New User-Generated Content for BBC News

Martin Belam  by Martin Belam, 26 September 2005

There hasn't been much of a pick-up on this in the trade press or blogs, but last week BBC News let slip that they were shortly going to be introducing a new type of user-generated content on the site.

Jemima Kiss carried the story for Online Journalism News, quoting widely from a presentation by project manager and all-round top bloke Daniel Mermelstein.

"The BBC has a dirty little secret: the vast majority of comments are never even looked at, " said Mr Mermelstein.

"It's a bad user experience. It's arbitrary, unpredictable and users get frustrated because their comments aren't being published."

Lloyd was worrying that one injudicious comment could bring the whole pack of cards down, whilst Danny Schechter was pushing further in the opposite direction - "When will BBC go Wiki all the way and permit readers to EDIT them?". Now there's an idea to give Pete Clifton sleepless nights.

The Guardian picked up on the fact that Daniel "said many of the messages posted were 'crap', repetitive or boring". I love it when you know someone and you can really hear their voice come through press quotes - I've been on the receiving end a couple of times from Daniel where he has (deservedly) used language much stronger than 'crap'. Tom, though, described it as a "bit of a clumsy set of comments about user-generated content from my colleagues".

I think Tom is being a bit harsh. There have been few things less enjoyable in my career than trying to persuade senior managers that the content on the message boards on our web site are a valuable source of feedback from the audience, only to immediately pull up a thread that has degenerated into childish flirting between two usernames that I suspect belong to the same deluded troll-ish person. You only need to look at how repetitive the threads get on Points of View when there has been a big talking point like the broadcasting of Jerry Springer: The Opera - full of members who sign up, publish and don't care to read or respond. They simply want their voice heard. I suspect that BBC News will have to deal with not only a lot of this boring repetitive activity, but also a concerted effort to get representation from the contributors to sites like Biased-BBC who currently call the comments pages on the BBC News site "(Don't) Have Your Say".

I've been impressed with what I have seen of the new system and interface when it has been shown to me, so I'm looking forward to this launching.

1 Comment

Giving people the opportunity to express their opinions isn't really just about - in my opinion at least - generating content for the BBC. It is about giving people the opportunity to express their opinions. In and of itself, that's a good thing whether or not the BBC thinks the opinions of its users are crap.

And if you want more rigorous debate, then bloody lead it - help people focus, encourage a culture around the boards so that people bring each other back on track.

In neither of these situations is it okay to be rude about your users. If I were them, I'd take my conversations elsewhere.

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