SuperCeefax and BBCi Page Numbers

Posted on 5 April 2005 in BBC red button, Interactive TV (No comments)

A friend who obviously has too much time on her hands pointed me to a discussion on Digital Spy's forums where posters were asked the question, which is better - BBCi or Teletext?

If I've counted up correctly, at the time of writing BBCi got 11 votes, Teletext 3 and Sky Text 2. Plus some rumbling that 'analogue' text is better.

Couple of quotes stick out not least the poster who thinks Digital Ceefax is a far better name than BBCi - during the cleanout at Bush House I found a pile of documents about naming what became BBC Text, and one of the suggested names was indeed Ceefax Digital, although my favourite has to go to SuperCeefax! Would have made the service sound like some kind of supehero or something!

The other quote was this:

BBCi. No question about it. It's good, but the numbering is VERY illogical IMO

Post by aland1999 on the thread 'BBCi or Digital TeleText on CH9 - Choose'.

It's at this point I'd like to be sat here screaming at the PC "It's obvious! Why on earth don't you get it?! Even a school kid could understand it!"

Unfortunately I can't cos there's no real way that anyone can really be expected to understand the quite frankly odd way we did page numbers on BBCi. Funnily enough I meant to blog about it at the time of launch, but you know how it is... Still six months on, let Andrew explain...

Four Digits, and Three Digits...

The first thing to explain is this whole combination of three and four digit page numbers. The basics of this are pretty simple. Four digit numbers are BBCi only, and three digit ones are ones we share with Ceefax. If you can understand that one without being told, you're already ahead of the game!

So why did we do that? Well there are several reasons behind that decision but one of the main ones comes down to the content and structural differences bewteen BBCi and Ceefax.

First thing to say is that BBCi and Ceefax are run by two different departments. BBCi is part of BBC New Media and Technology, whilst Ceefax is BBC News - Ceefax is written and produced by BBC News. On the other hand, BBCi uses not just content from BBC News (and BBC Sport) but other BBC divisions like the Drama, Entertainment and Childrens division. We also have some content in our News and Sport sections that Ceefax doesn't have - health news and football club news spring to mind.

So we have some content that's not on Ceefax - which obviously means we can't give them Ceefax numbers cos they don't have any.

Then we have situations where things are organised differently. The Sport section is a notable example of this. On Ceefax due to space reasons, the Golf and Tennis sections have a combined menu. We don't have those restrictions on BBCi so we give them separate menus cos it makes more sense to do that. Oh and we don't have the separate versions for BBC One and BBC Two that Ceefax does (e.g. Ceefax page 640 on BBC One is Radio, on BBC Two it's Read Hear).

All of which means we have to have our own numbers. But what to use?

This is when it gets tricky. We basically had two real options - use the 700s, 800s and 900s that Ceefax doesn't use, or do something else like four digit numbers.

Except the 700s are out because they're reserved for special events like (ooh, topical one!) elections! So that left the 800s and the 900s. Add to that if we had joint numbers promotion, you might get people entering a BBCi-only number on Ceefax and getting confused, we looked at another idea.

In contrast if we used four digit numbers, we'd have a lot of room for expansion in the future. We could also clearly mark out our content as being different - you can't enter page 1001 on Ceefax for example. And from an organisational point of view, we could group numbers together neatly - many Ceefax users know that anything beginning with 1 is a News section, so if we used four digit numbers and started our news ones with 1, we might be able to latch on to that link.

Of course it wasn't a decision we took lightly, and we did a lot of testing with real people to see what they thought of the idea. The results came back saying that whilst people didn't understand why we had four numbers, the overwhelming majority didn't care either way. With that in mind, we opted for the four digits. If the results had come in differently, we'd probably have gone with just using the 800s and 900s.

Whether BBCi will stay with four digits for the duration, well who knows. It might be that once Ceefax is turned off, someone will look at it again and decide to use just three digits instead. Can't say it wouldn't be neater...

Not Every Page Has a Number

This is one a few people have a problem with. Many don't notice (many in our testing didn't) and many that do notice, don't care. But some people seem quite put out that we don't give every page a number.

The reasons are partly technological - but the answer I always give to people who ask is, why does every page actually need a number? Why does the fifth news headline actually need its own page number? No one has actually managed to answer that one for me with a reason that has come close to changing my mind on that one (not that I alone took the decision!)

That said, we haven't numbered everything that we can and there's certainly pages without numbers that should really have them - as such I have a list of extra numbers just waiting to be added when we get chance.

Clear now?

Well that's the main causes of the confusion hopefully a little clearer. You might still not agree with why we did things, but our logic and reasons are out there now for you to pick holes with.

Was it worth it? Maybe. Maybe not. Time will tell. But whilst we're waiting, feel free to try to convince me why the seventh sport headline needs its own unique number. You never know, you might just hit on a good enough reason.

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