Back in 2007 - an eternity in web years - the BBC published a document showing their 15 Web Principles.
I thought I'd take a look at how they stack up today. And investigate whether the BBC is still living up to them.
Here are the slides if you want to play along at home:
This is still good advice! Sadly, there are still too many services around the web which are built on business needs. People grudgingly sign up for accounts to basic services which don't really need it - all because a business wants to see a number go up.
I find my needs being increasingly unmet by the BBC - other than them continuing to produce Doctor Who. I suspect I'm not their demographic target. But, more importantly, I see lots of digital products (like Sounds) which seem to go against the grain of user needs and instead focus on what the BBC wants.
An extension of the UNIX tools philosophy.
I have mixed feelings about this. I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with a site which does multiple things. It's just rare for any site to do two things well. For example, both Twitter and Facebook could have created something like TikTok - and it would fit in relatively well with their existing site. But the business culture of most organisations just doesn't allow any deviation from a central mission.
Does it make sense to have a website which does both cake recipes and Estonian literary criticism? If you can do both, great! But that's a rare skill.
Does the BBC still embodies this principle? I think it depends on how you define a website. They have multiple sites doing multiple things.
The BBC's news pages still don't do this regularly. When reporting on a publication, it is rare that they ever link to primary sources. There's a real reluctance in most organisations to let people leave the site.
But it is still a relevant principle! The web is a series of links. It only works because people can trace backwards through your sources.
A bit of early-2000s culture there! For new services, it still makes sense. For larger and more established services, it isn't OK to "move fast and break things".
But the principle of trying new things and being prepared to admit that they've failed is wonderful. It's humbling and informative. I don't see much evidence of this in the BBC. I'm not a regular user of their services - but there have been a few big launches recently which seem to have failed - but haven't yet been put out of their misery.
Failure is only a problem if you don't learn from it.
This is a bit of a weird one. I think they're trying to say that users exist outside of your site. You need to have a presence on other sites - and then use them in the appropriate way.
For example, the BBC has multiple Twitter accounts. They exist independent of the main BBC web site.
This is mostly good advice. If you have the resources, you should be playing around with other sites and maximising your presence there. You've got to meet people where they are.
I despise the faux friendly tone of voice adopted by most organisations. Nevertheless, you can't ignore what people are saying about you. You don't have to take the advice of your critics, but you probably ought to show that you've heard them.
The BBC is usually good at joining in with conversations - but like all large institutions, it has a pathological fear of expressing contrition.
Oooh! A spicy take! 100% accurate. We've all seen a shiny front page, and then an absolute shitshow of a subsequent page. Think of all those airline websites which make it so easy to book a flight and then horrific to cancel your booking.
People do remember negative experiences. If you've ever run a moderately popular site, you'll know that people lovel complaining about how awful it is based on an obscure and unloved section.
You would have thought, after flushing the early Doctor Who recordings down the memory hole, the BBC would have learned from this mistake. Apparently not.
I get that the BBC might have licencing agreements that make keeping some stuff online impossible. And old webservers need to be continually fed, watered, and patched to stop them from becoming a liability. But too many of the Beeb's early sites and links are dead.
This is still good advice. Keep your content up as long as you can. You never know when someone will stumble across it.
Ooof! A bit of casual sexism and ageism there. But probably accurate in that no one is using Second Life.
The underlying point - late adopters have different needs from early adopters - is helpful. The words we use, the tropes we employ, and the interfaces we design all need to be accessible for new users.
I wonder how well the new BBC sites work for that demographic?
Again, still good advice. I suppose we'd call this an "omnichannel strategy" today. Get your links out on social networks, videos, TV screens, and anywhere your audience are.
But, the BBC kinda breaks this. So many of their routes in are "download this app" or "search for us on". That obscures the direct link to specific content.
People don't live on one site. Well, OK, maybe Facebook! You have to accept that they won't all come through your front door. Make it easy to go from outside your site straight to a specific part of it.
I think we all know the power of consistent branding, and it is reassuring to users if they understand how to get back to the start of a page. I agree that navigation needs to adapt depending on the size of the device.
Judging from the few BBC sites I visit, this isn't a priority for them any more. Each site seems desperate to push its own brand identity - which is a business need, not a user need.
Tattoo that inside people's eyelids! Excellent advice.
Things like OEmbed make this pretty easy nowadays. There will always be sites which want to jealously guard their own content, but it's still good advice.
The BBC seems reasonable at doing this. Of course, copyright often gets in the way.
The BBC seems to flit back and forth on this. Some of their sites embrace comments, others don't.
I have mixed feelings. I don't think sites should "own" the user and try to force them to comment in one officially sanctioned place. And moderation is a complex and costly business. It probably makes sense to let people know how to join in with a conversation on social media ("Hashtag Strictly!").
But the downside is that you're exposing your users to unmoderated and unfiltered content. Is that best for you? Is it harmful to them?
Ha! The BBC have reversed this in the last few years. Almost every one of their sites and apps begs you to sign in with an account. And, judging from the account they forced me to get on iPlayer, the personalisation is crude and obvious.
Do users want personalisation? That's hard to answer. Every power-user swears they want complete control and hates algorithmic choice. But for more casual users, it is a great way to find interesting content.
The real problem is that the algorithms are usually designed to promote profitable content. That is, content the business wants users to see - not what users would choose.
There's a fair bit of early-web-2.0 idealism in these 15 principles. In truth, I'm hard pressed to disagree with any of them. Throughout the web - not just on the BBC - they are often observed mostly in the breach.
I wonder if the BBC is culturally capable of producing something like this in 2022? And, more importantly, enforcing it on its own sites?
What will the next 15 years bring?