Brilliant Bookmarklet For The BBC's New Message Boards

 by Martin Belam, 3 July 2005

At the moment the BBC is in the process of moving all of the messageboards on the site from the out-dated, clunky and very broken howerd2 system, to the DNA software the BBC bought when it acquired h2g2 back in 2001.

One of the strengths, and problems, of DNA is that it is very complex and feature rich. Each of the different skins the sites powered by DNA use implement different subsets of the functionality. Compared to sites like h2g2, collective, WW2 People's War and Action Network née iCan, the message board implementation is one of the most cut-down.

The trouble with message boards is that the BBC wants to provide community spaces that are usable by all of the UK's online community, not just an elite group who have lots of experience with boards. I've seen some excellent usability study work that shows how the accessibility of the new message boards for people with disabilities and learning difficulties is enhanced by the decisions taken in the way the boards are set up. Those same decisions however can be lambasted by the 'superusers' of the board who don't take into consideration the whole range of factors about our audience that the community team do. The same sort of people who on the boards get annoyed when duplicate threads are posted about a TV show, because they don't understand how particularly after a 'call to action' following a well-trailed TV programme our boards can be swamped with users who have never used a message board before.

That still leaves super-users with a lot of experience of DNA under-served by the message board implementation.

Enter stage left Frankie Roberto - and his brilliant little bookmarklet allowing you to subscribe or unsubscribe from threads within the DNA message board skins. It means you can track a conversation without necessarily having to post to it. This is going to be so massively helpful for me at work, where sometimes as a host I want to track a particularly contentious thread in order to be able to quickly alert moderators to any problems, without actually having to post to it. Combining that with Whiskey's exposure of how to get RSS out of the BBC message boards by monkeying with the URL, and I've got myself a set of superuser supertools.


Glad it's useful! :-)

An excellent summary of the pros and cons of the DNA messageboards, in particular with reference to novice vs. super users.

Great that users have started to hack it. Glad we didn't spend time putting those features in (properly) ourselves now!

It's a shame that the Beeb didn't consider putting in a subscribe link as an Editor tool if they didn't want to make it available to members. It's the thing I missed most when I left the BBC and was looking after over 200 message boards. I spent most of my time trying to sort out bookmarks because it was the only way I could keep my eye on threads that were getting a little excited. They did do email alerts, but only if someone replied specifically to your message, and of course you had to post...

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