John Birt, 10 years of BBC online and the modular homepage (2008)

This is a really old post but I’m leaving it here for future interest. Failed links have been updated (where possible) or marked with strikethrough.

John Birt talks to iPM about the beginnings of the BBC’s website 10 years ago. He talks about going on a study tour and meeting dotcom evangelists in the US when ‘the scales fell from my eyes’ . He came back to the BBC to proselytise only to be met with blank faces and a fair amount of resistance. (Sounds familiar). It’s a good interview in which he talks about being proud of the site’s achievements over the years. Quite right too.

The BBC website, always a pioneer, remains so and still sets trends and standards that others worldover follow. Yes, that is in large part due to the fact that it’s long had a giant staff and buckets of public money to play with. A good number of those staff, mind you, will soon be gone as the latest round of redundancies kick in – necessitated by another major cultural and structural shift, this time to accommodate the demands of convergence.

In addition to the interview, the post talks about the BBC’s new modular homepage which launched late last year in beta. It looks extremely promising although I’ve found it a bit clunky and UK-centric so far and have temporarily abandoned it. I will go back to it, though.

The BBC says: “The new page is made up of customisable and moveable widgets that allow users to determine the layout of the page and give them a greater level of control over what information they want to see.

“As well as the tailoring the page to their own requirements users can, for the first time, listen live to BBC radio directly from the homepage and browse the evening’s BBC tv schedules.”

There’s been huge chatter about the site, a disproportionate amount of which is in appreciation of the analog clockface adorning the top right corner. Mind you, to be fair, it is fantastic. Most of the chatter, as far as I can tell, has been favourable and rightly so: the BBC is leading the way on this aspect of personalisation.

Personalisation has been talked about a lot in media companies in recent years. It’s been applied here and there to email services and the like, and some sites have launched user-centric areas with some degree of personalisation, such as the Telegraph’s user-blogging site My Telegraph.

But this is the first I’ve seen of an interface where the user can experience the whole website from their own personalised homepage. Are there more out there?

Newspapers make themselves at home on Facebook (2007)

This is an old post but I’m leaving it here for future reference. Failed links have been updated (where possible) or removed.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that newspapers’ involvement with social networks like Facebook and Bebo was restricted to tutting over how much time some of their employees spent sending messages and updating their status during work hours.

Now newspapers have their own Facebook profiles, run campaigns on Facebook and, more importantly, are figuring out more and better ways of getting their content into the personal space of Facebook users and, all going well, luring them back to their websites (rather than hoping Facebook users will rock up to their websites under their own steam).

The New York Times has lifted Most Emailed Articles from its site and made them available as a Facebook App. It displays cleanly on the page and fits well with the minimal Facebook aesthetic. A nice feature is that you can click on a headline and read a summary before deciding whether you can be bothered clicking through to the full article. I love this. It means I can read what I know I’m interested in rather than having to spend time clicking through to the site to find out whether or not I’m interested.

They have a daily news quiz too which opens inside your Facebook page. It’s nicely done and links back to the site – required if you’re not a daily reader and want to do some research so you can impress your friends with a 100% score – but of limited appeal for those in a hurry.

The Washington Post has a great Facebook App called News Tracker which lets you choose what kinds of stories appear on your page by defining the search – news, business, media, technology, politics etc. The tracker then displays relevant stories in the Washington Post – and in other publications. Smart. It also gives you a breaking news feed and a Hot News Topics tag cloud.

There are plenty of other examples of newspapers making themselves at home on Facebook, such as The Sun’s and The Daily Telegraph’s Fantasy Football apps and EU referendum campaigns and the growing number of Facebook groups dedicated to newspapers and their causes.

You might ask why I wanted news on my Facebook profile at all. I didn’t, particularly, and like many things at the moment I signed up more in a spirit of discovery than in response to a recognised need. But now that it’s there, I like it.

I like reading news about the US and international news with a US perspective and I used to make mental notes to myself to go and visit sites like the NY Times and Washington Post from time to time. Now I don’t have to make mental notes, I naturally come across them on my Facebook profile and dive in when I see something of interest.

I don’t want all the world’s newspapers running feeds on my Facebook profile, however. Just like I don’t want everyone’s news ticker running across my desktop (I do have the BBC’s) nor all the world’s widgets on my desktop. And I never get round to reading everything piling up in my inbox let alone in Bloglines which I tend to load up like a plate at a buffet – eyes bigger than stomach.

In fact, I’ve no idea ultimately how I’m going to manage the growing pile of news and information out there that I’d like to plug into my brain. I guess the way I manage it will evolve as the way it’s being delivered does.