TRANSMEDIA PRACTICES: BBC ONLINE
1. NEW vs. OLD1 media.
Lev Manovich (cited in Conway, 2011) defines the main significant characteristics of the new media:
- Numerical representation;
But it is not simply the format, in which the information is presented. Much more important is the main sequence of the format difference – the nature of the experience. This is the reason why Priestman (2002) points out that the audiences of the conventional and the web radio are different. Nevertheless, the new media need to bring a notion of something known, something recognizable in order to create new notion for the medium.
2. BBC Online.
BBC Online website is a wonderful illustration for the symbiosis between the two types of media. It brings together the information from all media channels that are part of British Broadcasting Company (8 national TV channels plus regional programming, 10 national radio stations, 40 local radio stations2). But this is only a small part of its aims. As an electronic medium, it is called upon to lead up to higher level of connection both within all channels of information, and between the medium itself and its audience.
3. The metaphor as a sign that creates meaning.
As it was mentioned above, the digital content is composed of various elements (web pages, programs, games), which are connected only virtually and are not present at real time. This main obstacle requires two levels of surmount. First of all, the user must be intrigued and must wish to reach the “hidden” content. Second, this content must be easy to reach. That is why BBC Online applies old media patterns to its interface design. Condon, Perry and O’Keefe (2004) define this technique as a metaphor. They argue that “many signs in computing are based on metaphors which bring their original denotations and connotations with them…” (ibid, p. 21) Denotations and connotations, related to old media appearance, help Internet users to deal with the new technologies. Way (1991, cited in Condon, Perry and O’Keefe, 2004, p. 22) elucidates: ‘Metaphor is important because it provides us with a way of moving from known ideas and familiar concepts to new and unknown ones… Metaphor then is important to learning; it is easier to take parts from other established concepts than to build up new ones from scratch.’
4. Semiotic approach to the interface metaphors, used in BBC Online.
Scolary (2009, p. 9) offers a method of semiotic analysis of the interface, which can be applied successfully to any online medium. It is also absolutely appropriate for researching the integration of the old media within the BBC Online site. His analysis consists of four levels, but for the sake of this research the analysis of BBC site will be limited only to the first one – the “plastic level”, which includes “research into the interface surface”. On this level three main patterns of interface, corresponding to old media formats, can be observed within BBC Online: catalogue, newspaper and magazine.
Of course, there are some absolutely innovative types of interface, which do not fit to any of the traditional media pattern. Some of them are: “Local News”, “Weather”, “A Whole lot more” (A-Z catalogue), “Radio”, “TV”, “iPlayer”. This fact comes to show that after all new media do need new ways of representing information, especially when it incorporates (not only copy the appearance) the old media within its interface.
However, still most of the pages fit to the model of the old paper media. The reason for that can be found in the assertion of Candon, Perry and O’Keel (2004, p. 13) that the final objective of a design, conceived in close relationship to a journalistic model, is to allow a reader to identify and feel comfortable with navigating through a paper, comfortable with its order, clarity and legibility.
5. Catalogue-like pages: “BBC Online Home”, “Health”, “History”, “Science”, “Northern Ireland”, “Wales”, “Arts & Culture”, “Religion”, “Ethics” et cetera.
All of the mentioned above pages look like a catalogue – just like the ones, which present the deals of any shop, no matter if it sells clothes or food. BBC Home page can serve as a sample, the more so as it affords some “user-friendly” opportunities that allow dynamics between old models and new technologies are examined.
BBC home page is divided in five parts: navigation bar, header, content area, catalogue and user control box, and footer. Although not typical for catalogue, the the logo is very small, the content area strictly follows the catalogue model, giving an impression for great choice. It is divided in three vertical columns (in the catalogue there may be horizontal as well), each of them containing “babuls” of different size and number. Each of these “babuls” contains the most important information about a particular part of the huge web BBC portal. There are not as many pictures, as in a regular catalogue, but different sizes and styles of text are use, so that the overall impression is for colourful diversity similar to the catalogue one. Actually two main colours are used – grey and one more which can be chosen by the user. Another important characteristic of the interface is that users have the opportunity to minimize the “babuls”, to change their position and even to remove them. This great extension of the users’ “rights” is very important according to the observation of Scolari. He claims that according to the Western tradition of newspaper the higher position of one part of the content corresponds to its higher importance (ibid, p. 13). In this case the user is given the opportunity to create own hierarchy, composing the different parts of the interface by his wish.
The forth part of the interface – two menus that help user to navigate through the site and to personalize the page, is unusual for the paper catalogues. It reminds that after all the web page is more complicated and gives the user some tips how to use it.
The footer menu is dedicated entirely to the BBC brand and contains links, concerning contact, policy, jobs and similar information. At the bottom of the last page of every catalogue also can be seen such area.
6. Magazine-like pages: “Food”, “Cbbc”, “Cbeebies”, “Comedy”, “Learning”, “Nature”, “Gardening”, “Health” et cetera.
These pages have certain differences in their interface, but give similar impression thanks to the predominant number of comparatively big pictures. Likewise the magazines galleries are predominated, the headings are bigger and the whole page is colourful. These features allow the user to go through the content of the page quickly and to enjoy spectacular images.
7. Newspaper-like pages: “News”, “Sport”, “Music”, “Archive” et cetera.
The newspaper is the least used model, as its characteristics imply more “serious” content. The size of the pictures and the headings is smaller at the expense of the number of articles. Besides that, bigger font and images are used for the accents on the page. This familiar model contributes to navigation of the user trough the large amount of information on the page.
8. Old patterns, new use.
It is clearly that everyone needs some help when in unfamiliar situation. BBC Online cleverly use the old media patterns to provide guidance to its users. In addition its design includes all the advantages of the new digital environment.
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