Fixing The BBC Arts Website.

Arts Some odd comments on the BBC Arts website now that it's been available for a few weeks.

(1) The logo

For some insane reason (and yes, this is going to quite blunt in tone), the designers have come to the conclusion that the best use of screen real estate is to fill a third of visible page on start up with the ARTS logo. No other BBC website does this (I think) and means the user has to scroll downwards every time they visit to get to the rest of the content. Imagine if the BBC News/Sport website was like this.

(2)  Page length

Why is the page so short?  You've barely scrolled down far and you're already at the bottom which makes the thing look like it's barely got any content.  It's just plain weird.  Compare it to The Guardian's front page.  Why would you do this?  If all this is supposed to also be somewhat of a replacement for The Space, why wasn't the brilliant navigation on that website migrated over?  Say what you like about Buzzfeed or even the BBC's own front page but they're wizzy places with a sense of occasion, of being in the midst of something, I just don't get that from this.

(3) Archive

At present, once some content has been around for a few days it simply drops from the front page and without being able to remember what it was and finding it via Google, it's almost impossible to guess where it's gone. Some things drop to the bottom reduced to a link title, but "Second Breath" tells us nothing about what it might be.

Here's the Museums at Night content collection page.  It's not linked from the front page now even though it was a flagship project and it's only linked from some of the constituents parts which are still up on the main page.  It does not include a link to Second Breath even though that's included in the explanatory text and the page for which has a back link to this content page.

It's one of the reasons the page seems short.  Why isn't something like Second Breath, which was only posted ten days ago still more prominently displayed at least with a photo and some text?  These are comments about how content is displayed but if I hadn't been practically visited the website daily and had an email alert set up for new additions to the clips page, I might have missed it even though it's one of the best things on there.

Perhaps it's about philosophical attitude to the material.  A lot of this stuff is being treated as though it's time sensitive - and in terms of some of the clips it is because some of them are only available for a month - but the permanent content should also be treated as such.  Second Breath will be just as relevant in a year's time.

I offer a few suggestions which cover the different philosophical bases at the same time:

(a) A blog format. Add the content in the blog format with the new stuff at the top clearly marked. It's always worked before. This would allow for posting dates and a sense of history, with, like some news sites, infinite scrolling and older content appearing at the bottom.

(b) Categories. Why are there no categories? Even if a hard blog format is out of the question, the ability to see all the posts about "books" or "theatre" or "visual art" or "music" all in one place and a menu bar leading to such things should have been included at the start. Admittedly this can ghettoise some things, but it even works well on The Guardian's website.

(c) Venues.  Much has been made of the co-operations with various arts organisations.  Another way to proceed would be to have tags for these too.  All the Glyndebourne content in one place.  Or the Royal Academy.  Or The Globe.

(4) Design Consistency

If something is BBC Arts related, it has to be bundled into the main BBC Arts website to be most effective. At present if you click on a Hay item on the front page you're taken to a separate Hay website (which incidentally does have a decently proportioned logo) which has a somewhat different design and feels like a whole other thing. BBC Arts should be like a giant building with rooms, and there should be a sense of moving between things just as we move between rooms.

(5) Content Transparency

Speaking about the Hay material, why are we only seeing tiny sections of some sessions but the whole of others? A flaky connection this afternoon meant I missed the live streams of Coogan and Frears and later Richard Eyre but assumed that they'd be later available on the iPlayer because there wasn't anything on the relevant pages to suggest otherwise. Instead we're being offered tiny clips.

This is very disappointing; there's no reason why we couldn't be told both in the schedules and on the stream pages that such things won't be available later, that this is our only chance to watch. You can't offer some chunks on the iPlayer but not others and then expect the viewer to guess, hope and pray that the thing they miss will be available later. If it's a rights issue, tell us.

This isn't helped by the over selling of some content on the front page.  Someone visiting the right now, as it appears in the screenshot might be led into thinking they're clicking and seeing a whole session.  Can I be the only person who once they've clicked through has the disappointment of realising that they're only being offered a three minute clip?  I expect I'm repeating myself now, but this is very disappointing.

[Updated 03/06/2013  Both sessions have been added to the iPlayer.  Interestingly, the link on the Hay page to the clip for the Coogan now says "full session available soon".  This is the sort of transparency I'm talking about.  You might ask why Ruby Wax isn't available though..]

On a tangential topic, you would also assume that all streaming events would be available later for at least a week as per the rest of the BBC's programming. There doesn't seem to be any particular reason why the whole of the original Museums at Night broadcast wouldn't be made available on the iPlayer etc after the event, yet, again, we were just stuck with odd bits plus the admittedly superior Will Gompertz show.

(6)  Schedules

Why is it also so impossible to keep up with what's on and what's happening?  Why isn't there a page on the website which cleanly explains what events are coming up and when.  To be fair, the BBC Arts email newsletter is great in heading up what's coming on the various channels but even that's not always very clear in terms of when and how BBC Arts online things are scheduled.

(7) iPlayer box

The iPlayer box is horrendous.  Three what look like static suggestions for programmes and a link to the arts category on the programme pages.  Why does the iPlayer logo link to the main iPlayer page only?  Why is there no direct link to the Arts category in the iPlayer?  This page here?

While we're on that, why doesn't isn't the Arts category in the iPlayer consistent with the BBC Arts look in the same way that the various channels are.  You might ask that of all those categories actually, the sports section isn't bright yellow either.  All of which is a question of aesthetics rather than usability but so let's move on.

The iPlayer box is horrendous.  How hard would it be to create a dynamic side bar that was constantly being updated with the latest content from the iPlayer on TV and Radio?  If this is supposed to be the hub for the BBC Arts, please don't make it all seem like such an afterthought.

(8)  RSS Feed

Broken.  Why bother putting something in such a prominent position if you're not actually going to update it properly?  Sometimes it has BBC News items stuck in it, sometimes it links to new things on the website, but ideally it would have both.

(9)  BBC News

Speaking of which, and we're back on the topic of hubs, why isn't BBC News's Arts & Culture section promoted here too?  It's difficult now that it's been demoted and stuck at the bottom of the "Entertainment and Arts" page but again, if this is supposed to be a hub for the BBC's Arts it should be there.  Even something along the lines of this Netvibes thing would do.

(10)  Treatment of archive materials

Here's a fascinating clip of Glyndebourne's artistic director Carl Ebert from Monitor in 1959.  The BBC has an inconsistent approach to archive in general.  Essentially it's a stick it in anywhere approach.  As well as this clip from Monitor, there are others on the BBC's golden Archive pages and still more on Monitors programme pages.  There may be others hidden elsewhere.  This might be the librarian in me, but surely at this point the BBC would have consistent approach to these kinds of materials so that if a clip from one of these programmes was thrown up, a programme page would also be created with the correct original broadcast date with the relevant clip capsule which could then be embedded elsewhere in the website?

They do seem to be trying.  This Monitor page for a Henry Moore episode is just right and seems to have been created as part of an exercise in migrating a BBC Archive page over to the programme pages.  But even then it's not consistent.  Because that item looks like it was once on BBC Four it has an iplayer type slot at the top of the page, whereas this old Omnibus is relegated to clips, split into two chunks albeit on a page which does have a proper TX listed.  If all of this sounds like nitpicking, and like I said it might be my information scientist gene, at the users end it makes for a less coherent experience, makes it less easy to find.

Why shouldn't this episode of Monitor be in with the rest of the Monitors?  Plus if you go to Monitor's main page, it only lists that episode about Henry Moore as available on the iPlayer.  You'd have to know that whole other episodes are also available in pieces in the clips section underneath.  I've strayed off the BBC Arts website topic perhaps, but you might also ask why these aren't also linked to from the BBC Arts page itself in an "elsewhere on the BBC website capacity".  Everything is scattered and diffuse when it should feel rich.

(11)  Website Archive again

Another oddity is that some old Arts posts are still available but reconfigured with the new website look.  It's almost like there's been a regime change but the old documents are still hidden in the basement.

(12)  I'll stop now.

Because it's after midnight and I know this is early days - like I said it's only been available for a week or two for goodness sake.  I know this and I hope these comments aren't treated as a kick in the teeth.  I've tried to be constructive, not least because I know nothing of the challenges involved in putting some like this up within the BBC's infrastructure.

All websites develop over time as they realise it's best to return to old principles with a new twist and that there is a group of people working really hard to make these things worth within a set of guidelines and whatnot.  Something like the Programme pages issues are presumably due to different teams doing different things in different ways.

BBC Arts is a glorious, glorious thing and feels like a slight return to the approach the BBC used to have to the arts, making internationally renowned national institutions somewhat accessible to people who don't happen to live in the area.  Seeing The Duchess of Malfi was a privilege.  The BBC Arts website can be just as exciting.

(13)  Embeds.

Sorry, forgot to mention the embeds. Why is this so long? Why is there so much empty space? Why's it so grey? Why does the More BBC Arts link click through to the programme page rather than the main BBC Arts website?

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