Our next step in News blogging
Ten years ago this week, an understated revolution started at the BBC News website. It was then, with a general election campaign under way, that Nick Robinson started writing a column on the site. Nick was then in a role which meant he kept popping up on BBC News 24 once or twice an hour to report and explain the twists and turns of the day in Westminster. His new online column was designed to be a bit like that - snippets of information, bits of analysis, even possibly inconsequential observations. It took a bit of a leap of faith on Nick's part to agree to take part, not least because it was extra work for no extra reward, but also because the internet was much more of a minority sport in those days. Fortunately I managed to persuade him that it was worth a go.
The idea became The Campaign Today with Nick Robinson, and looking back at those pages today makes me feel that it actually stands up pretty well. We didn't know if this new format, which was loosely based on the pioneering blogs of the time, would be a diary column, or breaking news, or end-of-day analysis or running commentary - or all of them. But it went down well and later in 2001 Nick Robinson's Newslog was born.
The role blogging has played in news coverage over the past 10 years has been much talked about - we know of at least one thesis which is being written on how we do it here at the BBC - but it's hard to imagine our website without the voices of our Pestons, Flanders, Mardells, Eastons, and yes, Robinsons, with many more besides. The contribution of analysis and explanation the experts of BBC News now make to the site is undoubtedly one of our major strengths. The reason for mentioning this now is that, as we promised earlier this year, this week we are completing what we see as a pretty fundamental reinvention of how our blogs operate.
For some time we've been frustrated that the contributions of our key editors feel like they are tucked away on the site - more number 13 court than Centre Court - and so one thing we decided to do was to start producing their blogs in our main production system. For the past six years they have been created in Movable Type, a specialist blog software, which is why the pages look different to our news pages. This shift promises us extra efficiency and flexibility, and we hope that it will make our top correspondents' analysis feel much more like an integral part of the website.
There will, of course, be some changes. The design and navigation are very different. The text will look more like normal news stories or features. But the content will be the same. Nick & co will still each have their own page, and these will still operate like blog indexes, with the newest entry at the top. You can see how it looks with Mark Mardell's page here which has already moved over to the new design. And part of the plan is to make these new pages the place where you can follow a particular correspondent, whatever form of journalism they are producing. So we plan over the next few weeks to incorporate correspondents' tweets, if they have them, into their pages, along with some of their reports in audio and video, and also where they add "text box" contributions to news stories (see right). We hope that, together, these will make a compelling and new way to follow a story or subject.
There are also changes to the way comments will work, as a result of the introduction of comments on stories across the wider site (social media editor Alex Gubbay explained some of the changes here). With some news stories each day having comments on them, there may be times when a story and correspondent's analysis cover the same subject. To avoid unnecessary duplication and even confusion, generally we will seek to have comments on one or the other. So correspondents' pieces may not always include comments. In addition, in our new system, comments have a maximum length of 400 characters. It's my view that this makes for sharper contributions, though I know some disagree. As with all new developments on the site, however, it's something we watch closely to see if it's working.
Perhaps though the biggest advantage of the changes I've outlined is that it will be much easier for us to include our correspondents' articles wherever people access BBC News - mobile phones, for example, and also in apps. And - we hope - also on devices which will have been invented by the time another 10 years rolls around.
Update, 12:19, 12 May: Thanks for your comments so far. We're working through putting all the new pages live at the moment, but we are taking note of what you are saying - particularly so far about the changes to comments, RSS and the character of blogs. I'll be putting together some responses and will post them here.
Update, 17:50, 13 May: Thank you again for your comments, both on this post and on several of our bloggers' new pages. The issue of comment length is clearly one that exercises many of you. In my original post I said I thought a character limit made for sharper comments, and I do believe that, but I also want to emphasise that it's certainly not our intention to encourage people to dumb down their contributions, as some of you fear. Others say that the changes will make debate harder. As Jan Keeskop says, my colleague Alex Gubbay did spell out our thinking about comments when he said that "this process is essentially about us online focusing more now on encouraging discussion around our content itself, rather than looking to host or manage a community". We are trying to maximise the editorial value of contributions but we do not have unlimited resources to do this. Since it's less efficient to moderate longer comments than shorter ones, length is one of the factors we are taking into account. Making these changes is not an exact science. It is something we are keeping under review, though, so please don't think that your complaints have gone unnoticed.
Changes to the RSS feeds are something I should have mentioned earlier, and I apologise for not doing so. Whereas we previously offered full text feeds of blogs, the RSS feed of the new pages is headline and summary only. I recognise that this is clearly an issue for lots of people, and is frustrating to those who have been using our feeds. The change is an unintended consequence of moving into our main production system, which does not automatically export full text feeds. We are looking at the issue and I hope to be able to come back to you with more detail.
Thank you to those who have made points about how the new page format works - the feedback is useful. We're trying to do something new with these pages, preserving the best of the blog environment while recognising that there is lots more going on with our key journalists than just their blogs. There are also more places that we want their content to reach - more platforms and more devices - and that is one of our reasons for making these changes. There will be more functionality rolling out in the next few weeks, with tweets, videos, and analysis text boxes on news stories being included; development of these pages is by no means finished. It has, however, been cheering to notice examples already where the new format seems to be working effectively, for example Mark Mardell's post here or Jonathan Amos’s post here.
Update, 08:40, 17 June: Thanks again for your comments, and my apologies for not getting back sooner. One of the points made by several commenters was that, aside from comment length, the layout of comments on our new blogs did not encourage discussion since it showed comments with most recent first. It was therefore difficult for people to follow the debate from the beginning. I'm happy to report that since the start of this week, comments on our new blogs are now shown with the oldest comment first, meaning it should now be much easier for discussion to take place.
Giles Wilson is the features editor of the BBC News website.