The new BBC homepage

I previously mentioned that over the summer I spent some time at the BBC thinking about the direction their homepage could take in the future. So I also feel bound to clarify that we were looking at the page’s long term future, rather than the urgently needed “lipstick on a pig” “lick of paint” quick fix which is currently in beta.

The credit (or blame, depending on your view) for this new page is due to Richard Titus who has posted about it on the BBC Internet Blog. The new version is a definite improvement on the old one which had become staid and dull, although I’d echo some of the more considered criticism people have left on Richard’s post:

  • The colour changes when one clicks the tabs under the “promo” image are arbitrary, meaningless and jarring.

  • The subheadings seem much too big and it’s hard for the eye to flow comfortably around the page.

  • It feels like someone’s been drinking too much of the Web 2.0 design Kool-Aid with all those rounded corners and relentless gradients.

Overall though, considering the brief (and the political nightmare involved in changing the homepage), it’s a thumbs up.

Personally I’m not wild about personalisation, although plenty of people seem excited about it. If I create an account on the sites Richard mentions as influences — Facebook, iGoogle or Netvibes — then of course I should be able to customise the content as much as possible. This is the point of the sites. But when I come to the BBC’s homepage I want the BBC to tell me what it thinks I should know about. To modern eyes this could seem remarkably old fashioned and deferential. But the BBC is one of the few organisations I trust (more or less) and I want it to tell me what’s happening now, rather than have me tell it what I want to hear about. Customisation feels to me like saying “we don’t know what you want any more, here, you have a go.” The BBC should appear more confident than that.

Does this sound like I come from another era of top-down Reithian broadcasting rather than modern everyone’s-equal, bottom-up, information rich internetting? Maybe. But, just as I still like watching films as well as enjoying more “interactive” media, there are times I don’t want to customise my experience, and believe that I shouldn’t even be allowed to. I want the serendipity that comes from seeing everything the BBC thinks is important to Britain, rather than restricting my view to what I’m comfortable with.

But aside from this, and given the scope of this project — improving the page quickly without adding much new content — this is certainly a big improvement on the previous version. And one other thing I was pleased to see: bottom navigation. The Directory, which took up so much prominent space on the old home page has been moved to the bottom of the site, sort of in the style of sites like Flickr and Last.fm. This was something I wanted to see (although I’m not saying this is because of me) and something Matt Jones advocated across the site while at the BBC several years ago. Nice to see some neglected seeds come to flower eventually.

Photos taken 19 Dec 2007

19 Dec 2007 at Twitter

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