BBC News redesign: Watching the feedback in real-time
One of the interesting aspects of this morning's BBC News redesign launch has been the proactive way the BBC has been flagging up the changes. Making significant alterations to a popular website always risks alienating some of the core users. As well as an advance blog post from Steve Herrmann, there has been a picture gallery of the new look with key features highlighted, and a trail running on the homepage for the last few days, warning that it was coming. Whilst I still think the interactive approach taken by the FT when they changed their homepage is the best I've seen a news organisation tackle selling a redesign to their audience, the BBC has made a significant effort here.
As well as Steve's posts about the redesign, there has also been a flurry of tangentially related blog posts from the BBC looking behind the scenes which have caught my eye over recent weeks. These have included Mat Hampson on their global client-side templates, John O'Donovan on the semantic data powering the recent World Cup site, and a fascinating post by Information Architect Sylwia Frankowska-Takhari on some of the user research behind the BBC's visual language.
Last time BBC News had a big facelift was in 2008, and I had the luxury of enough time to do a manual analysis of 600+ comments on the blog post accompanying the changes. That revealed that 60% were unhappy.
This time around the major gripes look to be shaping up as:
- Your chosen video format doesn't work on the closed proprietary device I recently bought from Steve Jobs. Therefore your choice is wrong.
- Editioning of the site into UK/US/International versions.
What is fascinating is being able to watch this feedback come in to the BBC in real time.
Already today I've spotted my ex-colleague Jem tweeting that feedback on Twitter seems to be about 50/50 so far. When you think about it, that means the gap between launch, and someone at the BBC making a public (if semi-personal) assessment of what that feedback has been like is down to a couple of hours. The days when to get audience feedback on a Dalek themed homepage meant setting up a special page and email address and wading through closed private correspondence may only be 5 years ago, but it seem positively prehistoric in 'Internet years'.
As we discovered at The Guardian last year with the successful launch of our iPhone app, and this year with the somewhat-less-successful launch of redesigned crosswords, this real time feedback loop is speeding up the product development lifecycle. It becomes an important skill to pick out from that avalanche of instant feedback what are real issues that need to be addressed quickly, and what is just 'the shock of the new'.
Still, despite all the effort to flag it up in advance, if I'd been at the BBC today, I'd have been tempted to run an office sweepstake on the number of times the phrase "If it ain't broke..." cropped up in the comments on Steve Herrmann's blog post and the #bbcnewssite hashtag.