Finding anything at The BBC’s web site is close to impossible these days. The site is deep (lots of layers), it’s very wide (lots of channels, departments, shows, regions, teams…), it’s unstructured, it grows quickly and without central control and there are, as far as I can see, no standards for marking up or indexing content as it’s added. Lots of people don’t bother with the Beeb‘s own search function and get Google to do it for them using the ‘sitesearch‘ syntax. In fact, Google (let’s be fair: any reasonably good web index) provides an effective replacement interface to big web sites like bbc.co.uk – but we need something better here, something fit for the purpose: making visible the important licence fee-funded assets held at bbc.co.uk.
I’d like to download a small, smart application that would do for bbc.co.uk what Quicksilver, LaunchBar and SixDegrees do for my hard drive. These clever little apps all, with detail variations, index my hard drive, address book, email and bookmarks to make them more accessible. Quicksilver, for instance, allows me to type a name, compose an email to that person and return to what I was doing with a few keystrokes or launch an application by typing a fragment of its name or find and dial a phone number in my address book without having to click even once. This is highly adapted, next generation UI thinking and we could really do with something like it to give us access to the content walled up inside The BBC.
How about a downloadable app that provides the same clever, keyboard-driven access to a continually updated index of The BBC’s web site (XML, or at least improved markup, would make this better but we can work with what we have). Typing a fragment of a show’s name brings up a compact palette of related pages: the RealMedia stream, the programme support web site, the presenter’s bio, a press release, related links… Hitting tab gives me second level choices (download audio, email producers, print transcript…). Hitting return activates my choice and dismisses the palette. Bingo: a useful, accessible BBC web site with no dark corners.