. On iPlayer and on Hulu it's pretty much the dominant genre. On YouTube from The History of Dance to web native talent like Jon Lajoie people are snacking on comedy moments, intentional or otherwise, in huge numbers. The BBC is the largest producer of television and radio comedy in the world and as a way of acknowledging the special relationship the web has with this genre we have just relaunched the BBC Comedy website.

The site's mission statement is "the place for the finest British comedy from the past, present and future". There are collection pages and playlists from comedians like Stephen Merchant and Johnny Vegas aggregating the comedy archive for the first time.

Through the Red Button on television and the ever improving automatically generated programme support pages (to be found at /programmes) on the web, we are offering audiences more from the shows that they love like The Thick Of It and Outnumbered. For the next generation of on- and off-screen talent is a low risk playground where we are developing TV and radio hits of the future.

The web is changing comedy. You only need to look at what's happening in America to see that. Comedy destination websites like Funny or Die, College Humor and The Onion have large global audiences and they have all now partnered with TV networks in order to spin their web series into TV shows. Having spent most of the last year in beta, we're beginning to see talent and ideas originated online migrating in a similar way. Big Babies which you can see on CBBC and iPlayer at the moment was developed from a series of sketches Broken Biscuits and BBC Comedy Exec Jack Cheshire made for the website last year. Jason Lewis is another new talent whose TV prospects we are really excited about. The first of his sketches are now online, with more to come in the next few weeks.

Leave a comment and let us know what you think.

Will Saunders is Executive Producer, Online, BBC Comedy.

Setting your location on the new BBC Homepage

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Nick Reynolds Nick Reynolds | 18:26 UK time, Friday, 21 May 2010

If you are interested in the technical detail around setting your location on the new BBC Homepage, head for Web Developer blog. Neil Crosby's post has everything you need to know:

After a bit of head scratching, I did the obvious thing: I took the best bits of each data set and used them to generate a cohesive whole. Now, whenever a user tries to set their location we send queries to both Postcoder and to the Weather search API. We then throw away anything the Weather Search API tells us about the UK, and just use its worldwide data along with all the data that we previously had for the UK from Postcoder.

Read more and comment on Web Developer blog

Live Radio over the Mobile Web

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James Simcock | 17:45 UK time, Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Mobile users with internet connectivity can now listen live on pretty much any phone* to all of the BBC's national radio networks directly via our mobile web pages.

Live radio is the original mobile media, since the mid 1950s when the Regency TR-1 introduced the world to transistor-based radios - looking not enormously dissimilar to the Apple iPod. (See this picture comparing the two on Flickr.)

Although many devices have FM radios included - this is not so in most of the latest web-centric smartphones, nor does it give access to our digital radio networks. Live radio is of course the heart of what BBC Audio & Music produce. Not allowing access to live radio streaming on mobile has left us with a very limited offering to mobile users.

Within the mobile web browser, what we've been able to make available previously was comparable to DVD extras without the main feature. Such supplementary content can be useful, entertaining or enjoyable, but rarely comes close to matching the value or impact of the feature itself. In this case, the main feature is the live broadcast output of the BBC's national radio networks.

Until now, we were rather stuck on this due to the end-user cost and bandwidth limitations of mobile web traffic. However, as our audiences spend an increasing amount of time consuming content via their mobile devices it seemed the time was nigh for a change in our policies. Over the past two years, UK page views to the BBC Mobile site have increased almost six-fold, from 35m in April 2008 to 208m in April 2010 (Source: Sage).

Historically, and with the best intentions, the BBC has taken a very cautious approach to high-bandwidth services on mobile. This has been to help avoid what the mobile industry terms "bill-shock", where users don't realise how much data they are consuming till their monthly bill arrives or till their PAYG (pay as you go) credit runs out unexpectedly. However, the market is changing dramatically. Now many new phones are sold with an included unlimited data plan. Even a large proportion of PAYG users would now find themselves on a flat-rate per day (unless roaming), so there's no difference in end-user cost browsing a simple, text-only site or browsing a data-intensive site, with lots of audio and video content.

It's taken many months to make a change to the BBC's position on mobile streaming, to develop optimised audio streams for all networks and to create various device detection rules to try to ensure we serve the right streams to the right devices (some work differently to others).

Now that the radio station offer has changed, steps have been taken to make it easier for users to find and navigate to the BBC Radio mobile sites. Mobile users who, for example, type into their browser are automatically redirected to our mobile optimised site, (This is currently true for all mobile devices except iPhone/iPod Touch as streaming radio is not yet available for these devices). And if the user prefers the full-fat experience, there is a clear option to 'Go To Desktop' in the footer of each page. For the BBC, it means one URL to promote; for the user it's just one URL to remember and fewer clicks.

listen_screens_330_JS.jpgAs a user, once you navigate to a BBC Radio mobile site, you'll see a link to 'Listen Live' under the name of the show now on air near the top of the page. Before audio streaming begins, an interstitial page displays detailed guidance and a warning on costs, in order to help users avoid any bill-shock. A couple of clicks later, via a majority of mobile devices (iPhone & iPod Touch to come) you'll be able to access all of the BBC's national radio networks. For our digital-only networks such as Radio 1Xtra, Asian Network, 6Music and Radio 7, as well as Radio 5Live (AM + DAB), this is the first time their output have been available on a majority of mobile devices, so it's quite a significant step forward for us. You don't need any fancy or expensive downloadable apps, or even a high-end smartphone - just a stable internet connection from your phone, be that EDGE/GPRS, 3G or WiFi.

If you're using your mobile to read this article, then you could click through now to, pick a station and hear for yourself.

We hope you enjoy listening.

James Simcock is Executive Producer, Mobile, BBC A&Mi.

*Currently known exceptions being the Apple iPhone/iPod Touch, which we're working on, and some devices where streaming functionality is disabled - sometimes the case with business Blackberries.

Radio 1 Top 40 Visualisation

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Paul Murphy Paul Murphy | 14:20 UK time, Tuesday, 18 May 2010

top40_300.jpgOn his own blog Hugh Garry, Senior Content Producer for Radio 1 Interactive has written about the new Top 40 visualisation project that he's been working on. I mentioned it in a previous post about the last A&Mi departmental I went to. Over to Hugh:

"I've been working on a prototype for the Top 40 for what feels like forever. I'm delighted to say I can finally share it with you. Have a play with it.

Before I start I just want to put to bed a myth. There is a common misconception that the Top 40 is no longer relevant to young people. This couldn't be further from the truth. The fact remains that the chart pages on the Radio 1 Website are the most popular by far and the Chart Show on Sunday is still a massive pull.

The Top 40 is hugely important to the network and the website, so for this reason we should always innovate around it. I'm not saying we should rethink it because clearly it is not broken. People who like pop music love the chart, and though it is not broken in their eyes, we can offer them more than they are getting. What I am saying is we should always look at doing interesting things with the data from the 40 tracks/albums that make up the chart, rather than just accepting that what is doing well in terms of listeners and unique users is good enough. It's not.

The idea of the prototype is to offer chart data in a new and interesting and more playful way. Ever since the chart was first published in the NME in 1952 very little has changed in how we display chart data, or what data we include."

Read the rest of this post on Hugh Garry's website. Give the Radio 1 Top 40 Visualiser a go. There's also How To Make The Top 40 Beautiful... on the Chartblog.

Open Post, Tuesday 18 May 2010

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Paul Murphy Paul Murphy | 10:52 UK time, Tuesday, 18 May 2010

ooooooooooooo_nu.jpgI'd like to invite your comments and questions on the work of the Internet blog and the topics and areas that we cover. We've run Open Posts before and they've always been interesting. They're an opportunity for you to help steer the direction of the blog with your suggestions and ideas.

Nick's answered the question "What is an Open Post?" in a previous post and this is what he said:

This post is for comments and questions about anything to do with BBC Online, BBC iPlayer, BBC HD, and the BBC's digital and mobile services. But as it's an open post you can leave a comment about whatever you like.

I can't guarantee that every single comment or question will get a response. But I'll try.

Paul Murphy is the Editor of the Internet blog.

Round up, Monday 17 May 2010

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Paul Murphy Paul Murphy | 12:20 UK time, Monday, 17 May 2010

There have been many comments about the new homepage, previously in beta, that's been rolled out across the board. Feedback breaks down broadly into things that aren't working; things that have been changed and aren't liked and things that have changed and are liked.
Picking out a positive comment, Kenichi Udagawa writes:

"Lots of moaning here ... don't think it's THAT different ... but I LOVE the new top menu bar ... and I think that's going to have a big difference in terms of hits on BBC webpages. Why? Because it's one click to the News site, one click to iPlayer, one click to Sport and Weather from anywhere on the BBC website. That's big - that's really big - and yet deceptively simple. Good on you BBC!"

Jo's reading all your comments and the team are working on your feedback. Read the post and comments about the homepage and leave your comment here.


On the Radio 4 blog Andrew Caspari's asking for suggestions on how radio podcasting could be made more popular and brought to a wider audience:

"So if you think there are things we can do to make podcasting feel easier or make it more attractive do let us know. Words like 'subscribe' ("sounds like something you have to pay for") or 'download' ("I don't like clogging up my computer") are particularly unpopular. We will try to do better."

BTW, A History of the World is back today with another 40 podcasts.


On the Guardian PDA blog under the heading Project Canvas verdict looms: Funny kind of openness Robert Andrews reports the Canvas team as saying:

"Project Canvas has submitted key documents to the Digital Television Group (DTG) today making the next set of technical specifications available to industry. This transparency will help create an open, competitive market."

Andrews then writes:
"But, whatever the specs are, they're secret - available only to DTG's members via its website. DTG membership costs between £3,000 and £20,000. And DTG members appear to have signed non-disclosure agreements banning them from repeating what Canvas has submitted..."

Incidentally, The OFT are due to report back on Canvas on 19 May.


While it's too late for the incumbents of Blog Towers it might not be too late for you to get a job with a cool title. BBC R&D are recruiting for several roles including trainee technologists and trainee research scientist.

"As a trainee Technologist you could be involved in one or several of our current main themes, most notably HD on Freeview, tapeless production tools, and helping to define Web 2.0 services."


Techwatch has started a campaign to "Get BBC iPlayer on Xbox Live".


And finally, if you're interested in h2g2, the h2g2 community held one of their "meets" in London on Saturday.

Paul Murphy is the Editor of the Internet blog.

The BBC Music Trends prototype

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Tristan Ferne | 15:45 UK time, Thursday, 13 May 2010


BBC Music Trends is our latest prototype and a spin-off from our previous work on people's music taste. It showcases some of the hottest bands and artists on the web, as identified by a number of independent sources, lets you listen to short clips and shows you where you can find that music on the BBC.

We use data from a number of independent sources to determine what music is trending - the buzz about music on the internet, usually based on what's being talked about, what's being played, what's being sold, what's being written about and more. All our current sources have public APIs. From EchoNest we use the "hottt" artist list, from We Are Hunted we take their main chart of emerging artists and from we create a combined chart from their up and coming artists for fourteen UK cities.

Read the rest of The BBC Music Trends prototype post on the Research & Development blog and leave your comments.

New BBC homepage launches

Post categories:

Jo Wickremasinghe Jo Wickremasinghe | 10:20 UK time, Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Following two months in public beta, yesterday we launched a new version of the BBC homepage.

In my last blog post in March I talked about the reasons for launching the new version of the BBC homepage and pointed out that most of the work for this update has been to move the site to a new technical architecture. Back in May 2008 the BBC announced plans to build a new service-oriented architecture to accommodate the increasing number of visitors to BBC websites and to enable new features to be delivered more quickly. The BBC homepage is one of the first sites to be moved to the new infrastructure.

During the homepage beta we introduced a new navigation bar across the top of the page to facilitate easier and faster access to the most popular sites across the BBC. If the site you're looking for isn't listed simply choose from the 'More' drop down menu or type what you're looking for in the Search box.


The new navigation bar is slowly being rolled out across the entire BBC website - it was included in the recent re-launch of the Dr Who website. While these changes are not actually part of the new global visual language (GVL) that was announced in February, they are certainly stepping stones in that direction. As the GVL evolves we'll be looking to incorporate an increasing number of elements on the BBC homepage over time.

To fit the most popular links onto the navigation bar and allow for consistency across all BBC web sites, we kept the overall size down and as a result we removed the clock from the BBC Homepage header. However, during the public beta the feedback from many users was that the clock was sadly missed. So we've built a new and improved clock module which takes its time from the clock on your PC. The new module also shows you the time-zone that your clock is set to, and it can be collapsed to a slim-line clock. The new clock module makes use of upcoming HTML standards, which you can read more about at our BBC Web Developer blog.

clock_nu.pngThe clock module is on the right hand side of the BBC homepage just below the Media Zone. If you prefer, you can remove it from your homepage by clicking the 'x' at the top right corner of the module.

During the homepage beta, we also introduced a new module called Topic Tracker. We learnt a lot from the feedback of users who tried out Topic Tracker during the homepage beta, and we think there are a few improvements we still need to make before we launch Topic Tracker on the main homepage for all users. However, if you are interested in trying it for yourself, Topic Tracker is available in the 'Customise Panel'.

To add the Topic Tracker module to your BBC homepage go to 'Customise this page' panel at the bottom of the homepage, tick the checkbox for Topic Tracker, and hit 'Save'. The module will appear in the top left hand corner of the homepage, and you can move the module on the page by simply grabbing the top of the module and dragging to another location.

We've made lots of other changes and improvements to the homepage, and the new platform will allow us to continue to deliver new features and improvements more quickly and easily. To learn more about the new BBC homepage, check out the Frequently Asked Questions.

Jo Wickremasinghe is Head of Homepage and Syndication Services.

A new homepage for BBC Archive

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Jim Sangster | 11:40 UK time, Friday, 7 May 2010

As well as deciding which gems from the BBC Archive we're going to make available, we also need to continually review ways of making our existing content easier to find. With so many interesting things turning up with every collection - the Alanbrooke Diaries and the tributes to Churchill being recent examples - it's often too easy for us to focus on the collections we are about to launch and forget to update the architecture as we go.

archive_homepage_large.jpgA recent revamp of the BBC Archive homepage includes a few new features that will hopefully make finding content that little bit easier.

Now that the Archive site has more than 40 collections, we realised visitors to the site might appreciate different ways of browsing the content. The Collections page originally listed collections in reverse order of release, but we felt that the release order had more meaning to us than our users, so the page has been reordered with collections grouped into themes. We've also added an RSS feed to the Collections page so you can see when new content is added to the site.

We've added new pages to allow you to search for specific programme titles and people, accessed from the new, brighter navigation bar. The People pages collate programmes, documents and images specific to an individual contributor and, where the contributor appears in a gallery, you can click on thumbnails of the image to leap straight to that specific image. Have a look at our David Attenborough page for an example.

The latest tweets on our Twitter feed are now available via our homepage. We know Twitter has a marmite quality for some, but we've been really pleased with how our feed has been received by Twitterers who like to forward our comments to their own followers. There are still some discussions on the best way to display this, so if you're on Twitter, let us know what you think (or you can drop us a line via the feedback link at the bottom of our Help page).

The new 'Today's Choice' box allows us the opportunity to make the page feel more topical. Of course, handling material that's often more than 50 years old might not feel topical to some, but as the activity around our Bank Holidays collection showed, if you're stuck indoors looking at the rain tricking down the window on your day off, you might gain some comfort to discover that for British Bank Holidays it was always thus.

We've added more links to other areas on the BBC that contain archive material, such as the 'In Our Time' archive and recommended links to elsewhere on the web, like the Imperial War Museum. This is an area we'll be keeping an eye on because there are so many great places to link to and only a finite number of slots for us to use. Hopefully the links will be useful for those visitors to the site who wish to find out what other archive resources exist out there.

We're continuing to tinker under the bonnet for more features in the future. We're hoping to be able to improve our Programmes page to allow multiple editions from the same series to be grouped together, so that fans of, say, 'Tomorrow's World', will be able to keep track of additional editions that appear within other collections. We'll be continuing to look into the BBC's war archive of course, to commemorate various anniversaries in the near future too, and next week, as part of the BBC's Year of Science, we'll be launching a collection that should be of interest to anyone who's ever wondered how elastic bands tell us a staggering amount about the universe around us. Stay tuned for more.

Jim Sangster is an Assistant Content Producer, BBC Archive.


Post categories:

Marc Goodchild | 17:37 UK time, Tuesday, 4 May 2010

oneeyedrabbit_595.jpgAs we approached the Bank Holiday, the BBC Children's community team heaved a huge sigh of relief as we entered the final phase of BBC iD roll out for CBBC.

The BBC ID system is already being used on numerous BBC services aimed at 'grown-ups' like message boards, BBC iPlayer and Lab UK - wherever a sign in is required.

But migrating existing Children's services presented its own problems and a fair bit of head-scratching in the last few months.

With over 12 large scale games and activities (aimed specifically at 6-12s) already using the old SSO sign in system, the CBBC site represented the largest number of active SSO users in the BBC.

So it wasn't as simple as just turning on one system and pulling the plug on the other.

From audience feedback we know some of users have invested weeks, months and often years playing these games, nurturing their Roar safari parks, building up reputations and contributing UGC. It would be a hard man who would turn round and say all of that was for nothing. But more importantly we wouldn't want their enduring memory of BBC online services, during their most formative years, to be a sense that we just didn't care.

So the team had a double challenge to ensure that the data our users have amassed within their SSO accounts eg game points scored, saved submissions or progress within games would be follow with them to the new system whilst also protecting their safety.

Big challenge 1: Keeping user data

As SSO for CBBC did not require an email address to be provided during registration it was commonplace for users to open different accounts for each game or activity. The styling on individual games also seemed to confuse people that one sign in did not fit all. At one time we estimated there were 3 million active accounts amongst a potential available audience of just 4.2 million children.

By contrast the 'adult' full-fat BBC iD sign up requires users to provide an email address and limits users to one account per email address.

This gave us an important decision to make - do we ask users to select just one of their accounts and to resign themselves to losing all other accounts and the data saved against these accounts? Or do we allow users to transfer the data from all their accounts into their one new BBC iD account?

As recognition of the loyalty and commitment of our users, we decided to create a system by which they could keep their accounts.

A 'transfer' or 'coalescence' tool was built and users are passed through this (ably guided by a one-eyed bunny character) as part of the registration process. CBBC is unique within the BBC in offering this coalescence.

Challenge 2: Safety

As always safety of our users is paramount and, as such, with the launch of BBC iD, we have also taken the opportunity to add another layer of safety by introducing a Display Name Generator.

Whereas adults signing up to BBC iD can use any username they like and repeatedly change their display name through their account settings, this feature would create a major undertaking for CBBC in terms of additional moderation. Profanity filters can be used to ensure offensive screen names are excluded but we have an extra duty of care to guarantee kids don't inadvertently reveal their identities to all and sundry.

Consider an innocuous screen-name like MarcW127RJ. With a first name and postcode information like this, that child could be easily identified. (The astute among you will have worked out that's my work address).

So to help CBBC users keep themselves safe when signing up we also ask them to create a unique Display Name from a pre-filled word generator of random colours, adjectives and nouns. Expect to see a RedFieryLobster or ChocolatePancakeDude appearing on the messageboards anyday now.

Inevitably, some long-term regular users have objected to having the previous naming freedom restricted but when delved deeper we discovered most of these had actually outgrown our age band. And the children we've met in user testing seem to appreciate the safety benefits this system brings.

And it appears that our worst fears that children could just get confused by the whole process have been confounded.

In the first 10 days of offering the chance to coalesce data we have had over 45,000 users visiting the transfer tool and close to 72,000 users visiting the Display Name Generator (both old and new).

Any thoughts on how we can improve the process would be gratefully appreciated.

Yours SaphireSingingSamba.

Marc Goodchild is Head of Interactive and On Demand, BBC Children's.

BBC Backstage wants your pictures and memories of Backstage

Post categories:

Ian Forrester Ian Forrester | 14:50 UK time, Tuesday, 4 May 2010

backstagebanner595.jpgJust in case you haven't seen the blog and missed the tweets...

Its almost 5 years since Backstage was launched to the public at OpenTech 05 by Ben Metcalfe. Since then a lot of things have happened and changed. Who would have thought the political parties would be shouting about open data in their manifestos?

Anyhow, we're looking to build quite a mash-up but using you and your experiences as the data. I won't go into details right now but you can expect that the data will also be available for yourselves to build on too.

So what're you waiting for? Fill in the forms and I look forward to seeing your answers aggregated together in the near future:

Ian Forrester is Senior Backstage Producer.

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