BBC BLOGS - The Editors

Revamping the Newsround website

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Daniel Clarke | 15:25 UK time, Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Observing an eight year old explore the web at home as part of a Newsround audience research session is an incredibly illuminating experience.

No messing about - he's straight onto YouTube to look up a clip he's been sent. His best mate sits on the floor, flicking between games on his phone and games on the TV played using the remote.

Newsround new website screengrab

Across the living room, his four year old brother nags his mum to unlock internet access on the DS so he can look something up on Google. Which deftly (permission granted) he does.

How does Newsround vie for attention in this ultra-connected reality, with its plethora of attractions?

This is the question we asked ourselves when we began redesigning the programme's website. For despite the ardent hopes of some, the majority of the Newsround audience is not sitting down neatly in front of a computer and carefully typing in our URL.

Most children we've spoken to don't see the internet in terms of websites. It's just a place where they can do whatever they're interested in: find out about stuff they've heard about, watch clips, play games, comment on things, communicate with one another.

Happily, Newsround on the web goes a fairly long way towards meeting these needs.

Our web team provides something unique: a rich and imaginative daily diet of distinctive and original news content tailored for 6-12 year olds. And children seek it out. Newsround is the most popular online brand that CBBC has, and a simple yet powerful way of involving our audience in everything we do.

Children come to our content - most often via a search engine like Google - to engage with our stories, clips and topical quizzes; to post their thoughts when things like the rescue of the Chilean miners or the death of Sarah Jane star Elizabeth Sladen touch their hearts.

With this redesign, we've tried to better understand the ways that children are using the internet now, and to use that knowledge to improve the way they experience our content.

So: we've brought in bigger, higher resolution picture galleries - a website led by images rather than text. We've developed a simplified menu based around terms that children understand. We've made our content easier to find. And we're introducing more intuitive ways of allowing children to engage with and comment on our stories, along with more stimulating interactive puzzles.

Old Newsround website screenshot

...out with the old

We want to know what children think of our new site - and we're working in a way that will allow us to adapt it based on what works and what doesn't. We're planning to introduce new features soon.

But there's more work to do. This redesign goes only part way towards answering how Newsround fully involves itself in homes like that of the eight year old boy and his family, and their array of internet connected devices.

Simply sprucing up your website isn't really going to cut it for an audience who don't know a world without Google and social media - where the web is used just as much for communication as for information.

It would be easy to get hung up on the fact that age restrictions mean we can't currently make use of sites like Facebook and YouTube, but the real question for Newsround is: how do we truly insert our content into the vast conversation that children are increasingly having online?

Being the first to know and share what's happening - from tiny details about your life, to huge things going on in the world - has tremendous currency. But it can be difficult for children to safely navigate such a limitless sea of content and potential encounters, and Newsround - increasingly - has a duty to play a useful and important role here as a trusted source of news and information.

Newsround as a programme was set up nearly 40 years ago with the admirable purpose of informing children about the world in a way that's relevant to them. If it's going to continue to do this, it needs to have the agility and boldness to follow the audience where they're going now.

- For more details on the development of the site see this post by my Future Media colleague Phil Buckley.

Daniel Clarke is deputy editor of Newsround.

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