The new BBC Homepage – a bit like myBBC then

Published on 11 December 2007 in , , , ,

The new BBC homepage is almost upon us then – the public can cast their gaze on the beta version right now.

Lots of people have blogged about it – with comments ranging from celebrating about the lack of the logo, and celebrating that lovely retro clock.

BBC homepage design for 2007

The personalisation element has also caught the odd eye, which is not entirely surprising. It involves a lot of AJAX’y wizardry, although also seems to work quite nicely when you disable JavaScript – as I’d expect from the hardworking team of developers working on it.

The one comment I’ve not seen in print, is something people have said a fair amount to me. “It’s a bit like myBBC isn’t it?”.

And yes. It is actually. Even down to the curved boxes and choice of content (although myBBC didn’t have a blogs panel!)

myBBC website design

Of course myBBC was built and launched in 2000, when we had to support IE2, could only use web safe colours, and where I had to go to my boss to persuade him that to enable users to change background images and things, I simply had to use CSS to set the background and text colours – a practise which at the time was completely banned.

(if I remember correctly, the reason I had to do this was because you could change the background image and text colour for the whole page, but the panels themselves always had a fixed background colour – so News Headlines was a white panel. The background image was done in the BODY tag using the BACKGROUND attribute, whilst the panel background set on a TD tag using the BGCOLOR attribute, and the text colour then by a font tag. Following this? Good. Right. The problem? Some browsers we had to support (might have been IE2 or Netscape 2) didn’t support the BGCOLOR attribute, but did allow you to set the text colour in font tags. So if the user selected a black background for the page, then any black text on the page would be invisible if the white for the panel wasn’t rendered. The solution I proposed – and used – was to use CSS for all text and backgrounds except the main one. Many recent developers are probably looking at that, completely stunned – to which I say, you don’t know coding pain until you’ve had to support Netscape and IE versions 2-4 all at the same time. Oh and Mosaic! Youngsters. Pah!)

We also had behind the scenes problems caused by lack of standards for sharing data between departments. RSS was a long way away from hitting the mainstream, and the BBC’s usage of XML was limited and certainly not standardised in any way. If a provider wanted to change their feed format (which they regularly did, for whatever reason), the entire service would break, and the Perl developers would have to start reworking their code. Indeed this lack of standard formats was one of the ultimate reasons why myBBC was closed in the end – it became too much of a maintenance overhead, and it was decided the money spent on it could be better used elsewhere.

The technology of the internet has changed a lot since then, and the problems that we encountered with myBBC mostly won’t be encountered by the team putting together the new BBC homepage – although I’m sure they’ve got a completely different set of problems to fight with!

Still, if the BBC management had really wanted to, they could have had much of what is about to launch, back in 2001. At the time we did a mock-up showing how myBBC could be integrated into the BBC homepage with relative ease. It may have taken 6 years for something similar to get launched, but hey, tge homepage got there in the end!


  • William T says:

    Ah yes, good old myBBC (even the name is going to be stolen soon for ‘My News|Sport Now’, is it not?)
    I think the key difference between that one and this is that I played a bit with the former and thought “interesting”, but never regarded it as more than a bit of a gimmick, for all the limitations you mention.
    Whereas this one, because it looks stunning, and they’ve now got the radio/TV schedule feeds (I imagine a podcast panel will be added later) which I think is crucial, I might *actually* even use as my homepage. Which is saying something for someone who has resolutely stuck to ‘about:blank’ as a homepage for years on end. (No iGoogle or for me…)
    It also seems much faster (for now.)
    A couple of thing strike me about it – I think it ought to remember which of the four promo tabs you have open when you go back to it after a few hours.. The tabs would (internally) each correspond to a genre of content – eg all the radio stuff ends up in tab 2, news stories in 3, high-brow stuff in tab 4, populist in tab 1 – you get the idea. Therefore there’s a greater chance that on repeat use people will be interested in the item they’re served by default.
    Also (and I haven’t seen any other blogs on this than yours yet) I wonder what their intentions are for screen resolution support – I have the luxury of a 1680×1050 screen now, and it’d be nice to have a version with a fourth column to reduce scrolling.
    I didn’t think I’d ever write this, but for the first time, with this and the work Radio and Music Interactive have done with their site, now actually appears to be ahead of NoL..
    (Incidentally, I take it checking the User Agent and sending them off to a customised version of the page using RewriteCond wasn’t an option back in 2000?)
    Footnote: as of midnight it all suddenly appears to have become password protected. Maybe intentional, or maybe a buggy Apache directive which came into force as I was writing this post….

  • Andrew Bowden says:

    (Thankfully!) My Sport Now is purely an internal project name, and I’m presuming My Local Now and My News Now will be too. I spent a bit of time working on My Sport Now and I always wanted to cringe when anyone used its full name! Most people I know have started calling it MSN 🙂
    I think we could probably have done a RewriteCond back in 2000 – I’m not entirely sure though, and Apache wasn’t something we tended to touch. We did all our redirects using JavaScript at that point!
    Shame it’s also gone back to being hidden – perhaps it was released to the whole world by accident! I only noticed it was available externally after reading it on another blog – it’s been on a quiet beta internally for a week or two.

  • My name is Anthony Heath, I’m PM for the new homepage at the BBC. Thank you for the comments, it’s been an exciting couple of months and I’m pleased to say we’re a day or so away from a public facing beta…. check back soon!

  • Andrew Bowden says:

    Cool news!

  • Sneak preview, no password required:
    Let us know what you think.
    Anthony Heath

  • In fact…
    Check it out now!
    Let us know what you think!

  • Iain says:

    I notice it’s no designed for 800×600 resolutions – is this a conscious decision based on the fact that next to no-one actually uses 800×600 anymore?
    I say that as web designer always reading about standards compliance / usability etc, so would be glad to hear the news that 1024×768 can safely be replace 800×600 as a minimum resolution to cater for!

  • Alexander says:

    Referring to Iain comments, I still do see a couple of PCs in universities use 800×600 resolution. Although most of them don’t.
    Maybe they should rethink.

  • Andrew Bowden says:

    I had a quick look at Google Analytics for the various sites I look after. 1024×768 seems to be the most popular resolution, but there’s still a fair few people using 800×600, and don’t forget those ever increasing mobile devices with 320×200 screens etc (amusingly Google Analytics told me some one was using one site with a resolution of 0x0!)
    Personally I always go for the “just because someone has that resolution, doesn’t mean you can use it”. Which is why this website continues to be stretchy. The blog has got a maximum and a minimum width – I think it will go down to about 640px if you want it too…

  • Martin Belam says:

    >> amusingly Google Analytics told me some one was using one site with a resolution of 0x0!
    That may be a reference to my bandwidth in Greece which often effectively provides me with 0x0 on any site using sophisticated new web techniques like images and stuff.

  • Andrew Bowden says:

    I still can’t decide if having an internet connection like that would actually be good in some sort of strange way – offering the chance to do other things rather than being sucked into the PC.
    On the other hand, it might be bad because it would release more time for ironing.

  • Will Warren says:

    The BBC’s new website looks completely amazing. My company, Endeca, is all about user experience and i’m curious as to the underlying technologies that were used to produce not only the visually appealing front end, but support the back end.
    Will Warren.

  • dorothy richards says:

    Have received BBC news alerts, pictures, and listened to programmes for about eight years. I continue to receive In Tonight and other news alerts, but for some mysterious reason can no longer open up the BBC homepage at all.
    I’m aware this is off topic, but I really could use any advice offering to solve this problem.
    I’m missing my favourite daily contacts via the BBC website. Can you please help me.
    Dorothy Richards