Return of the lost BBC code

Published on 21 March 2008 in , , ,

Recently finding the BBC mailing list subscription page I coded in 2001, reminded me of another blog post I’ve been meaning to write. Some time ago, I telneted in to one of the internal web servers at work where I had my own webspace years ago and which I occasionally still use for various bits and pieces.

By the looks of it, not many people use the cunningly named “dev1” server any more (it used to be called dev0 but for some reason got a rename – there was also dev3, but don’t ask me where dev2 went cos I don’t remember it at the time. I do believe dev4 mysteriously disappeared and was taken back in time to help bring peace to the Mimbari homeworld though…) and clearly no one has done any clear outs on it as there’s piles of old websites dating as far back as 1998, in various states of disrepair.

A lot of my old code is still there, mostly templates for long defunct CGI scripts. However one particular page caught my eye.

“The Search” was probably my third or forth project in the BBC. My first was a collection of special pages celebrating EastEnders’ 20th Birthday and the second was the venerable myBBC. I think “The Search” came next.

BBC 'The Search' website from 2000

It was a pretty simple set of pages set up to support a programme which was trying to find missing people.

The designer for the site was new to the BBC and like many designers at that time, had come from a print background. Even if I hadn’t have known, little things would have given it away such as questions like “Could you just reduce the font kerning a little”.

She was also less than keen when she came to me with the design and I told her we couldn’t have the background colour she’d chosen – BBC guidelines at the time insisted on using websafe colours. Her response was to get round the guidelines by supplying me with a 50×50 background image which consisted of a chequerboard affect of two colours.

Background image for 'The Search' website

The result to the eye looked like the colour she’d wanted all along. This might sound like madness to some people now but it’s worth remembering that many people at that point would have been using computers with a mere 4096 colours!

The other thing that gave the designer away as having come fresh from print was – well – to be blunt, the graphics. It’s at this point that frankly a static screenshot doesn’t really tell all and as such, you can go and try the built page yourself. Hit the link at the top of the page to remove the black banner in order to get the true representation of what it really looked like.

What you might notice most is the proliferation of lots of pointless flashing things in the form of animated GIFs and rollovers. In fact the original design had far more – myself and the project producer conspired to remove about half of them without telling her! It was a rather clich&eactute;d case of a print designer suddenly finding they had a pile of new toys to play with!

Looking at the code itself is also interesting – I’ve had to make a few tiny changes to image locations and the addition of the banner at the top, however the rest of the code is as it was written in 2000 (any changes made in 2008 are clearly marked in the source!) The grey boxes were photos of people the programme was looking for – these files were not on the server, but for privacy reasons, I wouldn’t have included them anyway.

This was a time when quotes were left off HTML attributes because it cut down file size by few bytes – broadband wasn’t with us yet. The BBC standard “Text only” link is, yep, an image (oh the irony!) And all the HTML is in a mixture of upper and lower case – at this point the BBC’s standards were for uppercase, but XHTML was beginning to sneak onto the scene and I was frankly a bit of a maverick back then and disobeyed the rules and coded in lowercase. Anything uppercase is generally from the standard templates which were pulled in as SSI includes (although they’re flattenend here)

What’s interesting about this one for me is that it’s a rather hidden representative of how much of the BBC website – and indeed much of the web – was just eight years ago. When we dig out archives at work, it’s almost always of the News website, or the main BBC homepage. We see the front door, but never the rooms.

Well here’s one of the BBC Online rooms from 2000. It’s worth popping over to to compare the rooms of yesteryear, to what we’ve got now. Eight years isn’t that long in one way, but boy what a difference it made to the web.