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Delivering Quality First: Halving the number of top level domains on BBC Online

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Ian Hunter | 16:50 UK time, Monday, 24 January 2011

In March last year Erik Huggers noted that one symptom of the way BBC Online had grown over the years was the proliferation of TLDs that made up the site.

A challenge we set ourselves was to reduce the number from over 400 to under 200. This is a progress report.

The challenge had two parts. First, it made us ask which parts of the site really delivered in terms of audience benefit and therefore should be kept and built on. They formed part of our "fewer things, better" approach.

It is also true that some sites, for example, /news naturally absorbed older content into its online archive, allowing people to follow stories back in time. Our /programmes site also works in this way, designed to provide a long term record of BBC broadcast output. However, where a site was more stand alone and its content no longer attracted users, was becoming unreliable, or video and audio assets unplayable, it was easy enough to earmark it for closure.

Second, we had to decide how best to manage the legacy content. Even sites which had become out of date were likely to have some historical interest. We looked into possible online archiving solutions but none fitted the bill. So we have decided to store the core content from our older websites offline, allowing interested parties in future to be able to recreate at least some of the experience they offered.

A number of sites which previously had their own TLDs will become absorbed into BBC Online's new products. Their assets, therefore, will continue to be available.

For others, a typical lifecycle is emerging.

This goes from live to a "mothball" state, where the content still has value but is no longer updated, for example /palin.

At some stage mothballed content becomes stale or potentially damaging and it needs to be taken offline. At that stage a "tombstone" tells users what has happened and may offer alternatives.This also avoids breaking the user's journey. The material taken offline is stored for future reference, or deleted altogether.

For the record, here is our current list of TLDs which are earmarked for closure before the end of the year.

Ian Hunter is Managing Editor, BBC Online


  • Comment number 1.

    As can be seen from Erik Huggers's post and from the Wikipedia article that you've linked to, the things which you are talking about are not top-level domains. They are top-level directories under the domain www.bbc.co.uk.

    I also don't see why the list needs to be in Excel format, or a spreadsheet at all.

  • Comment number 2.

    Although, as a follow up, removing some of the BBC-owned domains would also be a good thing and would save money: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10205810. Those are still not TLDs though.

  • Comment number 3.

    Hi djcater - the link to wikipedia was posted in error and I've now removed it.


  • Comment number 4.

    Nick, that doesn't change the fact that these aren't top-level domains. A directory isn't a domain. "Top level domains" shouldn't be in the title and "TLD" shouldn't appear anywhere in the post. You're talking about subdirectories.

  • Comment number 5.

    I was wondering if the content that is being expired could possibly be assigned "creative commons" status, so it can be archived by fans?

  • Comment number 6.

    Will you be making an effort not to break old URLs?

    Universal should generally refer to over time as well - it'd be nice if all the old links redirected to the new locations of content, and in the cases where the content is no longer available online, to a page explaining why and how this "offline" archive could be accessed.

  • Comment number 7.

    @6: It looks like some of the site on that list have already been archived...

    I know it's a little extra work but it would be nice if the 'swept off this website' pages could be put into the GEL framework. At least then in theory it would ensure the links to the rest of the site in the header & footer would remain up-to-date.

  • Comment number 8.


    Rather than deleting the Wikipedia link, you may have been better reading article on TLDs which states:

    "A top-level domain (TLD) is one of the domains at the highest level in the hierarchical Domain Name System of the Internet...it is the last part of the domain name...For example, in the domain name www.example.com, the top-level domain is com"

    If you doubt the veracity of Wikipedia articles, then you can see a similar definition on the ICANN website (https://www.icann.org/en/tlds/ ).

    Mr. Hunter's article is interesting, but it is disturbing that he seems not to know what a TLD actually is.

  • Comment number 9.

    Wow. What a wrong post. Quite apart from the baffling failure to know what a TLD is, how exactly does deleting existing content make anything better? It just breaks external links to that content - links that the BBC can't change. URIs are meant to be as eternal as possible, not just deleted so that some pointless bureaucratic exercise can make people feel things are tidied. Really, hasn't everyone learnt yet that arbitrary targets like halving top level directories are... well, arbitrary. What are the odds that the effort spent identifying which to delete and getting rid of them and making ongoing decisions about them massively outweighs any saving in storage?

  • Comment number 10.

    I'm glad that the BBC want to halve the number of top level domains. There are far too many of them. We really don't need one for every country. Especially small countries like Luxembourg (.lu) - couldn't they just share with Belgium (.be)? And Guernsey (.gg) definitely doesn't need it's own one.
    It's also good that you're looking into scraping legacy TLDs too. No one really uses .gb any more, you should just make all .gb domains redirect to .uk ones.

    It's great to see that the BBC are prepared to stand up against the likes of ICANN who are proposing opening up top level domain registration to anyone who has enough money. Domain registration should have the needs of end users in mind and not just be a revenue making exercise.

    Well done BBC.

  • Comment number 11.

    It really is terribly funny that the Managing Editor of BBC Online doesn't know enough about the internet to recognize what a goof the TLD bit is. It's kind of sad too. Like the notion that deleting content as busywork is somehow improving things. Binning user contributed content like H2G2 is close to immoral, though.

    Seeing that Mahoney266 posted much of what I wanted to say, I'll leave it there.

  • Comment number 12.

    Perhaps when closing a programme related website the URL should be redirected to point to a location on /programmes where basic information about the show & episodes can be found.

    eg. https://www.bbc.co.uk/realhustle/ to https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006m8mf
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/oliver/ to https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b009m2l9

    This would possibly help in reducing the number of dead links which external sites may get as a result of mothballing or taking a site offline.

    There are probably also a number of BBC News programme websites which would benefit from being moved into the /programmes section.

  • Comment number 13.

    In every post regarding the chages to BBC Online, the author talks about the reduction in the number of top level domains (TLDs). There is only 1 TLD in use here which is bbc.co.uk. Just because there is a sub directory (eg /news, /sport etc) this does not mean that there are multiple TLDs and for the Managing Director of BBC Online to make such a basic mistake is inexcusable.

    It is not just Mr Hunter however that makes this basic mistake. The outgoing Head of BBC Future Media & Technology Erik Huggers also seems confused:

    Closures and Reductions
    As a result there are some editorial areas we’ll be pulling back from, and some websites we’ll be closing completely.

    •The closure of half of the 400 Top Level Domains (with 180 closing ahead of schedule later this year)


    Maybe some basic education is required on basic terminology....

  • Comment number 14.

    Thanks for the comments. djcater and others are right to say we are talking about directories here. The domain word got into our wider communications about the changes and we kept it here to be consistent: wrong place to do that.

    We'll look into the "creative commons" idea, Briantist. In all cases, the idea is to provide users with constructive user journeys, either by redirecting, or by providing useful information about where content can now be found.

    I know there are people who think content once online should never be deleted. Our view is that we meet our users' expectations by removing audio or video that no longer works, or information that is out of date or unreliable. Or, as Keith points out, when it becomes superceded.

  • Comment number 15.

    "The domain word got into our wider communications about the changes and we kept it here to be consistent: wrong place to do that."

    It shouldn't have been in your wider communications in the first place

  • Comment number 16.

    Please may we have some reassurance that BBC Red Button and BBC Ceefax viewers will not find the quality and quantity of those services' pages affected by the changes to BBC online?

  • Comment number 17.

    What will happen to WW" People's War?

  • Comment number 18.

    As someone who built a few of these sites, I'm sad to see them go - BBC Cult especially. For a vast resource the amount of webspace it takes up is tiny - so the saving in switching it off would be negligible. It's still the definitive online resource for a large amount of classic BBC content, the history of Blue Peter, and, madly, the best Buffy the Vampire Slayer site on the web. Plus (terrible confession), I've no idea how much of the BBC's classic Doctor Who site will break when it's switched off. As the two were built through the same authoring system and the Cult plug was pulled quite quickly... well, it was a bit of a rushed job to split the two, but *fingers crossed* it should be fine....

  • Comment number 19.

    Now if you are interested in real new TLDs: a dot-news or dot-programmes - even dot-palin (Sarah or Michael?) -- then I do have a good pointer for you: https://dot-nxt.com. And you can see the applicants for all the new ones by clicking "Applicants" at the top. Should go live later this year.

  • Comment number 20.

    Ian, Your understanding of a TLD domain is incorrect . Nominet runs the country code top level domain ( ccTLD ) ie .uk . There are 288 two digit ccTLDs and 21 gTLDs ( generic top level domain ) like .com .org . The BBC have "bought" bbc.co.uk( registered with Nominet )- this is a second level domain . The registration can lapse if not renewed through Nominet ( usually every two years.)
    ICANN ( www.icann.org) runs the internet addressing space . They are working on new gTLDs - potentially like eg .bbc . orange .london .whatever. The BBC could apply for a .bbc through ICANN . The application window is very likely to open mid 2011. Please please get in touch @ [Personal details removed by Moderator]. Check out the conference on this @ www.dot-nxt.com ( 8-10 February 2011 in San Francisco). Think the BBC needs to urgently revisit its strategy on TLDs . regards

  • Comment number 21.

    Thanks Phil B. I know that there is a possible shift in the way domains are organised and we are monitoring progress. A complex set of costs and benefits, no doubt.

  • Comment number 22.

    Ian , I would say a major shift in the internet addressing system , with serious concerns for the top brands , like the bbc , who are currently ( mainly) adopting a defensive registration strategy regarding their domain portfolio . With a projected introduction of 500 .whatever through ICANN application process in 2011 some complex cost benefit analysis ( as you say) is required . I would like to predict in 2015 all major companies will be running their own registry as in .virgin . sainsbury . It is a marketing dream , but a nightmare for trademark attorneys . As I am unable to give out a personal email I will contact you at the BBC directly. The DG needs to be up to speed on the major implications to the BBC regarding their online strategy.

  • Comment number 23.

    Getting back on topic, are you saying that a lot of the sites like cult are going to be tombstoned then? If so I am really disappointed, as James Goss pointed out above "For a vast resource the amount of webspace it takes up is tiny".

    What exactly will you gain by doing this a few GB of disk space and the world will lose some good informative historical information.

    As someone else mentioned, if you really must get rid of it, is there not an archive site somewhere it could go to - like the british library/national archive or something?

    In your faq you state you only remove old pages when it would be harmful to keep it. Is keeping a page on the History of bagpuss or swap shop going to cause harm in some way then?

  • Comment number 24.

    Ian Hunter wrote:
    > "Our view is that we meet our users' expectations by removing audio or video
    > that no longer works..."

    That's the trouble with these pesky digital media formats, video and audio gets worn out when too many people make use of it. The electrons must be tired...

  • Comment number 25.

    As others have said: please could someone at the BBC explain why the they keep referring to 'top level domains' and TLDs, whereas they seem to be talking about directories.

    It's important to get this right: the BBC is proposing major changes, and they should express in a way that's clear and accurate.

  • Comment number 26.

    I am appalled to see that https://www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar is on the list for deletion. This is a precious resource, profoundly valuable for students and writers, and fascinating reading in its own right. It provides insights into an incredible range of experiences that would be otherwise inaccessible to the general public. As a novelist -- even one not working on WW2 specifically -- I have frequently used it and would expect to do so again.

    Has the BBC learned nothing from the infamous tape-wiping disasters of the 60s and 70s? This is just as blinkered and destructive. These first-hand memories of this momentous time in our history are increasingly rare and irreplaceable. They should be protected: indeed, the BBC should feel privileged to have been entrusted with them.

    Book-burners at least usually acknowledge that what they are destroying is in some way important. To throw away such a wonderful resource so carelessly displays a shocking indifference to history.

  • Comment number 27.

    Ignore the nerdy discussion of the meaning of TLD.

    The appalling decision making here is to cull the BBC's URI space because of some misguided necessity for "tidyness".

    Why can't the "tombstone" which will still use the URI space (thus defeating the original unnecessary purpose) have a "Beware, the content beyond this point is old, may be dusty and cause you to sneeze" and then link to the original information?

    If entirely necessary, the interactive parts of these old sites could be disabled so that old and crufty servers can be turned off.

    For a media organisation to delete their archive is philistine in its stupidity.

  • Comment number 28.

    We looked into possible online archiving solutions but none fitted the bill.

    Really? The UK Web Archive is not a suitable repository even though its stated purpose is "to collect, preserve and give permanent access to key UK websites for future generations"?

  • Comment number 29.

    I could be wrong here, but isn't this a storm in a teacup? It looks to me as though the Web Archive has already captured dozens of versions of these old pages, though I won't pretend that I've checked very many.

  • Comment number 30.

    As a former contributor to H2G2, I am annoyed by this window-dressing exercise, it is entirely unnecessary and probably counter-productive, given the low bandwidth and storage demands of most web pages (video and audio are more hungry in this respect, of course). Yet again the need to be seen to be doing something - in this case, apparently deleting content for little in the way of bandwidth or storage savings - gets in the way of the production and consumption of information, education and entertainment. Can we have an assurance that before the bbc dump digital video and audio files deemed 'incompatible' (this is somewhat disingenuous, old media files are almost always importable into new formats and so can be saved) that they will archive all of them for the future?

  • Comment number 31.

    How can the contents of WW2 People's War ever get superseded? As time goes on, that site gets more and more valuable as time takes its inevitable toll on the people who actually remember the war.
    Also, if that's how you treat content your users gave in the past, what's the point of anyone contributing to memoryshare? You'll just decide it takes too much space and delete that too.

  • Comment number 32.

    Totally agree with the posts from Sophia Macdougall's and J'au-amne Princess of Darkness. If they BBC doesn't want this archive, they should give it to someone who will look after it properly.

  • Comment number 33.

    I too am appalled that https://www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar is on the list: it's a unique resource, not just for people in the UK but further afield as well. It is irresponsible of the BBC to have encouraged people to contribute under the impression that the material would remain available, and even more so to dismiss possible archiving solutions because they didn't "fit the bill". Is this because a single solution was sought to deal with a disparate set of archives? If so, I'm not surprised if nothing was appropriate.

  • Comment number 34.

    Sometimes I am amazed at the BBC's collective stupidity.

    If I were more cynical I'd say they were deleting stuff on purpose in order to cause maximum public outrage in order to generate support and goodwill towards maintaining their own funding position.

  • Comment number 35.

    Could we have some more responses from Ian Hunter in relation to the points made above please? (ignoring the already covered stuff about the misuse of the word TLD)

  • Comment number 36.

    For those who are interested in BBC URL definitions - https://www.bbc.co.uk/guidelines/futuremedia/desed/urls.shtml

    I know there is a lot of conflict in the organization about this activity and find it a real shame that a short-term move made by an outgoing boss isn't being given the opportunity for review.

  • Comment number 37.

    Did anyone consider speaking to YoutTube(google) and seeing if they were willing to host this content there?

  • Comment number 38.


    A) TLDs refer to top-level domains, like bbc.co.(uk), or google.(com). What' you're talking about is root folders.
    B) [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator] ; done and done.
    C) Hosting for a couple of gigabytes of low-traffic content cannot exceed a few pounds a month, so the argument that this provides "significant" savings is a kind of obvious executive lie.

  • Comment number 39.

    People commenting here may be interested in

  • Comment number 40.

    People commenting here may be interested in this follow up post from Ian Hunter.



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