A fortnight after Graf - and what it might mean for the homepage and for external spend

 by Martin Belam, 16 July 2004

So some of the dust has settled internally after the Graf report, and we start to look forward - today we had a departmental meeting in White City, in the building that will be our new home from January.

One of the areas I have a responsibility for in my new job is the delivery of the bbc.co.uk homepage - so the criticism of it in the DCMS review is naturally of keen interest. It was though written before the re-branding in May ("Responses to the site navigation and homepage refer to BBC Online as of April 2004" - footnote #29, page 27) and we think that redesign has already addressed some of the issues Graf raised:

"Respondents felt the BBC Online homepage (www.bbc.co.uk) was too cluttered, with unhelpful or unfamiliar terms and links. It failed to give users an idea of the service's purpose and relevance to them."
"The BBC has also employed applications such as a postcode finder, to help users to reach relevant local information quickly. However, members of the public questioned as part of the review's audience research did not easily identify these features on the home page, nor was their function easily understood."
"The review's audience research presented some reservations about the design and ease of navigation from the BBC Online home page. Users, other than the very inexperienced, tend to be goal orientated, seeking to find a specific service or information as quickly as possible, but members of the public found the BBC Online homepage too cluttered and that it did not adequately serve as a guide to the rest of BBC Online."

However, with around 270 links on the page, there is no doubt still some room for more focus. Although the trick as ever is trying to showcase the breadth of content without ending up with too cluttered a page.

I'm also beginning to think around what a 25% quota for independent production means for my area. I've been on both sides of the fence within the BBC - BBC Search has been one of our bigger out-sourcing investment projects, and is mentioned several times in the DCMS report. In contrast my subsequent work on the delivery of Email Newsletters was a project to bring in-house a service that had unacceptably high out-sourcing costs, and it is now delivering a considerable month-on-month saving to the licence fee payer. This doesn't get a mention.

So I don't think we can automatically read into the DCMS Review a mantra of "Out-Sourcing Good, In-House Bad". Equally I don't think the BBC can read into it a mantra that all in-house production must necessarily have a higher quality about it than out-sourced solutions. I expect these BBC Web Development Standards pages may be seeing a bit more traffic in the weeks and months to come.

On reflection I'm still a bit taken aback by the some of the glee and ferocity that greeted the report in the press. Headlines like "Graf savages BBC's online output - Corporation closes websites after critical report from former Trinity Mirror chief", "BBC 'did not have know-how for web'" (as if any big public service organisation did in 1998) and Hugo Drayton's announcement that this was a triumph for BIPA, didn't seem to me to resemble the majority of what was actually in the report. The BBC has received one drubbing from a government sponsored independent review this year, so I know what they feel like. To paraphrase what Benton said to Quayle: "Sir, I was at the BBC during the publication of the Hutton Report, and frankly, Phillip Graf is no Lord Hutton"


I wonder if using an external moderation company counts as 'out-sourcing'? If so that's probably our 25% covered already.

Unless you count overall BBC New Media budget spend towards the quota, I don't see how we can ever meet a 25% quota. If the quota is just content alone (as at one point Graff states it should be), then we're so shafted.

And what defines an indie is so vague as well...

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