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Thursday, 29 May 2008

BBC Web Review; curate's egg

I must admit that I wasn't expecting much from the BBC Trust review of their website — and the big headlines are all about money issues. Yawn. But it makes a few points which are totally correct. More additions when I read the whole thing.
"We believe that effective external linking is a key way in which the BBC can manage the risk of becoming a 'dominant gateway service' identified in the [Philip] Graf review [of in 2004]."
Doh! BBC linking isn't very useful for users - this isn't the language used but should be. Look at a story, any story, and see who they link to, and where, compared to who, and where, an average blogger would pick. BBC picks are too corporate rather than user-friendly.

They also nailed BBC search: "is not effective and its usage is declining". Because it's not useful. Again with the language. It really is crap compared to searching the site via Google. But the Internet team knows this, it's obviously just the higher-ups who haven't let them prioritise fixing it. Or just buy Google Enterprise.

One thing they couldn't get more wrong is that they think the Beeb shouldn't get embedding happening, as is planned.
"We are [also] not convinced that BBC management's ambition to be 'part of' the web rather than 'on it' by embedding BBC content on other sites, such as YouTube, plays any role in acting as a 'trusted guide' to the wider web. Rather, this is mainly a way of marketing BBC content to those who might not otherwise access it."
And this is a bad thing?

Well they are called the BBC 'Trust' aren't they?

I also found the general tone about helping 'the competition' a bit slack as, in the area of national and international news, where are the competition? What about the bigger context of the decline of newspapers? Is the BBC supposed to play some sort of King Canute role for them when, mostly, it's their own fault? The BBC has dominance in news generally - are they attacking that? And the website merely reflects that dominance.

What could possibly be critiqued is where they're getting away from straight news reporting and into features and columnists. And maybe in the local area. Much local news is pretty pick'n'mix - it's odd how different providers locally pick vastly different 'news'. I can see how boosting local 'news' coverage on would rightly piss off local papers.

To quote review chairwoman, Patricia Hodgson, the site must be "distinctive - setting itself aside from what you can find elsewhere." I think it's actually healthy that commercial providers have BBC competition when the BBC is more user friendly (that's when). And actually the UK is not in many areas a big enough market to allow much other competition - what Hodgson may be enabling is simply an alternative monopoly. This idea of 'competitors' shouldn't be about the needs of business but users. Much of the so-called competition just isn't very good - and that's why it doesn't beat the BBC, not because they're "overwhelmed by the scale of the BBC".

Simply put, this isn't a webbies perspective on the web - it's a bureaucrat's reacting to business pressures. Not necessarily good for users (or 'consumers' if you must).


  1. To be fair to the Trust, I don't think they are saying "don't do embedding" in some kind of crude way. They are just casting doubt on whether embedding achieves the aim of the BBC being a "trusted guide" to the web.

    If embedded BBC content implies that the BBC is saying "you can trust this site" then maybe.

    But it may not actually drive more traffic from to other sites.

    Nick Reynolds (BBC).

  2. comment cross-posted from BBC Internet Blog:

    1. Embedding would open up access to areas like the archives, where you have layer upon layer of compelling content — I used the example of the Titanic audio.

    2. With news, BBC content is already 'out there on youtube etc. As is happening with MSNBC and others, allowing embedding would help the blogosphere, enhance the brand ('trust' if you like') and help reach audiences, i.e. youth sharing content.

    I don't get Nick's last point.