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27 February, 2008

Mine is the right to be wrong

It seems the new partially-customisable BBC home page has been launched.  Remember to amend your bookmarks to avoid it.

This isn't petty resistance to change, but an objection to flawed design.
My main problem with the interface is that the individual widgets can be moved around the page apart from the double-width promo area (and of course it's promotional, advertising BBC resources, despite their denial). Hence, if I choose to eliminate the 'sport', 'entertainment', etc. widgets to retain only those I do want to see ('news' and 'weather'), they don't fit above the fold unless I turn off all supplementary content in the 'news' widget, forcing an irritating scroll and adding irregular blocks of dead space.

Evidently others have cited the same objection, as the BBC's web editor responded as long ago as 14 January. I disagree with his reasoning.

It adds visual interest to the page and acts as an "anchor" for the design. Without this the page would look dull. Just as a magazine needs a strong image on the front cover, so does the BBC.
Is the page promotional (remember splash pages?) or a portal presenting headlines and linking through to subsections? It could be both, of course, and I'd support that being the default appearence, but if the front page is supposed to be customisable, the visitor should be able to dump the 'magazine cover' fluff and use it as an information-only resource. Whether the designer thinks that'd look boring is utterly irrelevant.

The ability of users to customise the new homepage opens up tremendous possibilities, but the BBC should have at least one place to display what we reckon is important, interesting or entertaining.
I disagree, but acknowledge it's the BBC's site. If, for the sake of argument, it absolutely must stay, why is it so big (630x315px, and double-width really restricts customisation) and why can't it be moved (i.e. to below the fold)? At the very least, why can't it be minimised, like the other widgets?
The content within this section is set to get more exciting. Reflecting whatís happening across the internet generally, we donít intend to stick to text and images alone. By this spring, we will have rolled out video and audio clips - and be serving you up picture galleries (similar to this one) and a weekly news quiz.
None of which interest me (particularly not audio & video content), which is rather the point: if the page is supposed to be customisable, I should be able to customise it, irrespective of whether the designer wants to advertise his latest gimmick.

"But it's shiny"
"I don't ****ing CARE."

That's the fundamental risk of offering customisable content (and one reason why I don't!): the designer is obliged to step back and let the user display it in a way the designer might think absolutely foolish, potentially rejecting content the designer thinks particularly valuable – but that's the user's choice.

The easiest solution is the one I've employed: I've simply bookmarked the 'News' and 'Weather' home pages separately, avoiding the overarching home page outright.

Incidentally, I don't think this contradicts my normal stance, that the site owner has the ultimate right to decide what is and isn't presented on the page, not the visitor – I still oppose Greasemonkey-type modification of a site's content without the owner's explicit permission. This is different: the BBC is defining what's on offer and claiming to let visitors decide how it's displayed, then withholding the ability to really customise it.

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