New BBC Two website

The website for tv channel BBC Two has recently relaunched, adding broadband video clips for UK users.

I'm not convinced at all by the new site though, and not just because idiot Jeremy Clarkson was on the homepage when I first looked.

For starters, the homepage contains a video trailer, embedded fairly nicely within Flash 8 (which is fairly new, but I guess lots of people will have updated their plugin already). The video starts playing as soon as it's loaded. This is fine the first time you see the page - it's quite a nice gimmick - but quickly becomes annoying every time you go back to the homepage. Yes, there are pause and mute buttons, but it's a unnecessary nuisance. It would be better to either cookie the user once the video has been seen, and then not to automatically play that video again, or even better to only show the video in response to a user interaction in the first place - eg clicking a big 'play' button. Not only is this more respectful of the user (playing sound and video without asking first can be considered a bit rude, especially as many people forget their speakers are plugged in), but it could also be more effective as people see the video when they're ready. With users increasingly having multiple windows/tabs open and loading in the background, this seems sensible.

Also irritating on the site, atleast to me, is the blue-sky-and-clouds background. Talk about cliche - it looks like one of the default Windows XP desktops. The clouds spin around as the page is loaded, having the effect of making you feel a bit dizzy rather than calm and relaxed. Even worse though is the fade-to-white whole page transition, which takes effect whenever you click a link. Presumably, the effect is to allow page elements to quickly load in the background, but it soon becomes annoying, and I can't see any reason why it should occur when clicking on an external link. For fairly large pages (eg the A-Z, the white stays o screen for longer, as the page downloads, and you get no feedback that anything is happening. The page just looks broke.

The site does contain a few modest innovations (for a BBC tv channel website). Programme pages (which have ?id=pagename URLs - what happened to clean URLs?) contain a variety of vaguely web-native elements. Underneath the polaroid-style photo, you get a couple of (positive) quotes labelled 'web bites', taken from BBC messageboards, the media and external websites, weblogs and forums.

To the right of the lead photo, we get a short description, and a flash-based 'rate this programme', on a scale from 'turgid' to 'masterpiece', with an average rating shown. This is quite intesting, if only from the perspective that allowing people to slag off your programmes, and displaying the result so prominently is a fairly brave move. There's currently no page I could find that listed all the programmes in order of average rating, which would be the most interesting use of this data, and the worse rating that I could find so far was a slightly-dubious 'loved it' for Working Lunch.

To the right of the page we have some more links in sections labelled 'More like this', 'not like this' and 'elsewhere on the web'. 'Not like this' is quite a neat, and funny, idea, which helps to give a sense of depth and diversity to BBC Two content. One confusing this about these links though is that some of them take you to other BBC Two pages, with the same page design, whilst others take you to completely differently designed pages contained within other bits of the BBC website, like Ready Steady Cook.

This brings me to what is the biggest problem with the BBC Two website, and that's the conflicts between a programme being part of a channel brand (eg BBC Two), a content brand (eg Lifestyle/Food or News) or being its own mini-brand. This problem is common to any organisation which has super-brands and sub-brands, but the solution used here is a real fudge. As can be seen from the A-Z index, some programmes have two websites listed.

So, for example, The Apprentice has both a mini site and a BBC TWO-branded site with broadband video content, as signified by the '2' icon. There's some cross-linking between the two sites, but to me, this just feels clumsy. In The ABCs of the BBC, Helen Lippell explains some of the thought that went into the global BBC index. Point seven in her article is 'Use qualifiers and extra information'. This seems relevant in that using 'The Apprentice (minisite)' and 'The Apprentice (video content)' rather than the icon might have been a better workaround.

Really, though, all the information and content about a TV programme should be in a single website, and the BBC Two website should just be part of the listings. The idea of the channel-as-a-brand is surely becoming outdated anyway - what with timeshifting and online stream-on-demand technologies. The whole 'this is BBC Four on BBC Two' thing just seems weird...