5 years on - how the BBC homepage covered the 7/7 London bombings

 by Martin Belam, 7 July 2010

5 years ago today I was struggling to get across London to the BBC's offices in White City, where I was in charge of the technical delivery of the BBC homepage. I blogged about it at the time, and made a Flickr gallery showing 20 different versions of the BBC's homepage as the story of the terrorist attack on London unfolded.

The BBC's homepage on July 7th

My much missed colleague Doug posted up a graph of the RealMedia served by the BBC that day - 50,000+ streams and 10gigbits/sec of bandwidth. I'm sure those figures have been dwarfed by the amount of data transmitted to stream the World Cup over the last couple of weeks, but in those pre-iPlayer days, it was absolutely unprecedented.

BBC server usage graphs from July 7th 2005

A week later, we produced a special version of the homepage to mark the day of remembrance for the victims of the London Underground suicide bombings.

The BBC homepage on the day of the July bombings memorial


I still remember that day quite clearly. Gemma Garmeson was working on the page actively at that time, and by the time I managed to get across London by bus and foot it had already gone past the point where we could reliably serve the 'low graphics' version, so Nick Holmes and Gemma had put my slightly dusty unapproved experimental ultra-low bandwidth version live. It was only ever meant as an experiment on how slim I could get the code and how few images I could get away with whilst the page still mostly resembled the 'proper' low graphics version, whilst being semantically correct XHTML with a CSS+p layout. As it happened it saved our bacon - but it did annoy (literally) 2-3 Mac users who were still using IE on a Mac... They were BBC Mac users of course, not actual members of the public. It actually turned out the be a baptism by fire for the BBC website switching from mandating table based layouts, and was fortunately successful.

Still, it was a very strange and sad day.

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