BBC Appealing to the Facebook Generation

by Simon. Average Reading Time: about 4 minutes.

BBC Homepage LogoI’m not a big fan of the BBC‘s recent website redesign! While I believe that a few structural and hierarchical elements could have been addressed better, the overall result of this redesign is too “Facebook” and Web 2.0 for my liking; exactly what an online news site does not need. Who are the BBC trying to appeal to? They have gone from being content centric to design and technology centric. This in itself isn’t a bad thing, but I don’t understand the BBCs motivation for doing so.

Richard Titus, the Acting Head of User Experience at the BBC was a key driver of the project.

From a conceptual point of view, the widgetisation adopted by Facebook, iGoogle and netvibes weighed strongly on our initial thinking.

Titus identifies the key features of the new homepage as being:

  • Simple, clean and beautiful, the final design, … visually striking yet unpretentious.
  • Personalization: you can choose the content that interests you by adding and removing the content boxes via the “Customise Your Homepage” tab.
  • Localization: Users can now set their own location, enabling them to access local sites, weather, news, radio and TV schedules without the hassle often associated with user journeys to local content.
  • Simplicity: the customization is intuitive and includes an interactive demo and tips to guide users through the process. It is also unobtrusive if the user has no desire to customize their page their experience won’t be compromised.
  • Search: The site is much easier to read and scan at a glance. At the top of the page there’s a search function (now reduced from two search boxes to one), and at the bottom a full directory of all BBC sites and a link to the A-Z, allowing users to quickly find what they’re looking for.
  • Nostalgia: the new homepage also manages to incorporate eccentricity alongside innovation.

Aesthetically bold and bright.

Aesthetically, the new homepage looks nice. It’s big, bold and bright – a far cry from the old days when BBC sites had text almost too small to read and a fixed-width design optimised for tiny monitors. But at the same time it appears far too clunky! I’d prefer something that would look a little more elegant and understated. Something that doesn’t appeal to The Facebook Generation, who are less likely to read the BBC pages at lunchtime, than update their Facebook, Bebo or Twitter profile during that ‘valuable’ hour. This begs the question, does the BBC know who their core audience is?

Confusing interactions.

The homepage makes great use of AJAX, but at the same time, there are a number of confusing interactions going on. For instance, the ‘Edit’ button next to each area of customisable content seems like the wrong label text. I’m not editing the news, the weather or blogs – I’m selecting which news categories I want to see, where I am and which blogs I want to read. These types of button ought to be contextual rather than generic. Edit is simply too vague.

Also, what’s the idea behind those plus and minus buttons for news? Strange idea. Add or remove articles from the displayed list? Why would you want to remove them from view sequentially? If the idea was to allow the user to asynchronously update a short list of available headlines, then why not move back/forwards in blocks of five? Plus and minus are often used as metaphors for creation/deletion in software, so the usage doesn’t seem right.

Personalisation vs Simplicity … an uneasy relationship

BBC Customise Homepage

The ability to personalise a website is, in general, a good thing. Google has done it with their iGoogle, Yahoo! with My Yahoo and Microsoft with Windows Live. But I think the balance here is gone too far towards design and borrowing from succesful Web 2.0 sites. The BBC website has always been an impressive destination for (relatively) impartial news and current affairs throughout the world, not a Web Portal. Or is this the point? Does the BBC want to become a destination for all your information needs and compete with Google, Microsoft and Yahoo?

The BBC should consider that 14-25 year old users, what I term The Facebook Generation, will require far greater scope for adding their individuality than is currently available. The social networking generation are page-savvy. They want control of their interface to information, their screen is their window on the world and I don’t think that you have gone far enough in divesting control of the display of that information to the user.

But for those who aren’t part of The Facebook Generation, the people who care about getting to the content fast and with little fuss, is the ability to personalise the homepage worthwhile or even simple? I’m not so sure.

Who needs a clock?

BBC Homepage Clocks Finally, the clock and date. What an important waste of webpage ‘real estate’, even though in the BBC‘s case I understand it was a throwback to the old clock that preceded individual TV programmes. If you’ve got a modern computer capable of displaying the clock with the Flash plugin, then you’ll almost certainly have the date and time visible to you anyway. It’s needlessly superfluous on a website.

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