Richard Titus has just blogged about the new BBC homepage beta. Or rather its ‘lick of paint’ since the plan is to continue to add new features and widgets over time.
Designing a homepage is always tricky – especially in an organisation as large and diverse as the BBC – and this new design is a massive improvement on the current offering. Its aesthetically much more pleasing and the new wider layout and grid is great. And the fact the team has been able to negotiate, what must have been, a minefield of requirements and demands is credit to them.
However, I’m less convinced that the functionality being offered belongs on the homepage. Clearly, given the size and diversity of content on offer, the BBC should be allowing users to personalise their experience – by letting people select the content they want to see – and doing this via widgets is a sensible solution to the problem. People are getting more familiar with this paradigm especially since iGoogle, Netvibes and Facebook use widgets so it’s sensible that the BBC adopt a similar approach. Personalisation then does belong, just – in my opinion – not on the homepage.
For me the most successful home pages are those that help users understand what a site is for. Now clearly there is going to be some debate about what bbc.co.uk is for as distinct from what the BBC, as an organisation, is for. I make the distinction because great websites are those that focus on the user and the medium not the organisation’s corporate structure.
When the BBC launched news online it could have created a website for the 9 o’clock News instead it created a web offering designed for the medium and as a result its been much more successful. I fear the the new beta home page has missed an opportunity – rather than tryng to explain what you can get from bbc.co.uk it is being used to showcase the different areas of the BBC as an organisation.
So if the BBC’s homepage needs to reflect what bbc.co.uk is for – what do I think that is? For me it’s about programmes, information and stories (i.e. journalism), and entertainment. All the channel, talent, promo and event stuff is just a feature of these three objects.
So what about personalisation and widgets? As I’ve said I wouldn’t have these on the homepage – I would have them on user pages (as Google do: google.com vs google.com/ig). I would have personalised user pages existing at …/users/:user e.g. bbc.co.uk/users/derivadow. I would like to log into this page via my existing OpenID account or if I didn’t have one get one from the BBC.
But that’s just me.