BBC BLOGS - The Editors

The Great British class calculator

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 16:53 UK time, Friday, 5 April 2013

We've had a huge response to our class calculator this week, particularly across social media, following a major survey by BBC Lab UK. The survey suggests that traditional categories of working, middle and upper class are outdated and we all fit in to one of seven new classes.

The class calculator - which lets you work out where you might fit in amongst the new categories - has attracted about six million page views on the BBC News site, making it the second most popular article of 2013 to date. (The most viewed article this year has been the helicopter crash in Vauxhall in January.) Nearly 1.9 million of those views have come from those of you accessing the site on mobiles and tablets.

But one thing that really stands out is how widely the story has been shared across social media, with more than 300,000 shares so far. More than a quarter of links to the calculator have come from social networking sites.

More than half a million referrals came from Facebook alone, and about 107,000 from Twitter. This is a much higher number than we usually see shared across social media. If you compare the class calculator with the other top stories of the week, usually about 5% of known referrals come from social media sites.

So why has it proven so popular with our audience? Michael Orwell, a producer at BBC Lab UK, worked closely on the survey and said one of the best things about the project was that the audience contributed to new research with top academics.

The calculator itself, produced by the BBC News Visual Journalism team in collaboration with BBC Knowledge and Learning, lets everyone engage with the new model and discover where they might fit in.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

iPhone and iPad app update

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 11:35 UK time, Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Screenshots of the iPad and iPhone apps

On Tuesday we are releasing an update to the BBC News iPhone and iPad app in the UK designed to make the app faster and more stable, with bigger, better quality images on the home screen.

We are busy doing some research and thinking at the moment about what people are looking for in our News apps in the longer term, but we thought that in the meantime, it was important to fix one or two bugs affecting some users of the existing app and to make it a better, slicker experience overall.

We want to make sure the current app remains a great way to get a quick overview of the top stories across a wide range of subjects, easy-to-scan on a mobile and, once the stories have loaded, handy to read offline too.

So, it will now be quicker to start up the app and to update it, and it should feel smoother and faster as you scroll and swipe through the screens and stories.

The larger homescreen images we've introduced serve two purposes:

  • first, you can see what's in them more clearly and there's more room for the headline
  • second, their positioning makes it clearer that you can scroll horizontally in each news category to reveal more stories (we noticed that in user testing some people assumed there were only three stories a section).

There is a new layout on iPad when you view the home screen in portrait mode - designed to show more headlines and make it easier to find the stories you're interested in.

Among the bugs that we've fixed is an issue that sometimes caused the app to get stuck when updating, and another where you sometimes saw duplicate stories within a single news category.

For our product team, these improvements required a fairly major reworking of the app's code. The good news is that they are now working from a more stable base which can be built on with new features and functionality. This revising of our code is something we've already done with our Android app, so we'll now be able to release upgrades simultaneously on both iOS and Android, which are by far the largest mobile platforms for us in terms of users. This latest update is already available internationally.

If you're a user of the app, or decide to try it out, we hope you'll like the improvements we've made. And as we think about our apps generally and plan our next steps, we'd like to hear about what you'd most like to see in future.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Marking 15 years of the BBC online

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 12:44 UK time, Wednesday, 12 December 2012

This week marks 15 years since BBC Online was born. At about the same time, the BBC's news website also went live. The number of people visiting the news site has grown enormously over the years, and here you can see how traffic has increased, spiking at key news events, and how the appearance of the site's front page has changed over the years too. Meanwhile, for the 15th anniversary, the BBC's Director of Future Media Ralph Rivera has blogged about the significance of BBC Online today and the continuing importance of innovation to the BBC.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Mozilla Festival and the fellowship announcement

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 11:40 UK time, Friday, 9 November 2012

Back in July we announced that we'd be working with the Knight-Mozilla fellowship for a second year and invited applications from people passionate about working with technology and journalism, and keen to have an impact in this area at the BBC.

My colleague, senior product manager Andrew Leimdorfer, has this update:

We are pleased to announce that we have decided on our new Knight-Mozilla fellow, Noah Veltman, who will be starting with us in January 2013.

Noah is one of eight 2013 fellows who will all be announced at this weekend's sold-out Mozilla Festival in London who will be based in news organisations around the world, including the Guardian and the New York Times.

There are so many ways that technology is changing journalism that our first challenge is going to be to make a choice about which of these areas Noah will be helping us with next year. Working on new data visualisations and developing innovative content for mobile web will be high on the list.

We welcome Noah to the team and wish all the Knight-Mozilla fellows all the best in 2013.

Election stats - new mobile record

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 13:36 UK time, Thursday, 8 November 2012

BBC coverage of the US election, which my colleague Jon Williams trailed here a couple of days ago, brought the highest traffic to BBC News Online so far this year, and set a new record for us on mobile.

On 7 November, there were 16.4m unique browsers across the website and mobile, 8.1m of which came from the UK. That makes it the highest traffic day of 2012 so far and rivals our two biggest previous days during the August riots and the March Tsunami, in 2011. During the England riots, on 9 August 2011 there were there were 18.2m unique browsers, 10.9m of which came from the UK.

The peak traffic point yesterday was 07:00-08:00 GMT, which saw higher usage than lunchtime, maybe as people checked the results as soon as they woke up. UK usage figures yesterday were 50% higher than the average for 2012, and ex-UK usage was 75% higher than average.

We spent a lot of time working out how to provide the best possible service on mobile, so it's encouraging to see that nearly 5m mobile devices visited BBC News Online yesterday, a record figure for us on mobile, accounting for about 30% of all users yesterday (on an average weekday, we'd expect mobiles to account for about 24% of users).

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Goodbye Ceefax

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 12:05 UK time, Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Screenshot of Ceefax


Ceefax - the BBC's teletext service - finally ends its long career tonight when it is due to be switched off at 23:30 BST. There is more on this, and the history of the service, in our news story today and linked coverage.

As each part of the UK has in turn gone through the switchover to digital and lost the Ceefax service in the process, it has been a long farewell, which I have written about here before.

Now, with the analogue TV signal in Northern Ireland being switched off, the last stage in the process has arrived, and the service will come to an end.

The BBC Red Button services will carry on the Ceefax tradition of providing clear and concise news from around the UK and the world, on demand, on your TV.

Indeed the Red Button service is in the process of being reinvented for internet-enabled TV sets, and this “Connected Red Button” service will combine the simplicity of traditional Red Button with the flexibility and depth of online. My colleague Daniel Danker has written about this work here and there is already a BBC News app for connected TVs which I wrote about here and here when it launched.

At its peak, Ceefax had an audience of some 20 million viewers a week, and as the end of the service has approached, it has received several thousand letters and emails of thanks from viewers.

In a tribute to the clarity of Ceefax’s simple, concise format and news stories, and to mark Ceefax's last day, the Plain English Campaign - which campaigns for clear, concise language in public information - has given Ceefax a lifetime achievement award.

It's an honour to have received so many tributes from Ceefax viewers, and to get this award, and both are a recognition of the skill and dedication of all the journalists who have worked on the service over the years, and the care they have taken in writing every story.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

BBC News on your mobile

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 08:38 UK time, Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Screenshot BBCNews on a mobile


Earlier this year we launched a new version of the BBC News mobile site, making it easier and quicker to use. This week we've begun the process of directing all mobile users automatically to that site. This means that anyone who visits BBC News on their mobile will be taken to the version of the site best suited to the type of phone they are using.

Many of you already visit the mobile site regularly but, up until now, people looking for BBC News on their phone will often have found themselves on the desktop version of the site, which is designed for desktop PCs, macs and laptops - all with much bigger screens. If you are using this desktop version on your phone it can be awkward to pinch, zoom and scan the stories on a small mobile screen.

This image shows how the mobile site displays on a smartphone - compared with the desktop version:

Screenshot of BBC News mobile on a smartphone


To tackle this, we've been working over the past six months to improve and add to the mobile site, taking on board your feedback about how you'd like to see it develop.

We've recently added video clips for iPhone and Android users, and made it easier to navigate the site. (We hope to extend this video service to other types of mobile in the future.) We've also added easier ways of getting to local news and weather services, something many of you asked for. You can read more about those changes here.

So, we're confident that the mobile site now has the wide range of content you are looking for and that it offers a better experience on a small screen than the desktop site, which is why we are taking the step of automatically redirecting mobile users there.

Of course, you may be happy to keep visiting the desktop site on your mobile and if you want to continue doing so just scroll to the bottom of the page and tap on the link for the desktop site. Your choice will be remembered for the next time you visit.

Similarly, if you use a mobile and find that you're not redirected to the new site, you can scroll to the bottom of the page and select the mobile site.

This is the latest stage in the ongoing work by our News product team on responsive design - a way of presenting our content to you in the most suitable way by detecting the type of device you are using and displaying the format best adapted for it. We are doing similar work to optimise the site for tablet users too.

The number of people coming to BBC News on mobile continues to grow. In an average week, 13.3m users worldwide use their mobile or tablet to visit the BBC News site and apps - around one-third of total users to BBC News Online.

If you are one of them, our aim is to offer you the full range and depth of BBC News content, whatever device you are using, whilst also making best use of the screen size.

We hope you'll like using the new mobile site, and if you'd like to leave comments and feedback about it, or have questions, please post them below. Or you can tweet your views using the hashtags #bbcnews #responsive

Update: Thanks for your comments. Here are some answers to the questions posted below:

John Walsh – Kindle: As a tablet device, albeit with a smaller screen than some makes, Kindles currently default to the desktop site. Users of any device including Kindles are certainly free to use the mobile version if they prefer by clicking the link at the bottom of the screen. Our aim is to further improve the experience for progressively larger screen sizes over time.

Jesse Moore - HTC: We know there are some devices that are incorrectly classified by our systems, often due to the fact that some devices have different identifiers dependent on the mobile network they are on. In any case we will certainly be doing everything we can to correct errors and ensure the redirection behaves as it should. In the meantime, please use the “Mobile Site” link at the foot of the page should you wish to use the mobile site – the selection will be remembered as long as cookies are not cleared. At this time the redirect only applies to the BBC Homepage and the News site.

Cogito Ergo Sum - Windows phone: This change applies to the browser experience, which is already designed to work for Windows Phone although at present we are unable to provide video for those devices.

Costmeabob - We take accessibility for our services seriously so, for example, our browser and applications are designed to work with Voiceover on iOS. 

Tim Stey - If you do still prefer the desktop version you can select the link at the bottom of the page and you’ll be taken to it. Your choice will be remembered next time you visit the site. We are working on enhancing the mobile site still further to include more content where the technology allows it - but with navigation more suited to a smaller screen size. 

 Josh Tumath - This blog post might be of interest, about our overall approach to responsive design published in March by Chris Russell, head of product for BBC News Online.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

SEO in BBC News

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 15:11 UK time, Friday, 7 September 2012

For anyone interested in the intricate arts of search engine optimisation and how it works in relation to news, our in-house expert, Martin Asser, has posted some top tips on the BBC Internet Blog.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Applications open for Knight-Mozilla fellowship

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 11:27 UK time, Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Following a successful first fellowship scheme called the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership, we are keen to continue our partnership this year.

If you're a developer or technologist keen to spend 10 months in one of the best newsrooms in the world, the 2012/13 Knight Mozilla Fellowships are now accepting applications until 11 August.

Here's senior product manager Andrew Leimdorfer with more details about the scheme:

It's a pretty exciting time to be involved in the cross-over between technology and journalism at the BBC.

There's the move to the heart of London's West End. New Broadcasting House, with its state-of-the-art Newsroom will be home to 6,500 employees by early 2013. There are new platforms to focus on as the audience using hand-held devices grows and grows. There are new ways of working with data, and a great opportunity to start working more closely with television graphics in our newly created visual journalism unit. Then there are all the emerging technologies for building news apps.

Want to get involved? Turns out you can.

The BBC News Specials team has been hosting a Knight-Mozilla fellow since the beginning of this year. Laurian Gridinoc has been in and out of our newsroom since January, helping us build our election results maps back in April, and, this month, helping us work out how we might develop new storytelling formats using video.

In the meantime, he's also been busy hacking away with the other 2011/12 Knight-Mozilla fellows. He attended SXSW in Texas, the Eyeo festival in Minneapolis, spent two days in Florence hacking TOR before going to Dundee for the OpenNews Datalive hackdays, then back to London for the Guardian's Discovery week and the BBC's News Labs.

If this combination of working on news content for a massive audience, and attending hack events that will put you in touch with some of the most creative people in the industry sounds appealing, then there's just a few weeks left to apply for the 2012-13 fellowship.

The deadline is August 11. You could end up at BBC, the Guardian, the New York Times, Boston Globe, Der Spiegel, Zeit Online, or Pro Publica.

For more information visit the Mozilla Open News Site.

Technical problems

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 11:41 UK time, Wednesday, 11 July 2012

As some of you may have spotted, there's a problem at the moment with some of the data in our "Most Popular" module, where the "Most Read" section is pulling in some older stories (check the story date stamp if in doubt) along with new ones. We apologise for any confusion this is causing. We're working to fix it as soon as we can.

UPDATE Thursday 12 July 13:36 BST

The problem with the "Most popular" module has been fixed.

But, as you may have seen, there was also a major problem for BBC Online overall, with the whole site unavailable for a period of time on Wednesday evening. Richard Cooper, of BBC Future Media, explains more fully here.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

BBC Sport launches Facebook App

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 15:44 UK time, Thursday, 28 June 2012

BBC Sport has launched a Facebook application offering audiences live streams of Wimbledon and up to 24 streams of Olympics coverage. More details from our colleagues in BBC Sport here and a blog post from Aaron Scullion in BBC Future Media, who is seeking feedback from people who have tried it out.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

User generated content and 'Arab Spring' coverage

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 13:37 UK time, Tuesday, 26 June 2012

A BBC Trust report on the BBC's coverage of the Arab Spring has highlighted, among other things, the BBC's use of user-generated content to shed light on those events as they have unfolded.

Protesters in Tunis burn a photo of former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali

The Arab Spring began in Tunisia in December 2010 and soon spread to other regions

In its executive summary the report says: "The great new challenge of the 'Arab Spring', as a media phenomenon, has been the explosion of 'user generated content' (UGC) combined with the need to rely on this because direct access to the story is so often denied or impeded.

"On the whole the BBC handled this well, drawing on its impressive reserves of regional expertise in the Arabic section and the Monitoring service."

The report also says the BBC "made efforts to alert listeners and viewers when such material could not be definitely authenticated, but this should perhaps be done on a more systematic basis."

And a summary of the report's conclusions recommends that "the BBC should consider how it might better share more effectively with the audience the rigorous vetting process to which all user-generated content (UGC) is subjected."

In light of this, it's worth mentioning, for anyone interested in knowing more about how this process of checking UGC material happens, that there's a good explanation here from one of the team working in the "UGC Hub" in the newsroom.

When we have done all we can to check but still cannot be 100% sure, we will sometimes still decide to use the material, whilst making these doubts clear, and the Trust is now asking us to be more consistent in the way we signpost and caveat this type of content. In those rare cases where we do get something wrong, we acknowledge and correct it as soon as we can.

It is significant that the Trust report recognises so clearly the great importance of UGC for our journalism.

We will continue to do everything we can to make best use of the accounts of people caught up in the stories themselves (such as this video, Syria activist: Homs situation 'so bad' and Egypt's Tahrir Square protesters tell their stories), making clear the origins of the material, as well as the first-hand reporting of our own correspondents.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Closing the News Multiscreen on Red Button

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 12:13 UK time, Thursday, 14 June 2012

Interactive TV, in the form of the BBC's Red Button services, has been with us now for over a decade.

The BBC periodically reviews all its services, looking at whether they still deliver value for money, whether they are available on platforms our users can easily access and whether they continue to meet the changing needs of audiences.

For the Red Button video Multiscreen service in particular we also have to consider how it fits with the development of next-generation interactive TV (for example our new BBC News service on Connected TVs) as this starts to become more widely available.

A recent review, undertaken as part of a BBC strategy and consultation process called Delivering Quality First recommended changes to our existing Red Button services, specifically "a phased reduction of broadcast Red Button services, reducing the number of interactive streams to one across all platforms and exploring the longer-term transition to IPTV technologies".

As a result, we will soon be closing the remaining BBC News Multiscreen video service. The date scheduled for this is 20 June. Currently the service is still available to Sky and Virgin Media consumers - a Freeview version closed in October 2009.

A comprehensive News, Sport and Weather text service will continue to be offered via the Red Button, and other BBC News content will of course still be available on the Sky and Virgin Platforms, for example on the BBC News channel. And the BBC's News, Sport and Weather video content is obviously also available online.

Removing a service is always a difficult decision, but at the same time we are investing resources in brand new internet-connected TV services which we believe will allow us to offer far more than we've been able to before via Red Button, with more choice, more content, delivered in more appealing formats. More on these new developments before too long.

Update 15:25 BST, 26 June: The Red Button News Multiscreen video loops have now been closed, but if you are using Red Button you'll still get the full text service, which you can use in conjunction with the BBC News Channel. As I explained above, this decision was taken because we are now investing in a new internet-connected TV service which will, in effect, be the next generation of Red Button. Here are some answers to the questions posted below:

Craig - Facebook's an important platform and we have a page here but no current plans to integrate this into Red Button.

Skywatchman - there's a text version of the paper review which we publish every morning on the website which might be useful for you. The latest one is here and you can always find it by putting Newspaper review into the BBC News search engine.

Cping500, Aspiemum, David Godfrey and Skywatchman - the number of people with internet-connected TVs is indeed still small, but growing steadily, as manufacturers increasingly ship them as standard.

Sunny Isle of Wight - you should be able to watch BBC News video on iPad - clips do now work on the site, the News Channel stream works if you download the BBC News App, and you can also watch bulletins via iPlayer.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

From Ceefax to digital text

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 09:20 UK time, Wednesday, 18 April 2012

People living in London and its surrounding areas on Wednesday joined those in other parts of the country who have gone through digital switchover.

One of the effects of this is that they will no longer have access to Ceefax, which is broadcast via the analogue signal.

Although we won't be saying our proper goodbyes to Ceefax until later in the year when switchover is complete across the country (viewers in Northern Ireland, for instance, will still be able to see it until October), I wanted to send a note of reassurance and a reminder: our digital text service, available via the red button to people who use cable, satellite or Freeview, provides national, local and international news, plus sport, weather and much else besides.

And it is still produced by the editorial team which has long provided Ceefax and the BBC News website.

UPDATE 20 April 11:25 BST

Q Reading your article I immediately want to scream out NOT TRUE! For those of us who use their Tivo service, when we press the red button all we get is iPlayer, hence missing a lot of content. I am assured that by the time the Olympics come around we will have access to Red Button content; I am not holding my breath given Virgin's history of delivering late.

A As of last week, we now offer a Red Button BBC News service on Tivo. It's a full-screen experience that also offers on-demand video, so not an exact replacement for Ceefax, but we hope it offers an innovative and useful way to keep up with the News.

Q The digital equivalent of Ceefax is far inferior mainly due to the fact that you have to watch telly on the screen along with the text - there is no way of switching the telly screen part off. I find that infuriating! Please, Beeb, can you fix this?

A The Red Button service is designed to allow viewers to read content while keeping in touch with what is on the TV channel they were watching. We do not currently offer any means to turn the TV off in the background - apologies to those who find this annoying.

Q The beauty of Ceefax was you could quickly take it in while watching a programme. With Red Button it takes you away from the programmes for a very long time, and this seems a backward step. With smartphones I can access more information quickly without having to switch off the show I'm watching, which makes it look like the Red Button service is almost obsolete before it's barely begun.

A It's true that in many ways smartphones offer a handy way to consume information while watching TV, and it would not be sensible for us to develop Red Button services in a way that simply tries to replicate this. With the design of the new News IPTV service, we are offering a service which prioritises video on-demand over text (though you can get both). We'd be interested to know people's feedback on this approach.

Q I did write about this to the BBC but have had no reply. Last week during the second test there was no run-by-run coverage as there was on page 341. Why is this? If it is as good as Ceefax, why are they not carrying this page? There would never be an issue of live footy scores being carried.

A I'm afraid I don't know the answer to this, but have passed on the question to colleagues at BBC Sport.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Another step for IPTV

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 14:22 UK time, Wednesday, 11 April 2012

We're pleased to say that the BBC News app for connected TVs, which provides the latest news reports, around the clock, in on demand video and text, will from today be available to Virgin TiVo users for the first time. I wrote about the thinking behind the service when it first launched, on Samsung TVs, last year.

There's more on today's launch, and on a brand new BBC Sport app for connected TVs too, in this blog post by Aaron Scullion, Executive Product Manager in BBC Future Media.

Screenshot of IPTV


Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

A new way to access BBC News on your mobile

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 13:42 UK time, Tuesday, 27 March 2012

If you are one of the growing number of people who use a mobile device to access BBC News, we have some important news for you.

This week sees the start of a revamp of our mobile services to make them even simpler and quicker to use, and to make more content available, more easily.

Mobile has become a key way for many people to keep up to date with news. In an average week, for example, the BBC News site and apps are visited by about 9.7m users on mobile and tablet devices worldwide, or about 26% of total users to BBC News Online.

Screengrab three options for accessing BBC News on a mobile

To date, there have been three options for accessing BBC News on a mobile. The experience you get varies considerably depending on which one you use:

1) The first, and oldest, mobile option is the "mobile browser" site - mostly comprising headline links and designed for the simpler mobile handsets which predated the arrival of smartphones.

2) The second is the BBC News mobile app, which has been downloaded from the Apple and Android app stores several million times and is designed to give quick access to the day's main stories. The app allows you to read them offline too, and is a handy way to catch up with the top stories fast, but doesn't contain all the related editorial material you would find on the main site.

3) The third is the full desktop website, which many people also access on their phones. This has the advantage of giving you everything the main website contains, but on a smallish mobile screen it can be hard work to pinch, zoom and scan the content.

Screenshot of most read stories section

Now we are simplifying some of the above into a new service which launches this week and replaces the earlier mobile browser site.

Using an approach called Responsive Design, the BBC Future Media product team for News have built a mobile site which can detect and adapt to your device, giving you the optimum size and format for the phone you are using.

This new site is designed, for now, mainly for simpler phones, although you should be able to access it on any device. It will gradually evolve as new features and functionality are added in coming weeks, to the point where it becomes the default browser for smartphones as well. For those using our apps, of course we'll keep them up to date too and continue to look for ways of developing and improving them.

Kate Milner, product manager working on BBC News for mobiles, explains here in more detail what the new mobile service has to offer, and what to expect next.

People sometimes talk about a "mobile first" view of digital development and this project is a step in that direction, since the underlying technology, design and editorial approach is likely to help shape the way we develop services for tablets and the main desktop site in future too. Chris Russell, who leads the product team, writes more about this here.

We hope you'll like using the new mobile site, and If you'd like to leave comments and feedback about it, or have questions, please post them here.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

BBC News app released for larger Android tablets

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 17:03 UK time, Thursday, 26 January 2012

As the number of people accessing BBC News via mobile phones and tablet devices continues to grow, I'm pleased to report that we have just launched a new version of the BBC News app specifically aimed at large Android tablets. (There's already an app for iPad and smaller 7 inch Android devices.)

In an average week, the BBC News site and apps are currently visited by about 9.7m users worldwide, or about 26% of the total. There are more details here from our Product Manager for mobiles, Kate Milner.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Live coverage on BBC News Online

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 15:47 UK time, Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Some of you might have come across a test page for something we're working on for the BBC News website and I wanted briefly to explain what we're up to.

Screenshot of live event page

During the past few years the "live page" format has become a regular feature of our coverage around big breaking stories. We've used it for stories such as the UK general election, Egypt, the Japan earthquake, Libya and the Budget for example.

These live pages have allowed us to pull together content related to a big story fast, all in one place, and to tell the story as it unfolds. They are constantly updated with a mixture that includes first-hand reporting from our correspondents, tweets, insights from users, clips from BBC interviews, stills, live and recorded video, links out to other sources and to all the key relevant BBC coverage as it is published - graphics, analysis, and related articles. (So we are still writing the stories and articles, but summarising and linking to them as another way for people to find, scan and share the story. And in addition, the live page when it works well allows a wider range of points to be surfaced, more quickly).

The format has been a big success in terms of usage, so we're thinking about what more we could do with it. We think the pages are not necessarily just about breaking news - they are also a real-time showcase of the best of what we (and others) are doing, so we've been wondering whether - and how - we could make this approach work as a regular feature on the site rather than just something we use around big stories. What would it take and how would we need to organise ourselves differently in the newsroom and beyond?

So we're currently trying some of this out - you can see an example here. This isn't the first trial we've done, and it won't be the last, and the approach and format may change, because these tests allow us to get valuable insights into how we might develop it, what works and what doesn't.

One of the key things we are looking at right now as part of the trial is how to bring our social media output and our news reporting - and the teams that do them - even closer together. In fact BBC News Social Media Editor Chris Hamilton recently introduced some related changes, including a reduction in the use of automated headline feeds on our core Twitter accounts @BBCNews and @BBCWorld.

Do let us know what you think - what would you like to see? How do you think the format would work best? I'll return with updates here before long.

Steve Herrmann is the editor of the BBC News website.

Knight-Mozilla and BBC News

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 11:48 UK time, Friday, 4 November 2011

The web has created many challenges for news organisations but also lots of opportunities for telling stories in new and innovative ways. In particular it allows us to bring together multimedia combinations of text, graphics, video and audio, and gives us new ways to visualise information and create interactive graphics.

At the BBC News website, most of this work is handled by a combined team of journalists, developers and designers (we call them the 'Specials' team) and they produce content such as the recent and popular World at seven billion and 9/11 memories from the wreckage..

Now, as a result of a fellowship scheme we are taking part in called the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership, we're looking forward to welcoming a new member to the team. If you are interested to know more, Senior Product Manager Andrew Leimdorfer explains:

News website screengrab

The project, set up by the web browser provider Mozilla and the not-for-profit Knight Foundation, has created a series of fellowships for aspiring tech-savvy journalists or news-savvy technologists (depending on your preference). The Partnership ran a series of "challenges" to select five fellows, who will each spend a year working in "one of the world's most exciting newsrooms".

Working as a partner in this project fits perfectly with the remit of our team. The project's goals are "to advance the best values of both journalism and the open web by continuous innovation. Working together, technologists and journalists can accomplish great things". The BBC News Specials team has a particular focus on this kind of collaborative approach to the production of digital news content for the BBC. In our corner of the newsroom, journalists, designers and developers work side by side on finding new and interesting ways to enhance our storytelling.

Choosing the five successful fellows (who will also be based at The Guardian, Al Jazeera, and Zeit Online) has been an extremely creative three-stage process, which started with a call for entries on the following themes:

  • Unlocking video: How can new web video tools transform news storytelling?
  • Beyond Comment Threads: How can we reinvent online news discussions?
  • People-Powered News: What's the next killer app for news?

Hundreds of ideas were submitted and assessed. The best sixty proposals then took part in a Learning Lab in July where participants refined, combined, and developed their ideas from the challenge.

In October this year the twenty "finalists" attended a really inspiring four-day "Hackfest" in Berlin. This was where the partner news organisations got to meet the prospective fellows and see this group of outstanding journalism innovators in action. It was also a great opportunity for the partner news organisations to get to know each other and begin to open channels of communication about the work we do and how shared approaches to technology might be mutually beneficial.

Deciding alongside the partners which of these candidates should be placed in each news organisation was huge challenge due to the calibre of entries, but also extremely enjoyable task. Everyone taking part in Berlin displayed levels of enthusiasm, creativity and skill that would benefit a newsroom.

The final five names are being announced 4 November at this year's Mozilla Festival, which has a theme of "Media freedom and the Web" and takes place at Ravensbourne College in London.

We'll be there with our new fellow to talk about how this year's MoJo program has gone so far and how we think the project will develop. We certainly have high hopes for the collaboration as we begin the next phase, working with our fellow to continue inventing the future of news.

Update, 09:38, 9 November: Andrew Leimdorfer: I think it’s worth mentioning a couple of points that people have brought up in the comments.

With regard to the BBC’s policy on commenting. The subject of the original challenge set by Mozilla - Beyond Comment Threads: How can we reinvent online news discussions? is not a subject the BBC proposed. Although it’s obviously of interest to many organisations publishing news (the BBC included), this won’t be where our fellow will be focussed as it isn’t something that sits within the remit of the Specials team, whose focus is on interactive content.

Similarly with regards to the comments made by JunkkMale and just-passing-through, the news partners working with the Knight-Mozilla fellowship were not chosen by the BBC. The BBC is happy to be working with the other four news partners, including the Guardian, but this is not a relationship we specifically fostered in favour of any other. Mozilla are very keen to attract other news organisations to the fellowship in the future and one of the main aims of the project is for the partners involved to release code to open source libraries where it could be used by anyone.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

BBC Online homepage redesign

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 10:29 UK time, Wednesday, 21 September 2011

For anyone interested in trying out a new beta version of the BBC homepage, or reading about it, James Thornett who is in charge of this for BBC Future Media has written a blog post here.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Technology and the newsroom

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 12:03 UK time, Friday, 9 September 2011

For anyone interested in how technology can help newsrooms organise themselves, my colleague Peter Coles has posted an informative paper about the BBC Journalism Portal - part of a project to develop a shared set of tools for multiplatform production for journalists working across the BBC.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

BBC News for connected TV launches

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 12:44 UK time, Friday, 17 June 2011

I wrote here a few months ago about some of the things we were working on to develop BBC News online. Amongst these, I mentioned our ambition to combine the on-demand flexibility of online news with the viewing experience of TV, as the number of internet-enabled TV sets grows.

After several months of editorial thinking, design and technical development, today we are launching a BBC News product for connected TVs. The product will initially be made available on the Samsung platform and will be rolled out to other devices in the UK over time. BBC Worldwide will also launch an international version of the product which will be advertising supported.


The BBC News product for connected TV will deliver a series of video news packages which you can select and play via the remote control. You can also choose from a wider range of news stories in text from BBC News online. The video packages are selected by our On Demand audio and video team in the BBC Newsroom, based on the wealth of video journalism already produced by our TV News and Newsgathering teams in the UK and around the world.

This evolution of online news from desktop to living room TV screen draws on our editorial experience of producing earlier interactive predecessors on TV such as Ceefax, BBC Digital Text and BBC Red Button.

It is also part of the overall strategy for BBC Online, outlined at the beginning of this year, which focuses on a series of 10 "products" (one of which is BBC News), that are seen increasingly as "multiscreen" - working across website, mobile, tablet and increasingly internet-connected TV.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Internet addresses and the BBC

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 12:31 UK time, Wednesday, 8 June 2011

You may have seen a news story today about the trial of "IPv6" - a new address system for the internet.

My colleague Richard Cooper has written a more detailed technical account here of how the BBC is tackling this, if you'd like to know more.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

BBC News comes to Android

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 12:12 UK time, Wednesday, 25 May 2011

For anyone who's been wondering when we are bringing out an Android version of the BBC News mobile app, I'm very pleased to say it will be available from today - initially in the UK, then internationally soon after that. My colleague in BBC Future Media Anthony Sullivan has posted more details here.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Making BBC Online accessible to all

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 13:19 UK time, Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The BBC has relaunched its My Web My Way accessibility pages, which contain information about making BBC Online and the wider web easier to use. There's a post about it on the BBC Internet blog from Jonathan Hassell, head of usability & accessibility.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Total outage of BBC websites

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 10:53 UK time, Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Last night, just before midnight, there was a thankfully rare event: a total outage of all BBC websites. We're still investigating precisely what happened, but as I said last night, I promised to keep you updated as we find out more.

It appears the websites went offline when some of the essential equipment that we use to direct people to the site - known as routers - failed. These routers not only act as the main funnel for all traffic coming into the site but also "broadcast" the location of BBC Online so that it can be "found" on the internet.

Normally this would not cause any problems as we plan for events like this and run backup equipment. But, in an unusual turn of events, these also failed meaning that the whole of BBC Online became unavailable. A number of internal services were also affected.

Thankfully we were able to get most services back up and running within an hour, just before midnight.

The outage clearly didn't go unnoticed, with many of our readers turning to Twitter to talk about possible explanations and using the #bbcblackout hashtag on their posts.

We'd like to apologise again to everyone who couldn't get onto the BBC News website last night.

My colleague Richard Cooper, who is in charge of the BBC's digital distribution, has also written about the incident here, where you can leave comments and feedback.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Technical problems

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 00:31 UK time, Wednesday, 30 March 2011

It's not often we get a message from the BBC's technical support teams saying, "Total outage of all BBC websites".
But for getting on for an hour this evening, until just before midnight, that's what happened. We haven't yet had a full technical debrief, but it's clear it was a major network problem.
We'd like to apologise to everyone who couldn't get onto the BBC News website during that time.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Tweeting the Budget

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 16:30 UK time, Thursday, 24 March 2011

The Twitter users amongst you might be interested in this blog post on the BBC College of Journalism website by my colleague Trushar Barot about the thinking behind the use of a #BBCBudget hashtag yesterday for our Budget coverage.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

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.

Eight weeks to face the Taliban

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 09:20 UK time, Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Can you train an Afghan army recruit, in eight short weeks, to play an effective role fighting the Taliban insurgency?

The success of US and UK strategy in Afghanistan hinges on the answer to this because that strategy involves training and equipping the Afghan National Army to play an ever greater role, so international combat troops can eventually leave.

We wanted to find out what this training process is actually like for the raw recruits entering the Afghan armed forces.

Screenshot of Eight weeks to face the Taliban website

From initial concept to finished product

With the help of the BBC Persian and Newsgathering teams in Kabul we decided to follow four young men through the eight weeks of basic training they receive before being deployed.

It took Kabul producer Bilal Sarwary weeks of negotiation with the Afghan authorities to get permission to film and spend time with the recruits, accompanied by BBC Persian reporter Daud Qarizadah and cameraman Abdul Hameed Karimi.

The Afghan army told us no other foreign media organisation had been given such a close-up look at the training facilities or process.

A Taliban attack right at the start of our reporters' assignment highlighted the dangers the recruits face just by wearing their country's uniform. The militants are doing their best to dissuade young Afghans from joining the military.

On the Sunday morning when our team was due to arrive at the training base, attackers ambushed an army bus outside. It was only because our reporters were held up that they were not caught up in the assault, in which a suicide bomber also detonated explosives, killing five soldiers.

The BBC's high risk advisers had already made clear that our team should confine themselves to reporting only from inside the heavily guarded base, as spending time with the recruits outside, whether in uniform or not, was deemed too dangerous.

So this report focuses on life inside the base, the eight week journey from arrival, through basic training, to the moment when they hear where they are to be posted.

We hear from the four young men about why they joined up, what their families think, and their own hopes and concerns, and we begin to get a sense of what facing the Taliban means for them.

We recently published another special report on the BBC News website - Life with the Lancers looking at the training, challenges and day-to-day lives of UK troops in Afghanistan.

This report complements that UK perspective with a view from the Afghan soldiers who are being prepared to take their places.

The report is also running in two separate instalments on BBC World News, and on BBC World Service. If you get time to have a look, let us know what you think.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

New BBC Site Search

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 15:58 UK time, Wednesday, 22 December 2010

You may have recently noticed some changes to your search results when using the BBC News website. My colleague Matthew McDonnell has written a post describing the BBC's Search+ platform.

Read more and comment at the BBC Internet Blog.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Life with the Lancers

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 14:01 UK time, Monday, 20 December 2010

After a year of filming and collecting material, today sees the launch on the BBC News website of a multimedia special report about UK troops in Afghanistan, Life with the Lancers.

BBC News followed four Army soldiers from the Queen's Royal Lancers regiment, ranging in rank from trooper to major, through pre-deployment training and a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

They were given cameras to gather video-diary material, took stills as well, and talked to BBC correspondents at different stages during the year about their experiences. The Army's combat camera team also provided material.

The idea originally came from BBC Newsgathering producer Annette Bartholomew during what she describes as "a routine job" covering the Queen giving out medals to troops in Catterick: "I asked Fondouk Squadron if they would let us follow them during training. They said yes after getting support from Brigadier Richard Felton."

Our aim was to understand what the daily experience of UK troops serving in Afghanistan is actually like, in more detail than headline news reports allow. The result is a detailed picture of the day-to-day realities of deployment, from training and life in camp to going out on patrol and home leave.

For the soldiers, it has been a chance to tell us what a tour of duty entails for them and their families: the painstaking preparations, the basic necessities of camp life, the dangers of operations and the impact of losing comrades.

For us, it has required collaboration between our video-on-demand team, online graphic designers and journalists, regional specialists, newsgathering reporters and producers and the BBC News Channel, which tonight will start showing the half-hour documentary At War: The Soldiers and their Families.

We are currently working on a follow-up project which aims to look in detail at the experiences of a group of recruits to the Afghan army, the force on which the strategic success of Nato-led forces in Afghanistan may ultimately depend.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website. Life with the Lancers can be seen online here; At War: The Soldiers and their Families is on the BBC News Channel on Monday 20 December at 2030 and 2330 GMT.

BBC News linking policy (4)

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 12:30 UK time, Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The question of how and when we link from the BBC News website to external sites is something I've posted about here before and I had a go at rounding up the interesting discussion which followed.

Linking from the BBC News website

From the piece Q&A: The Avenue Verte

Since then, we've done some work on this aspect of our journalism and have recently revamped our guidance to journalists about best linking practice - something one or two others have already spotted and reported on.

The new guidance places more emphasis on good inline linking from news stories. This includes not only backgrounders; in particular, it's about linking directly to the source of a story where possible, such as a newspaper exclusive or a scientific report.

We'll also continue to link to related sites under the sections labelled "Related Internet links" and "From other news sites" (also known as Newstracker), which are now located at the bottom of story pages.

Here's a summary which I have just sent out to our editorial teams, for those who might be interested in our current thinking on this issue:

"Linking to relevant source material and useful additional content is a key part of being a good online journalist. The links we provide, when done well, add value to our reporting. Our objective is to double the number of 'clickthroughs' to other sites.

"There are full guidelines on linking style on the intranet, but they boil down to this:

"External linking:
  • News stories - add inline links to the key source, e.g. report, document, newspaper article
  • Features and analysis - you can go further and inline link to carefully-selected external (and internal) sources that add value
  • Inline links should always make clear where they will take you - for example in this story: 'The study by the Senate Armed Services Committee says this is because contractors often fail to vet local recruits and end up hiring warlords'
  • Use Newstracker on all stories - unless editorially inappropriate

"Internal linking - see above, and also:
  • Add a mini-hyper [a box linking to our own in-depth coverage] or mini-related stories box on all stories - unless the whole story is very short (e.g. six pars or less) or there really are no suitable links. That's because we want to make the depth we have in our related stories visible near the top of every story, not just at the bottom
  • Choose stories or backgrounders that add value when you are adding related stories - not just the latest archived news stories on the same subject, or earlier versions of the same story

"Taking the time to add good links is important, even if it means we produce fewer stories. It is also worth updating a live story with a fresh link if, for example, a key report is published a few hours later. Our aim should be to act as a trusted guide to source material, additional information and further perspectives elsewhere on the web about the stories and issues we are covering."

Looking around the site at our current coverage, there are examples of major news stories with inline links to external source material, including the UK's national security strategy, business support for spending cut plans and a ship hijacking study. Other recent examples include this feature with a range of interesting added links, a review round-up and a backgrounder with a wider range of links to reference material.

Our links in blog posts have always been closer to standard blogging practice; we also have the See Also blog which is dedicated entirely to presenting links from around the web on particular subjects such as Media Brief, Tech Brief and Daily View.

The BBC's overall policy on linking, and on much else, is summed up in the BBC's Editorial Guidelines, the latest edition of which, as my colleague David Jordan discusses, launched last week.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

BBC News iPhone app

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 12:17 UK time, Friday, 23 July 2010

Some good news for anyone who has been waiting for a BBC News iPhone app: the BBC Trust has just announced that the BBC's plans to launch dedicated smartphone applications for BBC News, Sport and iPlayer "do not require further scrutiny through a Public Value Test". This means the News app should be available from later today.

At the About The BBC blog, the director of BBC Future Media and Technology, Erik Huggers, announces the launch and at the BBC Internet Blog the executive product manager for BBC Mobile, David Madden, describes the features - so read on and comment at Erik's or David's post.

Update 1231: There's now a News website story about the app and you can watch a demo with David Madden at the BBC YouTube channel.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

BBC News website redesign (5)

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 15:54 UK time, Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Thank you for all your feedback on the BBC News website redesign. There has been a lot of it, and we'll continue to sort through the comments and e-mails we've been receiving, identifying specific issues we can address and adding answers to the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) page.

Most of you commenting here on the Editors blog have been critical, with many urging us to change the design back to the way it was. Given the strength of feeling expressed in some of the comments, I'd like to explain again, as clearly as I can, what our thinking is.

• Reverting to the old design is not something we're considering, but building and continuing to improve on the changes we've made certainly is.
• We are looking closely at the comments and feedback we are getting on all aspects of the new design, and we'll also be carefully watching usage, traffic and conducting further audience research, as we would after any such change.
• There will be a review process and if changes need to be made, they will be considered as part of that.
• There are a few things not yet working exactly the way they should be - our developers and designers are tackling those now, and we are addressing them in the FAQs.
• The changes we have made are based on careful research and thinking about how the site can work at its best now, and how we can make sure it is adaptable enough to continue to evolve, not stand still.

Along with everyone else on the design, technical and editorial teams here who have worked together to try to improve the site and the systems which produce it, I hope you will grow to like it, if you don't already (and thanks to those of you who have let us know you do!)

Here's what we've already said about the reasons for the new design, why we didn't run a public beta and the thinking behind the design itself.

Many of the specific issues you've raised are tackled in our FAQs page and we've added some further updates there, which are also summarised below.

Thanks again to all who have commented here - I'm sorry I haven't been able to reply to everyone individually. The intention of these blog posts over the past couple of weeks has been to let you know what we are doing, and why. I hope that even if you are one of those who doesn't agree with what we've done, you at least understand a bit more about it.

We'll continue to follow the feedback, and to address specific issues where we can in the FAQs page.

  • Where has Europe and other world regional weather gone?
We are currently working on better ways to present weather in our world regional sections, and hope to re-introduce it soon.

  • Why don't you have a single list of the main News blogs linked from the front page?
We do not currently have a single destination page aggregating all our News blogs, but we link to blogs individually on relevant section indexes around the site, also on related stories and on the front page, depending on the news agenda. All the blogs are also linked to from the right hand navigation within any individual blog post. There is now a new section on many of the main indexes called "Expert Views" which does provide a home for blogs in the respective subject areas. For these reasons we do not currently have a permanent link to all of them on the front page.

  • Can I turn off the Facebook option?
Some of you have contacted us to say that your work computer blocks access to Facebook which is causing you problems looking at our pages that embed the Facebook "Recommend" button. We're working to see if there is an automatic solution to this, but in the mean time, if you would like to remove these Facebook buttons, then you can do so by clicking here to set a cookie. This will tell us not to show you the Facebook buttons. If you would like the Facebook buttons back at any point, simply clear your cookies. If you clear your cookies you will need to visit the link above again to re-hide the Facebook buttons.

  • Why does video slow down my story page download?
Some of you have reported that the video player in our stories is sometimes slowing down your experience of using our site. This will be particularly true if you are using a slower connection, but we are aware that it is an issue and are working to resolve it as soon as possible.

  • Is the site designed just for large screens?
We tested the site extensively on all modern browsers and screen resolutions, however, we have received a number of comments from some of you with small screens saying that the text on our pages is too close to the left hand side of your screens - we are still investigating this

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

BBC News website redesign (4)

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 15:05 UK time, Friday, 16 July 2010

Day three of the redesigned News website, and at the end of a busy week, here's an update on where we've got to.

We've been reviewing all feedback, categorising it, and responding to as much of it as possible, adding the main issues into the Frequently Asked Questions page and summarising them on this blog.

And our journalists have been getting used to the new production tools and different page layouts.

Over the coming days and weeks, we'll be closely watching site traffic data to see how people are actually using the site. We'll also continue to look out for specific issues we can tackle quickly, as we've been doing this week, with updates where relevant to the FAQs page.

Most of the comments in response to my posts here on the redesign have been critical. But, as I've said, we have to assess over time the response of the several million users who come to the site each day by monitoring it in as many ways as we can - this blog is just one of them.

Post-launch reviews are part of any project of this kind: the relevant design, product, technical and editorial people will get together to carefully consider the main areas of feedback and analyse all the data to get as clear a picture as we can of how things are working.

The redesign had a number of objectives such as better presentation of the main stories and features of the day and of our existing local content, and a wider range of video content, and we will check whether we are meeting them.

We undertook exhaustive audience research and user testing before we went ahead with the redesigned site and we hope people will be able to adjust to the changes. If there is something that we find needs changing - based on all the evidence we have - then we will of course change it. That should be part of any post-launch process.

Meanwhile, there are still some things we have not made full use of yet: for example, in-story components such as links to related content and factboxes, bigger image formats and special provision on the front page for a major breaking story.

Lastly, here is the latest round of FAQ updates. We'll continue to maintain this page and welcome further queries and reports of specific issues - with detail and examples where possible.

  • Why is there more white space on the site? Some of you feel there is too much white space on our new pages. On story pages, there are a number of components which we are introducing gradually, so the look of some pages will change slightly as these come into wider use and get included. The additional horizontal space that removing the left-hand navigation has given us also frees up space for bigger images, embedded videos and links to some of our in-depth content. The width of the text column is exactly the same as it was, as we feel this is the optimum width for easy reading. Ensuring you feel comfortable reading our stories, was, and will always be our primary consideration as we develop story pages. The project's Creative Director Paul Sissons explains the thinking behind our use of white space at the BBC Internet Blog.

  • Paragraph length: The length of our paragraphs hasn't changed. We have always kept them short, and sentences too, because on a screen we believe it is easier to scan a news story and read it quickly that way. This has simply become more apparent now that there is more space around the text in stories.

  • Firewalls: Some people have reported issues when using the site within a workplace firewall. For example where the BBC URL is not accessible or issues with the Facebook options. We are committed to making the site as close to universally available as possible, and so will continue to investigate these issues as they arise.

  • Scrolling: Some of you have said you find the new design requires too much scrolling and you'd like to see a "Back to top" button. This looks like a good idea and we will investigate whether we can implement it.

  • Blocked access: Some of you using Kaspersky security software have had problems accessing the BBC website. We have been in contact with Kaspersky and they have resolved the issue with an update.

  • "Local" box giving unexpected results: Some of you have told us that you have come across problems when finding your area in our new "Add My News & Weather Location" box. We are aware of these problems and are taking action to fix them as soon as possible. We hope to have the majority of these problems sorted as soon as possible.

  • Accessibility: Some of you have also been asking about accessibility: there is an FAQ on that here.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

BBC News website redesign (3)

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 15:20 UK time, Thursday, 15 July 2010

Day two of the new-look BBC News website and we've had lots of feedback - here on this blog at yesterday's post, in messages via our feedback form and on Twitter, Facebook and the wider web.

Taken together, it's a mixture of responses - some pleased, some unhappy and many simply taking note of what's different and getting used to using the site.

There have also been lots of detailed queries, which we're grouping together and answering as many of as we can in this page of Frequently Asked Questions. There is also a new post giving a lot more detail on the design from my colleague Paul Sissons, Creative Director of the project, at the BBC Internet Blog.

A lot of the comments at this blog have been from people who aren't fans of the new design - the "it wasn't broken, why did you try and fix it?" point of view. As I noted in my earlier posts, we set out to make it easier for you to find, use and share our content wherever you are on the site. In doing this we researched carefully how people were using the site and identified quite a few things that could be improved on. We felt it was important to address these.

Some of you don't like the fact we've moved away from a design which had become very familiar, having stayed more or less the same for years. We hope that you get used to the new look in time. Others have suggested that the site now resembles CNN, the Sun and, perhaps, other websites with red banners. One of the key principles in the design process has been to make sure it feels like a BBC website.

If you are interested in what other people have been saying, a very early tweet from Stephen Fry kicked off the micro-blogging reactions; Jemima Kiss at the Guardian gives an overview and asks readers for their verdicts and Adam Sherwin has a post at Beehive City with a focus on the social media aspects.

Screengrab of BBC video from TibetHere in the newsroom, we've been getting to grips with the new formats and tools; an example of our new higher-quality video is Damian Grammaticas's report from Tibet and you can see an example of our larger picture galleries here.

So, with lots of help, I've pulled together some of the main questions you've raised and we've updated the FAQs: here are some of the latest additions.

Mobile devices: We're hearing from some of you that the redesign and changes in how the web addresses of stories are made up have caused some problems on certain mobile devices. We are actively looking into this - we think we have sorted many of them already, and aim to sort any others we discover as quickly as possible. The details and screengrabs you have been sending us have been very useful in this process. As with any other technical problems you experience, please let us know the details, providing as much information as possible; this will help us fix any problems you've spotted.

Facebook Recommend button: This feature is not appearing on some stories. We have identified a problem with this function that has been affecting some pages. We have reported the issue to Facebook and are working with them to resolve the issue. Once resolved, the button will reappear on all affected stories.

Accessibility: We've completely redeveloped the code that makes up our pages, and accessibility has been a key consideration every step of the way. We believe that you should find it even easier than before to navigate the site using accessibility tools such as screen readers and to enlarge the type on our pages. However, if you are experiencing problems with a particular piece of accessibility software and the new site, let us know, and we'll do our best to help you. This summer, we are also expecting to roll out an additional suite of accessibility tools which we hope will make your experience on the site even better.

Localisation: Some of you have told us that you have come across problems or received unexpected results when finding your area in our new "Add My News & Weather Location" box. We are aware of these problems and are taking action to fix them as soon as possible. We hope to have the majority of these sorted within the next few days.

Navigation bar: As well as moving our navigation bar, we've also changed some of the things that go in it - which some of you are finding inconvenient. Paul Sissons describes the thinking behind the changes to navigation at the BBC Internet Blog.

Kaspersky security software: Some people using this tool have had problems accessing the BBC website. We are in contact with Kaspersky and they are expecting to release an update later today.

White space: Some of you feel there is too much white space on our new pages. Over the last day, we've been rolling out more of the components that make up the story pages, so some of them have appeared with more space than will be typical. Paul Sissons explains the thinking behind this element of the design in his post.

Browser/operating system-specific issues: We want the site to look great, regardless of which browser or operating system you choose to run. A small number of you have let us know that the site doesn't look quite right in certain combinations of browser and operating system. We believe we have resolved a problem affecting the typeface you see, which should be standard non-bold non-italic Arial by default. There are some other issues we are still working to resolve. Again, your feedback has been invaluable and please let us know the details of any other such problems you experience, providing as much information as possible.

As my former colleague Martin Belam has spotted, we are trying hard to keep across as much of your feedback as we can - so please continue to explore the redesigned site and send us a message or leave a comment below; we will continue to update our Frequently Asked Questions.

Update 1814: I quite agree with those of you who are pointing out that most of the comments at this blog are opposed to the redesign. I was not trying to suggest otherwise. As I said, there are a lot of you who clearly aren't fans of the new design. I was also conveying that across all the feedback we've seen, including e-mails, social media and elsewhere on the web, the overall picture is more mixed. Given that there are several million users of the site, gauging overall response is more complicated than adding up the numbers of comments here - but it is something we will be watching closely and trying to gauge as accurately as we can in the coming days and weeks.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

BBC News website redesign (2)

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 05:15 UK time, Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Welcome to the new-look BBC News website. As previewed last week on this blog, we're introducing a number of improvements from today to our design and layout.

This video gives a 90-second tour of the new features:

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content.

The full range of content is still all here - the best of the BBC's journalism in text, video, audio and graphics - but we've set out to make it easier for you to find, use and share. In summary, and to recap on my earlier post which gives more details:

What's new:
• a fresh, updated design, with more space for the main stories of the day
• better use of video and images
• clearer and more prominent labelling and signposting of key stories, whether you are on the front page or a story page
• a better indication of which are the most recent headlines
• easier ways to share stories with others, for those who wish to, on social media networks

As I also mentioned in my earlier post, some important things are staying just the same, for example:
• all the content is still there: the best of the BBC's journalism in text, audio and video

• the latest news headlines will be as quick and comprehensive as ever 

• accuracy remains at the core of our editorial values

• we've been careful to keep things simple and easy to use; you have told us how important this is

The BBC News website has always evolved to meet the changing needs of its users and as we studied how people used the site, we saw there were things we could improve. For example: flagging the latest stories, displaying the top news and features better, making local UK news easier to find and providing better ways to get to video content.

We talked to audience groups, held one-to-one user testing sessions, and invited several thousand of you to try out a prototype version of today's new design. With this feedback, we arrived at the design you see today.

There's also been some major behind-the-scenes work on our production system which means we'll be able to adapt even more quickly in future, whether to the changing expectations of our users or to new technology as it emerges.

My colleagues from the design and technical teams, Paul Sissons and John O'Donovan respectively, will write in more detail about the design thinking that went into the project and the re-engineering of the production system later in the week on the BBC Internet blog.

And if you are interested to know more about how the developments on the News website fit into the BBC's wider online strategy, Erik Huggers, the director of Future Media & Technology for the BBC talks about that today on the About the BBC blog.

Another important development, the launch of a North America edition of the BBC News website for users in the US and Canada, which I mentioned in my earlier post, is further explained here.

So please do have a look around, and see what you think. Tell us what you like and - just as importantly - what you don't like, and if anything's puzzling you, do ask. If you use Twitter, we'll be monitoring the #bbcnewssite hashtag, and you can message me at @BBCSteveH. We'll be waiting to hear from you.

Screengrab of FAQs pageThanks to everyone who has already posted comments and queries. We've used these as the basis for our Frequently Asked Questions, which we'll continue to update, and I'd like to briefly address the most common topics here as well.

The site has had social media buttons for some time so that those of you who wish to can recommend stories; we've now added Twitter and Facebook Like.

We have been working on making our video play on devices which don't support Flash and hope to be able to roll this out later in the year.

Our story pages are now arranged so that those who arrive at the site directly into a story are offered a selection of top content from across the news website and content related to a given story is now in context within the story body, and at the end of the story.

There's more detail at the FAQs page - and please ask any more questions below.

UPDATE 0700 BST: You might notice as you click around the site that some stories and sections are still showing in the old design. That's because there are still a few areas of the News site which we'll be switching to the new design in phases over the coming days and weeks. Also, old archived stories will still appear as they did when published.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

BBC News website redesign (1)

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 12:20 UK time, Tuesday, 6 July 2010

In the next week or so, we'll be making some improvements to the design and layout of the BBC News website.

Since our launch in 1997, we've worked to make sure the site continues to develop to meet your needs and expectations. This is the latest stage in that process of evolution.

We have focused on design and navigation, looking to see how we can make all the existing content we produce each day easier for you to find, use and share. I'd like to use this post to offer you a first glimpse; you can see a slideshow here.

Slideshow of the redesigned BBC News website

What's new:
 • a fresh, updated design, with more space for the main stories of the day
 • better use of video and images
 • clearer and more prominent labelling and signposting of key stories, whether you are on the front page or a story page
 • a better indication of which are the most recent headlines
 • easier ways to share stories with others, for those who wish to

Some things are staying the way they are:
 • all the same content is still there: the best of the BBC's journalism in text, audio and video
 • the latest news headlines will be as quick and comprehensive as ever
 • accuracy remains at the core of our editorial values
 • we've been careful to keep things simple and easy to use; you have told us how important this is

Millions of people use the site every day and there's clearly a lot that's working fine. But having asked users for input and looked at the way the site is working for them, we decided we could improve in some areas:
 • indicating to those who arrive at the site straight on to a story page what else is latest and best
 • providing more ways into video features and clips
 • indicating which are the latest published stories
 • making local news from around the UK easier to find

This has led us to the biggest rethink of the design of the site since 2003.

BBC News website in 2002

So, here's a summary of the main things to expect later this month:

New look: More space for the main stories of the day, video and pictures. We have moved the navigation from the left-hand side of the page to the top to give more space for stories and for bigger images and video. We will also be able to indicate on the front page if any of our top three stories have relevant related content.

Clearer labelling: More prominent labelling and highlighting of different types of content so you can pick them out quickly on any page.

Story pages: On story pages, we're placing the day's top stories and features alongside the story so that however you arrive on the site, you can quickly see the main content of the day. Related articles and collected further reading will be placed within and at the bottom of stories; we think in-depth analysis and context will fit better there than in the right-hand column where it has lived to date.

Video: A bigger video player, streaming with better quality. We'll place that at the top of the front page, because video is one of the key elements in what we provide and we want to make sure people don't miss it. On video pages, there will be more options for other video highlights, arranged by section as well as by popularity, so that those who want to watch more video won't have to look far to find it.

Latest: The most recently published stories will be flagged on the front page with a "New" badge.

Sharing: Links that allow users more quickly and simply to share stories with friends on social networks including Facebook and Twitter.

Two final things:

We are also launching a new edition of the site aimed at users in North America, coinciding with the changes to our design.

If you are in the US or Canada, you will automatically see a North America edition of the BBC News website, once the redesigned site goes live. Other international users will continue to see the current international edition.

The North America edition will still contain all our existing content, including the full range of coverage from the UK, and news from around the world. Our editorial team in the BBC's Washington DC office will tailor the front page of this edition accordingly, working to provide the most relevant and timely news and analysis for users in North America.

We are doing this after listening extensively to what our users in the US and Canada have said, and with the backing of the BBC's commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, which funds our online service internationally.

And we've done something which will be less obvious to you, but hugely important to the journalists working on the site. We've completely rebuilt the content production system (CPS) which we use to create content and run the site. The new version of the CPS is designed to be easier to use and - crucially when we want to get stories out to you fast - quicker too. It's also built to be more flexible, so it should be easier to keep the site evolving, and to produce the content in ways that work well on other platforms, such as mobile.

So that's a whistle-stop tour with the headlines of what to look out for soon. For the moment, we're still busy training people and testing things. Once the redesigned site goes live, we'll be very keen to know what you think as you start using it. As well as some updates on Twitter, where I'll be using the hashtag #bbcnewssite, I'll be back at this blog to read your comments, answer questions and tell you in more detail about it.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

BBC News linking policy (3)

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 17:36 UK time, Monday, 7 June 2010

Links to external sites are an important part of the BBC News website and I have blogged previously about how and why we are aiming to develop what we do in this area - here and here.

One theme that came up was what we should do about linking to sites which require subscription. There were mixed views; on balance, you seemed to be in favour of us providing the most relevant links, wherever they are, with some saying they'd like us also to flag links which require subscription if you follow them.

That is broadly the direction we are going in. As the Times moves into online subscription and others consider the options - see, for example, this piece about the New York Times - there is likely to be a changing landscape with some sites and stories behind paywalls, some not, and some which are in between - a certain number of visits or part of an article free, all depending on the user's individual circumstances.

Screenshot of NewstrackerOur approach will continue to be to take editorial justification as our guiding principle - the relevance of the link in relation to the story we are reporting and its usefulness to you in that context. Beyond that, we will, where practical, aim to tell you if the link is going to a subscription site. Our automated Newstracker module, for example, should be able to do this and already signals when registration is required.

For in-line links in blog posts and news stories, it may be impractical to do this for reasons of space, layout or time. Whatever we do, though, we will look for the best and most useful links for you, while following our approach to external links - which you can find at the bottom of every page.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Webby Awards: Thank you

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 10:45 UK time, Friday, 14 May 2010

We've been so busy with election coverage in recent days that I neglected to stop by here to thank anyone who voted for us in the Webby People's Voice awards this year.

The 2010 winners were announced on 4 May and we have won the website category for News, which we've had the privilege of winning for several years in a row; this year, we also won the People's Voice award for our mobile site.

Congratulations to the New York Times, which won the judges' award in both categories. It is an honour for us to have been voted winner of the News People's Voice Webby. We hugely appreciate it, and your support.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

What is Gordon Brown's legacy?

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 18:30 UK time, Tuesday, 11 May 2010

OK, things can't always go quite right. Notwithstanding record traffic to the BBC News website and the epic news events which continue to unfold as I write, we had a small glitch earlier today when we inadvertently published a page template which carried the headline "What is Gordon Brown's legacy?". And nothing else. This caused a bit of mirth on Twitter and elsewhere.

What is Gordon Brown's legacy?

What we actually meant to publish was this rather more detailed and informative round-up of what commentators are saying on that subject. The inadvertent blank page has been removed. Apologies.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

A new record

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 12:11 UK time, Saturday, 8 May 2010

As post-election events continue to unfold, we've just got some preliminary figures in for traffic to the BBC News website across the whole of yesterday, Friday 7 May. So, according to the data we have in so far:

  • We had 11.4m individual users to the BBC News website on Friday - approximately - so that breaks our previous record of 9.2m (that was on 5 November 2008 for the Obama election victory)
  • There were about 30m page views for the constituency results pages
  • Over 100m page views in total
  • About 6.5m page views to the election live page
  • The search for your result by postcode peaked at about 36,000 searches per minute, and we scaled it up to cope
  • The search by name peaked at around 36,000 searches per minute too
  • So a total of around 1,200 searches for a constituency result were happening every second at peak
  • The mobile election results pages had more than 1m page views
  • Finally, and the figure is still a rough one, it looks as though there were more than 9m requests to play video over the course of the whole day.

Current traffic to BBC News website

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 11:20 UK time, Friday, 7 May 2010

As the story of the election continues to unfold, we're seeing unprecedented levels of traffic to the BBC News website - it's looking like more than five million users since midnight according to the data we have so far, and thousands of searches every minute on our constituency result pages.

For such high usage, it's all been working pretty smoothly on the technical front, and we're working hard to make sure it stays that way. If the site is a bit slower for you at any time today, that's why.

Oh, and our journalists are also flat out bringing you the results, reaction and looking at what the outcome means across the UK. It's all at

Update, 21:00: We've had the highest ever level of traffic in a single day to the BBC News website today - according to our provisional data so far, at the time of writing this, there have been more than 10m users on the site since midnight. Our previous day record was about 9.2m unique users, on 5 November 2008 for the Obama election victory.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

BBC News online coverage of prime-ministerial debate (2)

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 15:01 UK time, Friday, 30 April 2010

As parties and pundits pick over the last of the three prime-ministerial debates broadcast last night, we've taken a quick look at viewing figures.

As we've reported, an average audience of 8.4m people watched the BBC's debate on the economy, according to early overnight figures.

Online, it looks from our provisional figures as though we had around 3.2m UK unique users visiting the BBC News website yesterday and just under 3m internationally. The live coverage page on the build-up and the debate itself received around 850,000 UK pageviews and the live stream had over 350,000 plays - more than either of the previous two debates.

For the first time, we ran the live stream directly on the BBC News Facebook page, from where it could be shared, and it was also on their Democracy UK page.

We made it available to other sites too - including several UK newspaper sites, Yahoo, Fox News and the New York Times. Following the debate there's an on-demand version also available to embed. On our own site, we're currently linking on the front page to a searchable video and transcript of the debate.

Alongside the video last night, we provided rapid updates via Twitter and our live page from BBC correspondents because we see them as a valuable extra element. In fact there are a few things which can come together for a live event like this on the web; getting the ingredients right, and laying them out clearly, is an interesting challenge.

Some of the ingredients might be:

• the live video stream of the event, assuming there is one
• a stream of rapid updates in text - these also work well on mobile and for anyone who can't see the video
• snippets of quick analysis and explanation by experts from the BBC and elsewhere
links to interesting or useful content elsewhere on the web
• the key points boiled down: facts, figures, statistics

Another could be the ability to discuss the event with your friends on the same page, or to see what others are saying. And what about the ability to vote or register instant feedback? Would that ever be relevant for you when following news events?

Maybe if we included all of these things, it would just be too much. After all, you're trying to focus on the actual event. What's the right mix? What do you look for when you're following a big event online?

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

BBC News online coverage of prime-ministerial debate

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 13:10 UK time, Thursday, 29 April 2010

As the election campaign enters its final week, we're gearing up for election night coverage and of course the last of the prime-ministerial debates, hosted this time by the BBC.

Election 2010The debate will be live from 2030 BST on BBC One, the BBC News website, BBC News channel and Radio 4.

On the BBC News website, alongside the video stream we'll have live text reporting and analysis, an optional view of instant audience reaction via an "audience worm", and we're aiming to run the stream on the BBC News Facebook page. The code enabling other websites to embed the video will also be made available.

After the debate, online we'll stay with the BBC's TV coverage of the reaction and we'll bring you assessment of how it went from the BBC's correspondents and other commentators. Don't forget that if you're on Twitter, you can follow the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg (@BBCLauraK), Rory Cellan-Jones (@BBCRoryCJ) and Jon Sopel (@BBCJonSopel), as well as our overall @BBCElection account.

A few hours later, we'll also make the whole hour-and-a-half debate available on demand as a searchable "video transcript", an application we first used last week which allows you to search the video for key words or moments, or to see the main points by subject.

Last time I blogged here about a few of the things we'd developed for the campaign coverage - thanks for your responses and comments. A number of you thought, as we entered the campaign, that there would be too much coverage.

That assessment probably depends on how interested you are in the election, but our stats have shown a good level of traffic to election stories, with about 3.25m UK users to the election site last week, for example. According to our latest audience research, two-thirds of the BBC's audience thinks we are doing about the right amount of coverage.

A couple of the features on the election website that I am pleased to see have been consistently well-used are the Where they Stand guide to issues (party by party) and the Seat Calculator.

And for those who remain resolutely more interested in other news, it's obviously true that we've had plenty of room for that too; in fact, the volcanic ash cloud story broke a record for the busiest ever weekend day on the BBC News website - with 5.5m global users visiting the site on Sunday 18 April.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

BBC News online coverage of Election 2010

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 13:54 UK time, Tuesday, 6 April 2010

As the 2010 general election campaign officially gets under way, I thought it might be useful to give you a quick summary of how we'll be covering it on the BBC News website, and the key features you can expect; the BBC's coverage plans as a whole are outlined at the press office.

Election 2010On the website, our aim is to bring you all the best of the BBC's election output so you can follow what promises to be a hard-fought, engaging and fast-moving campaign online and on your mobile.

Our focus will be on up-to-the-minute live reporting and video of all the key moments, as well as in-depth information, analysis and context to help make sense of it all. And our web designers and developers have helped us come up with a number of new ways to present the story as it unfolds.

A new release of our live page means you can keep in touch with key developments and events wherever you are - in running text updates, video and audio. The page will be updated throughout the campaign by BBC journalists across the UK, with video and audio streams of all the key live events

To explain the background to stories and issues, we've developed a set of interactive features, including a Where They Stand policy comparison, a tracker for all the latest opinion polls, as well as guides to voting, what happens at Westminster and what a hung Parliament is.

There will be analysis from BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson, blogging throughout the campaign, and our other political reporters across the UK. A Reality Check feature will test the campaign claims and promises as they are made. On Twitter, you can follow Rory Cellan-Jones as he reports on how digital technology is affecting the campaign, and the live campaign reporting of BBC News Channel Chief Political Correspondent Laura Kuenssberg.

Our teams across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are covering the campaign around the country and you can find latest campaign news for where you live on your local news index and constituency pages.

You can tell us what you think about what you've seen and heard in our Have Your Say debates, on Facebook and on Twitter. And if you feel like it, you will be able to tell the world - in video - what you think should be done by the next occupant of No 10 - in If I Were PM.

When the results come in overnight on 6 May and into the next day it'll all be at - a fast and comprehensive service of latest results on your PC, laptop or mobile, along with the BBC's special TV and radio programming.

So when you get a chance, have a look around; we hope you'll like what you find.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

BBC News linking policy (2)

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 15:27 UK time, Thursday, 1 April 2010

I recently posted some thoughts and questions here about external linking from the BBC News website, and there are a lot of interesting and useful responses.

Example of Related LinksI want to answer some of the questions you raised, and also pick what I think are the main themes in the responses, and use these to help frame what we do next. Thanks to all of you who have contributed so far.

Links policy: There are some questions on our policy about linking to sites with contentious content. This is currently summed up as follows in our editorial guidelines:

"BBC sites which cover a controversial or public policy matter may offer links to external sites which, taken together, represent a reasonable range of views about the subject. We should ensure that when we link to third party sites that we take into account any concerns about potential breaches of the law eg defamation or incitement to racial hatred, or the BBC guidelines on harm and offence."

This question will also be covered in the new draft guidelines [754KB PDF] due to be finalised and published later in the year.

Hosting source documents: On whether we should host or mirror certain source documents (government reports, budget documents, for example) or
simply link: we are keen to simply link when possible, and we are talking to Directgov, for example, about making sure this works well. But if, on any occasion, the best way to ensure quick and simple access for you looks like hosting them ourselves, that's what we'll continue to do.

Languages: Some of you ask about linking to non-English sites. We
are going to add more numerous and prominent links to our own BBC websites in different languages at index level soon. At story level, it depends on the journalist being able to read, check and understand the content he or she is linking to.

Subscription sites: There seem to be mixed views among those of you who have replied to this question, but a number of you say that if we link to content which must be paid for, we should label it as such. We are still working on this. Currently the Newstracker module indicates if the link is going to a site that may require registration.

Opening in new windows: Quite a bit of debate in the responses. Our current standards across the BBC site are not to automatically open new windows for links, on the basis that we are leaving you to control how many browser windows you want open and how you use them.

Screenshot of guideline on opening new windows

Enabling comments on stories: So people can tell us what they know, what they think, or indeed suggest different links to add, we are aiming to get a system in place to allow us to do this efficiently before too long for a wider range of our stories.

On Newstracker: Interesting feedback on our Newstracker module - some of you see it as of limited value; there's a suggestion that, rather than news stories, we include more comment and analysis from other sites (including blogs) and that the module should remain ("frozen") on archived stories, rather than automatically dropping off as it does now. We'll look into these suggestions.

References and sources for science reports: You've made a lot of interesting suggestions on this area, which we'll be weighing up in detail, for example:

• Add inline links (embedded in the story) direct to the source information wherever this is available
• A collection of all links related to the article alongside or at the end of the article
• Provide citation details for our sources (eg authors, publication number, date, etc) especially if, for whatever reason, we can't link to them
• Don't report on research until a full peer-reviewed paper is published
• Highlight when stories are not based on published peer-reviewed evidence
• Make use of the Digital Object Identifier System and/or Pubmed
• Help put greater pressure on the scientific publishing industry to make scientific research available to the taxpayer

A couple of other comments which I want to respond to on linking from science stories:

WhitewaterOregon acknowledges that good linking takes time:

"I was astonished to see a BBC reporter at a science conference taking the time to fill out the linking sidebar for a story he was filing. Had always assumed this was the editors' job. I wonder how many readers realize the extra lengths your reporters go?"

It is certainly true that adding good links takes time, and this may affect the speed of the story, or even the range of stories we have time to do, but it is and should be an integral part of the process. Giving people access to the data that lies behind stories should be an important priority for us. It's something we are doing more of as more data is made available, for example by public bodies. But we also want to get new lines out quickly, alerting you as soon as we can to new developments. So I think we need to balance both these things.

Dr Lee Hulbert-Williams said we should have more science graduates writing science stories so we don't sensationalise them. We have got specialist journalists and they are well qualified. But they do not write every single science story on the website, because they aren't here 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Wherever possible, though, they do write them, or check them or follow up.

Linking in general: There seem to be lots of shades of opinion here. Many of you want us to link more; others appreciate the links we already have; one or two don't want more, or even any. There is support for good, relevant links embedded within the text of our stories, but also for the "links box" area where we collect together the relevant links on a story.

These are some of the comments that highlight areas we need to consider:

Shevek wrote:

"I appreciate the separate links section because it means I can easily see a set of references; something not possible if the links are only embedded in the text and must be discovered serendipitously."

Boilerplated likes the format of an "info box" - or even "history box" containing the relevant links - "the only problem... is that there is hardly ever room for raw URLs." The idea of an info box or history box is intriguing and I think it could be a good way of evolving what we do now.

Matti Koskimies wrote that, "while it seems from the comments that a lot of people are favouring embedding links within the story, I would advise strongly against it." He says hypertext traditionally means this sort of linking, "but the origins of hypertext are not in news articles", where he argues they can distract the reading process because they are in a different colour than the normal text. "You may think of it as insignificant, but it's not. You wouldn't want to read a paper article with random words or partial sentences in blue color either." He goes on to make clear he's completely in favour of even more linking, but in a separate area, which "a) keeps the article itself easy to read through, b) centralises all the links into one place where they are easy to go through, c) allows for better semantics e.g. for search engines - you can give the link the same name as the title of the page instead of some random part of a sentence".

I think this is also an important point for us to consider. In a nutshell it describes why we have traditionally not included embedded links in news stories, and why even now we include them mostly just in background and reference articles.

The opposite point of view is well expressed by blahedo who says "the problem with linking on the side has always... been that you only find links if you go looking for them. This always seems twice as egregious when the article itself is *about* a website, and then I have to go hunting in the sidebar for the actual link to the website - and sometimes the link labels are not perfectly obvious".

The comment pinpoints the kinds of links which might work best as embedded: "when linking to a website under discussion (when the website itself is the article topic), a document under discussion (eg the Pope's recent Ireland letter), or some sort of scientific development."

This seems to me like a pretty good starting point when considering what links should be embedded in a story.

jack_hatfield says he is torn about where links should go: "Currently, the stories are lovely uncluttered blocks of text, but consequently I never notice or click on the related links because they're in a completely different place. I think inline links should be kept to a minimum and only used for relevant stuff like sources."

Pogal says we should make every effort to link to a publication when we are reporting exclusive - pointing out that this may have come from a local or regional journalist. It's hard to disagree with that.

Guide to linking: Megan suggests that, as a growing number of students use the internet for research, we should have "an authoritative article on how to quote, cite and reference material found online" Megan, this looks like a good idea to me - I'd be interested to know what advice you've given to your students, and what other similar guides others know of.

Context: Lastly, David Smith makes a point about the way we provide context on news stories.

"Sometimes I read a news story where the news stops after the first couple of paragraphs and the rest of the page is filled with context. It's right to provide this information, but there seems to be an old-media desire to keep each story standalone, as if in print. In some cases this is entirely appropriate (eg obituaries); in others, I feel it would be better to use a timeline approach: each story tells you what's new and links to a (probably auto-generated) timeline giving you the context."

There's been a discussion about context and journalism at the recent SXSW conference in the US and this is an area we're thinking hard about, both in relation to linking and in general. Any thoughts on this and what you think works best would be welcome.

If you've read this far - thanks for your perseverance, and for taking an interest in how we do things.

The next step for us will be for a few journalists, designers and developers to get together to go through the points above, look at some examples - good and bad, ours and others - and work out what should change. There could be some "quick wins", which I can report back on soon; other things may take a bit longer. I'll keep you posted on how we get on, and we're still interested in your thoughts and ideas on this.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

BBC News low-graphics version

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 15:10 UK time, Tuesday, 23 March 2010

We're changing the way we offer simplified versions of our stories for those with reading difficulties, or who prefer a low-graphics page for other reasons.

My colleague Anthony Sullivan, who is executive product manager for the News website, has explained the changes at the BBC Internet Blog; you can read on and comment there.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

BBC News linking policy

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 13:03 UK time, Friday, 19 March 2010

How often do you click on the external links we add to stories on the BBC News site?

How useful are they, and how could they be better?

We are looking at the way we do links to other sites, and I'm interested to know what you think.

Linking has always been an important part of what the BBC News website does. We've included links on the right-hand side of stories since the site's earliest days.

Much has changed since then, and the value and importance of links has grown with the diversity and richness of the web.

The BBC Strategy Review [1.40MB PDF] recently unveiled by director general Mark Thompson set as one of its goals a major increase in outbound links from the BBC website - a doubling of the number of "click-throughs" to external sites from 10 million to 20 million a month by 2013.

Elsewhere, there has been a detailed debate, specifically about how we link to articles in scientific journals. If you want to catch up with that, it's been taking place at Ben Goldacre's tumblelog and in Paul Bradshaw's post at the Online Journalism Blog.

So for various reasons it feels like high time to take stock.

This is a summary of the current guidance (some of it a reminder of existing best practice), which I sent round to BBC News website journalists a few months ago:

• Related links matter: They are part of the value you add to your story - take them seriously and do them well; always provide the link to the source of your story when you can; if you mention or quote other publications, newspapers, websites - link to them; you can, where appropriate, deep-link; that is, link to the specific, relevant page of a website.

• Remember to add the automated "Newstracker" (the "From Other News Sites" box which appears on the story right-hand side) to stories unless editorially inappropriate or if there simply are no relevant links.

Screengrab of Newstracker• Add relevant links into the text of background and analysis articles, such as this collection of backgrounders on coping with financial difficulties.

• Where we have previously copied PDFs (for full versions of official reports and documents, for example) and put them on our own servers, we should now consider in each case whether to simply link to PDFs in their native location - with the proviso that if it's likely to be a popular story, we may need to let the site know of possible increased demand.

• Make use of the new "See Also" blog which has been providing a daily run-down of debate in the newspapers and elsewhere about the topical issue of the day, and which we use to enhance our own stories with links to off-site comment and analysis.

On linking to science papers in particular, we don't currently have a specific policy, but the simplest principle would seem to be that we should find and provide the most relevant and useful links at time of writing, wherever they are - whether it's an abstract of a scientific paper, the paper itself, or a journal.

There is some devil in the detail as far as this goes, though. First and foremost, we're often reporting a story before the full paper has been published, so there may not yet be a full document to link to; some journals are subscription-only; some have web addresses which might expire.

For these reasons, we have so far generally opted to link to the front page of the journal, assuming this is going to be the most reliable and useful jumping-off point for readers.

But overall, whether it's linking to science papers, or linking in general, we want to find the best approach. So here are a few questions we'd love to know the answers to:

• Which external (that is, non-BBC) links do you value most on our stories? (For example, links to the source material for government reports and science papers; links to other related news coverage; related commentary and analysis.)

• Where do you think the links should live? Separated slightly from the story text (for example, in a box alongside the text) or embedded within the text itself? Would it bother you if we put links - whether to our own content or articles elsewhere - into the body text of all our stories, or do you wish we'd done that ages ago?

• For scientific papers, should we link to a journal's front page, or the scientific paper itself, or both? If the full paper isn't available, should we link to the abstract in cases where it's available?

• Would you mind if what we link to requires registration to access it? Or if it's behind a paywall, and requires subscription or payment? And would you expect us to tell you that before you got there?

It would be great to hear your views on any or all of these points.

One thing seems clear already - summed up by Henry, a contributor to one of the discussions I mentioned earlier: Our role as an archive and resource is becoming as important to many of you as the more traditional role of reporting the latest news headlines. You can help us work out what that means for our day-to-day work as journalists.

Update 1 April: I have written a follow-up post here.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

SuperPower: BBC and Global Voices

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 08:55 UK time, Monday, 8 March 2010

You may notice an extra feature on some of the news stories on the News website in the coming days.

As part of the BBC's SuperPower season - a special series on the internet - we will be teaming up with Global Voices, a non-profit blogging network of citizen journalists, to present a different range of perspectives and commentary from around the world.

We are no strangers to involving a range of voices in our newsgathering process - and we have long incorporated into our journalism the knowledge, eyewitness reporting and opinion of our audiences in the UK and internationally.

But we think Global Voices, which specialises in giving individuals the tools and support to comment and report on the issues that matter to them, could add an interesting extra dimension to some of our news coverage.

So over the next two weeks we'll be selecting from, and linking to, relevant posts from Global Voices' network of 200 bloggers and citizen journalists and we'll also be asking Global Voices editors to give their views on how the mainstream media handle the news.

I think a good point is made by Ivan Sigal, Global Voice's executive director, when he says:

"The idea that citizen journalism is somehow opposed to or in conflict with traditional journalism is now clearly past; it's evident that both exist in symbiotic relationship to one another, with many opportunities to collaborate on the creation of news, storytelling and distribution of content."

This will be a chance for us to explore that relationship. See what you think.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Our new arts blog

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 15:26 UK time, Monday, 1 February 2010

Screengrab of Will Gompertz's blogI'm delighted to say that Will Gompertz, the recently-appointed arts editor for BBC News, is launching a new blog today. You can find Gomp/arts here and it will have a permanent home on the BBC News website.

This is the first move towards giving a higher-profile and more consistent focus to our arts reporting in general; in his first post Will outlines his thinking about what he'll be covering.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Reporting Afghanistan casualties

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 17:13 UK time, Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Recently, some of you have been in touch about how we report casualties in Afghanistan, some of those messages following Jon Williams' recent post here on the death of British journalist Rupert Hamer.

As a response, my colleague Caroline Wyatt, BBC defence correspondent, has written a post on our reporting of Taliban casualties.


Caroline WyattBy Caroline Wyatt

In our coverage of Afghanistan, we at BBC News do not generally report the numbers of Taliban or insurgent casualties and fatalities, because there are no reliable or verifiable source figures available.

Without accurate figures, any estimates or reports would be speculative - and likely to be inaccurate.

We do, however, report the deaths of British service-people and of servicemen and women from other nations within the Nato-ISAF coalition, as well as the number of injured when those figures become available, because reliable figures are released regularly by Nato and the individual coalition members.

The BBC also reports civilian casualties within the conflict in Afghanistan, while trying to make clear that it is often difficult to gauge exact numbers, and that those numbers may change with time as initial reports of civilian deaths are more closely investigated.

Within more remote provinces of Afghanistan, reliable numbers may be unclear for some time after the original reports of deaths are reported or made public.

Any apparent inconsistency in the reporting of deaths resulting from the military campaign in Afghanistan is not the effect of bias on the part of the BBC or its correspondents or editors.

It reflects the fact that it is Nato policy not to deal in "enemy body-count" in Afghanistan, for a variety of reasons.

Nato says that it does not "keep body-counts" of insurgents killed by coalition forces because it "does not regard 'body-count' as a metric of progress", and it believes the number of insurgent deaths or injuries "does not equal success" in a counter-insurgency campaign the main stated aim of which is now to protect the Afghan people.

Nato and its individual coalition partners do, however, release news of each ISAF nation's own military fatalities to each nation's media - hence the reporting of Nato casualties.

Nato says the Alliance does so because it believes that a free press is one of the central tenets of democracy, and that the public in every troop-contributing nation has the right to that information on its armed-forces activities.

The only exception is that Nato will, from time to time, release information on what it terms "high-value targets", when members of the insurgent leadership are targeted - information which the BBC reports.

BBC News endeavours to report the conflict in Afghanistan fairly and impartially. Without accurate figures on Taliban deaths being made available, we are unable to report those with any degree of certainty - and so prefer not to mislead with guess-work.


Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

News website's Education and Family section

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 08:13 UK time, Tuesday, 12 January 2010

We're making a change to the Education page on the BBC News website - this week, it will become "Education and Family".

Screenshot of BBC News Education and Family websiteThat's because we'd like to be able to feature a wider range of stories linked to education on this page along with our general education coverage. Examples include news about parenting, about issues affecting elderly people, young people's lives, child development, social trends and family life.

Of course, these areas are already covered by BBC News - the specialist news correspondents who report on education for the BBC also cover family and social policy - but on the website, these stories have not, up to now, had a common home. By broadening the remit of the Education page to include them, we hope we'll make such pieces easier to find for those who are interested in them.

We'll still be covering all the education news we do now - from stories about the very young, through to college and university students and adults returning to learning. And we'll continue to look at how policy affects all these areas. We'll also continue to make it easy for you to find out about the performance of your primary or secondary school.

I hope you approve of the changes - please do let me and the Education and Family reporting team know what you think.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Technical problems

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 12:41 UK time, Wednesday, 6 January 2010

A brief update on the publishing problems we've been experiencing on the News website, which I mentioned in my post yesterday. The problems with publishing have continued and are resulting in some delays to story updates, and some broken links and images. We're sorry that the problems persist - our technical team is working hard to resolve them. I'll let you know more when I can.

UPDATE, 14:33: A bit more background on the site problems from our technical team:

The problems have been affecting the BBC News and Sport websites intermittently, and relate to the systems which replicate and deliver stories and images to both websites. The main symptoms have been delays to story updates, some broken links and images. The problems mainly affect core news and sport stories including the live text for the South Africa England test match. Other parts of the website such as blogs, sports scores and stock market updates are unaffected. We're sorry and we're working hard to resolve the issues.

UPDATE, 18:10: We've made a few changes now, which should have improved matters.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Sound of 2010

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 16:10 UK time, Tuesday, 5 January 2010

For the past few years, the entertainment team on the BBC News website has been giving us a glimpse of the future (and allowing some of us to appear cool when talking to our children) by showcasing the next generation of music stars.

It's based on a list of the best up-and-coming artists, which is compiled by asking key music critics, broadcasters and bloggers to name their favourite new acts.

Their choices are meant to be based on one thing - quality. Not hype or size of record deal or what Simon Cowell might think.

The project has grown in scale over time. First was the Sound of 2003, won by the rapper 50 Cent and with around 40 pundits taking part. This year, 165 arbiters of taste contributed tips to the Sound of 2010.

Screenshot Sound 2010

A longlist of 15 was published in December, the top five acts are being revealed all this week and it has become a much bigger project that stretches far beyond its home on the website.

One of the advantages that has come from bringing TV, radio and online together with multimedia planning and reporting has been our ability on the website to reflect the very best of the journalism from right across the BBC's broadcast outlets.

It is great to see it working the other way around too - when an idea that starts as an online project grows into something bigger.

As well as the interviews and music videos from the artists which we are running on the website, digital radio station 6 Music is on board with many of the artists in session on Lauren Laverne's mid-morning show all week, podcasts profiling each act and a show dedicated to the list on New Year's Day.

E24, the entertainment bulletin on the BBC News Channel, is running video interviews every day this week, while the winner will be on the BBC One Breakfast sofa on Friday.

The top five artists are also being interviewed by Victoria Derbyshire on 5 live, while on Radio 1 Annie Mac focused much of her Sunday night Switch show on the list, and Zane Lowe and Nihal are joining in by picking over the top five.

It all adds up to lots of exposure (and indeed expectation) for some of the most interesting emerging artists.

This kind of prediction is an inexact science, but Entertainment reporter Ian Youngs, who thought up the idea in the first place and has developed it each year, says the lesson from previous years is that this is a popular way to find out about some of the best new talent, and that if the acts are any good, they will thrive.

Over the course of this week, and then the rest of the year, you'll be able to make up your own minds about whether you like them or not.

PS If you've spotted some broken links on the BBC News website today please accept our apologies - we've been having publishing problems and we're working to fix them.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Mapping road deaths

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 17:10 UK time, Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Many of us will know of someone who has been killed or injured in a road crash. Last year 2,538 people were killed on Britain's roads. Even though that figure has come down substantially in the past decade, road crashes are still the largest single cause of accidental death for people between the ages of five and 35-years-old. Yet all this seems to be something which society as a whole rarely questions.

In a special series this week, we look at what has been done to tackle the problem, what more could be done, and describe the impact on those involved.

We have also taken a close look at all the detailed data we could find, and this provides a powerful way to tell the story, as Bella Hurrell, who runs the News website special projects team, explains:

By Bella Hurrell

"As part of the coverage of road deaths this week, one of our challenges was how to make the issue feel relevant to people.

The web is great at providing an extra level of depth, for those that want it, and so an interactive map enabling readers to see fatal crashes in their police authority area over the past decade looked like an effective way to help show the enormity of the problem.

Screengrab of map showing fatal car crashes

As far as we know this is the first time that 10 years of government road fatality data has been made public and mapped so we can all see it.

Each crash is mapped to the location where it occurred and many data points include links through to local newspaper reports about the crash.

The map helps to refocus the issue away from being a national problem involving big numbers to being a local issue, affecting people we may know, on roads we might travel.

Mapping data can be tricky though and our solution isn't perfect. Over 10 years there have been more than 32,000 fatal crashes and it would be almost impossible to display all this on one map at once, so we have split up the data into individual years and then again into police authorities so that it downloads more easily.

The data is displayed by police authority as this is how it is recorded, rather than by the unit of county or local authority, with which people are generally more familiar. All this means that some of you won't see the data exactly as you might want it.

Thousands of you have been looking at the map - and thank you for all your feedback. If you found the map a useful way of covering the issue you might want also want to look at this interactive graphic which charts the worst times of day for fatalities by indicators like age and day of the week.

There will be more coverage from our special report on road crashes on Thursday and Friday."

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website

Overnight work

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 01:00 UK time, Thursday, 26 November 2009

Our technical teams are doing some fairly major work on the BBC's network overnight UK time. We are trying to ensure this doesn't affect what you see on the website, but there may be some delays in publishing. We will update you when we know more.

Update 06:00 GMT: The planned work has now been completed and I'm pleased to say we're publishing normally.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website

International front page changes

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 13:06 UK time, Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Users of the international edition of the BBC News website will notice some changes to the front page today.

We have increased the number of headlines under each of the section headings in the bottom half of the page, made the popular Business and Technology sections more prominent by adding pictures, and we have increased the number of featured items in the video area.

Advert on international front page

Internationally, advertisements appear on the right hand side of the page alongside editorial content and this has resulted, some of the time, in that side of the page becoming much longer than the rest of it. The modified layout should allow us to balance the two sides of the page better, and provide more headlines at the same time.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Changing headlines

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 17:04 UK time, Thursday, 19 November 2009

From today users of the BBC News website will start to see a slight change in some of our headlines on stories.

In some cases these will be longer than they are now, to allow us to spell out in more detail what and who the story is about. This is so that people using search engines to look for the story can find it more easily.

That's probably enough detail for anyone who's read this far. But if not, and you'd like to know more about why we are doing this, please read on...

Screengrab of headline index and story level

The practice of "search engine optimisation" - making content in such a way that it is easily retrieved via search engines - is an important area for us and for others across the web.

A growing number of users come to stories on the BBC site from places other than our own front page - for example search engines, other sites, personal recommendations, Twitter or RSS feeds.

So our developers have done a bit of work to allow journalists the scope to create two headlines for a story if they want to - a short one which appears on the front page and our other website indexes, and a longer one which will appear on the story page itself and in search engine results.

The front page headlines will remain limited to between 31 and 33 characters and will continue to appear on Ceefax and Digital Text, as they do now, along with the top four paragraphs of each story.

The space constraints on those platforms mean that on the website the headlines have always been short - which, it has to be said, also has its merits, making them easy to scan and fit into lists. They will also continue to appear on mobiles.

The new longer headlines will be up to 55 characters (with spaces) and will aim to include any key words which we might expect a search engine user to type in when searching for news about that particular topic.

So, for example, the difference between a longer and shorter headline version might be as simple as: "Queen's speech: Brown draws election battle lines" instead of "Brown draws election battle lines". Or "Possible counter-bid for Cadbury" might become "Ferrero and Hershey in possible counter-bid for Cadbury".

It'll also be easier for journalists to include full names eg "Janet Jackson blames doctor for Michael's death" instead of "Doctor 'responsible' says Jackson".

None of this should affect the way you can use the site once you are here, but hopefully it will make it easier to find our stories if you are somewhere else.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Website problems

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 09:42 UK time, Thursday, 5 November 2009

Some people will have had trouble accessing the BBC website in the past few hours. We've had a network failure that has resulted in access to the site being slow and at some points inaccessible. Our network provider's engineers are working on restoring normal service as soon as possible. We're sorry for the inconvenience.

Update, 11:07: I'm pleased to say the problems should now be fixed - we're not aware of any remaining issues.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Injunctions and super-injunctions

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 16:42 UK time, Thursday, 15 October 2009

A good round-up here from my colleague Clare Spencer of the comment, analysis and discussion surrounding the abandonment by law firm Carter-Ruck of an attempt to stop the media revealing that a Labour MP had tabled a question relating to oil-trading firm Trafigura and Ivory Coast toxic waste.

In the light of the events this week, Gordon Brown has described legal bids to stop journalists reporting that gagging orders are in place as "an unfortunate area of the law" and has said he hopes to clear it up.

While reflecting on all this, the injunctions and super-injunctions, it's also worth pointing out that BBC Newsnight, who have been following the story since 2007 despite fierce resistance from Trafigura's lawyers, are still subject to ongoing related legal proceedings.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Updated editorial guidelines

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 16:33 UK time, Friday, 9 October 2009

This week, the BBC Trust published updated editorial guidelines for BBC programme makers, producers and journalists.

For the first time, the public is being asked to comment on them in draft form before they are finalised. BBC staff will also be consulted, by our Editorial Policy department, on their attitudes to the new draft.

One of the issues they cover, picked up by the Guardian's James Robinson, is writing for the web.

The new draft, also for the first time, fully integrates the original editorial guidelines and the (formerly separate) ones for Online.

The new guidelines state that nothing should be written online that would not be said on air:

4.4.13 Presenters, reporters and correspondents are the public face and voice of the BBC - they can have a significant impact on perceptions of our impartiality. Journalists and presenters, including those in news and current affairs, may provide professional judgements, rooted in evidence, but may not express personal views on public policy, on matters of political or industrial controversy, or on 'controversial<br />
subjects' in any other area. Our audiences should not be able to tell from BBC programmes or other BBC output the personal prejudices of our journalists and presenters on such matters. This applies as much to online content as it does to news bulletins: nothing should be written by journalists and presenters that would not be said on air.

It's perhaps worth explaining that it is already the case that all output, whether in text, audio or video, must comply with the BBC's existing editorial guidelines.

The first page of the existing guidelines says:

The BBC Editorial Guidelines are a statement of the values and standards we have set for ourselves over the years. They also codify the good practice we expect from the creators and makers of all BBC content, whether it is made by the BBC itself or by an Independent company working for the BBC and whether it is made for: radio; television; online; mobile devices; interactive services; the printed word. As different technologies evolve, these guidelines apply to our content whoever produces it and however it is received.

So the new guidelines are really spelling out, in the impartiality section, a principle which has long been enshrined in the BBC's editorial code.

As far as blogging goes, as we've launched each new reporter's blog on the BBC News site over the past few years, we've positively encouraged new recruits to the blogs to write informally, to respond to comments and just generally be themselves.

But we've also stressed that there's still a framework of editorial standards they must work within.

Sometimes we point out it's not much different from a "two-way", a broadcast interview with the reporter, where they answer a few questions from the studio to convey the latest on a story, and their analysis. Think Radio 5 Live, or John Simpson being quizzed by Huw Edwards on the Ten O' Clock news.

This informality translates well to blogs - and indeed to Twitter (as Laura Kuenssberg has been proving in the past few weeks of reporting from the party conferences).

Our news blogs, like our online news stories, are checked by a second journalist before publication.

For Laura's Twitter reports, we've applied "live broadcast" principles - for live news broadcasting, the rule is that it is monitored by an editorial figure as it goes out, normal editorial rules apply, and any mistakes should be swiftly and openly corrected.

Going back to the new draft guidelines, it's also worth pointing out that the "not saying online what you wouldn't say on air" principle works equally the other way round.

When Nick Robinson in an inadvertent slip on air this week referred to David Cameron as the prime minister, he was able to flag the mistake and set things straight in his blog.

If you want to read through the guidelines yourself rather than relying on media reports, and if you want to say what you think about any aspect of them - they are here in full, with feedback form. And of course, you can comment below too.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Future online priorities for BBC Journalism

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 16:35 UK time, Tuesday, 18 August 2009

I was at an Open day meeting for BBC Online a few days ago where some of the main people responsible for the BBC's website outlined plans in each of its areas for the next six months. My colleague, Nic Newman, spoke about plans for the Journalism sections of the site, which include News, Sport, Weather and Local content.

You can see Nic's presentation below, and you can read more about the event and comment at the BBC Internet Blog.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Baby Peter and anonymity

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 17:35 UK time, Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Like other media organisations BBC News has been subject to the reporting restrictions in the Baby Peter case, lifted last night, which stipulated that none of the defendants could be named.

BBC News website imageThese were ordered because the defendants were the subject of another trial, for the rape of a two-year-old girl, which could have been compromised if the jury were prejudiced by information from the earlier case, and also because there were children who were still in the process of being placed with alternative carers.

Now that Steven Barker has been found guilty and sentenced in the rape trial, and all the children are being cared for, the guilty trio's anonymity has ceased and we along with the rest of the media have been able to name them.

This sounds deceptively simple, but when you look at what this means online it is more complicated. A news website like the BBC's will have a huge archive of stories, some of which may contain information which only later becomes the subject of legal restriction.

On this occasion, there were indeed two stories in our own archive relating to the very early stages of the Baby Peter case which, if you searched for them, did give the names of the defendants. We did not republish or link to them from new stories, but on this occasion plenty of other people chose to do so.

There were vigilante-style websites, blogs and individual e-mailers who were determined to make the names public and who were making a point of linking to our archived stories.

We removed the stories from our archive even though in practice the details were easy to find, and the information had already been reproduced and cached elsewhere on the internet. Now that the restrictions have been lifted we've reinstated the stories in the archive. Not, incidentally, a very practical or easy way of doing things if we had to do it very often.

But it has raised again a wider question as to how useful or effective such restrictions can be, given the ease with which the web allows information to be shared, stored and duplicated on other sites, blogs or in search engine caches.

My colleague Ceri Thomas, on another occasion, summed up well the challenges posed by the internet to the Contempt of Court Act. This case has provided another illustration of those issues, and another example of how seeking to restrict access to information may not necessarily be the most effective approach.

The judge in the second trial, for the rape of the two-year-old child, recognising the risk that it could be compromised by the jury seeing potentially prejudicial information circulating online, eventually decided that it could go ahead anyway. The members of the jury were simply given instructions not to do any research on the internet. In other words, the onus was placed on them, as trusted participants in the judicial process, to focus only on the evidence before them in court.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Changes to international pages (4)

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 17:23 UK time, Friday, 3 July 2009

Hello. Here's an update on the recent changes in access to the UK and international front pages of the website which have been the subject of several previous posts (10 June, 15 June and 19 June) and lots of comments and queries.

There are two main things to say:

First, the project team has gone through your feedback over the past week and given replies to specific queries, which are further down this post. They have also compiled a Help page of FAQs which will cover many of the questions you've asked and pull all the answers together in one place.

Second, while we understand the annoyance and frustration many of you feel about the removal of the option to switch between UK and international versions of the site, we won't be restoring it at this point in the site's development. Why? Please read on:

We're working on other ways to open up the range of choices about what you can read and watch, wherever you are on the site, as part of an overall review of the site's design, including both index and story pages.

But, for now, after considering all the options and all your feedback, the separation of editions based on IP addresses really does still look to us like the most viable approach to a whole set of technical, design and editorial challenges which we face as we develop the website and improve it for both UK and international audiences.

Here are the main reasons again:

• we have an unusual requirement when it comes to developing the BBC website: it carries advertising internationally but not in the UK, and we have to build and design for both these situations simultaneously

• the site carries advertising internationally so that UK licence fee payers don't cover international costs

• some content on the site is available in the UK but not internationally, notably certain rights-restricted video

• up to now, we have had: a UK edition without ads, a UK edition with ads, an international edition with ads and an international edition without ads, all in addition to some content which is visible in the UK but not internationally

• managing all those combinations within our existing design framework had become impractical as well as expensive and, critically, had started to affect our ability to find the best ways of improving a whole range of other things in the months ahead

UK Your MoneyYour frank comments over the last few weeks have given us a lot to think about. We are making some immediate changes to the international-facing site, such as the addition of specific UK content like the UK Your Money section on the international business pages and a broader selection of UK and international topics to the Have your Say pages.

We're also investigating whether we can introduce the postcode local personalisation box onto the UK index of the international edition.

But although the UK and world headlines are all there on both versions of the site, we now know how much many of you miss the ability to choose which front page to look at. That's something we are taking on board as we look at how we continue to develop the site.

Now here are some more of your specific queries answered, and the project team which have answered them is busy working on a full FAQs page incorporating these and all the others, which will be available soon.

In the meantime, if you have specific questions which we haven't answered yet, please send them to this Help inbox, which the team will monitor, so that they can reply and add any new replies to the rest, and make them easy to find in one place:

Local UK content

User andyrocky in Denver, Colorado, wrote that the UK News page provided him with a valuable link to his old home, and wanted to see the weather and local news in Birmingham, as well as Aston Villa headlines.

UK Your MoneyWe are still investigating whether the personalisation box, which is on the UK front page, can be added to the international version of the site. In the meantime, comprehensive local news for regions around the country is available in the UK section and subsections of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

News of Aston Villa and other English and Scottish clubs is available in the My Club section of BBC Sport.

The BBC Weather pages allow you to search for a town in the UK by name or postcode and to set the location as a default forecast.

UK-based users seeing the international version

We have resolved many of the problems experienced by users in the UK using the AOL browser who were being served the wrong edition. AOL has provided the BBC with a range of proxies used by its subscribers and we now recognise those users as being UK-based.

Some UK users, however, are occasionally routed via proxies outside this range. This is outside our control and appears to occur only within the AOL browser - not on other browsers. This should not mean that users outside the UK will see the UK version, which was a concern raised in the 19 June post. However, the routing policy used by AOL is within its control alone.

Some BBC News category pages are not appearing to AOL users even though they can see the UK edition. We are working with AOL to determine whether this is a caching issue within the AOL browser.

UK-based users seeing the international version at work

Many e-mailers and blog commenters said that they worked for companies in the UK but were seeing the international version of the site in their offices. This is because companies route their internet traffic through servers outside the UK.

It is not possible for the BBC to distinguish which users within a company are based within the UK and which are outside, and although those affected will be able to access the same stories as before, employees of companies who use international servers will continue to see the international version of our news pages. Users on international proxies, which make up less than 1% of overall usage, should not be served advertising, and anyone seeing advertising in the UK should contact us using this form.

Users in the UK who are used to seeing the international version

Some users pointed out that there are many people in the UK who preferred to view the International version of the site.

The World News page on the UK site offers a global view of international events and breaking news, as well as subsections containing news from various world regions. Users in the UK will still be able to access those, and we will continue to reflect international news as part of our overall front page coverage on the UK version of the site.

Isle of Man

Ckinlay wrote from the Isle Of Man that IP detection forced him to see the UK version of the site. Residents of the Isle of Man, as payers of the licence fee, are served the same content seen by the residents on the mainland.

Blackberry users

We are working on a solution for some Blackberry users in the UK who have been seeing the international site because of the way their devices connect to the internet.

Pre-roll ads on video

User jacksonkelsie commented on the One Minute World News video summary which is available to the international audience, saying that an advertising lead of between 15 and 30 seconds defeated the point of a quick and convenient one-minute summary.

Pre-roll advertisements are shown on our on-demand video to fund the cost of distributing it to our international audience, but we are investigating the best way to improve the user experience around our video internationally and hope to make the advertisements less intrusive by doing things like limiting the number of times ads are shown and working with advertisers to supply shorter content.

Why we are using GeoIP

In order to ensure that people in the UK do not see advertising, we have to use GeoIP. Without it, we don't know where ads should be visible and where they shouldn't. The same applies to video and other rights-restricted content.

Generally, GeoIP is a reliable way of determining a user's country, but there are occasions where it doesn't work properly and these we have to address, case by case, with our GeoIP provider. Our interpretation of GeoIP errs on the side of caution to avoid showing ads to UK audiences.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

What really happened

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 16:58 UK time, Friday, 19 June 2009

The crisis over the Iranian election has been our lead story for most of the week. As with all our coverage, we have been careful to report what both Ahmadinejad and Mousavi supporters are saying. Similarly, we have taken care to label the pictures we use, explaining what they are of.

BBC News story Obama refuses to 'meddle' in IranHowever, on Wednesday 17 June we made a mistake in a picture caption published on BBC News online. In the story Obama refuses to 'meddle' in Iran, we mistakenly stated that a Getty agency picture of a pro-Ahmadinejad rally was a pro-Mousavi rally.

Some blogs, including, are pointing out that the LA Times used a similar photograph which showed President Ahmadinejad waving to supporters. The Getty pictures we received did not show Mr Ahmadinejad.

When a reader contacted us about it, we checked our caption and corrected it. We're sorry for the mistake and have added a note explaining the correction to the story.

Changes to international pages (3)

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 15:56 UK time, Friday, 19 June 2009

It's taken a little while to go through your comments and questions about the way we present content for audiences inside and outside the UK (see previous posts here and here). Our project team has helped me by answering a number of them below.

On the wider issue of being able to choose access to the UK/international front pages, we're continuing to look into possible options to address the concerns that so many of you have expressed.

Regarding the other issues raised, then:

Individual sections and features

UK Your MoneyWe have added a UK Your Money section and a link through to the index on the international Business page after listening to the feedback of Geoff K and others. In addition, we have included Economy and Companies sections with headlines.

Some of you said that you want to see UK topics in the Have Your Say section, and we will be adding more top UK debates to the international index.

There was some feedback about fewer Entertainment and Sport stories on the international pages. The BBC Sport pages are still your main destination for all the coverage you could access before, and more UK-focused entertainment stories can be found on our international Entertainment index.

UK PoliticsWe had some comments from people who could no longer find UK political coverage on the international news pages. Our political coverage from the UK, and all the same stories, can be found in the UK section of the navigation bar on the left, under the UK Politics subcategory.

On a problem raised by "mikedbrit" of not being able to access video that was available before, via the audio/video section on the UK version of the site: unfortunately, we are unable to use the licence fee to fund distribution of full programmes in high-quality video to international users (we do of course offer many news clips across all sections, as well as live coverage during special events), or to sustain the existing narrowband offering that some of you may have been accessing. This means that the narrowband access - in particular to the One, Six and Ten O'Clock news bulletins - is being withdrawn.

"Giant_of_Nancledra" raised the issue of wanting to view a live parliamentary video stream. This coverage is available via the iPlayer and as such is not accessible outside the UK. However, we plan to later in the year launch Democracy Live which will offer live and on-demand video from all the main UK institutions and the European parliament. Users - both in the UK and around the world - will be able to search the video for representatives and issues that are relevant to them. These changes are not related to the editions switch we made last week.

"LadderEdge" asked where s/he could find BBC coverage of the Digital Britain report. You can find a summary of the report and links to other BBC stories here: At a glance: Digital Britain.

Mobile users

We are aware that there are problems affecting Blackberry business subscribers seeing the wrong edition and we are working to try to resolve this issue. There is an ongoing issue with the Opera mini-browser which we are also investigating with our technical team.

AOL UK subscribers

Some of you who use the AOL browser are being routed through international servers and are therefore being served the international edition. We are working with AOL to resolve this issue and expect it to be fixed shortly.

Advertising revenue

There has been some response that this is about serving more advertising. While commercial placements were a consideration in this switch, the changes are not about directing readers to pages with more advertising or targeting adverts at expats as "BootsDaRov" suggested. Adverts were displayed on the UK version of news viewed by the international audience before the change.

Access to the UK headlines page

News From The UKSome users, including "crosbycat", said that they were unable to click through to the UK news page. We presume that this refers to the link at the top of the News From The UK headlines box, which for a short time was not clickable, but now is.

Postcode field on the feedback form

A small number of people found problems entering their postcode into the feedback form. The form appears to be working correctly, but if you are still experiencing problems with this, please send an email to with the subject field "Postcode error", and we will investigate further.

Thanks again for all your comments, and just to reiterate the beginning of this post, we're continuing to look into possible options regarding the wider issues you've discussed.

Update (17:40, 3 July): There's a new post answering some of your concerns here.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

MPs' expenses: Your e-mails

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 13:50 UK time, Thursday, 18 June 2009

Since the MPs' expenses were published this morning, we've been receiving hundreds of e-mails from people who have spotted things which they want to tell us about.

BBC News website image We've made the expenses claims available on the BBC News website (you can get there via with the ability to search them by MP's name or by postcode and to click directly through to the relevant page on the parliament site (we've published 646 pages - one for each MP). The searchable list is currently on top of the most-read stories on the site.

We've also asked you to tell us if you notice things you want to bring to wider attention and, when you do, we're then passing the information on to our news teams and the BBC Political Research Unit at Westminster, who are checking, following up and, importantly, putting these points to the relevant MPs for their response.

The results are being published here. It is a great example of many pairs of eyes being better than a few (the principle of what's sometimes described as crowdsourcing), and a good way to tackle the challenge of looking through more than a million receipts.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Social media in Iran

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 17:51 UK time, Tuesday, 16 June 2009

The BBC has several correspondents inside Iran.

Heavy restrictions have now been placed on the BBC and other foreign news organisations. Reporters are not allowed to cover unauthorised gatherings or move around freely in Tehran - though there are no controls over what they can say.

Although they are facing difficulties, they have been filing regularly and their reports have appeared on radio, TV and online (recent examples: Q&A: Latest from Tehran; Iran attempts to restrict media).

We also have a Persian service for TV, radio and online which offers BBC news to an Iranian audience both in Iran and around the world.

Screengrab of Iran linksSo why are we also monitoring social media like the microblogging service Twitter and linking to its search results for the Iran elections?

Simply put, it's because among the various impediments to reporting, there's a huge ongoing, informed and informative discussion in Iran between people who care deeply about what is happening there and who are themselves monitoring everything they can, then circulating the most useful information and links.

It should be noted that the majority of messages on Twitter, both within Iran and abroad, are from Mousavi sympathisers - a factor we need to allow for.

There's no filter or editorial process other than the capacity of those involved to correct or contradict each other; my colleague Richard Sambrook has written more about this on his personal blog (Twittering the uprising?).

What really stands out is the range of sources, voices and angles to be looked into. There's no hierarchy: everything's on merit, and there is of course a new set of challenges for our staff - chiefly editorial challenges, as well as a kind of chase as social media services appear and disappear in what The Times' Judith Evans describes as "an electronic game of cat and mouse".

I've written here before about our use of Twitter in another context, and spoke then about the need for us (BBC News) to exercise care and to check information before publishing it as fact - and that remains true. We'll check anything we want to include in our account of what is actually happening. But we also want to link what we do with the flow of discussion, links, rumours and reports which is providing another channel for people following the story.

For more on other ways to follow the story see our list of links and Ben Parr at Mashable has some good tips for using some of these sites.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Changes to international pages (2)

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 15:17 UK time, Monday, 15 June 2009

We've read through every one of your messages about the changes we made last week to the BBC site. What's clear is that many of you who've commented would rather we hadn't made them.

BBC News website imageMany of you have explained why you liked being able to choose whether you see the UK or international version of the site, wherever you are in the world. The changes mean that's now decided automatically, depending on your IP address - where you are. For many of you living outside the UK, in particular, that means you now see the international front page, which isn't the one you'd choose.

As I said in my original post explaining the changes:

• they are across the whole BBC website;
• this isn't something we can decide differently for the News pages;
• they are necessary to enable us to continue to develop the site internationally, to give us the flexibility to build new features and present content (including video and ads) differently for different audiences;
• we are working on a whole range of developments over the next year, and to give us a firm platform for that work, we had to simplify the underlying architecture of the site, by removing the increasingly complicated consequences of the different UK/international permutations.

Right now that means, I'm afraid, that there's one fewer choice you can make - selecting your edition. Over time we want to introduce more choice and flexibility over what you can see on the site, wherever you are. For now, we've tried to address some of your concerns with a new UK News section on the international front page, whilst the UK and World pages are there for bookmarking and linked from every page on the site. There may be other things you'd like to see in that UK section, in which case please tell us. And if there's anything else we can think of, or you can suggest, to improve things right now, we'll try and do it.

But at this point in the evolution of the BBC website, if we don't make these basic changes to versions, we'll be putting at risk our ability to develop the site effectively, and that's not something we think is in our interests, or yours. We do appreciate and listen to all your feedback, we know you wouldn't take the trouble if you didn't care in the first place, and we'll get to work on making some changes to the site which we think you actually will like!

Lastly, a reminder that if you are still seeing the international version and you are in the UK, you can use this form to let us know - we are working with internet providers on this.

Update (1558, 19 June): There's a new post answering some of your concerns here.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Changes to international pages

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 17:35 UK time, Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Across the BBC website we are making a change to the way we present content for audiences inside and outside the UK.

Up to now, people outside the UK who visited the website could select a UK version and those within the UK could select an international version of the site.

A radio button in the "set location" section at the top of the BBC homepage and on the left hand side of News and Sport pages allowed you to switch between versions.

From now on this won't be the case. The button is going, so if you are inside the UK you will simply see the UK version, outside the UK you'll see the international version.

But - and I'm resorting to italics here to stress this - all the same content will be available as now so you'll still be able to get both UK and international news wherever you are.

The UK front page of the News site will still have international stories amongst the headlines of the day, and of course the usual links to all the world sections of the site.

The international version will have links to all the UK sections, along with a new, expanded area for UK headlines. We're not taking away any of the content you can already see. You'll still be able to get to popular indexes like England, Scotland and Magazine by following the UK link on the section navigation at the left of the front page.

Screengrab of new UK News box

Here's how the change will affect the main BBC homepage - my colleague Ian Hunter explains:

"The new customisable BBC homepage at and launched in February 2008. It was significantly different from the previous version and gave users the ability to shape content on the page to suit their personal interests. With this in place, there was less need to offer fixed editorial versions.
"The only significant exception is the main feature of the homepage (which differs between the UK and the rest of the world). Anyone abroad investing a few moments customising their homepage can set up a 'UK-flavoured' international page for themselves - not to mention one aligned more with their personal tastes and interests. Do you want the latest tennis results? Technology news? Great - we can do that too."

So why bother with the change? Because the option allowing you to choose "site versions" (which relatively few of you actually chose to use) has started to lead to some potentially frustrating experiences for you, as well as some significant technical complications for us.

One of the reasons for this is the growth in the amount of video and audio around the site which, with the "versions" set-up we've had in place so far, has led to a growing number of potentially confusing results.

For example, international users selecting the UK version might follow prominent links from front pages only to find messages saying things like: "Currently BBC iPlayer TV programmes are available to play in the UK only". (The BBC doesn't have the legal rights to show content on the iPlayer abroad though that may change in future).

Other content too may only be available to some audiences, for rights and legal reasons. Some sports coverage on the BBC, for example, is restricted to the UK, whilst the BBC World News TV channel is produced for international audiences.

The change also means that the advertising which you can see on our pages if you are outside the UK can be integrated around our pages without the need to change page formats for the UK version of the site.

We hope the change we're about to make will mean things are simpler all round. Front pages will be optimised for wherever you are, and content throughout the site should be simpler for us to produce and easier for you to find your way around.

UPDATE, 18:07, 11 June: Thanks for all your comments. Here are some responses to the main points you've been making:

Several of you mention customising pages - don't forget this only applies to the BBC Homepage where customisation has been an option for some time already. You can find out more about making changes to the BBC homepage here.

The News and Sport front pages aren't customisable in this way. But a simple way to get straight to the content you want (other than following the "UK" and "World" links on the left side of the page) would be to bookmark the page you want to visit most often - whether that is UK news, world news or another section of the site.

There is also now a dedicated UK headlines section on the international-facing News front page, so those of you looking for UK headlines from the front page internationally will see them there.

And, to repeat what I said in my original post, all the same content will be available as now so you'll still be able to get both UK and international news wherever you are.

For those of you with your internet access routed through a non-UK server (for example if you're in the UK and work for a company based overseas) you might look to our servers as though you are an international user, so you will see the international versions of pages. We recognise this may not be your preferred version, but there's the new UK headline section on the front page of the international version, as well as the link to UK news.

Some of you are saying you are viewing the website from within the UK on a UK connection and you can still see the international edition, in which case please use this form to let us know.

We really do need to make these changes to allow the site to work better, so we will try our best to work through and resolve the issues you are raising. Thanks again for the feedback, it is appreciated.

UPDATE, 17:29, 12 June: My colleague John O'Donovan has written about the recent (now resolved) issues affecting video/audio playback, the ticker and the picture galleries. You can read more and comment at the BBC Internet Blog.

UPDATE, 11:04, 13 June: Some users in the UK are seeing the international edition due to the way their internet provider connects them to the web. We are working closely with those companies on a solution to correctly identify which of their subscribers are in the UK and to serve them the correct edition.

More on customisation: some of you who have been using the ability to customise news, weather and sport by postcode from the UK front page will have lost that if you are outside the UK. Ideally, we would not have taken that away, it's just that it wasn't possible to maintain it and still carry out the changes we had to make. It was used by a relatively small number of you, but if you were one of them - I'm sorry, and please bear with us while we work on developing the site. We'll be looking at how to make the site customisable in other ways as part of that work.

UPDATE, 15:17, 15 June: There's a new post on the changes here.

UPDATE, 15:57, 19 June: The active post with open comments on the changes is now here.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Network problem

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 13:10 UK time, Wednesday, 10 June 2009

People had problems getting onto the BBC News website a little while ago. We think we've tracked it down to a problem with our network and the problem should now be fixed. Let us know if it's not. Apologies for those of you who were trying to access the site and couldn't.

If you missed PMQs, you can watch it here.

New mobile site for News

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 10:10 UK time, Thursday, 7 May 2009

We've just launched a new version of the BBC News website for mobile devices.

Screengrab BBC News website mobileIt is similar in look and feel to the one it replaces, but shows more headlines at the top level, makes it easier to get to our Sport and Weather mobile sites, has faster publishing speeds, and provides related story links at the end of stories - so for example analysis or on-the-ground reports from our correspondents related to a key story of the day, or a Q&A or background article.

The other change is one you can't see but which makes a very big difference to the editorial teams - the new mobile site can be updated, changed and added to easily now from within the main website publishing system, using the same technical tools. This makes it easier to respond quickly to big stories, for example, by adding a new section to the mobile site while a story is in the headlines.

Over the past year usage of the BBC mobile site has virtually doubled and now reaches about four million UK users - a lot of this growth is driven by interest in News and Sport. So if you are one of those mobile news devotees tell us what you think of the changes, and if not - maybe now's a good time to have a look.

PS My colleague Gavin Gibbons gives more details at Journalism Labs.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Webby Awards: Thank you

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 16:31 UK time, Tuesday, 5 May 2009

A big thank you to everyone who voted for the BBC News website in the Webby Awards. We have won the People's Voice award in the News category, and that is entirely down to your appreciation and support. Impressively, we have also managed to win the Webby for best News website.

BBC News website imageBoth wins are a great achievement which everyone here working on the site, and all those contributing to it - journalists, developers, designers and technical support teams - are justifiably proud of.

We've made a number of changes behind the scenes in the way we work in BBC News over the past year or so, bringing the online journalists into the heart of the BBC Newsroom, and making the website a more central part of BBC News.

The effect of those changes, I believe, already means we are getting a greater range of the best of the BBC's journalism onto the website.

We're working on some further changes to the site itself over the coming months, about which more later. For now, though, thank you again.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

BBC News radar

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 15:30 UK time, Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Would you want to see which stories we are publishing, in chronological order, as soon as they are published, but without any prioritisation of the most urgent or important?

Screengrab news radar

We have just such a list here. Our developers have been working on it, and we're interested to know what you make of it. This is a test version, so there may still be a few loose ends - for example it doesn't appear perfectly in Internet Explorer 6.

The point is that it shows all the latest stories published anywhere on the BBC News site, both new stories and updates to existing ones. How useful is this in its current form? Would you use it? We'd be keen to hear what you think.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Third-party embedded video

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 11:27 UK time, Thursday, 12 March 2009

Having launched embedded audio and video last year, we're now introducing a feature which will allow the content to be embedded on third-party sites.

The initial phase is starting with some Technology stories - you can see examples at MoD under fire over helicopters, Three Baftas for Call of Duty 4 and the piece below, Internet football piracy alert.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content.

We hope that this will be useful for those of you with blogs or other websites who wish to include our content. My colleague John O'Donovan has written a post about some of the issues and how the feature works at the BBC Internet Blog.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

News ticker, most shared and most read

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 10:03 UK time, Tuesday, 10 March 2009

We're making a change soon to the News website front page "ticker" of latest news headlines.

old version of BBC News website ticker

We've redesigned it to give more prominence to breaking news - as well as to latest headlines and to upcoming scheduled news events. You'll be able to stop or replay the ticker items and click straight through to video, as well as to stories.

new version of BBC News website ticker

The ticker has always carried breaking news, but we've had only one "level" for any headline that appears, so it's not very obvious when there's something we regard as more urgent or important which we want you to see. This will give us more options to signal why we are placing something in the ticker, and how important we think it is. See what you think.

While I'm here, can I update you on a couple of other small changes?

most popular and most shared storiesOn the "Most read" story lists which appear on the right-hand side of every page, we've changed the "Most emailed" tab to "Most shared", so that it includes not only items shared by email, but also stories which have been bookmarked or recommended by you on other sites such as Facebook or Digg. The idea is to get a broader range of input to these recommendations.

We're also leaving the "Most read" list set at ten headlines, because it's clear that you are making use of these slightly longer lists, browsing through them and picking out stories of interest. As ever, we're keen to hear what you think about any or all of these changes.

Update 1308: For those watching carefully, you may have noticed that the new ticker has appeared - at the moment, it's on the UK edition front page only, we're working on the international edition front page now.

Update 1600: The new ticker is now successfully up and running on both editions of the site.

Update Thursday 1718: Thanks for your comments; I've posted a reply below.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Technical problems

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 13:39 UK time, Thursday, 19 February 2009

The BBC News website was temporarily affected by technical problems this lunchtime which meant users in the UK were unable to get onto the site for about 20 minutes as a result of problems with our London servers. We're sorry for this, the site is accessible again now and we are looking into exactly what happened and why as urgently as we can.

UPDATE, 05:40PM: We found out what the problem was caused by - it was faulty code on a new deployment by the technical team. This has now been fixed. Sorry again to anyone who tried unsuccessfully to get onto the site earlier today.

Even more most read

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 12:37 UK time, Thursday, 19 February 2009

We've made a change to the "Most read" and "Most watched" headline lists which appear on all News website story pages and the front page.

Screengrab of the most read stories on BBC News website

As of yesterday we've increased the number of most read and most viewed headlines visible in this list from five to 10.

These headlines are themselves a popular and well-used feature. They are, in effect, your agenda, the things which News website users actually find most important and interesting at any given moment, as revealed by the real-time usage statistics.

I sometimes get asked whether this feature dictates our news agenda - whether it affects the front page running order which represents our editorial view of what's most important and interesting through the day.

The answer is it that it does inform what we do - but it's just one of many criteria our front page editors will be thinking about and discussing with other BBC News editors across our TV and radio outlets as they order the stories of the day, along with overall significance, interest and news value.

The journalists writing for the site keep a close eye on the ever-changing "most popular" list because it can be a good place to spot emerging interest in stories which we can then develop, and it can also help us assess how successful we've been at highlighting and headlining what we see as the key stories of the day.

The change we've just made is an experiment to see if we can measure the relative importance of this feature in increasing your engagement with a wider array of stories, and potentially increasing the amount of your precious time you spend reading and watching things on the site.

We'll be monitoring the effects over the next few days and will assess them next week. I'll let you know what we find out.

Inauguration online

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 18:20 UK time, Wednesday, 21 January 2009

My colleague Rory Cellan-Jones has made some interesting observations here about whether the Obama inauguration was best followed (for those of us not actually in Washington DC yesterday) on new media or old, streaming online video or good old TV.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteFrom the traffic figures on the BBC News website yesterday I'd say the most noticeable thing to me was the amount of video consumed by visitors to the site - in particular the number of people simultaneously watching the live stream, which was a new record.

The number of those watching the live stream concurrently peaked at about 230,000 (just after 1700 GMT) and the top 15 clips for the day were all coverage of different aspects of the Obama inauguration story, totalling over two million page views.

More than seven million users came to the site overall, which is high but below the numbers we recorded for the US election itself. Of those, roughly 1.5m unique users accessed video (or audio).

Our technical team reckons that, putting all traffic together (streaming, pages, the lot), the video exceeded 100 gigabits a second for the first time.

At one point - around 1730 GMT - the provider we use to carry our video streaming hit some problems which meant that for a while users who tried to start watching couldn't access it, although people who were already watching will have been unaffected.

The problems seem to have been fairly widespread, with other sites also affected - a result of the historic nature of the event and people's desire to watch it live and online.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

School league tables data

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 16:10 UK time, Wednesday, 14 January 2009

The secondary school league tables for England are published at 0930 GMT this Thursday, and this website will, as usual, be making them available to you, in detail, as soon as possible thereafter.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteBut not in as much detail as usual, or as we'd have liked, at least to begin with.

This is because the government has tightened up on the media's pre-release access to official statistics.

Legislation now limits the access that anyone not directly involved in compiling statistics should have before they are published and available to all. The aim is to avoid any undermining of public trust by ensuring that data of this sort is collected, stored and prepared for publication with due care, and that the process is not vulnerable to political or any other interference.

So this week we'll aim to publish tables for each of England's 150 local authorities, ranking schools on their Level 2 (including GCSE) and CVA (associated Contextual Value Added) results, and on their Level 3 (including A-level) results and - new this year - Level 3 CVA.

School league tables screenshotWe'll also aim to provide a 'top/bottom 200' tables nationally on the various measures - including schools that fall into the controversial National Challenge category of less than 30% good GCSEs with English and Maths, or equivalents.

But we will not, initially, be able to do the usual page-for-every-school service or the same comprehensive overview and analysis we usually provide. We reported on this here.

In the past, we have generally got the official results a week in advance, under embargo, to compile and check tables. This time, we will have had sight of the data for just 24 hours.

But the school results that are supplied to the news media are not in a readily accessible form.

In the case of the secondary schools, there are two large spreadsheets, each with a number of pages, covering GCSE and A-level and equivalent results and associated local and national averages and other information.

Each sheet has dozens of columns, and a row for each school and college.

Formatting the essential benchmarks from all this for publication, using computer scripts to interrogate the data, compiling and then proofreading them, takes hours of work.

A statement published on the DCSF website says: "The Pre-release Access to Official Statistics Order 2008 that came into force on 1 December 2008 and the Code of Practice for Official Statistics published on 6 January 2009 means the Department must change the arrangements for the release of the two sets of achievement and attainment tables from previous years."

We could, perhaps, simply wait until the statistics were published officially and then commence work.

But that would mean rather meaningless news stories saying "the league tables have been published - but we cannot bring you them yet".

It would risk turning the process into a rush to publish the data, with little room for checking or analysis.

To keep this in perspective, we are not talking about market sensitive financial information, but simply the practicalities of handling and commenting on exam results which the schools themselves have had since the late summer and often have published themselves anyway.

And it's not about the rights and wrongs of having the school league tables (about which there is considerable debate), it is about how they can best be presented to the public and in particular to parents.

The impact of the new legislation on the school league tables does not seem to have been foreseen within the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

It was, according to the Schools Secretary Ed Balls, an "unintended consequence" - and he is minded to legislate to correct it for next year.

For now, senior editorial figures at the BBC have, with national newspapers and the Press Association, signed a joint letter of complaint to DCSF chief statistician Malcolm Britton.

It says, in part: "With less than 24 hours' preparation time, it will be much more difficult to produce any meaningful analysis of the information and to ensure there are no errors.

"The result is that the main aim of the government and of our organisations - to provide an essential service to parents choosing a secondary school for their sons and daughters - will be thwarted. This is a service which we believe your office also values."

Providing you with the source data that underlies the news stories we cover is an increasingly important aspect of what we do, especially on the website.

There are new ways being developed of presenting and visualising data on the web, and we see that as a growing part of our journalism, an opportunity to interpret information and present it to you in new ways.

But in order to do that, we rely on being able to get access to the source data in time to properly order and make sense of it.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Displaying data

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 15:16 UK time, Tuesday, 16 December 2008

The team of journalists, developers and designers who produce the graphics, maps, tables and multimedia projects for the News website have been researching and compiling data on homicides of teenagers in the UK over the past year, in order to piece together a detailed picture of what has been happening across the country. They have just published a map, searchable table and graphics showing this information, and team leader Bella Hurrell has written about how it was done and the thinking behind it here.

Mumbai, Twitter and live updates

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 10:25 UK time, Thursday, 4 December 2008

There's been discussion of the role played by Twitter in the reporting of the Mumbai attacks and of the way that we made use of it on the BBC News website.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteDuring the crisis, we monitored this microblogging service, along with the material being filed by our own reporters and a wide range of other sources, and referenced or linked to all of these on a "live updates" page as the events unfolded.

Our aim with these pages (we did something similar during the US election) is to provide news, analysis, description and comment in short snippets as soon as it becomes available. It is a running account, where we are making quick judgments on and selecting what look like the most relevant and informative bits of information as they come in, rather than providing the more considered version of events we are able to give in our main news stories of the day.

These accounts move more quickly and include a wider array of perspectives and sources, not all verified by us, but all attributed, so that in effect we leave some of the weighing up of each bit of information and context to you.

Flames gush out of The Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai on November 27, 2008During the Mumbai attacks, we gave prominence in our running account to the latest information from our correspondents on the ground, but we also included breaking lines from news agencies, Indian media reports, official statements, blog posts, Twitter messages ("tweets") and e-mails sent in to us, taking care to source each of these things.

Some of the many e-mails we received and the follow-up contacts contributed directly to our reporting, with first-hand accounts of the events including that of Andreas Liveras, who was, sadly, later killed in the violence.

As for the Twitter messages we were monitoring, most did not add a great amount of detail to what we knew of events, but among other things they did give a strong sense of what people connected in some way with the story were thinking and seeing. "Appalled at the foolishness of the curious onlookers who are disrupting the NSG operations," wrote one. "Our soldiers are brave but I feel we could have done better," said another. There was assessment, reaction and comment there and in blogs. One blogger's stream of photos on photosharing site Flickr was widely linked to, including by us.

All this helped to build up a rapidly evolving picture of a confusing situation.

But there are risks with running accounts that we haven't been able to check, and my colleague Rory Cellan-Jones has written about one piece of unsubstantiated information circulating on Twitter which we reported, suggesting that the Indian government had asked for an end to Twitter updates from Mumbai.

Should we have checked this before reporting it? Made it clearer that we hadn't? We certainly would have done if we'd wanted to include it in our news stories (we didn't) or to carry it without attribution. In one sense, the very fact that this report was circulating online was one small detail of the story that day. But should we have tried to check it and then reported back later, if only to say that we hadn't found any confirmation? I think in this case we should have, and we've learned a lesson. The truth is, we're still finding out how best to process and relay such information in a fast-moving account like this.

Is it confusing to have reports from our own correspondents, along with official statements, pictures, video, accounts from other media, bloggers, emails and Twitter, all together on the same page? It's true that normally we separate them out - news stories in one place, correspondents' reports in another, Have Your Say comments and links to blogs somewhere else.

But on a major unfolding story there is a case also for simply monitoring, selecting and passing on the information we are getting as quickly as we can, on the basis that many people will want to know what we know and what we are still finding out, as soon as we can tell them.

So as the story progresses, as one element of the coverage, we will select, link and label the emerging information. Further assessment, equipped with this information, is left to you. At the same time, we will continue to work on writing fuller news stories containing the most definitive and authoritative version of events we have, as established by our own correspondents and newsgathering teams who are there.

News on the go

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 13:45 UK time, Monday, 24 November 2008

How do you get your news at different times of the day? When do you want headlines on the radio and when do you sit down and watch a TV bulletin or log on to see what's happening? And, of particular interest to us right now, how do you keep up to date if you're out and about or commuting?

A graphic of the BBC News websiteWe've been carrying out some audience research to ask people these questions, and we've been specifically asking whether and when they use their mobiles to get news (or sport, or weather or travel). And if they don't, whether they ever would.

As part of the research, volunteers were asked to fill in news diaries, drawing a chart to show when and where they normally get their news.

The results showed:
• Most people were getting their news and information in a whole variety of different ways and from different places in the course of a day or a week
• The researchers described each person as having a "news ecosystem", where an individual might read several papers, hear news on the radio, look at various websites and/or TV channels for news
• The habits of the modern news consumer were described as "increasingly eclectic and multiplatform"
• As for mobiles, people were typically using them for headlines, major stories and areas of specific interest

BBC mobilesAs mobile devices get smarter and connectivity better it seems reasonable to expect that people will increasingly be using them to do some of the things they already do on a desktop PC - look at a map, check a train time, buy something online, look at headlines or football results.

Take-up of news on mobiles is indeed increasing. For the BBC's mobile services overall, there are currently about 3.2m UK users a month, and this has grown by 25% over the past year.* But that number is still very small compared with those accessing the BBC website overall (22m unique users per week**). My colleague Paul Brannan wrote about some of the possible reasons for this earlier in the year - cost (data and handsets) being one of them.

But on the basis that more people might take to getting their news via mobile if they try it, we're running a campaign over the next few weeks to publicise how to get the BBC News website on a mobile phone, and simply to tell people it's there.

Here's what we'll be showing on the website. What do you think? Do you have a "news ecosystem"? Will your mobile overtake your PC one day as the way you get online news and information - or maybe it already has?

* This is claimed reach on the M:Metrics monthly survey; it was growing faster up until Sept 07, but is now 26% year on year (Sept 07-Sept 08).
** Unique users are not the same as "people" so the figures are not directly comparable but this is now our currency for reach.

US election success

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 14:06 UK time, Monday, 17 November 2008

Following my recent post about this website's US election coverage preparations, I'm pleased to be able to report that the various new features we tried for the event all seem to have worked well.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteThere was clearly huge interest in the events. Usage of the site as results came through and the day after hit record levels - something which other websites have also reported.

We had 9.2 million unique users and 73 million page views from midnight on 5 November (UK time) through to the end of that day (Wednesday). Normally we'd expect around 6 million unique users in a day so that's an increase of about 65%. Those numbers broke down into about half UK and half international, of which half again (26% of the total) were from the US.

Screengrab of BBC US election pageThe new features deployed on the site included a different front page layout, new video and picture gallery formats and, most crucially, a multiplatform results service from a centralised BBC desk in Washington which drove results on all our services, from TV to web and mobiles.

The most popular element, unsurprisingly, was the results map. The page combining a live video stream with running text updates and results was also one of the most popular amongst those of you who stayed up to watch. And one in five (about 1.9 million) of those who came to the coverage accessed video or audio content, with the full Obama victory speech among the most watched items.


Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 12:05 UK time, Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Thanks for your comments so far. Pongabit - On covering the voting process and Orvillethird - on talking to poll workers, those are good points and if this does become a central part of the story our reporters in the various states will be covering it on the ground and we'll also be monitoring the messages we get from those of you who are there and looking at other sites and blogs.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteTo those who think we are doing too much (comments 3, 8, 13, 14) I'd say that whilst it's a major story by anyone's standards, we are continuing to report the rest of the world, including Canada and the Glenrothes by-election, and for the UK election, last time there was one, we did have considerably more coverage. Besides, isn't one of the advantages of online news that those of you who want to skip the US election detail and get to other stories can readily do so.

The other thing to mention is that the new features we have developed to help us cover this story better will now be there for us to deploy on any of our other coverage in future. An example is one specific new feature (which I didn't mention yesterday) which we used for the first time last night - a site-wide alert which communicates a breaking news headline to readers on story pages anywhere on the site.

Example of site-wide alert

US election coverage

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 17:06 UK time, Monday, 3 November 2008

As messrs McCain and Obama have criss-crossed the US in a final round of campaigning ahead of the election, I hope you won't mind me explaining here some of the changes we've got planned on the BBC News website which will, we hope, allow us to report the event even better, using some new features.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteCentral to our coverage will be a fast and comprehensive results service, a live video stream of BBC TV election special programming for UK and international audiences and the full range of reporting from BBC correspondents across the US and around the world.

To display all this effectively on the website we'll be making use of new designs that should allow us to show the main story in a wider, two-column format on the front page with a selection of bigger images to accompany it, along with more room for other related election news headlines.

For an idea of how the new page format is shaping up look at the US elections page, where we have already made some of the changes.

US Elections page

There is also a new carousel format allowing a bigger selection of on demand video to be displayed.

From Tuesday evening UK time we'll have an area on the main pages displaying the full results service including a dynamically updating map, scoreboard and ticker. These will be fed by a multiplatform results data system which will also be driving the results for our other platforms including mobiles, and BBC TV and radio on election night. It will be co-ordinated from a central results desk in our Washington bureau.

Another recently developed feature will be a "live page" - a format that allows us to provide the live video stream of the election programme on a page which also automatically refreshes to bring in the latest text updates as they come in, including key developments, quotes and comment from BBC correspondents, our users and the rest of the web. This was first used for Olympics coverage over the summer on the BBC Sport site and we've now adapted it editorially to give us a fast-moving, multimedia format for reporting the election as the story unfolds.

The BBC US election blogs, meanwhile, will continue to play an important part in our coverage, featuring on-the-ground reporting by Gavin Hewitt and Matt Price from the campaign camps and Justin Webb's overview, insight and analysis.

So those are some of the main things we're planning. I hope it all works - and that you like it!

Break in service

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 23:08 UK time, Wednesday, 22 October 2008

BBC websites have been experiencing some major technical difficulties which have been preventing us from updating our News, Sport and some other pages.

This is due to a serious network failure, which has resulted in a loss of connectivity between our publishing systems and the BBC's webservers.

We are doing everything we can to remedy these problems as soon as possible. We apologise for the interruption to our service and we hope to restore it soon.

UPDATE 2351 BST: We are able to publish again and pages are updating. It seems our problems were caused by some damaged fibre optic cables linking our London buildings.

Science and Entertainment changes

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 08:42 UK time, Friday, 26 September 2008

If you're a regular visitor to the BBC News website you might have noticed we've just changed a couple of the things in the subject headings on the left hand side of the pages.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteThe Science/Nature section has become Science & Environment. After some deliberation within our Science team, we've made the change because we think it better fits the nature of the coverage. It's increasingly difficult - and maybe even misleading - to separate reporting of the purely natural world from the political, human and economic issues that affect nature and are affected by it.

The Nature content will still be there, but the new name will be a better description of the broad range of issues and stories that the team reports on.

The other change we've made is to the Entertainment section, where we have added a link to a new Arts and Culture page.

BBC Arts and Culture index

One of the benefits of the merger of our online, TV and radio operations over the past year is that we have now got the ability to reflect the best of our journalism, wherever it originates, across more areas of output. So Razia Iqbal, already an established Arts correspondent in our TV and radio news operation, has just launched a new arts blog, and will be reporting regularly for the website as well as for broadcast outlets.

And one of our online producers on the Entertainment news desk, Caroline Briggs, has broadened her repertoire to include video journalism so she can work as a multimedia producer covering arts stories in text, stills, graphics, video or audio as the occasion demands. I hope you enjoy the new coverage - let us know what you think of it.

New ways of linking

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 15:39 UK time, Friday, 15 August 2008

We started a trial this week on the website of a different way of linking from within the body of news stories to related background material - our own and other people's.

There's an early example on this story:
Image of BBC news website

The trial will last for about four weeks, for technical reasons is confined for now to the UK edition of the site (which you can select from the left hand side navigation) and is designed to gather your feedback and help us work out the editorial and practical implications of linking in this way from stories.

Linking to relevant background obviously isn't anything new on the site - we've always done it, mostly from the right-hand side of story pages, where we put our own related links, external ones and often a "Newstracker" box listing other news sources. We also do it regularly from textboxes within the main story.

As a rule though we haven't embedded links throughout the text, except for example when listing web sources or in diary-type pages, and of course we do it in our blogs. One of the reasons is we don't want to interrupt a news story by sending the reader off the page in the middle of a sentence.

The idea of the system we are trying out now (called Apture) is that it shows the related content in a smaller window within the same page, whilst also being quick and simple for the journalists to add. So it's a way of testing whether we can make background content quicker and easier to add, find and access, without getting in the way of those readers who don't want to be distracted by it. And it's part of our ongoing work to improve people's experience on the site in general.

For the trial we're linking to our own content as well as relevant external sources, including Wikipedia articles, YouTube and Flickr content. We wanted to include these sources because they promote sharing of content, have a huge array of material of potential editorial relevance, are technically easy to work with and also we wanted to gauge your thoughts about us linking to these user generated sources.

We're not taking an exclusive approach to which sources we link to, the whole idea is to try out and develop a system that is flexible enough for pretty much anything. If you get time to have a look, let us know what you think - there's a feedback button on each link.

Altered image

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 13:20 UK time, Friday, 11 July 2008

We seem to have been caught out, along with other media outlets, by an image handed out by the Iranians of its recent missile tests which had apparently been digitally altered.

We were alerted to it by an e-mail from a reader, though it appears that a blog, LGF, was the first to spot it. We removed the picture from our site while we checked it out, and then wrote a story about it (which you can read here).

The image had initially come to us via the AFP news agency, who later issued advice to news organisations that it had been "apparently digitally altered".

Various ideas were put forward as to why the image might have been altered, but basically we can only guess.

Blogs and accountability

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 19:45 UK time, Wednesday, 9 July 2008

I've been invited to speak at a panel discussion about blogs and accountability next week. The discussion (called "Learning to talk") will be about how - and whether - blogs can help make media organisations, in particular, more accountable.

This Editors' blog is obviously an example of the kind of thing we'll be talking about, along with readers' or viewers' editor roles which exist in different forms in various media organisations. What is the value of these for the audience? How useful is it for editors or programme makers to talk about what they do on a blog? When does it work and when doesn't it, and who does it best?

It would be good to know your views and if you want to leave a comment please post it on the BBC Internet blog, where my colleague Nick Reynolds, who is organising the event, has written more about it.

Newsroom changes

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 09:50 UK time, Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Readers of this website will not, I hope, have noticed any seismic changes over the past couple of days in the way it looks and behaves.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteBehind the scenes, though, we've been moving all the journalists who work on the main online newsdesk from their traditional home on the 7th floor of BBC TV Centre in west London down to the main newsroom on the 1st and 2nd floors.

So the online news teams have now taken up residence in the newly configured BBC Multimedia Newsroom, next to their TV and radio counterparts, and the newsgathering teams who deploy the BBC's news reporters.

Last meeting on 7th floor for BBC News website team

Empty BBC News website room

The aim is to enable a better focus on telling stories well in video, audio, stills, graphics and text, and getting the right mix of each for any given story on any platform - whether TV, radio, web, mobiles, interactive TV or digital text.

We're not the only news organisation working out how to respond to the rapid changes taking place in technology and the ways audiences look for their news - as others have reported.

And every organisation doubtless faces slightly different challenges as it changes. For us one of these has been the practical difficulty of moving 100 or so journalists and all their equipment from one working newsroom to another whilst simultaneously maintaining a continuous 24-hour online news service.

The first UK News website meeting in multimedia newsroom

The first World News website meeting in multimedia newsroomIt hasn't been that simple to do, so I am rather relieved it has happened. For the journalists working on the website, it feels like a big change, a bit like the start of a new era and a graduation from the online-only newsroom where BBC News Online started in 1997.

Looking ahead, what difference will it make to users of the site? It should mean that you see us becoming an even better showcase for all the best of the BBC's journalism - in video, audio and text; local, national and international.

PS. Here's another change we've made. As of this week, all our blogs will have full RSS feeds, meaning it's much easier to read them in places like Google Reader. My colleague Jem Stone has written more about it on the BBC Internet blog.

Winning website

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 13:10 UK time, Thursday, 8 May 2008

The results have been announced of the 12th annual Webby Awards and I'm delighted to say that the BBC News website has won the People's Voice award in the News category.

A Webby awardThis award is decided by public vote, so THANK YOU to everyone who voted for us. It means a great deal to everyone working on the site - journalists, designers, developers and others - to know that you appreciate what we are doing.

Congratulations, too, to the New York Times, which won this year's Webby award for best News site (an accolade which we've been the proud recipients of in the past) as well as both prizes in the category for best newspaper website.

For the BBC News website, this year has seen some fairly big changes, and there are more ahead.

Behind the scenes, we've changed things around quite a bit organisationally, merging the online department with TV and radio news last October to create a multimedia newsroom. That has meant a lot of change for people working in our editorial teams - new bosses, different meetings, wider editorial discussions, and a physical move of the main online news desks to the new combined newsroom, which happens next month. There have been some early dividends from all this for the website, for example a clearer remit for all BBC correspondents and producers out reporting on a story to be thinking of and filing for the website as well as broadcast outlets.

Other changes on the site in recent months have included the launch of a new look and wider pages (these changes are still rolling out across the various sections of the site), the introduction of advertisements on the site when viewed outside the UK, and - most recently - the inclusion of embedded video clips on stories, which has already significantly driven up usage of video.

It is not the first time we have won the Webby People's Voice award, but in the midst of all these changes, and with more developments to come later in the year, it is especially appreciated now, so thank you again.

Climate change debate

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 13:02 UK time, Saturday, 12 April 2008

A recent story about global temperatures by BBC Environment Analyst Roger Harrabin has been the focus of controversy in a number of blogs, and some of you have e-mailed us to ask about it. Here Roger sets out the background to the story, published on the BBC News website, and gives his reaction to the discussion it provoked:


By Roger Harrabin

"Climate change provokes some of the fiercest online debate, and for the past week the blogosphere has been buzzing over our report on global temperatures trends.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteOn 3 April we broadcast a TV news report based on an interview I had sought with the head of the WMO, M. Jarraud (which you can watch here). It said temperatures would dip a little this year because of the cooling La Nina current but even then, 2008 would still be much warmer than the long-term average. It said that a minority of scientists questioned whether temperatures would carry on rising as projected, but that the great majority said they would continue to be driven upwards by CO2. We then published an online version.

I subsequently received suggestions that the article should offer more background. The WMO wanted to emphasise M. Jarraud’s view that a slight temperature decrease in 2008 compared with 2007 should not be misinterpreted as evidence of a general cooling. Some of the feedback seemed helpful so we altered and expanded the report - improving it substantially for the general reader, in my view.

Among my e-mail exchanges was one with an environmental campaigner who published our e-mails implying that we had changed our article as a result of her threat to publicly criticise our report. We didn’t change it for that reason. We changed it to improve the piece. But we’ve stirred the wrath of some of our readers as a result.

The main criticism was not about the revised version of the story itself, which contains the same facts as the original plus extra background - but that we changed the report apparently under pressure and did not signal the changes.

The BBC’s guidelines on tracking changes were laid down by Steve Herrmann, editor of this website: “When we make a major change or revision to a story we republish it with a new timestamp, indicating it’s a new version of the story. If there’s been a change to a key point in the story we will often point this out in the later version… But lesser changes - including minor factual errors, corrected spellings and reworded paragraphs - go through with no new timestamp because in substance the story has not actually progressed any further…. pages of notes about when and where minor revisions are made do not make for a riveting read.”

Nature magazine’s website said about our WMO report: “To my mind there are only two questions to be answered here. The first of these is should the BBC have flagged the article as having been changed? The answer here is yes if they thought the original version was wrong, and no if they thought they were just altering for readability. As they think the change is minor then there isn’t really a need to flag it.“

So let us apply both sets of criteria to the WMO story. Was the original copy wrong? No, it was not. Was there any material change? I don’t think so. Should we therefore have flagged that the story had been altered? We didn’t think that was necessary, but with hindsight it might have been a good idea.

We will continue with our reporting of climate change – the policy and the science. Doubtless our audiences will continue to tell us if they think we are getting it right."

Even more feedback

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 18:24 UK time, Friday, 4 April 2008

Thanks again for all your comments about the new-look BBC News website. We’ve been going through them, collating them and feeding these thoughts into our work. I’ve addressed some of the points in my previous post, but I just wanted to let you know we have been paying attention.

A graphic of the new look BBC News websiteWe’ve tightened up the white spacing on stories and indexes – this was one thing a lot of you mentioned. The masthead and banner area of the page, specifically how the black BBC masthead works in conjunction with the current News banner, was another common theme, and we’ve asked the design team to look into this.

The masthead will soon incorporate a BBC-wide navigation area, so will be an important way of getting to other parts of the BBC website – radio, TV and much else – which is something people clearly want to be able to do easily (including those who miss the tabs that used to be on the international edition of the site).

To those who like it all, that is great to hear so thank you for letting us know. To others, we’re continuing to work on developing the site in the coming weeks and months, so please don’t see this as the end of the story.

Lastly, apologies to anyone who’s tried to post here and had difficulty – there have been ongoing problems with leaving comments on BBC blogs, including this one. Jem Stone on the BBC Internet Blog has explained our plans for improving this.

Your feedback

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 12:23 UK time, Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Thanks to everyone who has posted comments on the new-look site. We are sorting through them, picking out the key issues so we can respond, and passing lots of the feedback on to our developers and designers.

A graphic of the new look BBC News websiteMy colleague Julia Whitney, who led the design work and is considerably more knowledgeable than me about these things, has written a detailed post to address the main points you’ve raised, including use of white space, scrolling, the masthead, and customisation. But I just want to say a few quick things in advance of that:

First, to everyone who posted about the lack of weather and local news in the first hour or two after launch – SORRY! – this was, as I said when we’d just fixed it, caused by a temporary problem in the deployment process.

Second – as you’ve noted, there are still various indexes around the site which aren’t yet widened – we’re working on those and they should change soon – it’s a big site and we’ve taken a step-by-step approach to rolling out the changes.

Third – we’re looking into the feedback you’ve sent on the number of headlines in the bottom half of the page under the Around the World section. Some of you regret that these are now fewer – we did reduce the number on the basis that we don’t want to overload the page and these links aren’t heavily used compared with those in other areas. Elsewhere, though, the numbers of stories remain much the same – in fact we’ve added in a new section for programmes content which wasn’t there before.

Lastly, to all those who’ve said they really like it – Good! And thanks again for all your thoughts.

Here’s Julia’s point-by-point post on the main issues that have come up.

Update, 2 April: Julia's responded to some of your concerns here.

Refreshing changes

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 07:57 UK time, Monday, 31 March 2008

A graphic of the new look BBC News websiteThis morning we launched a new look for the BBC News website, you can see what it looks like here on the right, with previous versions further down the page. We’ve been working on this for the past few months, and in fact it is still a work in progress, because the changes will continue to roll out across the site in the coming days and weeks, and beyond that we have further improvements planned for later in the year.

But for now – here’s what we’ve done:

First - we did some research asking you what you thought we should change about the site. Many of those we asked said leave it alone - don't change a thing. But it was also clear from the feedback we got that there were others who thought the site design could do with a bit of a revamp – something we’d been thinking about doing for a while.

So our designers embarked on a mission that they have called a “site refresh” - they say it’s “like gardeners doing a bit of pruning and weeding, but not digging it up and starting from scratch" ie it’s not a fundamental redesign of everything – many of the basics stay the same, because we know they work.

Specifically, here’s what HAS changed:

A graphic of the BBC News websiteIt’s wider - We’ve had lots of feedback from you about making best use of available screen space - we’ve always taken a rather cautious and gradual approach to this because we want to make sure that the maximum number of people can still access our site wherever they are, whatever the screen size or device. But we now reckon that 95% of you have your screen resolution set to 1024 pixels or wider, and we’re confident that it’s the right time to use the extra space to improve the site.

More open design - Our research told us you wanted the content on the site to have more “room to breathe”, so we've opened up the design to let more space in. We hope this will make it easier for you to read the pages and to scan for what you're looking for.

New masthead and centred pages - Some of the changes are part of a new visual style that will apply across all the BBC's new and redesigned websites. The centring of the pages, the underlying layout grid, and the pan-BBC masthead are examples of this. Areas of with this new “visual language” that have already launched include the homepage, /programmes beta, BBC Wales and Cymru, and The Passion. The new BBC masthead aims to strengthen the presence of the BBC brand across the breadth of the whole BBC site. We'll also be adding a button into the BBC banner area that says "Explore the BBC", which reveals links to other parts of the BBC's site.

A graphic of the BBC News website in 1998Bigger images - Elsewhere in the user feedback, people have told us they think the pictures we’ve been using on the site look a bit small and cramped. So the new design takes advantage of the wider pages to allow bigger photos - something our journalists also really welcome, recognising as they do the power of pictures in telling stories on the web.

Incorporating ads - For our international users, who already see advertisements on our pages, we wanted to do a better job of incorporating them into the page design, and that’s made easier with the wider pages.

Better presentation of video and audio - As I’ve mentioned previously, we are introducing embedded audio and video on the site – so that you can watch and listen within the page, rather than in a separate player. This should significantly improve ease of use, and should also enhance your experience when following a story – the text, stills, graphics and video should work better together as an integrated whole – and our journalists will be able to adapt their storytelling to make best use of video within the narrative, rather than apart from it. To coincide with this new development, the way we signpost video and audio from the main pages is also changing slightly – we are moving it higher up the page, and displaying the links more simply, replacing the multiple options and expandable “stacker” area on the page (which, some may recall, a number of you weren’t too keen on from the outset).

TV and radio news programmes - We’re creating an area on the front pages where we can show you highlights from the great range of journalism produced each day by the BBC’s news and current affairs programmes on TV and radio. Here we’ll be able to link consistently to the best of their audio and video offerings, also to related text articles and to the programmes’ own websites, which are going to be undergoing changes and improvements too.

So have a look around, and let us know what you think. I hope you like what we’ve done so far. Meanwhile, work is continuing – to widen the rest of the pages across the site (there will be a period when they aren’t all the same – but we’re bringing the rest into line as fast as we can) and work will also continue to build in the other improvements and new features we have planned in the coming months.

A new look

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 17:55 UK time, Friday, 28 March 2008

It’s been a time of even more hectic activity than usual here on the BBC News website over the past week or two. Our development and design teams have been putting the finishing touches behind the scenes to a new look for the site which - all being well - we're aiming to launch next week.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteFor the journalists it's been a period of familiarisation with the changes, and briefings on how it will affect the way they create pages in our content production system.

I'll go into more detail about the changes once you’re able to see them for yourselves, but the new look will include wider pages, bigger images, a new programmes area on the front page and a new pan-BBC masthead.

Overall the idea is to make the whole site even easier to use, creating more room for the content to be easily seen and scanned.

Along with this, as I mentioned previously, we’ve been gradually rolling out a new system for showing video and audio – embedding it within our story pages (here’s an example) so it’s quicker and simpler to access. It’s confined to just some stories for now, and we’ve been assessing how it’s doing.

Early signs suggest that on those stories where we’ve embedded the video in a story, as opposed to providing the link to a pop-up player as we've done up to now, the video gets about ten times more usage than before. So it looks like it’s working well so far… More soon on the rest of the changes.

Embedded video

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 11:42 UK time, Friday, 14 March 2008

A graphic of the BBC News websiteEagle-eyed users of the BBC News website today might spot what is quite a significant moment for us - the start of widescale use on this site of video embedded into a story page.

We ran a trial of this last year, but this is the first stage in a roll-out which will soon include the whole site. I'll write more about this when we make a few other changes to the site later in the month, but in the meantime you can read some technical details about how it's done from John O'Donovan on the BBC Internet Blog.

Pictures from the web

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 15:33 UK time, Tuesday, 19 February 2008

As I wrote recently there’s been some discussion here of late about the use of personal photos from social networking sites.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteMost recently, it came up at an Editorial Policy meeting organised by the BBC department of the same name which sets out guidelines to help BBC staff with tricky editorial issues. They hold monthly sessions, which are open to all BBC staff who work on TV, radio and online. Following each meeting, a newsletter is produced, summarising the outcome of the discussions and this is circulated to staff, and published externally. Here's what was said about pictures from social networking sites.


When should broadcasters re-use personal pictures and video available on the internet? Until relatively recently, pictures of members of the public who became the subject of news stories, particularly tragic events, were only available if supplied by family or friends. Now the growth of social networking and personal websites has made these pictures more readily available to the media. But their re-use can raise a number of legal and ethical issues.

This emerging ethical area was considered at the latest monthly Editorial Policy meeting for staff from throughout the BBC.

The ease of availability of a picture does not remove our responsibility to assess the sensitivities in using it. Simply because material may have been put into the public domain may not always give the media the right to exploit its existence.

The use of a picture by the BBC brings material to a much wider public than a personal website that would only be found with very specific search criteria.

Consideration should be given to the context in which it was originally published including the intended audience, the impact of re-use on those who may be grieving or distressed, and the legal issues of privacy and copyright. In the interests of accuracy, care should also be taken to verify the picture.

Mobile reporting

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 09:50 UK time, Tuesday, 12 February 2008

You might have noticed reports on the site yesterday from the Mobile World Congress taking place in Barcelona this week. There are a couple of things about the way we're reporting it which I think are interesting and a bit different from what we normally do.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteFirst is that the fullest and most detailed reporting we're doing is happening in our tech blog, although we're still running regular news stories and some features on the site too.

Second is that a lot of the reporting is being done by mobile phone. Rory Cellan-Jones is covering the event in the normal way for TV and radio, while for the website he and Darren Waters are using mobiles to report and video their interviews.

Rory Cellan-JonesThe video is no-frills, quick and simple compared with what we might normally do, and it is decidedly rough around the edges, but it has immediacy and gets across the information. If you've had a look, what do you think? Will we be reporting everything like this one day?

PS. In a fitting coincidence, I've been reading their reports on a mobile, too, on my commute home, and have typed out this blog post en route with my thumbs. Who needs offices any more...

Feedback on pictures

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 10:02 UK time, Friday, 1 February 2008

There’s been some good, well-informed feedback from you on the status of pictures on personal and social networking sites. Several – I think rightly - highlight copyright as the key issue.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteI think Juno has a point about people confusing ease of access to material with freedom to use it. I hope we don’t do that.

I also think Jay has a point when he says he – and probably others – don’t necessarily pay close attention to the terms and conditions for use of the photos they post on various sites.

Alf – the idea of “intended audiences” is an important one, and I agree it does and will create ethical dilemmas, not just around images and video, but personal information in general. Maybe the best advice to us on the matter is from Nick: treat others as you’d like to be treated yourself.

Thanks for the responses. The whole issue is being discussed by various people in the BBC, and I’m sure we’ll revisit it soon.

Private or public pictures?

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 11:14 UK time, Thursday, 24 January 2008

When is it acceptable for us to make use of personal pictures and video available on the internet? In the past, personal pictures of members of the public who become the subject of news stories (particularly tragic events) have usually only been available if supplied by family or friends.

Facebook pageWith the growth of social networking and personal websites, it has become far easier for the media to get hold of such pictures. If we do use them, can this be justified? This is an issue we're giving some thought to at the moment, and I'd be keen to hear your views.

We don't yet have a definitive policy but my feeling is we need to tread carefully, and where people have posted personal pictures or video in a space which they might reasonably expect to be accessed only by friends and family, I think we need to be mindful of that. There might be an overriding public interest in using the picture and publishing it more widely, say, if we were working on a story about someone involved in criminal activity and sought by the police (though we’d still need to verify it). But where there isn't, it seems right to seek permission first. We also have to be aware of copyright around any use we want to make of pictures and video, and this will need checking case by case.

The boundary between what's public and what's private isn't always easy to define online, and I think it’s also true to say it’s not something people always give a huge amount of thought to when posting. For most people, most of the time, the media and wider public won’t be focusing on them. That gives them a certain anonymity – nicely described by Alf Hermida as "privacy through obscurity".

That quickly changes if the spotlight of media interest turns their way, for whatever reason.

Some will say that - by definition - there isn't really anything private if it's there and accessible by others. But that still leaves the question of what use people other than the intended audience can legitimately make of what they find. And people use different sites for different reasons - they might be on Facebook just talking to friends, on Flickr sharing photos with their family and on MySpace to publicise their music. Would the same considerations apply for each?

These are all things we’re still discussing – I’ll keep you posted on how it develops.

Editing interviews

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 17:54 UK time, Friday, 4 January 2008

In the past week or so, the BBC - and more specifically, the News website - has been accused on various websites, blogs and bulletin boards of censorship.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteThe claims relate to an interview with the late Benazir Bhutto, originally conducted by Sir David Frost for the al-Jazeera channel, and later rebroadcast in part on this website (the BBC has an agreement with al-Jazeera which enables both broadcasters to share certain news material).

During the interview, first broadcast at the start of November last year (more info here), Ms Bhutto made what was, on the face of it, an astonishing allegation - that Osama Bin Laden had been murdered by Omar Sheikh. The claim was brief, and went unchallenged by Sir David Frost.

Under time pressure, the item producer responsible for publishing the video on the BBC website edited out the comment, with the intention of avoiding confusion. The claim appeared so unexpected that it seemed she had simply mis-spoken. However, editing out her comment was clearly a mistake, for which we apologise, and it should not have happened. There was no intention on our part to distort the meaning of the interview, and we will endeavour to replace the edited version currently available via our website, with the original interview as broadcast by Al-Jazeera, which, in the meantime, you can find on YouTube here.

UPDATE Wed 09/01/2007: As promised above, we've now updated the original clip with the full version of the interview.

Environmental briefing

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 12:24 UK time, Friday, 7 December 2007

We often write on this blog about how we've covered something - after we've done it. I thought for a change it would be worth letting you know how we're preparing for a story - namely the Bali climate talks this week and next.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteIt's a high-level meeting, organised by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is trying to deliver a new global agreement on how to cut rising greenhouse gas emissions.

We've sent three environment correspondents - Roger Harrabin, Matt McGrath, David Shukman - and on the website we've already published a "set-up piece" on the talks, outlining what they are about and how they fit into the ongoing global political negotiations on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Our correspondents at the talks are going to have their work cut out filing for all BBC outlets, and on occasions like this the website newsdesk in London usually writes some of the stories here, drawing on the reporting from our correspondents at the event.

On this occasion Richard Black, the website environment correspondent is not, for once, going to the talks himself, but he's helped us prepare for them with a few tips and things to watch for in this complex story. Specialist briefings like this ahead of a major story are extremely useful for the newsdesk. Here's what he sent us.


By Richard Black.

    There are some issues that we sometimes do not get completely right in reporting the anoraky end of climate change, and which are pertinent to the UN climate talks in Bali that run this week and next.

Sign promoting UN climate change conference in Bali

    1. The Kyoto Protocol does not expire in 2012. What does expire in 2012 is the first set of targets that the Protocol contains for emissions reductions.
    2. The Protocol covers a group of six greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide. As they are the six major ones involved in modern-day warming, it is acceptable shorthand to say "greenhouse gases".
    3. The conference contains two major "tracks", one relating to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreed at the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992, and the other to the Kyoto Protocol. The US is involved in the first, but not the second. Some of the news coming out over the next couple of weeks will relate to one, and some to the other.
    4. Australia has not just signed the Kyoto Protocol - it did so in 1998 - it has just ratified it. The US has also signed the protocol, but has not ratified. Both have signed and ratified the UNFCCC.
    5. The Protocol does include developing nations - but it does not set them targets for reducing emissions.
    6. The key difference between the EU and the US positions is whether targets should be global and mandatory, or whether they should be national and voluntary. Sometimes we say the US approach is based on technology - that isn't entirely correct - everyone wants clean technology, it is a question of a) what approach you use to stimulate its development, and b) whether you rely on technology alone with no implied lifestyle changes.
    7. The Kyoto Protocol is about far more than emissions targets - it includes measures to spread technology to developing countries, for carbon offsetting, and funds to help developing countries "climate-proof" their economies and societies. This is a key difference between the UN process and the kind of voluntary approach proposed by the US.
    8. The subject of Indonesia's own emissions will inevitably come up during the Bali meeting, and we will see the country labelled as the world's third-biggest emitter. Whether that is true or not depends on how you measure it; my feeling is we should not as a short-hand call Indonesia the third-biggest emitter, but just one of the world's major emitters.

Blogging awards

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 16:15 UK time, Thursday, 29 November 2007

I wrote here recently about the launch of the tenth in our series of correspondent's blogs and looked back at how they've developed into a key element in our journalism.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteThis week I was delighted to hear that two of our bloggers have won awards. Robert Peston won the digital media category of the BVCA Private Equity & Venture Capitalist Journalist of the Year Awards for his work on Peston's Picks (more details here), while Nick Robinson was the recipient of the Political Studies Association's 'political journalist of the year' award. The judges commented on the "clarity and verve" of his political coverage, his ability to "convey accurately and concisely key political and electoral developments", and commended his Newslog for encouraging "lively political debate".

Both Robert and Nick have been blogging particularly energetically of late, as they have chronicled the Northern Rock and Labour donations stories, and the recognition is very well earned.

Climate sceptics

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 12:00 UK time, Thursday, 15 November 2007

Richard Black, our website environment correspondent, has been tackling an ambitious challenge he set himself earlier this year. He wanted to get a better understanding of what so-called "climate sceptics" think, what arguments or evidence they have to counter the view that human activities such as industrial emissions of greenhouse gases and deforestation are bringing potentially dangerous changes to the Earth's climate.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteHe sent a set of questions to a group of signatories of an open letter which had urged the Canadian government to hold hearings on the scientific foundations of the nation's climate change plan.

He also asked website readers to email him with any research or data they had which supported the view that the scientific establishment is itself biased against climate sceptics.

He got a lot of feedback (though not as much as he expected) and it’s taken him more or less until now to sort through it. You can see the results here and in a series of articles this week by Richard and others on the website science pages.

They do a great deal to shed light on the arguments and investigate the evidence behind them. We wanted to give them proper consideration, in part to counter accusations that we simply ignore the sceptics’ views. But this also raises issues about how much weight, over time, we should give to their views, and what impartiality means on an issue like this. Richard and his colleague Roger Harrabin (BBC News' environment analyst) have written a thoughtful piece in the BBC’s in-house magazine, Ariel, explaining what they think. You can read it below.


By Richard Black and Roger Harrabin.

    Two significant climate conferences in the next few weeks offer the BBC a huge opportunity to improve our audiences’ understanding of this fraught and complex issue but they also present a challenge to the BBC to ensure that we report impartially. Because if we do not have a strong grasp of the fundamentals of the climate debate we risk presenting our audiences with a set of opinions which is out-dated, driven by spin or simply wrong.

Global warming cartoon from the BBC's in-house magazine

    Back in the 1980s the battleground was defined in caricature as bi-polar, with naive lentil-eaters on one side and ruthless big business on the other. But in the new reality the centre ground in climate science, economics, politics and business has shifted seismically, leaving us struggling sometimes to locate a new core of impartiality. We are still living with criticism over our coverage of MMR when we gave the impression that each side was underpinned by science of approximately equal weight. We must get it right on climate.
    In the new reality, there is all-party agreement in Westminster for the UK to cut CO2 emissions by at least 60 percent; climate change has become a dominant theme at the Davos business forum; people round the world are expressing alarm about the climate; a recent survey showed a majority in Britain now regard being concerned about the environment as a social norm.
    A main reason for the shift in global opinion is the resolution of the most fundamental questions in climate science by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Earlier this year the IPCC concluded that it is beyond doubt that the climate is warming and more than 90 percent likely that human activities have driven most of the recent change. These findings will probably be underlined at this week’s meeting of the IPCC in Valencia and should feature prominently in our reporting.
    The IPCC is the world’s official climate change assessment forum. It relies on published research and peer-reviewed so its prognoses are inherently conservative. Its reports are by acknowledged leaders in their fields surveying thousands of pieces of evidence and employing the scientific method of sceptically testing hypotheses to reduce uncertainty.
    The IPCC process is bloody, and some scientists are upset if they believe their work to be under-represented in the policymakers’ summaries that are vetted by the world's major governments. Sometimes politicians do try to sway IPCC conclusions but their endorsement of the final report means that all governments involved, including the US and Australia, agree that greenhouse gases should be cut. The disagreement is over how much emissions should be cut, how soon, and by whom.
    In a recent survey of 140 climate scientists, 18 percent found the IPCC too alarming but 82 percent either thought the IPCC represented a reasonable consensus – or said it was not alarming enough. No one agreed with the statement that global warming is a fabrication and that human activity is not having a significant effect. All the world’s major scientific bodies have endorsed the IPCC concerns about the risk of increasing greenhouse gases.
    Given the weight of opinion building up around the IPCC it makes sense for us to focus our coverage on the consensus that climate change is happening, is serious, but is manageable if tackled urgently.
    We do not need consistently to ‘balance’ the reports of the IPCC. When we broadcast outlying views we should make sure we do not over represent them and we should keep a rough balance of views from either side of the IPCC. If we do not, we will distort the issue and risk misleading or confusing our audience.
    We must also be more savvy about the way we treat outlying views – and we should make it clear to our audience when an interviewee holds a minority position.
    On one side of the IPCC are some knowledgeable, sceptical climate scientists. They mostly agree that the Earth is heating, and agree that greenhouse gases are probably contributing. But they think future temperatures will be determined much more by solar changes than atmospheric changes – and they do not think IPCC computer models are smart enough to forecast the climate accurately. They mostly think the economic benefit of using fossil fuels outweighs the risk of increasing CO2 levels.
    A more extreme position is taken by some libertarian commentators who distrust government and big institutions and who characterise climate change as a swindle. Their views appear to be supported by hardly any climate scientists.
    Then there are the ‘sceptics’ (particularly in the US) funded by big business to run ‘think tanks’ spreading uncertainty and thus delaying action. We need to think hard about how and when we invite these various groups to contribute to the debate. Would we, for instance, serve our audiences by inviting lobbyists for tobacco firms to challenge the scientific links between smoking and lung cancer?
    To the other side, the scientific outliers (17 percent of the survey above) fear that the IPCC’s statement of alarm is not expressed loud and hard enough. They think the IPCC’s need to proceed with governmental consensus forces it to suppress the most worrying science.
    At the extreme of this group is James Lovelock who forecasts that the temperature will not rise steadily as the IPCC graphs suggest, but will suddenly jump 6C to a new (and catastrophic) stable state in a matter of decades, eventually leaving the earth unable to support more than a billion people. It’s too late to stop the process, he says.
    No member of an independent expert panel on Lovelock run by the Today programme last year was prepared to say he was definitely wrong. But if we over report the Lovelock view we will be accused of fostering alarmism and despair.
    If an individual approaches the climate issue with a distinct ideological position from the left or the right it makes sense for us to explain their political position to the audience. We should avoid all the jargon hurled by some of those at the extremes of the debate – such as climate change deniers, climate believers, doomsters or warmers.
    We must be smarter, too, with the language and labels that we use when describing groups. The Scientific Alliance, for instance, is run by a scientist but was set up by a businessman to counter green fears and campaign against green taxes. Friends of the Earth’s views on climate science are close to the IPCC consensus. But our recent broadcasts referred to Friends of the Earth as a ‘green group’ and The Scientific Alliance as a ‘group formed to promote rational debate about science’.
    We must also be smarter in the way we interpret the often vociferous views expressed on climate in our vibrant inter-active space. While welcoming a diversity of voices, we must make sure that we do not conflate self-selecting audience responses with a broad audience opinion.
    Where then should our priorities lie? Well, some important scientific debates on climate are still running – but most governments have taken a position based on risk analysis that they cannot wait for 100 percent certainty on the science because that will be far too late to act. Based on the broad IPCC consensus governments are developing policies to cut emissions and adapt to changes that are projected to happen, so it is surely in this area of policy that the BBC should expend most of its effort. That means keeping more extreme views from either side in proportion and when we do report them, giving them similar space.
    That does not mean we need soft consensual journalism – because as many nations attempt to make the leap to low-carbon economies the policy cauldron contains a rich mix of controversial ingredients: how to save rainforests (the most efficient way of protecting the climate), biofuels, equity between rich and poor, the deal to tie in big developing nations, the response of the United States, how to force clean technology on to the market, fair eco-taxation, how to finance adaptation, carbon pricing, the most economic ways of saving emissions, political leadership, public ambivalence, population, consumption, off-setting, nuclear and many more...
    We should confidently take these debates forward, with a modern, accurate sense of impartiality in mind. This will help us to follow the BBC Trust’s goal of engaging people as citizens as well as audiences, and it will maximise the BBC’s unique contribution to an informed democracy.

Taking stock

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 14:32 UK time, Friday, 9 November 2007

This week we launched the tenth in our set of correspondent’s blogs, with Justin Webb's America. It seems a good time to take stock.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteOver the past couple of years they have quietly changed the way in which the best of the BBC's journalism gets out to our audiences.

When Nick Robinson started his blog – which was the first of these - someone in the newsroom likened it to a kind of hotline straight to Nick's brain – because by reading it you got to find out – often way ahead of his appearance on any broadcast outlet – what angles of a story he was contemplating, and what his take on events was going to be. You still can.

There have been some fine moments on Nick's blog, most memorably the time when he blogged as he was "eyeballed" by President Bush at a White House press conference, or when he explained (in what some readers told us was too much detail) how he'd had to get from being naked in bed to interviewing the home secretary in the space of just seven minutes. Thus helping prove that blogs are even more informal than TV "two-ways" (interviews between presenter and reporter).

And what Nick has done for our Westminster coverage, Brian Taylor, Betsan Powys and Mark Devenport have done for our political coverage of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland respectively.

The other correspondents’ blogs, as they have rolled out, have each had their distinctive character – as you'd expect. Robert Peston has made a habit of setting the day's business news agenda early in the day (in a businesslike way) on his blog – he did it right through the story of the Northern Rock crisis, which he broke. Evan Davis demonstrates, in his, how to make intimidating economic phenomena friendly and accessible – like here where he talks about immigration and the labour market in terms of a question about a bus driver’s job.

And Mark Mardell, who is very attentive to comments on his blog, went to the trouble of consulting website readers about whether he should start it in the first place. Mark's Euroblog is one of the most engaging ways I know of keeping up with European affairs – it also contains an intrepid experiment in long-term reporting – tracking
every step in the lifecycle of a certain piece of EU legislation.

Responding to comments consistently across the blogs continues to be one of the biggest challenges for all concerned. There are often hundreds, and the relevant editors are almost always having to focus on the next development, and the next deadline. After all that's what we – and perhaps you – expect from them.

So that's my assessment of where we've got to. How do you think they're going? What should we do differently? Or what should we do next?

Carrying adverts

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 17:35 UK time, Monday, 5 November 2007

You may have read recently that the BBC Trust last month approved the launch of, which means international users of the BBC website will start to see advertisements on the site.

As I write this the first of these ads are rolling out – visible to our tech team here via remote desktop connections that show us what the site looks like viewed from various locations outside the UK.

An image of the BBC News website, seen outside the UK

Richard Sambrook, the BBC’s Director of Global News, outlined the reasons for this move here – and, as he explained, these are basically about funding the BBC’s public service journalism for our international online audience.

In editorial terms the journalists will not be involved in any of the dealing with advertisers or with the scheduling of the ads. There’s an "editorial guardian" - paid for by BBC Worldwide, our commercial partners - who will help assess possible ad campaigns and give guidance on what might produce a conflict of interests, clash with our own editorial values or in any way compromise our journalism. If he sees any campaign, or individual ad, as potentially unsuitable then it won’t run. Journalists, guided by him, will have the ability to prevent ads appearing, for example, on sensitive or distressing stories.

I very much hope that those of you who do see the site with ads will understand why we are taking this step and will find that they do not jar with you, or get in the way. We want to get the news to you and we want to make sure we are funded to do that to the best of our ability.

UPDATE, 9 NOVEMBER: Thanks to all of you who have sent in comments and concerns about advertising on the international website. There were a number of common themes which I've answered here.

Exciting times

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 13:45 UK time, Monday, 29 October 2007

You may have seen that the BBC News website is celebrating its tenth anniversary. It's been an amazing time of growth in the new medium of the internet, and I and my colleagues who have been working here count ourselves privileged to have experienced it at first hand.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteThere's also an irony in the timing of the anniversary, since you might also have seen reports that in the current reorganisation of the BBC, the department which has produced the news website - BBC News Interactive - will cease to exist.

That is true, but it's part of a much bigger story and one which is cause for optimism for those who have an affection for this website.

BBC News is to launch a new multimedia newsroom, which will provide news for television, radio and the web. So even though our department ceases to exist in its current form, so do the TV News and Radio News departments. In their place will be the multimedia newsroom, along with a newsgathering and a programmes department - both also multimedia in their focus. This is a big shift in the BBC's thinking, and reflects what is happening elsewhere in the industry. There are those who argue we should have done it already - and for the website there are clear benefits.

We recognise that there are risks, though. From my point of view, I am concerned that the editorial coherence of the news website should not be sacrificed in the name of efficiency. To prevent this, I've identified a number of practical measures - staffing, meetings, training and editorial accountability, etc - which have been embraced as part of the reorganisation process.

It would be wrong to think we're being defensive here - in fact the reorganisation is a fantastic opportunity for the website to better reflect the best of what BBC News can offer. We know that more people are turning to the internet to find out the news, and we are as determined as ever to make sure that our website is the best place in the world for them to do so - for another 10 years and more.

Articles of interest

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 10:18 UK time, Friday, 19 October 2007

We've introduced a minor change to the way this blog works. Until earlier this week, the daily record of when the BBC appears in the news has appeared as a separate blog item. Now those details appear in the right hand side of the blog.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteOn any given day, the BBC is mentioned in literally dozens of articles in the newspapers, and for 18 months now we have been handpicking some of the most interesting. The goal has never been to provide a comprehensive list - if that's what you want, there are ways you can find that on the web. We just pick some of the most notable - and we will continue to do just that, whether or not they are critical of the BBC. Doing it this way, via tagging from, will hopefully provide a more useful service to the online community. If you click on the link at the bottom of the column, marked "bbceditorsblog", you'll see the page on Delicious where the links live, along with an archive. If you use that service, you can add us to your network. You can also add an RSS feed of those stories to your own blog, RSS reader or other page.

Incidentally, we plan to introduce a similar service on some of our correspondent's blogs, where they can highlight articles on the web they have been reading. And from the other perspective, if you want to use (or a number of other services) to bookmark your favourite pages on our website, we recently introduced social bookmarking options on BBC News pages (see this posting from my colleague Paul Brannan), and we hope to do this soon on our blogs.

Site problems

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 13:22 UK time, Friday, 12 October 2007

For several hours on Thursday afternoon, the front page of the BBC News website was slow to respond, sometimes displaying error messages. Other sections of the site were also affected at various times during the afternoon.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteIt's a rare event and it caused some comment on technical websites, and also theories about what might have happened - was the BBC changing its webserving providers? Was it a redesign problem? Was it "computer gods punishing us for iPlayer"?

Well although the investigations aren't fully complete, our technical team has confirmed the problems were triggered by a routine software deployment that had unforeseen consequences. To those who had trouble getting onto the site yesterday - apologies - nothing is more important to us than the reliability and resilience of our services and we are taking another hard look at our deployment, contingency and back up procedures.

Information from Burma

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 12:23 UK time, Friday, 28 September 2007

With the Burmese authorities clamping down on information getting out of the country, we - like other news organisations - have been relying more than ever on what people caught up in the events are telling us.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteWe’ve been publishing text, pictures, audio and video from people who’ve contacted the BBC News website and the BBC’s Burmese service. We’ve also been looking at other sites and blogs which are tracking the events - though this has become harder in the past 24 hours.

But is this any different from the traditional role of a newsdesk – or an editor for that matter? I think there are some things which have changed. Here are a few to start with:

    • The newsgathering function suddenly has to broaden out to incorporate a lot more new potential sources.
    • Major time and effort gets channelled into following up emails we’ve been sent, checking them out, contacting people back and getting their accounts published and on air.
    • The relationship with these new sources needs handling with special care – they’ve got in touch to tell their story - we can’t put them at risk or expect them to be on permanent stand-by as interviewees.
    • Journalists have to learn where else online to look for new information as it surfaces, as well as what to make of it and how to use it.

Maybe the list could be longer. But on the other hand, some things don’t change much. We still want to set these accounts in context - verifying information where we can and checking it against other sources, qualifying and attributing it where we can’t - and for this we still rely on our correspondents, regional experts and basic editorial judgement.

World news - in broadband

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 13:02 UK time, Thursday, 26 July 2007

If you are looking at the BBC News website from outside the UK there are some new developments to tell you about.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteWe are upgrading the technical quality of the video on the site for users overseas so that anyone anywhere in the world with a high speed internet connection can watch the BBC’s news reports in broadband quality.

Until now this has only been possible for users in the UK - we’ve been restricted from providing the same level of service internationally by the cost of serving broadband quality video. We did not want the BBC’s UK licence fee payers meeting this cost and in effect subsidising the service for people outside the UK.

Now, with the help of our partners in BBC World, the BBC’s commercially funded international TV news channel, we are making our broadband video news service available internationally. BBC World is funded by advertising and subscription revenue and the cost of the improved video service will be met by advertising around the broadband news clips.

So if you are viewing video from outside the UK you may see a short commercial before your clip plays. If you want to watch clips ad-free, you can still choose to keep the same narrowband video service we have offered you internationally up to now.

If you click on a video link and you are outside the UK you will see a “media selector” pop-up window with boxes allowing you to choose Windows or Real media, narrowband or high quality video. You can use the preferences link on the News Player to change your choices at any time.

If you have chosen broadband video, the News Player will launch and on some occasions a short commercial will play before the clip you've chosen. Adverts will not appear alongside news clips when it would be insensitive for them to do so.

We hope that for most users a short commercial will be a worthwhile trade-off in order to be able to watch some of the best TV correspondents in the business reporting from around the world, in high quality.

For the first time on the website we will also provide a regularly updated video summary of international news from our colleagues in the newsroom of BBC World television. You’ll see a link to it on the front of the international edition of the site.

A decade ago watching video online was the preserve of a small, dedicated and patient group of internet pioneers. Today millions use the web daily to watch and listen to all kinds of audio and video content. Traffic to audio and video on this website has continued to grow as more people switch to broadband.

We want to make sure we can continue to provide all our users around the world with top quality video news, and making these changes will allow us to do that.

I hope that if you are outside the UK you will appreciate the improved quality of our news video. Give it a try and if you do have comments or questions, I’d like to hear them.

Bye button

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 12:31 UK time, Monday, 9 July 2007

Many thanks to those of you who put our Alan Johnston button on your blogs, websites and web pages. We estimate that it was used at about a thousand places around the web - it was a new and effective tool for highlighting Alan's situation and no doubt helped keep him in the public eye.

johnstonbloggerheadsbutton.jpgBut now, as of this morning we're retiring the button from our own blogs, and invite you to do the same. It's simple to do - just remove the code from your page and it will disappear. Alan, now back with his family, has said his intention is to return to ordinary life. In due course, when he's ready, he'll return to work at the BBC in London - and so it's time for us to regain a bit of normality.

I will, however, let blogger Tim Ireland of Bloggerheads have the final word with this nicely doctored image.

Conflicting accounts

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 10:38 UK time, Thursday, 14 June 2007

The announcement by Jamaican police that Bob Woolmer wasn't murdered as they originally said, but died of natural causes, raised a question for our online coverage.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteAs pointed out by Torin Douglas here, there are lots of stories left in the website archive that report the earlier version of events - so anyone who types in a search will find the conflicting accounts.

Is this a problem? I'd say anyone using an online search to get information should, and in most cases would, in any case be looking at where and when the information originated, and judging it accordingly. The datestamp on any story is a crucial bit of information.

In this case the stories all have a datestamp and they give the fullest account, based on what the police were saying, that was available at the time they were written. Going back to change them would confuse, not clarify the sequence of events - when did the police view changes, what was known when?

To try and steer readers through the potential confusion, we ran a timeline relating how the story changed over time, with links to the key developments. This, along with the latest news story, appears alongside all the archived stories, as well as the current ones.

So we're not rewriting the archive, but there are hopefully enough signposts in there for anyone searching online to work out what happened when.

Blogs or diaries – postscript

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 10:42 UK time, Tuesday, 12 June 2007

I asked in this blog a while ago whether you thought our correspondents were better off writing regular online columns or migrating into the blog format.

mardell203.jpgThe question was prompted by Mark Mardell, our Europe editor, who had asked readers of his weekly Europe Diary for their views. On the whole they thought he could stick with a considered, longish piece once a week, with some feedback comments attached. Readers of this blog, meanwhile, advised blog format, pointing out (as Richard did here, for example) that this would allow the best of both worlds, and make “...the articles/diaries/weekly supplements easy to update with effective content management, allow comments with a blog-like engine, and provide an RSS feed of them”.

In the end Mark has gone for the latter option (he explains his reasoning and apprehensions here)

Mark’s writing is one of the best sources of insight anywhere into EU-related news, not to mention one of the most enjoyable to read, so I’m delighted to say we’ll be relaunching his Europe Diary in blog form this week.

Shock tactics

Post categories:

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 09:39 UK time, Tuesday, 5 June 2007

A graphic of the BBC News websiteSome of you who spend a lot of time online will have spotted a minor slip-up on the site yesterday when we ran a gallery of readers’ suggestions for alternative designs to the new London Olympics logo. Turned out that one of them was a thinly disguised parody of a notorious internet shock website.

No offence intended – we simply didn’t spot it and as soon as we did we took it down.

On tour

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 16:55 UK time, Thursday, 31 May 2007

I'm at the Mesh web conference in Canada, where I was invited to speak about how the BBC News website is dealing with the phenomenon of "social media" - blogs, stories and pictures from the audience, and interactivity in general.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteI was on a panel with blogger Tony Hung (of Deep Jive Interests and the Blog Herald) and Paul Sullivan (who runs Orato, a citizen journalism project in Vancouver). The discussion's been blogged in a few places, including here and here.

I said two key strands of our day-to-day journalism – readers' comments and opinions, and newsgathering based on information from the audience – have become an indispensable part of what we do, and talked about some of the logistical and editorial challenges this presents. I'm not sure there was huge disagreement amongst us but there was a difference in emphasis – Paul saying editorial control had to rest with his contributors, me saying we'd want to retain final editorial responsibility for any story we were publishing – whoever had contributed it.

One blogger (Duncan Clark) wondered whether there should also have been a perspective from a commercial news organisation. Maybe there should - but I think it's certainly the case that most news organisations now recognise the need to include the audience's perspective and knowledge into their reporting, and most are doing it in one way or another.

Lots of other interesting speakers here – one who stood out for me was Tom Williams of – a site which aims to channel people's desire to do something about some of the "bad news" stories which make up a lot of news coverage of events around the world, by allowing them to create and collaborate on projects easily online – "reducing the barriers separating people's generosity from the problems that need attention". We get a lot of feedback on certain stories from readers asking how they can help, so maybe this is one place they can now go.

Also in the News

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 16:19 UK time, Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Observant visitors to our website will notice something new later this week. We're adding an extra section called 'Also in the News' where we'll collect together the offbeat and quirky stories which have always been part of our coverage - but which have hitherto been scattered around the site.

What the new index looks likeYou can see it for yourself by clicking here.

We've had an 'Also in the News' slot for individual stories on the front pages for a long time. It's a useful place to put stories which are interesting, unusual, surprising or just plain odd but which are not, frankly, major news. So, for example, our (in)famous man-marries-goat story started life in this slot, as did the memorable video report of a walrus doing sit-ups, to name but two examples.

On any given day there are always a few stories like this, and they usually get well read. As a news site I think it's our task to report on the most significant AND the most interesting, and the 'Also in the News' stories fall squarely into the latter category.

Does it mean we're dumbing down? Well, we've always reported on the odd, amusing and unusual stories as well as the serious and important, so it's not really a new departure – we're just making them easier to find, and to get via RSS if you so choose.

Your suggestions

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 20:04 UK time, Monday, 14 May 2007

Over the weekend I spent some time responding to the comments and ideas for improving the website that you left on my last post. You can read my comments here.

News 24 live

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 17:14 UK time, Tuesday, 8 May 2007

You might have noticed a change at the top of the News website pages today.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteIn the orange banner next to the BBC logo (on the UK edition of the website) where we used to have audio and video links to programmes, we now have a link to a live stream of BBC News 24. (The programme links have moved to the right).

We’ve known for a long time that when we make the News 24 stream available on the site during a major breaking story it gets a lot of traffic. We also know that there’s a good take-up for the News 24 video summary.

So as part of our aim to make sure all our key news services are available on-demand, the News 24 continuous live stream will be available from today on the website, whenever you want to watch it.

Suggestions box

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 11:00 UK time, Tuesday, 8 May 2007

The BBC News website won two Webby awards last week – best news site and the People's Voice award in the same category.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteFirstly I want to thank everyone who voted for us for the People's Voice award - it's great to know you appreciate what we do. The main Webby award winners are chosen by members of the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, whose website says: "To be selected among the best is an incredible achievement worthy of praise -- and perhaps a little bragging." So here goes.

It's the third year that we have won both awards, which is a major tribute to the journalists, developers and designers who make the site what it is.

Over the past year we’ve brought in some new things – introducing personalisation of local news, weather and sport, making video easier to find, adding the "most popular now" pages and introducing this blog, among others.

The range and quality of the BBC's journalism underpins what we do, and finding new ways of presenting it on the site, as the tools of our trade get updated and reinvented (last week's election maps and results, for example), is one of the best things about being in online news.

We've got some exciting plans for the coming year which I can’t share in huge detail yet, but will include further developing video on the site, pulling together key editorial content more readily for big issues and stories, and raising the profile on the site of some of the key BBC News programmes. That’s a few of the things we’re working on – what else would you like to see?

Supporting Alan

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 14:12 UK time, Friday, 20 April 2007

From Friday, you might notice that on the front page of the BBC News website we will be having a regular reminder of the number of days that our Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston has been missing. It's a message which you are more and more likely to come across as you surf around the internet, thanks to the help of an increasing number of people who want to show their support for Alan.

alanjohnston_203afp.jpgEarlier this week my colleague Jon Williams invited anyone who runs a blog, website or web page to use a button in support of Alan. More than 150 sites have so far pledged their support - and that's just those we know about. If you want to do the same, you can find out how here.

At the same time, more than 40,000 people have signed our petition online to call on everyone with influence to increase their efforts to ensure that Alan is freed quickly and unharmed. To add your name too, go to this page.

UPDATE 25 April:
More than 50,000 names have now been added to the petition. Thanks to everyone who has joined in.

Specialism online

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 12:18 UK time, Monday, 2 April 2007

Will small-scale, independent online journalism like Rick Waghorn's website about Norwich City Football Club come to represent a threat to larger news organisations like the BBC?

A graphic of the BBC News websiteI met Rick at a seminar last week about the economics of online journalism organised by POLIS, a joint initiative from the London School of Economics and the London College of Communication. After years as a football reporter and commentator on the Norwich Evening News, he left to set up his own website dedicated entirely to coverage of the city's football club.

He's made a successful business out of it, with a regular readership and a stable of local advertisers gathering around what is in effect his own personal brand.

Can that economic model be replicated across a wider range of subjects - and for news as well as sport?

I'm not sure anyone knows yet, but what he and other specialist journalists and some bloggers certainly can - and do - provide is absolute focus on the subject in question and a high degree of expertise about it. If they can get readers to recognise this, people will value and maybe pay for it. So when POLIS Director Charlie Beckett quoted me as saying this model could be a threat to larger news organisations, that's why.

The BBC has to be aware of these specialist online news sources and indeed should link to them too, helping our audience find out more about the stories. And it's also going to be more important than ever for us to signpost the authoritative reporting and newsgathering of our own specialist correspondents.

Staying engaged

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 15:40 UK time, Friday, 2 March 2007

Yesterday's exercise was a bit of a revelation.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteI asked you (blog readers) about the blogs vs diaries question, while Mark Mardell also asked the same question of his diary readers. I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise, but opinion divided very clearly, with the blog readers agreeing on the merits of this format, and Mark’s regular diary readers urging him to stick with the diary.

Some of you (Richard, Kendrick, and Jonathan) made the extremely sensible point that we can combine the best of both worlds and get the blog advantages (RSS, easy updating, item permalinks etc) along with longer format, considered writing - if that’s what we want to do.

Paul is right when he says the tone of the content is completely independent of the software used (at least I think he is – is he?).

Your comments on the issue of interaction (how much we do or don’t engage with comments and follow them up, or whether there is tumbleweed blowing through) are another interesting issue.

Mark Mardell’s diary, in common with some of our other features and columns on the site, do carry a comment form and we publish a small range of responses on the story page itself. We don’t tend to then respond to the responses because by that time we are all busy working on the next feature or diary piece. So to that extent they are less interactive than a blog.

But as some have pointed out, this blog doesn’t behave very typically - there’s more than one author, and all those who write in it are also responsible for and busy with lots of other editorial output - the blog is just one bit of their line of communication with you, the audience, so there’s less follow-up comment.

I’m not sure how much of an issue that is, but I think it is probably just the nature of this particular forum. But in any case, there's a lot of illuminating thought in your responses which I will factor in as we proceed - so thank you.

Blogs or diaries?

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 09:52 UK time, Thursday, 1 March 2007

Should BBC correspondents writing for the News website write in blogs, or in conventional diaries/columns? Not the most burning issue in the world maybe but we've been pondering it nonetheless...

A graphic of the BBC News websiteMark Mardell, the BBC’s Europe Editor, is asking readers of his excellent weekly online diary whether we should migrate it into a blog template, like the one you’re looking at now. We're wondering about the pros and cons (it's the kind of thing editors do).

At the moment some of our correspondents (for example Mark’s Europe diary, Matt Frei in Washington, James Rogers in Moscow and Andy North in Baghdad) write regular columns or diaries, others write in blogs (Nick Robinson, Evan Davis, Robert Peston). Which is better? Does it matter?

Blogs allow easier updating and comments, permalinking to individual posts, an RSS feed so you can keep track of the new entries and don't have to come to the site to find it... The conventional story template tends to collect together lots of thoughts into one long-ish piece that gets published in one go, which is easier to schedule regularly and therefore promote systematically across the website. Maybe it’s also easier to write - a once-a-week or once-a-fortnight task rather than an ongoing preoccupation.

What do you think?

Another statistical milestone

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 11:47 UK time, Wednesday, 21 February 2007

A graphic of the BBC News websiteFor those who take an interest in these things, the BBC News website just passed another statistical milestone - for the first time we served over one billion (1000m) pageviews in a month. (Yes, we’ve been keeping count of them all). For those who don't take an interest - time for you to move on to the next blog entry ...

But, for the interested: To give you an idea of how this compares with past months and years, it took us about two years before we served the first one billion pageviews. Our first 100m month was in June 2000 and our first 500m month was in March 2004. It'll be ten years this autumn since the site launched - who'd have predicted these kinds of figures for online news back in 1997?

Online in the classroom

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 12:22 UK time, Monday, 12 February 2007

Roy Greenslade has picked up on a recent report highlighted by Andrew Grant-Adamson about internet use in US schools. The report by the Carnegie-Knight Task Force on the Future of Journalism Education says national and international news websites (and it mentions the BBC as one of the examples) are overtaking TV news and local papers as a means of teaching in the classroom.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteThere’s a system of Newspaper-in-Education programmes which for years has been “a vehicle through which US papers provide free or reduced rate copies of their paper for classroom use in order to enhance students’ civic education and encourage them to become lifelong newspaper readers.”

The report says most of the people running the programmes are not fully aware of “the threat the internet poses to their programmes" and warns that a result could ultimately be the weakening of local communities as well as their papers.

Two things struck me about this:

1. If schoolchildren are using the internet to get a wider view of the world and its news that can only be a good thing, and in that context I’m pleased the BBC News website is one of those they are looking at.

2. As far as local news goes, the report seems to underplay the capacity of the web to bring together communities of interest and indeed communities, and the potential this gives to local news organisations. The report says some local papers – the Denver Post, Louisville Courier-Journal and Idaho Press-Tribune – have responded by tailoring elements of what they do online specifically for the classroom. Surely that’s the best of both worlds, local focus along with the convenience, immediacy and interactivity of the web, which schoolchildren are increasingly used to. (We’ve had a go at something similar with a School Report section on this website – designed for use in UK schools).

Shouldn't the Newspaper-in-Education programmes simply be switching their attentions to how they can best use the websites of local newspapers in the classroom? That sounds like a huge opportunity rather than a threat.

India rising

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 15:02 UK time, Monday, 5 February 2007

This week on the News website we take a wide-ranging look at the rapid changes taking place in contemporary India, a growing global economic power which is home to roughly one in six of the world’s people. Our series of online features is timed to coincide with a BBC World Service season of radio programmes called ‘India Rising’.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteThe theme is a familiar one to anyone who follows the day-to-day coverage on our South Asia news pages, for example the recent forecast that, although it still has to contend with extensive poverty, huge wealth disparities, skills shortages and poor infrastructure, India could overtake Britain and have the world's fifth largest economy within a decade.

Last week I was in India to launch our mobile photo competition for the region, talk to media students and visit our journalists in the BBC’s Delhi and Mumbai (Bombay) offices. While I was there, as if to illustrate the theme of India’s economic rise, Mumbai-based Tata Steel made its successful multi-billion dollar takeover bid for Anglo-Dutch steelmaker Corus.

tatasnews203.jpgOne of the things that struck me most was the pace of change in the Indian media. There’s an explosion in the number of TV news and financial channels (now more than 30, according to one report), a booming advertising market and 18 daily newspapers with a circulation of more than five million each. Again while I was there, a new business paper launched a local partnership with the Wall Street Journal.

Where, I was asked by some of the media students I spoke to, does the BBC fit into all this? What can we provide for the Indian audience that their own lively and prolific media can’t or doesn’t?

The reply I gave was that the BBC, with its long tradition of broadcasting to the region, is a familiar and trusted name for many, which counts for a lot in what is still a volatile part of the world. BBC World TV and our online services are building new audiences, especially among the young urban middle classes and, as an international news provider with an extensive reporting network and a broad agenda, we provide a different perspective and reflect back to Indian readers, viewers and listeners how their country is seen by others and where it fits into the wider regional and global picture.

If you are in India or read our South Asia coverage regularly, what do you think? How do international news broadcasters and websites compare with Indian ones? Do those sound like the things that mark us out amongst the stiff competition?

In response to site changes

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 10:34 UK time, Tuesday, 23 January 2007

We launched a new-look audio/video player on the News, Sport and Weather sites last week. I wrote about the changes here beforehand and have had lots of feedback from you since – thanks to all who’ve commented.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteThree of the main themes in your comments were: why don’t we link to relevant text stories from video clips, why don’t we use Flash for video, and what is our view of open standards. I’ve posted replies to these below...

Daniel wrote saying, “can I suggest that when you have a link to a video or audio news story you also provide a link to the written story as well…

Many of the video clips on the News website are associated with text stories – so you launch the video from inside a story page - text and video are therefore tied together. But we also promote individual video clips in their own right when the video itself is particularly noteworthy – so for example today on the front page we’ve had the UK Ministry of Defence footage of a dramatic Royal Marine rescue in Afghanistan. In such cases there’s usually also a text article on the site which tells the story and also contains the video clip.

So those who prefer reading to watching (or who can’t watch because their PC isn’t set up for it) are not being deprived of the story. It’s just that in the video promotion slots on the front page we don’t as a rule put in additional links to the text stories, because we reckon you’ll be able to find them elsewhere on the site. But your feedback on this point has given us something to think about.

(I've asked Kevin Hinde from our technical team to help answer the following questions...)

    A number of people asked "why don't you use Flash?
    "The BBC is trying to make its video available to the widest possible audience. This means that when we choose the formats in which to stream our audio and video clips and live programmes, we have to take account of: All the operating systems in use, and the number of people who use them (this is not just desktop operating systems - we need to take account of mobiles too); whether a player is available for that format on a particular operating system; and whether it is easy to play that video on an operating system.
    "For popular operating systems we want to make sure that our video can be seen by non-expert users who would be unwilling or unable to install extra software or plug-ins. People in offices are also often unable to install extra software.
    "Video quality and compression rates are obviously very important to us. We must provide good value for the licence payer so cost is a factor - we have to invest in infrastructure and licences for encoding and streaming servers, and in bandwidth.
    "So why don't we make our clips available in Flash? It has been possible to deliver video in Flash since version 6 but it was not until version 8 that it got good enough for us to consider using it - early versions had lip sync problems with longer clips and the codecs gave poor quality and compression rates compared to Real and Windows Media. According to Adobe, 89% of PCs using the Internet in the UK, Canada, USA, Germany, France and Japan have Flash 8 or above so it does well on the criteria above.
    "The plain answer is that the timing did not work well for us. YouTube launched in 2005, the same year as Flash 8, they started with a clean slate and that's what they chose. The BBC has been providing streamed video since 1997 so we have already made a huge investment in Real and Windows infrastructure. We think that our current choice of formats does pretty well: Windows Media Player is widely available, it is installed by default on new Windows machines, and for many users it is the only option; Real Player is available as an alternative, and for platforms which do not support Windows Media; The video quality at the bitrates we use is excellent in both codecs.
    "But of course, things change, and we are always looking at the right way to move forward. We do use Flash video in some places on the BBC site, but we're not able to do it for news clips yet.
    "Also - Real make a special version of their Windows player for us with the commercial extras removed. And we know that Macs with the Flip4Mac plug-in have problems with our Windows Media streams - we are looking into it."
    Several posters asked why we do not support open standards.
    "It is important to distinguish between different kinds of open. Standards like H.264 are open in the sense that they are not owned by a single company, not in the sense for just anyone to contribute to the standard or in the sense that it is possible to implement the standard without royalty fees or licensing terms. Standards like Ogg and Dirac are patent free.
    "Proprietary media players may choose not to support open standards fully, whether the standard is patent free or not, because of licensing or other business reasons. There are open source players which support an incredible range of open and proprietary standards but we cannot rely on our users being able to install a particular open source video player. We will be very happy to make our streamed clips available in an open standard as soon as the right combination of player support, streaming server support, and codec quality means that it would let us tick more of the boxes. We regularly look at this and there is nothing yet which is compelling enough for us to make the jump.
    ("For info, the Dirac project aims to produce a wavelet-based video coding algorithm suitable for open source implementation but it is not ready for use in production and we're looking for people who can contribute.")

Thanks to Kevin for that. Finally... some posts mention the BBC's iPlayer project, which is a related but different thing - it's a project that would allow you to catch up on BBC programmes you have missed, similar to Channel 4's 4oD. It is currently in the middle of a public value test.

Changes ahead

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 13:59 UK time, Monday, 15 January 2007

We're about to make a few changes to how we show you audio and video on the BBC News website, and on the BBC Sport and Weather sites.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteThe range of audio/video on offer will be the same, but there will be a simpler approach to the way it’s displayed and accessed.

So in the coming days, within the News audio/video player which launches when you click on any bit of audio or video on this site, we’ll be replacing the current sub-indexes of content with a simpler range of options. These will include links to related and recommended audio/video and, of course, links back to the News website.

Most audio/video is viewed from story and section pages and we’ll continue to make sure the best and most relevant is added to the main stories of the day. We’ll also continue to signpost the best audio/video from our front page and section pages.

In addition there will be a page of links to the best of the day’s audio/video which you’ll be able to get to from the left-hand navigation of the site. If you’re looking for a current audio/video story – a bit of news footage you've heard about or the interview that’s making the headlines - you'll be able to have a look there.

If you can’t see it there or if you’re looking for something that’s a few days, weeks or months old, you'll still be able to use our audio/video search. That lives behind the “Audio and Video” tab at the top of the main BBC site search on every page.

When the new-look player arrives on the site it will have a link in it for your feedback. We’re keen to hear what you think and it’ll help us work out what we need to do next.

For very assiduous readers of this blog with long memories (I realise this must be a small, if select, group): I said here back in August that we would revisit one or two of the changes we made then to audio/video promotion on our front page. Notable among these was the fact that the audio/video area of the page doesn’t stay hidden on return visits if you’ve chosen to close it, which you generally found annoying. We haven’t done that yet because we’ve had to get some other technical projects finished first, but it's on the to-do list and not forgotten.

Later this year the BBC is hoping to make wider changes to audio/video provision right across the website. Subject to approval by the BBC Trust, the plan is to introduce a new, unified ‘iPlayer’ service which will involve a consistent design for all audio/video players, more content on offer and the ability to download some of it.

On Saddam

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 13:03 UK time, Friday, 5 January 2007

A quick postscript to an earlier posting by my TV News colleague Kevin Bakhurst.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteSeveral comments in response to what he said about use of video from Saddam’s execution objected to the fact that on this website we showed a still image of Saddam Hussein on the gallows awaiting execution.

On the day it happened the image, which included the noose, was on the front page for several hours and it remained in the main story thereafter. (We also used the video that ran on our TV news channels – which we do as a matter of course on all stories).

The decision to use the still image was not taken lightly and we realised some would disagree with it. We’ve been careful not to repeat the image needlessly in all the stories we’ve done since then about the event. But it was important to give our audience an understanding of how the event will have been seen by many in Iraq, the region and the rest of the world.

We are a news website and this was a key part of depicting what was by anyone’s standards a major news event.


Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 15:32 UK time, Monday, 11 December 2006

What should the European Union do to communicate better with its 459 million people?

A graphic of the BBC News websiteI was at a meeting last week where the European Commission invited editors and reporters from media organisations around Europe to give their views on this as part of a White Paper consultation on European Communication Policy.

We volunteered some practical and fairly uncontroversial suggestions about how EU institutions can best get their day-to-day messages across, such as ensuring officials at all levels are equipped to respond promptly to media interest and questions, using the potential of the web to fuller effect, making sure there’s good forward planning for information about big events.

There was criticism of some media coverage of EU affairs as superficial or one-sided. The journalists countered that their role was to hold the EU to account rather than simply convey its messages. There did seem to be a general recognition that journalists often don’t do enough to explain what the EU actually does and in fact sometimes don’t know enough themselves to report on it confidently. (It was in recognition of this that the BBC last year put its news journalists through a short online training course on reporting the EU).

Margot Wallström, the Commission Vice-President, who hosted the meeting, spoke lucidly about the need for transparency and openness at all levels of the EU and the right of citizens to be informed and to have a say. (Perhaps to encourage others along these lines, she runs a blog about her day-to-day work).

That all seemed entirely sensible. But there was a wider issue lurking behind the discussions, which is whether Europe’s people feel a sense of real connection with the EU and its workings and if not, why not, given that its institutions are acting in their name. That is a harder one to tackle.

Sniffing out edits - update

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 12:33 UK time, Friday, 3 November 2006

Apologies to those who haven’t been following this, but here’s a brief update on my recent posting about the News Sniffer website.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteAs far as we can see, what the site is now showing looks like a more accurate picture of which comments are removed from our Have Your Say pages - when we posted on Tuesday these looked wrong. To make things more complicated we NOW think we’ve got a bug on our side which causes some comments not to show up - we're looking into this.

That doesn’t mean we aren’t removing some that break house rules - we are. To try and demystify how the Have Your Say pages work, I asked Matt Eltringham, a senior journalist in our interactivity team, to explain. There’s more on the pages themselves (under house rules) but here’s a summary:

    “The HYS debates are operated by a team of moderators who work across seven days a week from 0700 to 2300. Every day we receive about 10,000 emailed contributions to the debates we have started - debates often suggested by our readers.
    “These debates can be either fully or reactively moderated. If a debate is fully moderated, it means that all the comments are read first by our team of moderators before they are published on the site.
    "A reactively moderated debate means that some users who have registered with us through a simple online process beforehand are able to post their comments directly on the site without first being read by a moderator. Therefore, in reactive debates, all members’ comments are published on the site, then comments that break the house rules are removed by the moderation team. Most of the comments that break the house rules are highlighted to us by users who click the 'alert a moderator' button.
    "Regardless of whether a debate is pre or post moderated the presumption is that all comments should be published unless they break the house rules. These ban defamatory, abusive or offensive comments. We don’t edit comments or correct spelling or grammar.
    "But the sheer volume of contributions means that in practice we simply aren't able to publish all of the comments that don't break any of the House Rules.”

One more thing - you may also be interested in this interesting analysis of the News Sniffer site.

Sniffing out edits

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 10:05 UK time, Tuesday, 31 October 2006

We’ve been looking recently at a site called News Sniffer. Its stated aim is "to monitor corporate news organisations to uncover bias" and it does this by tracking changes to stories on this website and the others it monitors. It also looks for the "censoring" of comments to our Have Your Say pages.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteOn news stories, it automatically detects and shows where they have been amended or updated, then visually highlights the relevant lines or passages.

Having looked at various stories treated in this way, what it mostly reveals is the minute-to-minute editorial processes of 24-hour online news, where stories are written, published, then updated and added to for as long as details continue to emerge. It also shows some of the workings of the writing and sub-editing process in which stories are subbed for length as new quotes are added in, paragraphs are rephrased to accommodate new material, and pictures, links and background are added.

It also, of course, shows up corrections. Our policy is to correct anything that’s wrong - spelling mistake, factual error or anything else - as soon as we become aware of it. News Sniffer highlights even the smallest of these changes in a way we don’t. Should we do something similar?

An image of the Newssniffer web siteWhen we make a major change or revision to a story we republish it with a new timestamp, indicating it’s a new version of the story. If there’s been a change to a key point in the story we will often point this out in the later version (saying something like "earlier reports had said...").

But lesser changes - including minor factual errors, corrected spellings and reworded paragraphs - go through with no new timestamp because in substance the story has not actually progressed any further. This has led to accusations we are "stealth editing" - a sinister-sounding term that implies we are actively trying to hide what we are doing. We’re not. It’s just that continually updating the timestamp risks making it meaningless, and pages of notes about when and where minor revisions are made do not make for a riveting read - as News Sniffer, I would argue, tends to prove.

We are concentrating on providing the fullest, most accurate and most timely account we can and there’s a risk that adding a lot of detail about the process will get in the way of telling the story - affecting clarity for the reader and the speed of the journalists.

But if sites like this can help show more of the journalistic process and make it more transparent that is no bad thing.

I haven’t said anything about the tracking of the Have Your Say pages on News Sniffer because, at the moment, we think their tracking is not working properly and is highlighting comments as “censored” which are, in fact, published and live on the Have your Say pages. We are in touch with the architect of News Sniffer to see whether and how this can be fixed.

UPDATE, Friday lunchtime: I've responded to some of the comments raised below here and here.

9/11 conspiracy theory

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 11:33 UK time, Friday, 27 October 2006

A graphic of the BBC News websiteA five-year-old story from our archive has been the subject of some recent editorial discussion here. The story, written in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, was about confusion at the time surrounding the names and identities of some of the hijackers. This confusion was widely reported and was also acknowledged by the FBI.

The story has been cited ever since by some as evidence that the 9/11 attacks were part of a US government conspiracy.

Screen grab of original website storyWe later reported on the list of hijackers, thereby superseding the earlier report. In the intervening years we have also reported in detail on the investigation into the attacks, the 9/11 commission and its report.

We’ve carried the full report, executive summary and main findings and, as part of the recent fifth anniversary coverage, a detailed guide to what’s known about what happened on the day. But conspiracy theories have persisted. The confusion over names and identities we reported back in 2001 may have arisen because these were common Arabic and Islamic names.

In an effort to make this clearer, we have made one small change to the original story. Under the FBI picture of Waleed al Shehri we have added the words "A man called Waleed Al Shehri..." to make it as clear as possible that there was confusion over the identity. The rest of the story remains as it was in the archive as a record of the situation at the time.

We recently asked the FBI for a statement, and this is, as things stand, the closest thing we have to a definitive view: The FBI is confident that it has positively identified the nineteen hijackers responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Also, the 9/11 investigation was thoroughly reviewed by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States and the House and Senate Joint Inquiry. Neither of these reviews ever raised the issue of doubt about the identity of the nineteen hijackers.

Meeting the audience

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 10:43 UK time, Thursday, 19 October 2006

The BBC’s College of Journalism has been organising sessions where we get to meet the audience face-to-face and hear what they think of our reporting.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteI went to one two nights ago, slightly apprehensive. What would the audience say? Would they be nice about our work? About us? It felt like an exam. The organisers kept a close eye on the journalists. We were discouraged from leaping to our own defence. Arguing with the audience members would, I feel, have been frowned upon. And the journalists weren’t allowed to sit together - depriving us of safety in numbers. Instead, we were interspersed among the visitors.

With them, we watched, listened to and read examples of our coverage. Then we heard what they thought about it. I made some notes: “Give us the roots of the story”, was one comment I wrote down. “Explain why it matters, how it started… you assume too much knowledge.”

Another message was about the power of images - to tell the story, but also to shock. TV footage showing dead civilian casualties of conflict caused some heartfelt objections and debate. There was enthusiasm for an online email exchange as a way of letting “real people” (as opposed to journalists) tell the story. This sort of format actually takes a lot of behind-the-scenes editorial effort to produce, but on this evidence it looks as though it’s worth it.

I'm not sure what the audience made of the evening - or of us - but I'm grateful to them for giving up their time. They had some thoughtful feedback and lessons, and there’s nothing like hearing it in person. We should make a habit of it.

Virus attack

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 16:11 UK time, Monday, 9 October 2006

Our website technology correspondent Mark Ward hit on an unorthodox way of illustrating his latest series, about online security.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteHe set up a PC devoid of any sensible anti-virus software and firewall protection and left it online to see what would happen. The results were – to the uninitiated – fairly spectacular, not to say alarming. When he put the “honeypot” machine online it was, on average, hit by a potential security assault every 15 minutes.

The attacks came from all over the world. Most were just nuisances, but at least once an hour the hapless PC was hit by an attack that could have left it unusable or turned it into a platform for attacking other PCs. The experiment wasn’t exactly a scientific study, but his approach to the issue has prompted lots of interest and focused people’s attention on a common problem.

Answering your feedback

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 09:54 UK time, Thursday, 31 August 2006

OK - so you didn’t like all of it.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteWe've received a lot of comments about the site design changes (discussed here last week). These have been hugely useful, so many thanks. It’s not a comprehensive, scientific sample but - taken together with other feedback we’ve had - there are a few clear messages, so here’s a summary with some replies.

The local news personalisation and 'most read' features have been popular. The greater prominence for audio and video got mixed reviews. The link in the banner is welcomed by some as a way of getting quickly to latest TV bulletins and video news summaries. Others say they don’t use video much on the web so they don’t need it.

We’re not going to completely satisfy everyone, but audio/video usage is on the increase and we believe it’s an important part of what we have to offer - so it’s going to stay well-signposted on the page.

The thing that bothered a lot of you was the fact that the audio/video section in the middle of the page is too obtrusive and doesn’t stay hidden on return visits once you’ve closed it. It’s a good point and we’re going to revisit the way we’ve implemented that part of the page.

Thanks to Dan for pointing out that there’s a whole discussion about the new A/V area here. Not sure whether to be pleased or alarmed about this...

As for the new banner, some like it, others think it’s too big or don’t like the way the BBC News logo is now in the top left rather than across the top. In fact the new banner is about ten pixels higher. We’re using that space to promote popular TV and radio news programmes and our designers felt that any trade-offs about size of the logo would be solved by moving it towards the top left - the most noticeable space on a web site. The logo is more in line with that used by TV News, and we are keen on consistency of the visual brand.

A couple of people lamented the loss of the sport and weather coloured graphics on the left-hand side of the page. We adopted straightforward text links as part of a general move to reduce visual clutter on the page and to bring those links into line with the rest.

News services – can’t we think of a better term for the mobile alerts, news feeds, podcasts etc? I’m afraid we can’t – feel free to make suggestions though.

In answer to some of the other, miscellaneous questions:
• Usage of audio/video shoots up for big stories.
• We’ve forwarded the comments about the weather service on to the BBC Weather site.
• For those who really only want a simple list of headlines there are always the RSS feeds or even the low graphics version of the News site which we link to in our banner.
• We changed the ‘Don’t miss’ labelling recently because we thought it didn’t work with all the content – and ‘Features, views, analysis’ is a better description for this area of the page.

And just quickly... yes we did do some user testing before we made the changes, and no we really didn’t lead the site with the story about the risk to the basil crop in Italy, though it did indeed feature on the front page. We try and reflect a wide range of stories on the front page – not just the most serious of the day.

Thanks again to everyone who commented – if your question hasn’t been answered by any of the above and you would still like a reply let me know.

Lastly – aside from those who told us they approved of the whole thing, this was our favourite bit of feedback – from Dominic:

"I hadn’t noticed any changes. Is that a good thing?"

Different site

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 12:41 UK time, Tuesday, 22 August 2006

You've probably noticed some more changes to the BBC News website this week.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteWe've added new banners and footers, designed to promote live TV and radio news programmes better and to give more prominence to the different ways users can access news - via mobiles, RSS news feeds, e-mail or podcasts for example.

We recently added a section to the middle of our main pages to promote our audio and video content better.

Broadband use of audio and video is on the increase. BBC News has a lot to offer and we want the website to reflect that.

We’ve also introduced an element of personalisation for UK users with a postcode box on the front page that allows you to select news, weather and sport for your area.

We’re keen for feedback on any or all of these changes, so if you have a view please let me know.

Are editors moribund?

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 13:18 UK time, Monday, 21 August 2006

There was an interesting piece by Peter Preston in the Observer about what role editors have in a world where we can see minute-by-minute exactly what the audience is choosing to read, watch and listen to.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteBut his contention that this means “editing - at least for the Beeb online - has become a more passive concept” or even “moribund” - is not quite how it feels where I am sitting.

We still have to find the news, gather it, report it, produce, publish and broadcast it before we get to see what the audience makes of it. At that point, increasingly, we have to be aware of a whole range of information about how the audience is responding to what we are reporting. This includes the new "real-time stats" on the website – how many people are reading the story – but also the thousands of e-mail and telephone comments and contributions coming in to BBC News via its website, TV and radio programmes every day.

As a way of understanding our audience and their interests, all this is very useful. It also adds a whole extra dimension of editorial awareness and thinking.

When we launched the stats service, I remember noting that some themes were consistently popular – stories about sex, space, technology, showbiz, the environment, animals, to name a random assortment. But, inevitably, so do the big news stories of the day. We had one of our record peaks for traffic this month for coverage of the UK terror alert. Lebanon has been at or near the top of the “most read stories” for weeks.

People want to know what’s happening in the world and why, what’s important, how it might affect them. It’s an age-old need for news which hasn’t gone away, and the new era of instant stats and feedback bears this out. It just means that as editors we have more ways of gauging and responding to this need, and registering, most days, the sheer diversity of interest.

An example: On the UK terror alert story this month it was clear straightaway that our airport information story was getting lots of traffic online. We made sure we devoted journalists to it for continuous updates, airport-by-airport, for a full 48 hours. That was a difficult editorial decision about allocating precious staffing and resources, made easier by the knowledge that readers were seeking out this information in a major way.

There’s another obvious point to make about editing in the world of instant feedback: you still need an editorial identity and voice of your own if you want to be recognised. So while people can use the “most popular” button to select which stories they read, it is the editors who provide the framework, by deciding which stories to cover, how to cover them and with what priority across BBC News web pages, TV and radio programmes.

Yesterday morning the most popular e-mailed story was the impact of cold weather on the basil crop in northern Italy and possible dire consequences for the future of pesto sauce. An interesting story, for sure. One that might affect many readers. But we didn’t lead the site with it.

Still, we know that if there’s a follow-up story - on the economic damage, the grape harvest, or the future of pesto sauce – it’ll have an audience.

Managing demand

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 14:40 UK time, Thursday, 10 August 2006

One of our concerns in covering today's events has been to make sure traffic load to the News website doesn't cause problems for our users.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteSo far our technical team have successfully made sure it hasn't, but traffic certainly has been heavy. By lunchtime we'd already had about the same number of page views as we'd normally get across a whole 24 hours. The top story alone had over three million page views, several times more than on a normal day.

According to our traffic stats monitor, the second most read story so far has been our round-up of travel advice and information from all the main airports. We've given this a lot of prominence and had people dedicated to updating it all morning, helped by all the readers' on-the-spot accounts which we are getting - it looks like that has paid off as our users are clearly looking for this information.

UPDATE 1530: Anthony Sullivan, who helped develop our traffic stats monitor, adds that it has been showing traffic levels between 60% and 70% above average today - the largest volume since July 7th last year.

UPDATE, Friday morning: Yesterday turned out to be one of our two or three biggest days on record for traffic, with 6.8m unique users and 50m page views. The most read stories were the main writethrough on the terror alert, airport/travel info and pictures. Audio Video usage was also very high - particularly the live stream of News 24 coverage - and we received about 10,000 emails from users.

Trusting photos

Post categories:

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 09:59 UK time, Tuesday, 8 August 2006

As with any conflict, photographers are at the heart of the propaganda war - with both sides attempting to use the power of the camera to their own ends.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteYesterday’s announcement by Reuters that it has withdrawn all the pictures taken by Adnan Hajj (one of its stringers in Lebanon), following his use of Photoshop to manipulate two images, has meant all of us need to understand the processes by which these pictures are obtained and used.

I asked the BBC News website's picture editor, Phil Coomes, to explain some of the background to the images we can easily take for granted.

    "At the BBC News website we rely on a number of international news agencies to provide us with the majority of our still images. Trusted and well established names such as the Associated Press and Agence France Press sit beside new players in the game such as Getty News Images.
    "All of these companies have their own staff photographers who work alongside local freelancers around the world - forwarding their pictures to an editor who will then send it on to their subscribers.
    "At the BBC we receive over 5,000 pictures per day on the picture wire service; ten years ago it would have been less than 500. News websites need vast quantities of pictures and often in real-time - the days of a photographer providing the one defining image for a newspaper front page are long gone.
    "All the pictures we use are checked for any obvious editing - the easiest to spot being cloning of parts of the image (which appeared to be what happened in this example).
    "Today a photographer working in the field is under more pressure than ever, especially in a combat zone. He or she no longer has to just take the pictures, not to mention ensure they are in the right place to begin with, but they also have to edit, caption and transmit them.
    "For this and other reasons photographers often work together, so at any major event you will usually have a number of sources to compare against each other - giving a good indication as to the basic truth of the picture.
    "The Qana pictures are interesting, in that there are many ways to interpret the images. The basic truth is undeniable, but with so many photographers all shooting the same event, and filing many alternative pictures to their agencies, the sequence of events is hard to pin down.
    "To some extent the presence of a camera will alter the event, but it’s up to those on the ground to work around this and present us with an objective a view as possible.
    "Digital photography has altered the landscape of photojournalism like nothing before it, placing the photographers in total control of their output. All the news agencies have photo ethics policies, many of which are rooted in the days of film. The standard line is that photographers are allowed to use photo manipulation to reproduce that which they could do in the darkroom with conventional film.
    "This usually means, colour balance, 'dodging and burning', cropping, touching up any marks from dust on the sensor and perhaps a little sharpening. If we are honest though, an accomplished darkroom technician could do almost anything and there are many historical examples of people being airbrushed from pictures.
    "By definition a photograph is a crop of reality, it’s what the photojournalist feels is important. But it doesn't equate to the whole truth, and perhaps we just need to accept that."

UPDATE (from Steve Herrmann): I should have said at the start - we didn't use the Reuters picture on the BBC News website.

But we have had some emails about another picture we used yesterday of a Lebanese woman in front of damaged buildings. We got the picture from AP and it was dated last Saturday but a reader pointed out it bore a resemblance to another picture - which we hadn't run - attributed to Reuters and dating from July.

It wasn't the same image, but conceivably could have been the same place and time. We weren't in a position to get to the bottom of this immediately ourselves so we decided to update the picture with a different, more recent image. But not before it was picked up by at least one blog.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website

Questions for Putin

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 14:17 UK time, Wednesday, 5 July 2006

Preparations are under way for a webcast we are doing in the Kremlin with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, tomorrow, eight days before the opening of the G8 summit in St Petersburg.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteFormer Moscow correspondent Bridget Kendall will be selecting questions from the hundreds sent in so far by readers - in English and in Russian.

Last time we did a webcast with the Russian leader, in 2001, the hot topics were the US missile defence shield and the conflict in Chechnya. This time readers are more worried about nuclear proliferation, Iran and North Korea. Chechnya has slipped down their list of priorities, while questions about xenophobia in Russia, and how Mr Putin plans to tackle it, are now near the top.

Some readers have gone for less serious matters. Which country does Mr Putin tip to win the World Cup? Is there a chance his dog will have puppies, and will they be up for adoption? The Russian leader is going to choose a handful of questions himself. It will be interesting to see which ones he selects.

Who's reading what

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 12:12 UK time, Monday, 26 June 2006

We’ve had our “real-time stats” of most popular stories on the site for a couple of weeks now. No major surprises so far, though the up-to-the-minute rankings by region and section have proved slightly addictive to some of our journalists (and me).

A graphic of the BBC News websiteWhat have we learnt so far and has it changed what we do?

So far, it’s confirmed some things we already knew - that stories about sex, space, technology, showbiz, the environment or animals (or, better, a combination of any of the above) somehow always gets a lot of attention from our readers and viewers. There are also the perennially popular sub-categories, like animals doing human things.

But, as we also knew, the main headlines each day get well read too. So in the past week the most popular stories have included the Saddam trial, the International Whaling Commission conference, the investigation into alleged airline fuel surcharge price-fixing - and of course, the World Cup.

It hasn’t all been predictable – there was the day when the third most popular story was a long series of thoughtful pieces on the future of the world’s cities (not an obvious headline grabber) - or the morning when the most popular video on the site was the full-length version of Gordon Brown’s Mansion House speech.

All this extra data can help inform our thinking – if we see there’s major interest in a story we might look at whether it’s worth following up with a further angle or more information.

We also get clues about what makes for effective signposting and promotion of stories.

But In the end we can’t let it get in the way of the editorial job we are here to do, which is to report on what we judge to be the most important and interesting news around the world, drawing on all the resources we can muster.

I think it just makes it easier for us - and you - to see what the audience's perspective is on it all.

Just five words - no more

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 10:23 UK time, Wednesday, 14 June 2006

A lot of Americans like our News website. I was reminded of this on Monday night - by a lot of Americans - at the Webby awards in New York.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteWe were there to receive, for the second consecutive year, the two top prizes for best news website. A tough assignment, but someone had to go.

The ceremonies for the Webby awards - often dubbed the online Oscars (to the annoyance of the actual, offline Oscars) have a reputation for being unstuffy and a bit wacky (some pictures here). Last night's featured Prince, one of the prize winners, who sang a song, then threw his guitar away and disappeared. Damon Albarn's Gorillaz got a prize and in puppet form they did a comedy routine on behalf of their human creators.

A cameraphone picture taken at the ceremonyThomas Friedman told us globalisation meant the world really is flat, as he’s famously explained, and Robert Kahn recounted his role as one of the internet's founding fathers. He also delivered his acceptance speech in binary code. Decoded, it apparently said the future of the internet belongs to “digital objects and handles”. Peter Sharples of our live site team was one of our party at the bash and was able helpfully to explain what this meant to us in between speeches.

It made a lot of sense at the time.

Beyond that I recollect being interviewed by Guto Harri, making the obligatory five-word-only acceptance speech - "'We did it again, THANKYOU" (read the rest here) - going to the after-show party, then the airport after three hours’ sleep.

Main impression though: What we do is hugely respected by a group of the most influential people working on the web - and it was fantastic to witness that in person.

A new guru

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 15:26 UK time, Friday, 9 June 2006

I’m pleased to announce I’ve just been officially promoted to the status of Guru.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteYou may not have heard about this elsewhere, but on the blog of the newspaper editor’s conference which I spoke at in Moscow this week, I was designated as the BBC’s “interactivity guru”. Now I didn’t want to quibble publicly but I have a feeling that those in the department who know more than me about interactivity might be a bit bemused at this, outraged even. So, apologies to them for my sudden elevation.

But I must say it’s quite a cool title.

What else did I learn from the conference? There was an impressive and varied cast list, ranging from Vladimir Putin to Google News, so here are some snippets:

• President Putin emphatically did not agree with the conference’s view that freedom of the press in Russia leaves a lot to be desired. You can read his response here. You can see from his expression he wasn’t impressed.

• Most major newspapers are now extremely serious about their websites and digital services. From what was arguably a slow start by many, they are now taking notes from us and others who got ahead early. My feeling is we’re still among the leaders in many areas – particularly AV and breaking news, where I think it will take them longer to catch up. But we can’t be complacent.

• “Convergence” was a much-used word. Listening to people like the Washington Post describe their plans, it struck me that they are almost a mirror image of ours. As a broadcaster we do audio and video like no-one else and have added what I think Emily Bell once called “a rampaging global online newspaper” only recently. The papers, on the other hand, already have global brands for their text services and are now busy getting to grips with AV. But for all of us, one of the keys to survival will be how good we are at integrating the old and new bits of our operations, changing the culture of our organisations and providing a seamless offering to users

• Starting each day early with a working “editor’s breakfast” and ending it with a networking event fuelled by free vodka makes for a rather punishing schedule

• Google News don’t want to be editors, or publishers. In an attempt (only partly successful) to allay the fears of the assembled editors, they described themselves as computer scientists and said their main interest was to get people OFF their site as quickly as possible, to the news sources they list. Product manager Nathan Stoll (who looked alarmingly young to me) said their aim was to work with news organisations, to give people greater diversity of information and “to make readers passionate about news”.

• News agencies hope to have a guaranteed future in the changing media world, because, according to AFP’s Pierre Louette, “content is king, and we deliver it”.

• Microsoft have developed new software which they say will make newspapers (and text in general) easier and more fun to read online. They’ve developed something called “Times Reader” with the New York Times which eliminates scrolling, adapts to fit to any screen size and has clearer fonts. Bill Hill, head of advanced reading technologies at Microsoft, delivered his speech in ponytail, beard, kilt and sporran, which I thought made it doubly impressive. You can read about it here.

Aside from the guru designation, how did my speech go down? Well I managed to answer one questioner who quizzed me in French, which was a bit of a personal triumph, but that aside, the gist was that BBC News is doing more with interactivity than most other major news organisations, particularly when it comes to integrating it usefully into our journalism, which for me is the acid test.

But they also got the message that to do this well needs resources and commitment.

Earthquake eyewitnesses

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 11:13 UK time, Tuesday, 30 May 2006

It’s been a busy weekend for the online news desk as they responded to the news early on Saturday of a major earthquake striking Java in Indonesia.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteIn the first stages of a story like this there’s a tried and tested list of things to do: send out a breaking news alert and publish a few paragraphs which can be built up as more quotes and details come in from the BBC’s correspondents. We’ll look for the best pictures, commission maps from our graphics team and stream the BBC’s rolling TV news coverage on the website.

But there’s another staple element in covering any breaking story on the site, which is to ask our readers for their eyewitness accounts. On Saturday we put an email feedback form on the main story straight away and within an hour or so of checking responses, ringing them back and interviewing people, we had a series of first-hand accounts on the site from readers in the area. The contacts we make via these emails are shared with radio and TV news who follow up with their own interviews.

It’s become almost routine for us to expect such reports but sometimes it’s these accounts, above all, which bring home the reality of the situation for those caught up in it.

“We'll be too afraid to sleep tonight,” wrote one man who contacted us from Yogyakarta, “It's going to be a real mess. We're just happy to be alive.”

Search goes on

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 10:53 UK time, Thursday, 25 May 2006

Users of the BBC News website might have noticed we have changed the way Search works. Now, whichever page you search from, the results page will be from across the entire BBC website - news, radio, TV, Where I Live etc etc. The top News results will still be clustered - Google-style - at the top of the list.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteIt's not been a popular move in some quarters (specifically with many journalists who work on the site), but of the hundreds of thousands who use our search every day, there have been barely two dozen complaints. So we think what we've done is probably right - it's based on research which indicated that most searches are not related to the page they are sent from, but could be about any subject. People reading a news story are more likely to search for something non-news related such as EastEnders or GCSE Bitesize than they are another news subject.

It is a work in progress, though - we are looking at restoring some of the "advanced options" we have lost, and will consider giving users an option to choose default results - hardened users of the news site could opt always to see results from news. If you approve or disapprove of the new search, do let me know though. Any feedback is useful.

The big five million

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 14:59 UK time, Monday, 22 May 2006

A graphic of the BBC News websiteEight-and-a-half years after we launched the BBC News website, we have now reached our five millionth story ID - (the number you see in the address bar of your web browser). It won't mean much to anyone who doesn't work here, but to us it's naturally a landmark. And which story was it? Inconveniently for this blog, it was a story on our Russian language site, and had the headline "ЕдРо хочет осадить несдержанных депутатов Думы".

The missing story

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 12:49 UK time, Tuesday, 16 May 2006

There's an article in today's Daily Express about how a new “internationalist extremism” is allegedly sweeping the country.

newswebsite.gifThe article is wrong when it says the BBC News website did not cover an interview the Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu gave to the Today programme; we wrote a story about his claim that some local government policies had led to the impression that migrants were being favoured over people of British origin. You can read it here.

As for the rest of the evidence cited in the piece about the new doctrine said to be tightening its grip over British public life (the BBC included), that's perhaps a debate for another day.

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