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BBC News website developments

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 11:43 UK time, Wednesday, 16 March 2011

If you are a regular visitor to the BBC News website there are some developments heading your way which you might be interested in.

Screenshot of BBC News Japan earthquake site

It's obviously an incredibly busy time in the Newsroom and our journalists are still working flat out to cover the disaster in Japan, as well as the events in Libya and the Middle East. We've seen record traffic (15.9m unique users last Friday, for example) as people have come to the site for updates, followed our Live Page coverage and watched unprecedented amounts of video.

But even while the news teams are busy with all this, our product development colleagues are continuing to work on a number of things to improve the site over the coming weeks and months. Some are coming soon, so I wanted to tell you a bit about them here.

Most of these things are being developed largely behind the scenes for now, but they should make a noticeable difference to you, so what follows is an early preview of the headlines. As the various developments progress, I'll be able to tell you more about them, or ask those working on each project to explain in more detail:

Your comments: One development which we have already tried out in a few places around the site is the addition of comments to stories, part of a wider move towards making the site feel more, well, "social". We've had our Have Your Say pages for many years, but we want to give you more opportunities to interact and reflect your thoughts and experience around the stories themselves, because this can add valuable insight and information to our own journalism. Alex Gubbay, our social media editor, will give more details on this soon. We will also be making it easier for you to share stories with others, by improving the share tools on our pages, and by getting more of our stories out onto services like Facebook and Twitter - where people are increasingly expecting to find them. The @bbcbreaking service on Twitter for example has now got more than 1m followers.

Live reporting: We're continuing to develop our Live Page format - which provides a combination of live streaming video and instant text updates based on the widest possible range of sources. It's a format which has proved effective, and popular, during major developing stories such as those of recent weeks. Expect further development and improvement of these pages, as we make them an even better vehicle for reporting all the biggest stories.

BBC correspondents: Our authoritative correspondents' blogs from the likes of Nick Robinson or Robert Peston are one of the most successful ways in which we are able to provide you with the BBC's analysis, expertise and context. We are working on a new format for these which will incorporate each correspondent's blog posts plus their other content and contributions, from news articles to TV packages to tweets. That way, if you want to know what a particular correspondent is saying or reporting on, you will be able to find it in one place - and on more platforms, not just the website.

Video: There is no doubt that video is an increasingly important part of the way users of the News website get their news. We launched a new version of the video player a couple of weeks ago, which is lighter and faster and has been redesigned to more clearly offer other related video. In coming months we will continue to analyse how video is consumed across the site and other digital platforms, and what else we can do to make it work even better. For example, we are planning to introduce the HTML5 video format soon for video clips on platforms that do not support Flash.

Internet TV: Before long it'll become easier to see web content on a TV screen, as internet-enabled TV sets become more common, and we will want to introduce services combining the ability of online news to provide headlines and reports on demand with the viewing experience of watching TV. My colleague in BBC Future Media, Phil Fearnley is speaking at the IPTV World Forum next week about our approach, so more on that soon.

Mobile: More than 3 million people a week view our mobile service and our iPhone and iPad apps, which we launched last year. At present we are working to bring our app to a wider range of smartphones, but we are also thinking hard about what comes next and what people want and expect from news on their mobile device, smartphone or tablet.

Organising our content better: This is a big project, but not as immediately visible as some of the others I have mentioned. Under the heading of "metadata" we are working on a system to label and categorise every piece of content we make so that each story, video and audio clip is tagged and easy to find and sort. That should allow us to provide you with much more specific, tailored sets of news and information about particular subjects. It will make it easier to automate as much of this as we want to, instead of largely sorting things manually as we do now. For example, we produced hundreds of pages, automatically using tagging, during the World Cup - something which would have been close to impossible to do manually.

Linking: We haven't forgotten our ongoing aim of improving our links to other websites. We've seen the number of instances of people using external links from the BBC News website increase, recently reaching 7 million a month, but there is more to do, and we are doing some analysis on how this is going.

Measurement and metrics: Last but not least, the way we keep track of how our online content is being read, watched or listened to is a key part of getting all these things right. So one immediate priority is bringing in a new system for this and consolidating the knowledge we have about how the site is used.

That's a quick overview of the various projects going on to improve the BBC News website in coming months. They are all designed to make sure you can keep up with our news output on any device you choose, and to ensure we can continue to innovate and develop it as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.

As I said, these are just the headlines, and there is still much to do. But as these various projects make progress, we hope to be able to tell you more about them here.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.


  • Comment number 1.

    Yay for a HTML5 based video clip player. Just please ensure that the HTML5 fallback is available to all devices that can play it that don't have Flash, not just the ones that can't have Flash.

  • Comment number 2.

    More to the point, could we please have HTML5 as the first choice, and Flash as the fallback - on any device that can support both Flash is slower, less reliable, and uses more CPU/battery.

    Other than that, sounds good to me.

  • Comment number 3.

    I hope the content organisation process includes making more local news content available without searching. Often I just want to browse local news from the past month or two without searching for a specific subject.

  • Comment number 4.

    New Macs do not have Flash installed and I will not install it on my iMac for various reasons so I am unable to watch any video on the BBC - I just get an annoying message about needing to install Flash. Ideally I would like to see HTML5 video as the default, but failing that at least make sure it is available to any device that does not have Flash installed. I am looking forward to the day I can watch video on the BBC.

  • Comment number 5.

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

  • Comment number 6.

    When is the recommend feature going to be reinstalled for HYS as this gives a very clear picture of what others are thinking and when is the Farming Today comments board going to be restored, it is now almost 12 months since this has worked!

  • Comment number 7.

    I'm a very avid reader of this site and find it very good on most levels: content, balance, accuracy and fairness.
    The onbe I think it fails on is layout. The person(s) who designed the page are obviously more experienced at designing the printed page rather than one for viewing on a computer screen. The rules laid down by web design guru Jakob Nielsen are broken as follows:
    1. The layout design is based on a portrait template, yet computer screens are all landscape in proportion. Therefore viewers need to scroll down the page to see what is at the bottom.
    2. The headlines listed under the photographs in the 'More from BBC News' sewction do not line up horizontally making them difficult to scan quickly if you are in a hurry.
    3. The use of lots of white space improves the appearance of a printed page, but is annoyingly useless on a computer screen.

  • Comment number 8.

    More video is fine, but please for the love of the great sky fairy - don't make them start automatically. It uses up bandwidth when on a slower connection, and makes pages unusable at work (my employer is fine with us looking at the news when on breaks, but it has to be silent!).

    As an example, I've had the live text page for the Japan quake open on my browser for several days now; every now and then the video will magically start itself back up again, even after I've pressed 'stop' an hour or so earlier (using Firefox 3.6.3 both on Windows XP and Windows 7).

    Commentary from your journalists is hugely welcome (far more welcome than the uninformed and frequently bigoted comments you'll get on each story judging by other news websites); but can it not be given its own section on the frontpage, similar to the "Special Reports" section?

  • Comment number 9.

    Re the live pages - please can you make them accessible to people who don't want video (for bandwidth or noise reasons) - I often want to keep up with the updating text on a story, but find that clicking on the page starts the video as well, which I then need to stop. Occasionally when you swap between several video feeds, one'll start up later too.

    It'd be far better if you just had a box where you had to request the video if you wanted it.

  • Comment number 10.

    I still like the redesign. Everything's nice and clean and unlike some people I don't find it a hassle using my scroll wheel. Certainly there's a lot of research to suggest that shorter lines are easier to read so I understand why it's been done like that. I don't often have my web pages full screen now anyway.

    In line with the comments above I've noticed videos autoplaying, but only on pages where the video was the main content, so I assumed it was supposed to do that. Sounds nasty if it's happening all over the place.

    I'm a big fan of the blogs, especially where they give an alternative view on BBC content - a great example being Jake Humphrey's presenters-eye-view video blogs. However the same as the twitter guidelines I've heard about, blogs are personal enough that it should be up to the blogger to realise how best to use them, and not blog just because they've been quota'd to post so much a month.

    What's the timeline on moving other parts of the BBC news site (e.g. Sport) over to the new front end? Hopefully before the Olympics!

  • Comment number 11.

    Agree with #9 and #10

    If I want to watch the video or the live stream I will start it myself. I don't want it to start automatically - it is annoying and slows my computer down.

  • Comment number 12.

    The last time you redesigned the News pages there was massive criticism. I recall that the blog entries had many 1000 responses with at least 90 % negative. It seems that at the time this was shaked off as being down to "people do not like change", which frankly felt rather patronising.

    It is disappointing that in the list above there is no reference to the previous experience and any steps to respond to the feedback in this update. I still believe that the visual layout of the site deminished significantly in the last update. I am all for new technical updates, but the visual layout has got to be improved - ideally made to look like it did before!

  • Comment number 13.

    Agree with #s 1, 2 and 4: HTML5 video, please!!

    Although I have the BBC iPad app, not all articles and/or videos on the website are (understandably) available on the app. I mostly use the website, but switch over to the iPad app to see if a video I'm particularly interested in is there, but it isn't always.

    The sooner the better!

  • Comment number 14.

    I feel exactly the same as ironbath, I was sorely grieved by the previous set of changes to the site look and feel and in my opinion the site still looks garish and badly laid out. I shudder to look at it in its current form. I now run a greasemonkey script to restore the site to something resembling the previous incarnation.

    The changes to incorporate more of a social feel are welcome as well as increased use of video feeds. However, the use of flash causes problems to some of the Linux machines I use to access the BBC site. Your recent changes have caused Firefox on Slackware to lock up when showing the frontpage, on Windows, of course it works as it should.

    Overall I am disappointed by the retention of the previous failed experiment to improve the site, at best you just changed it. At worst you bu@@ered it up.

  • Comment number 15.

    HTML5 - great news. Is there any reason why you wouldn't be able to make this the default format?

    BBC correspondents - hmm, will reserve judgment on that one...

    Live Pages - glad to hear these incredibly useful pages are getting an update. They could certainly benefit from some design attention. Currently the iframe just feels wrong - unnecessarily narrow and strangely dated. Also count me as another person who dislikes the video starting automatically.

    Re. the overall site design, I'm mostly used to this now (particularly since additional content such as analysis frequently seeps into that blank middle column) but there is one design element in particular that I think is almost unforgivably dreadful. If you go to this page...'s the way the sub-navigation bar beneath the headline requires horizontal scrolling. Surely there's a better way to present a navigation bar than this? Why not just let the links wrap onto two lines if necessary? That would make the links easier to notice and easier to click. On that page for instance, there must be a lot of people who don't even know you can scroll across to a "lessons learned" link.

    Finally, back to a positive: I think what you've done with reader comments is good. When you first announced you were looking at ways of including comments, I had visions of every news story developing a long tail of ill-informed drivel at the bottom, much like what's happened with Sky News. I know it's deeply unpopular these days to welcome editorial control of user input, but I'm glad you've done what you have in letting the page load on the Editor's Pick, with a separate tab to read all comments. It does a fairly good job of maintaining quality (and before anyone starts, I've seen intelligent conservative and intelligent liberal viewpoints presented there).

    Thanks for the update.

  • Comment number 16.

    HYS has become a fairly bland offerring of late. You seem to be steering clear of controversial topics and doing the Government's bidding.

    We are approaching local elections, an AV referendum, the reform of the NHS, and other key issues and you seem to be ignoring them The Lib Dem conference was ignored, the BMA views on the NHS are just reported with no opportunity to comment on HYS.

    The BBC appears to be towing the line.

  • Comment number 17.

    LINKING - AN IDEA - would you be so kind to make the software OPEN a link in a NEW WINDOW. At the moment you have keep using the BACK BUTTON to navigate back to the BBC site. If you have a NEW WINDOW that you retain the BBC page. Thank you.

  • Comment number 18.

    Correspondent #7 has it just right. Your last webpage redesign filled my screen with lots of white space meaning that I now spend far too long scrolling up and down to see what used to be on the side of each main BBC webpage. Please remember that, unlike on paper, computer screens are significantly wider than they are deep and that white space is an iritation to your viewer if it means they have to scroll down to find the items they want!

  • Comment number 19.

    Keep up the good work, you are doing a very good job. Well worth the license fee.

  • Comment number 20.

    Echoing others....

    Please, please:
    HTML5 by default
    Video clips not auto starting (or implement a cookie that lets individuals turn that behavior off)
    More use of the page width
    A reduction in white space (but not anything like back to the previous version, however)

    It's already a very good offering, but there is still room to improve.

  • Comment number 21.

    Are you guys for real?

    Are you telling us you (partially) introduced comments, are (starting) to work on metadata, are thinking of linking to other websites?

    What is this 2002 or something?

  • Comment number 22.

    One thing that always intrigues me is that if you click on a link to an external website from within BBC News it opens on the same tab, rather than a new one. You must lose loads of traffic because of that.

  • Comment number 23.

    I would love to see HTML 5 video as soon as possible on all the BBC News pages. The less Flash usage the better, both speed and battery are big considerations when viewing pages on the move.

  • Comment number 24.

    I have tried using three different browsers on the BBC News website and with all three of them there is very little difference between the colour of the text of clicked and un-clicked links. They are both a darkish blue, this makes it difficult to distinguish between stories which I have read and those I have not.

  • Comment number 25.

    jek19cat and dr-who-21: the links on the BBC website don't "open in the same tab" - they open however you tell your browser to open them. What they don't do is take that choice away from you by forcing the issue one way. This is a good thing. If you want to open a link in a new tab, then do so; it's entirely up to you.

  • Comment number 26.

    While you're at it, can we please go back to the far more legible Verdana font(as used on this page!) instead of Arial?

  • Comment number 27.

    What video codec are you going to use for HTML5 videos? And I know it's unlikely, but I hope you won't switch completely to HTML5-based videos without providing support for Adobe Flash since the standard codec (I assume you're going to use H.264) will not work with Chrome or Firefox (both are my default browsers).

  • Comment number 28.

    Could we please have a "email Us about somehting on this page" type contact on EVERY single page that will automatically go to the relevant dept/person and give them the URL of the page in question.

    I hate it when I see something that needs attention or comment etc but I have to hunt around to find how to contact the BBC and whether it will get to the correct dept. If you really want interaction on you output make it easy.

  • Comment number 29.

    I'm a bit excited about the mention of HTML5 video - I not infrequently try to watch a video clip on the site, but as or more often than not, it fails to play (usually just a forever-spinning circle-swipe perhaps 65% of the last five years' worth of tries) - I'm in the USA and using a Mac, so I've never known whether it's a Mac issue, whether access would be better if I were in the UK (but, it's fantastic for me to get anything from BBC, being neither a British taxpayer nor a licence fee payer; naturally it's only right if traffic to UK is in fact prioritized), or what the problem may be. Basically it seems Flash is really dodgy, so the prospect of having non-Flash video is highly appealing (hopefully justifiably so). I ardently second the comment begging for non-automatically playing video clips. Sometimes a video starts playing in the background and it's very inconvenient; if I want to watch it, I'll hit 'play' accordingly, and I would expect a majority to agree it's better that way.

    Finally, I do so wish the "social" trendiness would be mostly axed - comments on blogs are mostly by disgruntled & obnoxiously-opinionated blowhards, not thoughtful people or people interested in being reasonable; in my non-unique view this phenomenon is significantly corrosive to public discourse and to social engagement generally (potentially in Britain as well as the USA and elsewhere). I submit that the more isolated we all are behind a screen and the more we consequently see "others in society" to be angry, unreasonable, and careless, the more we ourselves will become disengaged and disheartened with the potential of social engagement and the less we will want to try to be decent, engaged persons ourselves. Personal example: I've written some unusually thoughtful and lengthy posts to BBC blog discussions a few times, fairly foolishly, and the response and other posts largely made me feel hopeless about the state of the world. But, perhaps not everybody out there is as mean and careless and disinterested in being reasonable as the motley bunch who habitually post little screeds online. Nevertheless social perception being what it is, it's really disheartening to have these experiences - I know that I'm not the only one and that in fact many, many people have felt this way at least sometimes in the last decade. So maybe we could do what would be good for ourselves rather that what feels good, and not have so much "social" or so much "internet" in general? It's easy and a kick, but how good is it for the state of societies and our lives? (I'm sure if anything I'll be ridiculed by snide 22-year old hipsters as anachronistic, but the disinterest in thinking directly and perceptively about the consequences of what we do is the big problem here, so I say no genuine points scored for trotting out the typical reactionary laissez-faire McWorldviews.) When "public engagement" is primarily people complaining that the news isn't what they wish it were, and militating for journalists who write what they dislike hearing to be disciplined or sacked, it's really not a wonderful new chapter in human communication. Neither is it neutral and harmless thrills. Big, negative social and cultural change usually happens with lots of the little things that are easy to dismiss by anyone who doesn't want there to be a problem. We're changed more and faster by things others say than we like to admit. It doesn't do us much credit, but that doesn't mean it isn't true.

  • Comment number 30.

    As with others I am echoing the call for HTML5 first, Flash second. It is possible and has been done for some time now. - Provides HTML5 with Flash and Silverlight fallback options that all implement the same JavaScript API. Has subtitle support too. You should fork this and modify for your needs. - Another alternative that provides HTML5 first, Flash second. - My code that implements the core HTML5 to Flash Fallback that both of the above use. I wrote this in June of 2009. You should at _least_ be using this as the core nugget of your implementation and then adding your polish on top of it.

    Just because a platform can run Flash doesn't mean it's there or it's wanted. Many people run a Flash blocker, don't have Flash installed, or it didn't come installed on their computer when they bought it.

  • Comment number 31.

    Will the HTML 5 video format be supported on the iPhone?

  • Comment number 32.

    '28. At 01:12am on 17 Mar 2011, Patrick wrote:
    Could we please have a "email Us about somehting on this page" type contact on EVERY single page that will automatically go to the relevant dept/person and give them the URL of the page in question.

    Nice notion. Totally approve/agree.

    However one fears even a factual correction may get viewed as a complaint, and there is already a vast and labyrinthine system designed to ensure those get progressed in the most, er, 'appropriate' manner without pretty heads getting troubled by facing up to the calibre of what is almost exclusively broadcast only.

  • Comment number 33.

    I see plenty of calls for HTML 5 here when it is not fully implemented on browsers yet. That aside, there are several things the Beeb could do to bring their content up to date with even the most basic of free Content Management systems.

    Proper Templating

    So we don't have this idiocy of older stories appearing in a different template to modern stories. I assume this is because it was decided to store the template with the story, or some other daft idea.

    When you change the template for the site, the idea is that it changes for ALL that content type.

    Image Light Box

    Even on my blog several years ago when you click on my images, the full sized version opens in a modal window - quite why this had not made it to the BBC news site is beyond me.

    Categorisation and Taxomony

    I see this is mentioned above, but again, this is the sort of really obvious content management that has been around for a long time.

    Article Edit history

    It is maddening to go to an article and find it has been updated, but with not comment as to when and so on. Updating content is perfectly legitimate, but it is simply polite to show a record of when it was first published and when it was updated - especially for legal stories.

    I see you want to expand commenting on articles - another thing most people had on news sites 12 years ago. The only issue here is whether you have enough moderators to cope!

    Less White Space

    The current template wastes so much space it is criminal. Apart from making the site look sparse and badly formatted, it increases the amount of scrolling as everything is spread out.

    One Paragraph per Sentence

    This is fine for a headline, but not for the body. It does not make things more readable. If your page is unreadable without spreading it out, then you are using the wrong font. Adding extra space makes it look tatty.

    Other Common Features:

    Email Link to page
    Print Article

    Now you may have copyright problems with some of these, but again, this is old stuff and helps give content longevity.

    Have fun!

  • Comment number 34.

    Just another person who dislikes the video starting automatically. You could fix it on new pages this without appearing to have lost face.

  • Comment number 35.

    wow, all those changes.... but it looks like it is getting even more difficult to "have my say"... I cannot find a way in anymore, other than via one of the editor's blogs where someone has already commented.
    Looks like the only way to have my say or comment other than that now is via sms or twitter. and I steadfastedly refuse to join the latter. shame....

  • Comment number 36.

    I see plenty of calls for HTML 5 here when it is not fully implemented on browsers yet.

    Chicken and egg problem. Someone's got to jump first, and taking that sort of lead on technical matters has always been part of the BBC's role. Any idea how many people had TVs when the BBC started broadcasting to them?

    In any case, the strongest calls have been for HTML5 with a Flash fallback, so it's not as though anyone's suggesting breaking things.

  • Comment number 37.

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

  • Comment number 38.

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

  • Comment number 39.

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

  • Comment number 40.

    If the BBC wish to improve their business blogs they may want to have another individual option running alongside Robert Peston - I don't mean Stephanie Flanders as she does a great job.

    Nick Robinson too? Perhaps he needs more competition on his political reporting from the Westminster village?

    Imagine if Robert Peston and Nick Robinson disappeared tomorrow? Who are they mentoring right now? If not, why not?

  • Comment number 41.

    6. At 4:15pm on 16 Mar 2011, Lynn from Sussex wrote:
    "When is the recommend feature going to be reinstalled for HYS as this gives a very clear picture of what others are thinking and when is the Farming Today comments board going to be restored, it is now almost 12 months since this has worked!"

    I was hoping it wasn't. If we must have this feature, it would be good to be able to "unrecommend" posts.

    My experience of this feature is that it allowed comments that were often dumbed-down and childish to reach the number one spot and that it was misused by fringe political groups in an attempt to appear meainstream.

  • Comment number 42.

    Steve, some really great improvements - particularly the "metadata" piece - having a proper tagging and classification system will make life much easier for those of us who use BBC as a research source of sorts. There is a wealth of content already produced and it's currently close to impossible accessing the relevant material using just google or the BBC search facility.

    About the video, I would be curious to know if people based outside the UK will be able to access these as it appears some of this content is shut out by BBC with geotargeting?

    Mze (South African blogger)

  • Comment number 43.

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

  • Comment number 44.

    Steve, is there any chance of having widgets on the sidebar that would allow us to select twitter feeds from various BBC reporters (that would basically stream tweets in the sidebar from those reporters).

    I imagine users would need to have cookies enabled for this feature, but for those of us who spend a long time on the BBC site each day it would be a welcome addition!

  • Comment number 45.

    "BBC News website developments".

    Welcome to the sister site of crushing HYS?

  • Comment number 46.

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

  • Comment number 47.

    Another request for video not to start automatically. I want to read what's on the page & choose whether or not to watch the video. It's very irritating to have to wait for the video to load before I can even scroll down the page.

  • Comment number 48.

    It's taken me a while to notice this blog post because I rarely visit the BBC news site these days.

    I'm all for the technical improvements you describe - really happy to see those on the way. However, I'm afraid I still loathe the new design. I was really unhappy when it came out, despite previously being a bit of a BBC fanboy. I liked all the previous evolutions, but this one still fails for me.

    I even like the idea of the GVL/GEL - but I don't like the design itself (basically too big/chunky, nowhere near elegant enough and I could go on). I've expressed my views before, but nobody takes any notice. I hope that I'm in the minority and that it is just my taste that is at fault and that most people love it.

    Sadly for me, the result is that I'm a lot less of a regular user than I used to be. I drift through the BBC News site and others from time to time, but they are no longer the *must visit* sites they once were. I now use another site as my primary news source.

    I only hope that in a year or two, the GEL will get an overhaul and produce something better. At that point I will take another look.

    Sorry but feeling sad that my comments never seem to have been heard or responded to. :(

  • Comment number 49.

    BTW, some of us like the white space. Going on to a webpage that is densely packed with pictures, clips and info is a sure-fire trigger for a migraine.

    And leave HYS alone, you phillistines!

  • Comment number 50.

    Perhaps you should also consider making Android apps as a means of improving the website interactivity... This is now being discussed on several Android blogs, with Tablet PC communities in particular wanting to see some cool apps for news & user interaction. I think this is imperative nowadays for any website that wants to keep up with the speed of developments.


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