Martin Belam has a fascinating article on keeping the BBC's 2 million web pages identifiable and usable. The BBC's offerings include television, radio, regional offerings, independent productions and lots of other content produced in lots of other categories. The keys to helping people move through the pages and to making the disparate pages identifiable as BBC pages are: navigation, search, and classification.
There's lots that's interesting in this article, but I want to highlight this bit on classification:
We have a real problem, in that we want to make everything simple and easy for people to understand, but at the same time we have been charged by the government to show the breadth and depth of our content, which as I said is over 2 million pages.
So we end up with things like the BBC Directory, with 14 top-level categories as follows:
Even to the untrained eye there are some serious flaws in the top level classification schema illustrated here.
To highlight a couple of them, the World Service is a radio station, so why is it classified as a top-level category in its own right, rather than a sub-category under Radio where all of the other radio stations sit? CBBC and CBeebies are two television channels aimed at children. So why are they not either under one Children's category, or sitting under the Television category with the BBC's other channels?
The answers are to do with the branding and the politics of the BBC as an organisation. The World Service is funded separately from the Licence Fee funded content on the BBC web site, so needs to be made distinct from the UK focussed public service offering. CBBC and CBeebies are aimed at very different audience age groups, and from a marketing point of view it has been important for the BBC to distinguish them as separate entities.
So you can see already that the whole of the current classification schema has been compromised by the priorities of the business taking preference over the priorities of the information professional.
There is another problem with this as well. We have a one page directory for the whole site, and of course, everybody within the business wants their content to appear in it. We end up with a page with 245 links on it. To shrink it down to the size that will fit on a PowerPoint slide or be an illustration in an article makes it completely unreadable. The page ends up as very little use to anyone, with too many links and too much scrolling.
Fortunately we do at the BBC have some people who understand the need for usable classification, so alongside the politically driven Directory, we also offer a comprehensive A-Z index of the website. This also has a spin-off benefit for us, because it means it is very easy for search engine spiders to reach and index all of our content.
Near the end of the article, Belam also discusses the new BBC initiative, backstage.bbc.co.uk, which allows users to take BBC content and re-mix it. New ideas direct from users are already coming from this initiative which may provide even more 'glue' for associating the BBC's disparate parts and making it easy for users to get what they want when and how they want it.Posted by dcoates at January 20, 2006 10:39 AM