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Delivering Quality First on BBC Online: Social Media

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Ian Hunter | 11:00 UK time, Monday, 24 January 2011

Following today's announcement about the re-shaping of BBC Online , including the decision to close 606, Video Nation and the BBC iPlayer message board, and the disposal of h2g2, I wanted to share some of our thinking around social media.

Central to the new strategy is a tighter focus on the BBC's editorial priorities to make the service better, and a 25% reduction in BBC Online's budget. Both will affect our approach to social media.

We believe there are three fundamental ways social media can enhance BBC Online.

First, to enrich our content. Drawing on the collective knowledge and experience of our users can improve what we publish, for everyone. One recent example of this was A History of the World. Another is comments on blogs which often illuminate or extend or challenge a post in interesting ways.

Second, to bring more people to our content. When a user recommends something to his or her network of friends that is more likely to interest them than when the BBC makes the recommendation. More eyes on the same content means better value for money.

Third, to better engage audiences. Engaged users come back more frequently, increasing the value of the service to them. Richer connections with the user can help us be more open, transparent and accountable.

The next phase of our approach to social will be to move from a site which offers a few fairly circumscribed social experiences to one which is more social everywhere.

We recognise that contributions made off BBC Online can also add value to the content we publish, so we want to converge onsite and offsite contributions better than we do now. You can see the beginnings of this via Buzz and in our coverage of live events like the recent Ashes cricket or the Archers 60th anniversary.

Similarly, we are looking at the potential for broadening the interactions around some of our blogs by exposing a wider range of relevant social contributions.

The most notable changes are probably the closure of 606 and proposed disposal of H2G2. These sites are certainly social and in their own terms, successful. However, neither have strong links to the BBC's content. Ben Gallop on the Sports Editors blog explains more about the closure of 606, and its fit with the broader changes in Sport. H2G2 is a unique community but it does not sit comfortably alongside anything else we do. The site has been created, and is sustained by, its users and our hope is to find a new owner who will nurture it in the coming years. In due course we plan to close the BBC iPlayer message board whose function is increasingly being taken on by new features within the product and BBC Online.

This isn't a sudden change in direction. Sites that have only a peripheral connection with our editorial purposes, don't significantly enhance our content or only engage small audiences can't any longer justify the resources they need. This is why we have closed a number of message boards in the past year or so. This process will continue, selectively.

How, then, can we make the whole of BBC Online more social?

In recent months we have experimented with enabling comments within some news pages. We will be looking to extend this in the coming months, developing the editors' picks feature and the ability to rate other people's comments.

BBC iPlayer users are able to recommend programmes (and add a comment) and have these posted to their accounts in Facebook or Twitter. Again, this is a small start to something we plan to extend more widely. Some programmes and networks will continue to experiment with, and improve, the official BBC pages we manage on Facebook (such as BBC Radio 1 and Eastenders) and Youtube. And we'll continue to explore collaborations like Sound of 2011 with social sites like Songkick and LastFM.

Much of this is standard practice across the web, of course, and we need to evolve to meet the changing expectations of our users. The size of BBC Online, the legacy systems on which it was built, our commitment to maintaining the highest editorial standards and to providing a safe social environment mean that the task is complex. And in a world where we have fewer people and less money we have to focus on doing the things which promise to offer the biggest benefits to all of our users.

Ian Hunter is Managing Editor, BBC Online

Read Erik Huggers' post: "Reshaping BBC Online"

Read Ben Gallop's post: "Changes to Sport Online".


  • Comment number 1.

    Thanks for the post Ian. In the often blurred world that BBC staff exist in online, such clarification aids understanding.

    A grasp of reality is understandable and this is most obvious in reflecting the measures all organisations are having to take in cutting back on resources.

    Therefore channelling online conversations back in to social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter (sic your pointers about enabling users to recommend content from iPlayer on their own social networks) makes sense. It reflects reality.

    But I wonder what happens if in the future (and surely, it must be a possibility worth considering) if the likes of Facebook and Twitter decline in popularity?

    Am I being ridiculous about considering the possibility of such social networking platforms dying - theoretically they could after all. I just wonder whether organisations - not just the BBC - are putting too many eggs in one basket?

    Just a thought. Offered with all my usual fluff and respect.


  • Comment number 2.

    With reference to:

    " BBC iPlayer users are able to recommend programmes (and add a comment) "

    It says here:


    Comment #90 by Nick Reynolds:

    It is possible to recommend in iPlayer without being hooked up to Twitter or Facebook, but if you want to see friends recommendations then you and they have to be hooked up to Facebook/Twiiter and BBC iD.

    Is it possible?

    I have set my profile to be public and added a picture (as instructed) but I have not connected to Facebook or Twitter. I checked settings page for my public profile, all looks fine.

    But when I click "Recommend" on any iPlayer programme page, it brings up the "Recommendations" pop-up inviting me to "Get started"!

    It seems to be stuck on step 2 - waiting for me to connect to Facebook and or Twitter.

    But if "It is possible to recommend in iPlayer without being hooked up to Twitter or Facebook" how do I do it?!

    The question was asked on this blog but never got an answer...

  • Comment number 3.

    This seems ridiculous - the BBC plans to reduce the amount of content available on its own website, but increase the amount of BBC content available on Facebook and Twitter?

    The number of times these websites are mentioned in BBC output is already a clear breach of the BBC Editorial Guidelines. Are we really suggesting that even more of the licence fee should be spent helping these websites to gain even more prominence?

  • Comment number 4.

    So BBC Online has just relaunched H2G2 after spending months redesigning it and now it's proposed that it's disposed of... ...a great use/waste of money if this does occur.

  • Comment number 5.

    Hopefully if services such as "Pushnote" take off (as championed by Stephen Fry) then BBC-controlled user comments will be a thing of the past anyway. Anyone will be able to comment upon any webpage without fear of arbitrary moderation/censorship if things slightly off topic or raise inconvenient truths.

  • Comment number 6.

    I see. So you WILL (and by extension make us)use facebook and twitter regardless of the fact that most of the content on those sites are the purile ramblings of teenagers and the brain dead!!! Do you actually listen to the licence fee payers or is it a matter of whatever Murdock/Hunt/Barclay Bros/TrinityMirror etc want the BBC agrees to?

  • Comment number 7.

    Keith - for further explanation of what's happening to H2G2 please go to this thread on the new site.


  • Comment number 8.

    As a regular contributor to the History and to Radio 4 messageboards can I remind you that many of your most devoted participants are those who seek respite from the world of Facebook and twitter, the latter so aptly named, and are often older and appreciative of the tenor of discussion on these sites. If these little refuges for those who enjoy engaging with others of a similar bent in a (usually) civilised manner then they will simply abandon your on line content altogether. Not, I would like to think but am inclined to suspect, your intention.

  • Comment number 9.

    "//Second, to bring more people to our content. When a user recommends something to his or her network of friends that is more likely to interest them than when the BBC makes the recommendation. More eyes on the same content means better value for money."//

    But the BBC is supposed to be for everyone who happens to be in the UK, so the Trust told me, which implies a longtailed approach to its offerings.. even for people who have no "friends"

    It is easy to maximise the users. You give them 'the highest common factor. That is why Radio ! has playlists. people don't want want the DJ likes, they want what they like which is what is to use Twitter lingo what is 'trending.' Luckily Twitter is an open platform on the web so I have a few followers .. very few..

    Huggers says the products are programmes so we are back to broadcasting rather then a media organisation so everything must start there. except for the radio iPlayer which apparently is to be based on a multimedia model so probably you won't be able to listen again to 'programme'

    My needs (and maybe those of lots of other users of the BBC,) will not be met. So it looks like compilations from YourTube is the way forward. It will save on the license.

  • Comment number 10.

    I don't care about Social Media... I want easy on-demand catchup. EASY being the operative word.

    The decisions around iPlayer are MAD!

  • Comment number 11.

    @ ferval #8

    They don't want us. They want to make the cheapest possible product ( programme) which gets the maximum audience though support by the BBC website.

    They are not selling anything so there is no advantage in attracting a particular group of people with 'odd' tastes or something interesting to say (disturbing?). And it's probably a bad thing anyway if they did, since they would put off majority sectors of the 'audience'

    Of course if we paid three times the BSkyB's subscription then maybe it would be different. But Sky hardly has a website to speak of. The competitors here are the newspapers. This BBC policy is about pulling out of this 'market'

  • Comment number 12.

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

  • Comment number 13.

    So H2G2 doesn´t have strong links to the BBC´s content...erm, right.
    Sounds to me like a teenager whining "just because I´ve dyed my hair green everybody looks at me - oh, they are so cruel!".
    How can Hootoo have links to the BBC when nobody there bothers to create any?

  • Comment number 14.

    Lets try again seeing as how they didn't like my last post despite it being both frank and truthful.
    If the BBC 'disposes' of H2G2 then it'll be the end of the road. There is no way any outside organisation will take on the running of this site without introducing advertising or other ways of producing revenue. Frankly I'm disgusted by the fact we went through a fairly comprehensive MOT and we were all assured we'd passed the test and met all the criteria for the BBC's online content. Based on this we then start the progress of having H2G2 'upgraded', (currently ongoing) to ensure we met even more the online content/look across the whole of the BBC online. Now, out of the blue we're to be dumped?
    I for one would NOT be prepared to pay for access nor will I stay on if we end up with annoying adverts all over the place in order to raise revenue for whoever takes on the site. I think the manner in which this has come about stinks frankly.
    I'll watch and see what happens but I have a deep foreboding that this is the end of a worthwhile project in which the BBC should have been proud to have and to maintain. H2G2 is unique, there isn't anywhere else on the web like it and if we end up in 'private' hands it'll destroy what we've built.
    If it goes outside the BBC then I would want all my work removing especially Eg's. I wrote them for the BBC and this community, not for some money making mongrels that'll end up with the site.

    Nick, you know full well there's no way, outside of the BBC, that anyone would take on this site without making money from it. That, by it's very nature, means H2G2 ceases to be anything more than another online commercial operation and the community and all it stands for goes out the window.
    Talk about how to lose trust, the BBC have shown today that they cannot and never will be, trusted ever again. You should be thoroughly ashamed of yourselves.

  • Comment number 15.

    I worry about BBC online.

    H2G2 was an indulgence - worthy aims, poor implementation, and done better elsewhere. The waste on the recent tarting up is typical of Future media projects.

    More "social media" integration by the BBC is just chasing 100 yards behind a bandwagon. The community that the BBC thinks is waiting to be integrated by Twitter and facebook is already there (and evapourating) on the once popular message boards. The BBC needs to look at the clues that indicate that "big corporates" can't do Twitter and Facebook, or even Blogs - especially corporates that have a problem with trust like the BBC. Audiences want to interact on their terms - and that is why the messageboards have such wonderful communities - despite the technical and political obstructions built in their way.

    If the BBC are to leap into the 21st century, giving value for our money, they need to abandon the unproven fads and embrace and encourage the communities that are already there - before that loyalty is pushed to breaking point.

    Once we have gone, I doubt any social media campaign will tempt me back.

  • Comment number 16.

    BMT - As I explained on H2G2 itself the word "disposal" is less than ideal. But we used it because it was more accurate than "close". We'll be looking at every option we can during this work and safeguarding the interests of the community will be at the top of my mind. Anyone who does wish to take on the running of the site would be foolish not to pay attention to the community as if the community leaves the site would die.

    Could I ask you to ask any further questions on H2G2 itself so I don't have to participate in multiple conversations at once.


  • Comment number 17.

    As there's a spectacular lack of italics/editors around currently since this announcement was made nothing is being answered on H2G2. There's not even been any response to the technical feedback we've been doing for the new site.Whats more the points I've raised have been blatantly ignored. I committed myself to H2G2 and the BBC. I allowed the BBC to use my work in any way it see's fit. That does NOT allow you or the BBC to sell or give my work away to a third party. I will not allow or grant permission for that. Nor will I accept the BBC selling any data I have with them personal or otherwise to an outside source. There is such a thing as data protection and the BBC have legal obligations to secure ANY and ALL data they have accrued from users of their web sites, you have NO right to sell it or pass it on without the users express permission. That alone will stop anyone wanting to take on H2 as whoever does will have to start from scratch. There is no point in us sorting/attempting to sort the bugs and the diaster of the re-launch as most of it again, won't apply if H2G2 is 'disposed of'. It beggars belief that this decision was taken in the last 24/36 hours, just how far back was this decision made and why were we kept in the dark? Why the pretence of an MOT, followed by a revamp just to tell us that despite all our efforts the BBC had no intention of retaining the site anyway? You treat people as fools then wonder why you get angry responses. As I said before, you should be thoroughly ashamed of your actions, that goes for all involved at the BBC for the cavalier way you've done things.

  • Comment number 18.

    BMT - as I said before it was not possible to tell the community at H2G2 before the big announcement affecting BBC Online on Monday.

    I'm hoping that we will find a future for H2G2 that the community (and hopefully yourself) will be able to approve of.

    We will be fixing the bugs on the new site and it will be business as usual on H2G2 while we do the work we need to do.

    I understand that you are upset. But I would ask you and others in the community to be patient while we try to do this.


  • Comment number 19.

    Quite frankly after the way we've been treated I have little or no faith in what you say.
    I just hope the BBC are aware that if I see any of my work or personal details/data handed to a third party OUTSIDE of the BBC I will have no hesitation instigating legal action against both the BBC and whatever third party is involved. You do not have the authority, permission or the legal right to carry out any such action. You are bound by the data protection act as well as your own privacy policy and I have the express right to say what happens to my information that you hold. The BBC's cavalier attitude to this is worrying, you're trouncing all over people with no regard to the consequences. I think you have a nerve asking the community to carry on sorting out the revamp bugs and glitches knowing full well you're going to dump the site one way or the other. Its tantamount to you getting us to tie the noose round our own necks frankly.

  • Comment number 20.

    Thanks for these comments. On Facebook and Twitter, our position is as follows. We won't create a social network ourselves but we do want to make it easy for users to link their experience on BBC Online to their experience on social sites. Facebook and Twitter are the most important because they are the most used by licence fee payers, they refer most traffic to our site, and they make it easy for us to integrate with them.

    We monitor the social sector regularly and if new sites of sufficient scale emerge we will respond.

    Cping500, I see this approach as helping to fatten the long tail, though it's true that to take advantage you do need to be a follower if not a friend.

    Squirrel is right to point to the restricted nature of recommendations on iPlayer at the moment. This is because we felt that for the feature to be successful there needed to be a critical mass of already networked users and that could only be achieved by tapping into the existing leading social networks. However, the feature has been designed so that it does not have to be tied to any particular sites. Indeed, this is how it works on our Food site.

  • Comment number 21.

    I regard BBC messageboard content as BBC content. If you want to bring more people to your content, and engage more with your content, why don't you:

    - allow linking from iPlayer content to specific messageboard content;
    - allow specific messageboard content to link to external social media.

    For starters, I suggest putting tweet links on all messageboard thread titles.


  • Comment number 22.

    Indeed Russ, the first sign of a "buzz" is often on the broadcaster's Message Boards (or the programme specific board if it hasn't been closed!). Facebook is not so important as it not the natural place to air your opinions.

  • Comment number 23.

    I don't like the sound of reducing BBC online accessed directly from the BBC site but developing BBC pages on Facebook & Twitter. This excludes people who don't wish to register with these sites.
    H2G2 is being removed because it has little connection with the BBC, yet the current makeover has done nothing to address this eg the 'share recommendations' facility referred to above.
    I fear that this drive to make the BBC site 'more social' will result in a reduction of high quality information and interaction and a move towards the lowest common denominator. How sad.


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