Written by Media, News

New BBC News Blogs – A Retrograde Update

BBC News is seemingly completing its movement of correspondents’ blogs across to the a new system. And frankly, they’ve made some significantly retrograde steps.
I’d happily acknowledge that previously the blogs were somewhat hidden, and lots of website readers were probably missing out. And I know that this has meant a shift in the backend with an end to using Movable Type, and the use of a internal solution. I’ve no problem with either of those changes. And the blogs make much better use of the screen real-estate. Design-wise, I again have no problem.
But here are the significant issues I do have:

  • The pathetic 400 character limit for commenting. I rarely commented on BBC blogs, but nonetheless, much as I love Twitter, just under 3 x Tweets in length for making sometimes quite complex points isn’t enough. It certainly concentrates the mind, but frankly I think it panders to a society where complicated points have to be reduced to a soundbite. Reading the comments is what makes blogs different. I would never want comments under news stories (there are plenty of newspaper websites who go too far in this regard). But personal authored blogs are very different.
  • The lack of RSS feeds. In fact, it turns out that most of the blogs do have RSS feeds. But they’re hidden from browsers. My browser doesn’t auto-discover them (I’m using Firefox 4). A trivial piece of code in the header of the page would sort this out. Initially, they weren’t even there at all. Phil Coomes’ photography blog is a case in point. He’s been busily publishing, but I’ve missed him because RSS feeds weren’t ready when his blog moved. That was unforgiveable. I’m sure I’m not alone in having not kept track of his blog over the last week or two. People who use RSS feeds tend to use them a lot and follow sometimes hundreds of sites.
  • The lack of RSS feed redirection. GIven that it turns out that there are RSS feeds, why on earth didn’t the BBC use RSS re-direction? If I missed the message in the last blog under the old system that gave details of the move, I’ve effectively been unsubcribed from that blog.
  • The removal of full-text from the RSS feed. It’s not as though the BBC has to drive advertising and desperately needs the site traffic (Many commerical sites like The Guardian include full text and an ad in any case). A simple rule of thumb is that the less information you provide in your RSS feed, the less likely I am to read it – it’s much easier to click on through looking for something to read. Unless your blog has a very high publishing rate (and many of the main BBC news pages absolutely do fulfill this criteria), then it’s unlikely I’m going to find your musings – published at most two or three times in a day, and usually much less often – too much for my RSS reader. Indeed, by publishing the full text, and getting me engaged in the article, I’m actually more likely to click through and read the comments. This is quite possibly the worst step of all, and is already resulting in me reading less.

There are other things. I prefer my comments to flow in the order they were published. The reverse means that to follow the discussion, I have to first read the piece, then scroll to the bottom of the page, and then scroll back up. Of course with comment voting, that can mean comments can end up all over the place. Perhaps there’s a way for me to choose this option (as some websites offer)? I don’t know where it it is though. And surely by now, the BBC’s player should be able to work in RSS readers like Google Reader?
But those are trivial compared with the main points above. A real shame.