BBC News: you win some, you lose some

BBC online may have just saved itself.  For iPhone users at least.

Earlier this month, BBC News launched its new offering.  While the information architecture of the site didn’t undergo a change, the navigation into that information architecture was turned upside down.  Side menus were moved to the top, while the navigational elements within the body of the homepage were unrecognisable.  And the site sucks on an iPhone where the previous site was easily navigable.  My review of the changes can be found here.

As is often the case with such wholesale changes, people reacted badly.  People don’t like change.  And when it’s something as beloved as the BBC website—an offering that has generated affinity and affection in keeping with its offline brand—the reaction to the change is all the more vociferous.  But usually this reaction calms down as people get used to, nay sometimes begin to prefer, the new offering.  (As an aside, I loved the previous redesign in March 2008 from the moment I set my eyes on it.)

With this change, there has been no such calming.  Three weeks in, the people who I know and trust still don’t like it.  It’s still confusing and unintuitive, and the BBC has ruled out reverting to the previous incarnation.

To address my frustration at the user experience of the site on the iPhone, I downloaded the newly launched BBC News iPhone app.  And I have to say, it’s lovely—at least in comparison to the disgrace that is the website.  And it also addresses head-on the Adobe issue, its video footage being accessible through the application.

But I’m still annoyed with the website from my laptop.  And I can’t see this going away.  And so for the time being, the Guardian will be the source of a greater proportion of my online news absorption.

The new BBC News homepage: my take

BBC News launched their new look and feel last week.  I immediately loved the previous major re-branding, in March 2008, and here’s the glowing review I gave it.

On first impressions, I disliked last week’s re-branding.  So I allowed a week before passing comment, to allow it to grow on me.

It hasn’t.  And here’s my review.  The review focuses entirely on the News homepage.

First impressions were drawn to its overt redness.  It’s way redder than its predecessor, the header that houses the three main navigational tools lacking the subtlety of before.  (For reference, the “before” view can be seen in the link to its review above.)  And when news breaks, a further red strapline at the top only goes to accentuate this.  Maybe over time this will become white noise.  But for the time being, it distracts the eye and takes it away from the site’s content.  Embedding the navigation in the header is, however, successful in widening the real estate available for content though.

Now to the typography.  It comes across as amateurish.  The contrast in size between the clickable title of the headline news article and its summary is way too great.  And the very size of the title makes its on-hover underline plain ugly.  They appear to have moved from a Verdana-esque font to Arial, which may be more web-friendly but only serves to make the content less visible, to me at least.

The main news items are more difficult to absorb.  The pictures that previously accompanied the lead three articles gave context, allowing elements of the article’s subject to be inferred without the need to read the entire summary.  This sounds lazy—and maybe it is—but it is a symptom of how people absorb information nowadays.  I do like the tag showing which articles are “new”, as previously, a new story that was not deemed important enough to make the top three could easily be lost among the lesser stories.

The right-hand column interests me little. Maybe as video becomes yet more prevalent online, I will find myself clicking more over there, but for the time being, that column, above the fold at least, is almost redundant to me.  It’s very orange though.

Besides the Sport link in the top navigation, nothing sport-related makes its way above the fold unless a sports story makes mainstream news (e.g. yesterday’s Open result).  I think this is a crying shame, particularly given the BBC’s deserved reputation in this field.

Below the fold, I get lost in a heap of yet more confusion.  There isn’t sufficient visual distinction between the Also in the News section and Sport.  And the lack of any tags against any of the Sport headlines means you have to know your stuff and may result in confusion.  Surfaced articles such as Wigan sign Melbourne trio, without the Rugby League tag, will cause confusion.

The grey localisation box (after all, it’s location based rather than being based on anything any more specific about my person) is a half-arsed attempt at personalised news.  Down the right, again general confusion is the order of the day until you hit the familiar and loved Most Popular box, which straddles the second fold, on this laptop at least.

The lead stories from the site’s main sections (Business, Politics, Technology etc.) are stacked four abreast, lesser citizens in a homepage stripped of any sense of order.  And the iPlayer gets some airtime in the bottom right corner, almost an afterthought.

Look at the site on an iPhone, and as well as being unable to access any of the video content because of the Apple/Adobe stand-off, you’re confronted with a site that is difficult to navigate, with lots of vertical and horizontal scrolling and general difficulty getting close to any of the content.

Overall, the homepage is a mess.  It lacks structure, order and any meaningful visual differentiation.  And I miss its predecessor dearly.


Is the BBC not adding to the very problem they are reporting on?

Jade Goody

Lewis Hamilton’s race statistics

The BBC just advertised Lewis Hamilton as the first ever black Formula One world champion. I think they meant the first ever mixed-race world champion. Either way, a phenomenal role-model to inspire young people.

Unfortunately, searching for the word race on his Wikipedia article didn’t give me the focused search I was looking for.

The BBC’s news prioritisation

The world has gone a bit mad. Or at least the BBC has.

Yesterday, BBC News’ lead article was the suspension of Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand, with the 160 victims of the Pakistani earthquake playing second fiddle.

Today, Ross’s three month suspension from Radio 2 leads, with the "concern[s] for tens of thousands of people" in DR Congo being deemed less significant.

BBC priorities

While the two presenters’ behaviour was indeed wrong and inexcusable, the stage that this story has been given is way too elevated, and the barracking that the two presenters have received is at odds with the offence they committed.

The BBC has an obligation to include stories in which it is intrinsically involved; but sometimes I feel they elevate such stories higher than their significance warrants. And no doubt, the BBC is reacting strongly to this story largely as a result of Channel 4’s unwillingness to do the same following the racism incidents in 2007’s Celebrity Big Brother.


I’m not a fan at all of the BBC’s US08 elections logo.


They appear to have used an O (the letter) as opposed to a zero (the number), albeit in a smaller font weight than its alphabetic predecessors. I’ve never seen such an elongated zero before now. A typesetting horror that grates upon at least two eyes.

Carriage return, line feed

I read with interest and some amusement today’s news of Luc Costermans breaking the world blind road speed record.

My favourite part of the article was the paragraph-hungry BBC’s decision to separate these two sentences into two paragraphs.

Two years ago Mr Costermans completed a tour of France piloting a light aeroplane.

He was accompanied by an instructor and a navigator.

Surely the second sentence is a sufficient qualification of the first to negate the need for the carriage return, line feed.

Ben Dirs: crimes against the apostrophe

During the BBC’s online Olympic coverage this morning, there was the following update at 10.45:

1045: And we’re off – Sarah Stevenson versus Maria del Rosario Espinoza of Mexico. Can the Doncaster lass keep her head while all around her are losing theres’? The 20-year-old Mexican is the current world middleweight champion, a title she won in Beijing last year.

Fortunately, they "corrected" it quickly to:

1045: And we’re off – Sarah Stevenson versus Maria del Rosario Espinoza of Mexico. Can the Doncaster lass keep her head while all around her are losing theirs’? The 20-year-old Mexican is the current world middleweight champion, a title she won in Beijing last year.

A couple of heinous errors from Ben Dirs, whose name is itself a stroke of genius.

BBC typos galore

[sic] applies to all content below. Here are a couple of paragraphs from a BBC article I read today:

He said: "He was shocked and devastaed. The man who died was a collegaue, he asked for help and collapsed himself."

The proest added: "I went onboard to console the man’s partnet, who is also a crew member.

Four typos in two sentences. The subsequent paragraph continues with the quote, so the omission of the closing quote here is correct; but the subsequent paragraph doesn’t bother. Shocking.

Naomi attacks building

Article surfaced on the BBC website:

Naomi bailed after row on plane
Supermodel Naomi Campbell is bailed on suspicion of assaulting a police office at Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5.

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