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Monday, 22 November, 1999, 09:10 GMT
A new look for BBC News Online

BBC News Online's executive editor Mike Smartt explains why the most popular content website in Europe looks different.

BBC News Online has changed. We've introduced a new design and made many improvements to navigation and functionality. And you have been telling us what you think.

I know that change is sometimes a shock and those of you who have BBC News Online as your homepage - plenty of you, I am happy to hear - say that logging on for the first time to the new look was a surprise.

Overall, the reaction has been very positive, even among those of you who have some reservations. Many of you have welcomed the new colour scheme and navigational structure and, of course, the quality of the content is unchanged.

There are aspects about which some of you have expressed misgivings and I promise we will look at all of these. It is almost impossible to test every page in every version of every browser and we know that our fonts do behave strangely in a small minority. We will look at this as a matter of urgency.

And our Latest box on the front page can also be troublesome in a few browsers. That will be fixed too.

The front-page links to the BBC World Service news in audio and the BBC TV News in video have gone, ready for further developments in this field, which are not quite ready yet. Many of you miss them so we will address this concern too.

Big Job

Because this is one of the world's biggest content web areas, it was not possible just to throw a switch and transform every single one of our 400,000 plus pages in a trice.

In fact, most of our archived stories will remain with the look they had when originally published. But the "live" site - that is those pages linked to from other current pages - is largely now in the new look.

Let me give you the reasons for the switch.

Dressing up differently

After just over two years in our "birthday suit", we felt it was time to take a long look at what improvements could be made to your news site.

We knew - because you told us - that you liked the design we launched with in November 1997.

At that time, we were little more than a rapidly growing database of World and UK news stories.

However, we soon added specialised sections covering Politics, Sport, Science and Technology, Education, Health, Business and Entertainment, along with our interactive area, Talking Point, and a wealth of background, analysis and special coverage, now all brought together in our In Depth section.

Other exciting new features are in the pipeline - including ambitious plans for audio and video news.

Finding what you want quickly

So, making it easier for you to find what you want, when you want it, became our top priority.

We concluded an extensive programme of user-testing by observing a range of people, from internet novices to News Online regulars, travelling around the site. And the results were interesting and encouraging.

Most importantly, the users told us not to spoil the clean and simple nature of our look and navigation - a difficult challenge. So the basic structure of our index and story pages remains.

We have moved some of the navigation from the right hand side of pages to the main navigation at the left, so you should always know exactly where you are. And there is a further reminder at the top of each page.

We are providing more information in the promotional area on the right hand side of our index pages because many users said they wanted to know more about what we were offering.

Search, which is one of the most popular services on the site, moves to the top of the page.

And we have moved the Also In This Section navigation to a drop-down menu at the foot of story pages .

And there are many other less obvious changes - too many to mention here - which we hope will help you use the site more effectively in future.

Let us know what you think

Many of you have been e-mailing your reaction and please continue to do so by clicking here or at

You are, after all, the best testers we have got.

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