BBC News launch Beta Audio Video Search

 by Martin Belam, 28 March 2004

Despite knowing it was on the cards, I actually missed the launch a couple of weeks ago of a beta trial of the BBC News Audio Video search.

If you do a regular search on the BBC News Online or BBC Sport sites from the toolbar the new widget appears on the right-hand side of your results page.

The initial search results page presents the top Audio Video result, with the option to make the search results all Audio Video

You are able to click a large button to make all of the search results Audio Video results. The service is clearly marked as a Beta, and the BBC are actively asking for feedback from the users.

The Audio Video results are presented with icons to signify the type of media, with the right-hand panel inviting the user to switch from a Sport search to a News search

The thing that I think is most significant about it though is not the search technology used, or the fact that BBC News have done it. To my knowledge (and I'm happy to be corrected) it is the first time the BBC website has launched an addition to an existing service and so clearly labelled it a 'beta'*.

To my mind this is a good thing. I've seen a lot of potentially good ideas and services fail within the BBC because we were simply unable to prove they would work, or prove how they would work in the wild.

Taking this as an example, how would you gather the data of what the audience are actually searching for within an Audio Video search without actually launching it? Or tweak the algorithim so it was delivering the best results? In a 'beta' you can launch something and gather the real usage data that you simply can't get in a usability lab or in focus groups. And you can improve the product based on empirical data rather than theory.

We know that the predominant searches on the news area of the site revolve around issues, people and the names of countries. It's an easy way to get the latest stories on a particular topic without burrowing down through the navigation. The question though is whether this is the way people will search for Audio Video material on the site. Will they still search for one & two word generic searches, or will they be more focussed on searching for a specific story? Will they be looking for specific journalists or presenters? Or for specific programmes? Will they be typing in "Iraq" or "I want to see that item from the Six O'Clock News on BBC1 last week when they talked about Iraq"?

I can't wait to find out.

* I am well aware that iCan has beta on its banner - but that was a totally new editorial service, not added funtionality to an existing one.

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