The BBC’s Fifteen Web Principles

There are times when the BBC looks like a blundering behemoth, not so much intent on world domination as accidentally trampling the rest of the industry as it fails to see beyond its own nose. Then there are times when it demonstrates that it really is the global centre of excellence one would hope and expect. There’s no dichotomy here, of course: the BBC is vast, it has many heads, and at any given time a statistically significant number of them will be facing precisely the wrong way. So it’s pleasing – and not a little scary – to come across a situation where the BBC isn’t merely looking in the right general direction, but is striding onward, leading a charge into the bold new (media) future.

Thanks to Tom Loosemore, here are the BBC’s Fifteen Web Principles, as signed off by the BBC board. There are several things to note:

  1. None of the things listed will come as a surprise to people who’ve read the Cluetrain Manifesto, follow Euan Semple, chuckle at Hugh MacLeod, marvel at the talented Mr Hammersley, and generally hang around getting excited about blog-type stuff.
  2. It’s nevertheless nice to see a concise summary that’s also practical.
  3. This was, apparently, signed off by the BBC board.
  4. I’ll repeat that, for the hard of nuance:
  5. This was signed off by the BBC board.

I’m currently working with a small handful of fairly sizable public bodies, and last week I was talking to a whole bunch of visitor centres and museums. And you know… the BBC gives every impression of being waaaay ahead of pretty much everyone else on this stuff. There are occasional flickers that suggest other institutions’ interest is piqued, but there are serious language and conceptual hurdles.

As Euan says, it’s not really about people who ‘get it’ vs. people who don’t. It’s about those of us who think we see something – glimmering in the light, just out of reach – managing to express that clearly enough for others to catch a glimpse of our perspective. Then it’s about holding onto that vision for long enough to define and build something around it, so the real decisions can be made.

After all, it’s not clear that the BBC is right. As it strides boldly on it could well be flattening perfectly good alternatives underfoot, or leading us all over a precipice. And then we’d look proper silly.

But until then, documents like the Fifteen Web Principles are tremendously valuable. They’re pragmatic, straightforward, plain-speaking, and reasonable. What’s clever is that implementing them requires a fairly radical approach to engineering, organisation, and editorial management. If you accept these principles, doing something about them – doing it properly – is challenging.

Case in point: with SciCast, I reckon we get a partial score on less than half of the principles. Which is better than it might have been, but not as good as it needs to be.

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