Changes to the BBCi Weather service

Published on 17 February 2007 in , , , ,

Urgh, thank goodness it’s the weekend. It’s been a particularly long week due to the launch of the revised BBCi weather service on digital terrestrial and satellite which, for us, wasn’t quite as smooth as I would have liked – hence why I was still at work last night at 8pm. Especially annoying given I’d worked late the previous night and had hoped to go home early on Friday to compensate! Still the changes are done and the service is up there for people to see.

The changes form part of my main project at the moment – a very large feeds migration project where we basically take a look at our old systems, go “yuck, aren’t they nasty” and rebuild it in a swanky and shiny new way that’s much better, more reliable and more flexible.

The reason for this dates back to the early days of what was then known as BBC Text.In those days, almost all of the content we published came from the Ceefax team. The decision was taken then to let that team send us data in their preferred format.

This was all well and fine and probably would be to this day if BBC Text hadn’t started getting content direct from other parts of the BBC – like BBC Weather or from the Entertainment department. The format BBC News used just wasn’t particularly flexible or adaptable (pre-dating as it did, the wonders of XML) so something different was introduced.

Unfortunately there wasn’t a common standard – hence there ended up being several different formats and on Satellite, this even meant that every format had its own set of templates. So whilst a text page with a quarter screen video in News might look the same as one in Entertainment, they were actually completely different code.

And you can guess the rest – it all gets a bit of an unwieldy mess. Which is why, we’ve been slowly migrating to a new, common standard behind the scenes.

Hence we recently started working on changing the Weather service – and whilst we’ve had the code open for different sections, we’ve had the chance to make some tweaks and improvements here and there.

The big changes are a simplified menu structure whereby the 24 Hour and 5 Day weather maps are now in one single section – and when you’re on the 24 Hour map, you can now just press left or right to get the 5 day one. It’s a feature that at least one person has directly asked me for so there’s clearly a demand!

At the same time, we’ve also fixed an annoying issue where some Freeview boxes would display the Scotland map even if you were looking at a different region. And then there’s the the return of five miles of Yorkshire coastline near Hull that went AWOL from the maps when they were changed in 2005. This didn’t go down particularly well with people in the area, which is why we’re very glad to say that the coastline has now been returned.

There’s lots of other little under the bonnet things too, but for me the biggest are a whole raft of new page numbers. I’ve wanted to add these for some time, however for technical reasons, I haven’t been able to do so until now.

We’ve given page numbers to all but four pages in the BBCi Weather service (and I may add some more next week). This means that you can now jump directly to any weather map directly – for example if you wanted the 24 Hour Forecast for North England it’s 4023, whilst the 5 Day forecast is 4063. That ability is another one I’ve been asked about in the past, and I know for a fact that I’ll find it useful!

There’s no new extra content – this was after all a migration project for what’s there. However the wonders of the new system will mean it will be much easier for new stuff to be added in in the future, should the powers that be decide to do so.

Anyway, what’s up there now will be for my money, is a good enhancement. And that almost makes it worth staying to work until 8pm on a Friday night to get it up there.

I say almost…