Archive for April, 2006

A brief history of

Here’s my entry on the reboot blog page giving a short history of the BBC’s online output.. reboot_blog | A brief history of

RIP Alfie Howard

icSouthlondon – Town crier legend dies.

Alfie Howard, Lambeth’s town crier, has died at the age of 93. I met him a couple of times when I lived in Brixton. He was a real character.

He walk into the pubs and trendy bars dressed like this, and people would buy him drinks (soft ones, he was getting on a bit) And the DJ would turn down the music so he could do his ‘hear yee’ bit..
Alfie Howard (c)
He always had a few pictures of himself with famous people including Prince Charles and, um, Peter Ustinov. In 2002 he was hit in the head by a crossbow bolt.. And he’s getting a street named after him

A real local gem who’ll be sadly missed.

The BBC’s Creative Future

So it’s half time here at the BBC Creative Future debate. This morning was spent huddled round the TV screens watching Mark and the Creative team talk about, well, our creative future. I always find this things (the big conversation etc.) slightly scary. It’s weird watching TV about your job, they always have a strange visual grammar too, part corporate video – part propaganda.

The other thing I find strange is that I’m in probably the most progressive bit of the BBC. So when you hear, “we should consider 360deg commissioning, and involve areas like online from the start”. You sort of feel like shouting “I’ve been saying that for ages!”.

So what’s been said? Well, lot’s of no brainers for us in the online ‘tail’, but that might come as a shock or confusing to the rest of the ‘dog’. We’re now head to head with companies like Google and Yahoo! Who are ‘already global, rich and fit for the digital age”. Interestingly Microsoft wasn’t mentioned… It’s not (just) ITV, Channel4 and Five anymore.

There was also a short vox pop from someone from UKNova, who’s name I didn’t catch, who said something along the lines of “people are sharing your content, and if you don’t start doing it, we will”. Which I thought was odd, but brave. I reckon if I walked into TVC canteen and ‘vox popped’ our own staff less than half would know what UKNova was, maybe less…

So the temptation is perhaps to go something like this.
New Media: ‘ha ha telly people, your time has come! Stand aside and make way for the digital revolution”
TVC people: “sigh, not this again, didn’t we do all this six years ago?”
New Media: “Ahh, but this time, we mean it!”

I guess that’s what part of today was about, in some ways it’s a classic internal comms exercise. It takes a lot of repeated consistent messages to affect a step change. From a technology point of view though I wonder if it was ever like this when they introduced colour TV? People bemoaning about the loss of chiariscuro?

And the iMP a.k.a The Player internally, now becomes the BBC iPlayer. I’m sure about the product, not sure about the name.

Some other Mr T soundbites.. “Ultimately the internet’s going to be the most important medium we operate in and an important way of delivering TV and radio”
“The four big themes: creative, digital, simple, open….will be central to our work over the next 12 months”

Some other things I picked up on..

UGC – you on us: This is going to move out of just News, and coincidentally today we launched comedy soup, it’s not b3ta taken away and force bred with youtube, honest!

Metadata is like, um, important: Ashley’s talked about this ages ago, it was true then, tis true now.

For God’s sake get the kids in man!
One in four teens doesn’t watch ANY BBC tv. That’s really bad. Why? ‘Well there’s so much other competing media these days like playstation’s and DVDs’ goes the line… crap. When I was a young there were Commodores and Spectrums and ghostbusters on VHS, and I watched almost every broom cupboard transmission… So it’s got to be the internet then, can’t just be that? The programmes have to share some of the blame.

And finally…. that we’re launching a competition to redesign the BBC homepage.
Send us your designs here more on that in a bit….

Pettit’s butchers window

Pettit's butchers window Pettit’s butchers window,originally uploaded by There’s a line in Dracula that goes “You think to baffle me, you with your pale faces all in a row, like sheep in a butcher’s.”… Well, no sheep in this butchers window, just a mighty fine display of local lamb and beef.And no crappy plastic grass too. Look at that beautiful bit of pork with all the cherries and kiwi round it. Retro.The butchers is Pettit’s in Grimsby, they also do very fine sausages I’m told.

StockPhotoTalk | The History Of A Study, Strictly For Internal Use

Link: StockPhotoTalk | Special Interest Blog: The History Of A Study, Strictly For Internal Use.

And now you can get Stock Photography for free!

Oi! Fancy being a Paparazzi

So you can now join the people the celebs love to hate, and be a public paparazzi. Darryn Lyons, owner of Big Pictures, and who features in the BBC Three show Paparazzi, has launched Mr Simon has an editorial about it in this month’s BJP

So, here’s my photo of Madonna getting into her car taken with a k700 and it’s slooooow shutter lag

And here’s a very similar shot of Madge that apparently sold for £100,000 taken by a pro.

Dunno about you but I sure could do with a £100,000. But would a PubPap (?) really get that kind of money, even if they’re using a 10 megapixel cameraphone? The guy who sold the photo of Gazza eating a Kebab in Soho before an England match to the Sun got what, a couple of hundred quid if memory serves.. Even now the Daily Star’s got a story? page says:

‘GOT a picture of celebs letting their hair down? Let us see them! Get your camera phones working and send your photos, with details – who, where, when etc – to 07843 500911. Messages cost £1 plus usual network charges, but we’ll pay a whopping £200 if your pics are used on the Goss pages.

But a look back at Monday’s Media Guardian see this:
“There has been disproportionate coverage of blogging, still only a minority ever read blogs and a tiny proportion publish them,” said Mr Vagg. “This suggests there is an over-hyping about how big the idea of people’s journalism is through using technology like camera phones and weblogs.”

So that’s people’s journalism – no thanks, people’s paparazzi – bring it on! Just sit back and wait for that first user generated up skirt car exiting shot.

The BBC homepage as you’ve never seen it before

jpg versions

(HTML versions, ep2, ep3, ep4, ep5)

Last Sunday saw the final Planet Earth Special homepage go live and last week was spent chewing over the data, some of which I can reveal now. (Some of this is lifted from a report produced by the BBC feedback guy, Doug, so kudos to him)

As you can see from the designs I wanted a massive HD style treatment, landmark series, three years in the making, incredible images, sort of feel. So I commandeered some of the banner space and ate into that rather than leave the banner there and push content down, plus it wouldn’t really work colourwise,

Here is some of the design work that led to the final design..

Polar Bear

As you can see, the prototype was before I had any assets, or even an idea of the running order of the show. It’s also using the Dalek template and a generic Earth image, and it’s light text on a dark background. The reason for this is a: the underlying picture is dark, so light text has to come into play, and b: when I’ve used white text on normal homepage treatments, they seem to do really well. In this example not all the text is coloured properly, but it gives you an idea.

As different assets came in the idea evolved. The transparency is how we’ve been laying the text box over images since the 2002 redesign, so it wasn’t that much of a leap to apply it to the entire page. The other good thing about this is that it allows portrait format images to be used. I particularly like the Angel Falls one, where the water cascades under the browse box, when the boxes went solid this image just dies. With anything like this there’s always a bun fight over who gets the best editorial images and which ones are the killer ones. At one point, the polar bear sequence was considered the money shot, indeed the Radio Times went with this image. Then the whole leopard thing came up, only 40 left in the wild.. and I just felt I had to go with that. The hippo was another option for the fresh water ep, but there’s lots of shots like that, and I thought the underwater cayman was more compelling.

Sadly the transparent effect would have required a complete recode of the page as we’d have done it with 24 bit semitransparent PNGs, so all the boxes had to be solid. Some of the PNG thinking made it into the final design though in the form of the BBC tiles laid over the image. This was more than just an artistic choice. The tiles had the H1 tag, so the page would work semantically… This is normally done by the logo, but I’d removed that.. So it was a case of finding a design solution to an HTMLy problem that wasn’t even on my radar. And I think we found a pretty elegant one, thanks in part to our coders who are really nice guys n gals.

So, the final page was all set to go. At the bottom of the page we placed a one-off link labelled “About today’s homepage design” which linked through  to a bespoke feedback form requesting feedback. This page featured a 1 to 5 on “How does this special design compare with the normal homepage?” and two text boxes labelled “Is there anything you would change about the special homepage?” and “Any other comments about the two designs?”. You can still see it here

Some of the following results are from the final 4 weeks. On the first week we simply had a comments box which did not gather the level of detail required, there was also a technical problem with the first week’s treatment going live.

 In total over the final 4 weeks we received 547 responses from the public.We also received 59 specific responses regarding the layout structure of the page, this was split with 43 commenting that they didn’t like the “large white space” and felt we should “scale to fit their monitor” at the right hand side of the page and 16 commenting that “they had to scroll down the page”.
It should be noted that this extra scrolling was actually a perceived difference and that there was very little difference in vertical positioning of news and sport compared with the normal homepage, particularly when a semi permanent panel is used as it was around the time of the first (and I think 2nd one). Also the ‘large white space is there everyday! As is always right justified, the darker colours just highlighted this fact.

On the first two of the special homepage we received a number of comments regarding the dark lines between boxes. A number of people perceived these as being black rather than part of the background image. This is because the 2nd image (mountains) and the third image ( the cayman) had darker lower areas, and it’s those that I extended down the page. There was no real way around this.. As we had to have light boxes on top, with dark text on top of that..  Perhaps the bars wouldn’t have been so strong had my original design been the one we used as the image underneath would still have been visable through the transparent content boxes. This effect was much less noticable for the orange desert one.
For the one on 26th March (and all the ones following) I asked the CSD to reduced the cell spacing to 3 pixels, this is reflected in the level of feedback. With hindsight I’d have done this for the first two as well. But it’s a good example of why this feeding back is so important, we tweaked the design after each session based on very specific live date coming in, plus it’s a lesson in listening to your audience.

Other stuff
2 people that felt we should have used moving images and 1 person who said they were pleased we didn’t use moving images
9 people explicitly mentioned we should keep the design for everyday use
8 people explicitly said we should only do this for special occasions
2 people said we should move away from a table layout (Amen!)
1 person mentioned we should make the boxes slightly transparent (This may have been an insider?)
1 person checked our w3 validation.

Out of 547 votes 62.5% of people said they either “Preferred the special homepage but would change some things” or “Preferred the special page” this compares to 29.5% who “Prefer the normal homepage” or “Prefer the normal homepage but would change some things” with 8% sitting on the fence.

Where next? Well we should deffo look in to a scaling CSS driven design for future use given the prevalence of high resolution displays. We’ve done this on the new TV page. And we should and will continue to ask our users to get involved and give us their thoughts… more on that soon!

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These are my personal views and not those of Channel 4 or the BBC
April 2006