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An update to BBC+ - an experimental app for a more personal BBC

James Metcalfe

Head of Product, BBC+

Open just about any mobile app and your experience is no doubt being tailored for you in some way by algorithms, personalisation, AI, Big Data, machine learning... any more buzzwords you can think of?

This can be great for us as users... we get a better feed, faster.

With the refreshed BBC+ app, we will be making recommendations using data to take steps towards re-inventing the BBC for a new generation.

It also brings a great opportunity to be more experimental in our approach. We will be testing ideas quickly to realise the possibilities of a data driven world both in the way we work and the way we make our products. We have some of the most popular apps in the UK, and know we could do a lot more to improve and make them more welcoming, relevant and personal. We also need to understand how, as a public service organisation, we maintain our values in a data driven world.

One of the biggest challenges with making our data more connected is that the information we have on our content is based on our organisational structure.This means you can indicate a topic that is relevant to you in the BBC News app (such as health) but that preference is not reflected in iPlayer and so we currently don’t recommend all the great health shows you might like. This can be frustrating as you have to set up and manage each product separately.

To change this we are aiming for a more consistent and personalised experience. What if we could easily bring the best content we make, to you, from anywhere in the BBC? Would people discover and enjoy the BBC more? We need to take some risks, try some new and challenging ideas, and ask some tough questions as we work towards a more relevant and personal BBC for everyone.

With this in mind, we are today making an experimental update to our BBC+ app.

Why change BBC+?

BBC+ was set up as a personal BBC app with similar goal, however without the support of the data capabilities we are trying now. It didn't take off as we'd hoped. Much of what it currently offered is provided by BBC News and replicates the BBC Homepage.

In order to move forward we have decided to start again, while beginning to use machine learning and data. Our plan is to keep it small, to try new ideas as quickly as possible, learn as we go and improve based on regular feedback.

The new BBC+ app is a combined effort from the Datalab and BBC+ app development teams. We have also been working collaboratively with colleagues from across the BBC to understand the challenges we collectively face. My colleague Svetlana Videnova describes some of the technical approach in her blog and the Datalab team have released a free online course to help people understand machine learning, data science and how we work.

For now the new BBC+ app contains short videos, however there is far more breadth and depth to explore than the old app. Our overall mission is to help you discover the gems that you didn’t even know you were missing, at a time that suits you.

This is clearly an early starting point and as we learn more we expect to make changes often

Why now?

We are releasing this update at an early experimental phase as we believe using data and machine learning in the BBC is a shared challenge and needs to be done in a transparent way.

Working in a closed group limits how much we can learn about machine learning and so we want to invite your feedback and discussion throughout the process. We know there are improvements we need to make and we want people to be directly involved in shaping the next stage. Our team are keen to gather thoughts and ideas on improvements, and so please use the feedback buttons in the app to send in your thoughts and comments. The team will be reporting back regularly on progress!

BBC+ is available on Android: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=uk.co.bbc.bbc_plus

and iOS: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/bbc-the-bbc-just-for-you/id1110317391?mt=8