myBBC Returns?

Posted on 10 May 2006 in BBC, Internet (No comments)

Great minds think alike. Or is it in this case, people with long memories think alike? (I refute any suggestion that I have a "great" mind - it's merely adequate!)

For there I was looking through some of the entries submitted to the BBC's homepage redesign competition thinking that many of them shared a common theme - customisation along the lines of the old myBBC which I worked on back in 2000 when I first started working for Auntie (three month contract... still there six and a half years later.... hmmm). And lo, whilst I was at a barbecue in the pooring rain, there was Martin doing a post on the reboot:bbc.co.uk blog talking about exactly the same thing.

I won't repeat what Martin said - he says it far better than my incoherent babbling - but one comment did make me think. The fact that myBBC seems to have been erased from the collective minds of the BBC! There appears to be no screenshots floating around (the ones Martin did manage to get hold of appear to be pretty early concept pictures way before I joined the project) - no mark, no mention of its presence.

I suspect the code is somewhere still in BBC New Media's CVS directory somewhere, but the images never did get commited, but I felt sure there would be some trace of the service. Somewhere.

Trawled as I did round all our development servers, no trace could I find. But I did remember seeing some screenshots somewhere, and tracked some down at the website of the designer, Neil Clavin.

myBBC website design

Picture of myBBC website design, courtesy of neilclavin.com

Neil left the BBC some years ago, but he was a nice bloke and I'm sure he won't mind me pilfering his screenshot from his website! You can see the full picture of myBBC on his website. It's not actually a screenshot of the finished product - it's actually a screenshot of Neil's designs I worked from all those years ago!

We did make some changes along the way - for starters the font was increased slightly (it became size one Verdana) and the Audio and Video options on the News box were never implemented. The What's On section also became more blue rather than the white background shown on Neil's full picture.

Looking at it now, I also noticed something else strangely familiar on the full version. The Webguide panel has a link on it... It's to a certain Mark and Lard website...

Closeup on the Webguide panel complete with link to Fancy A Brew

Yes, that is a link to Fancy A Brew? - a site that I've ran since the late 1990s. I don't know if that was there in the designs I first saw - I really can't remember - but it feels quite frankly extremely strange to be looking at that screenshot now and seeing it there. That really is just so very very very weird. As far as I know, Fancy A Brew never made it into the BBC's now defunct Webguide, which means Neil must have made the links up himself...

Anyway, back to the plot... Slowly, cos I'm writing this in real time and that's really stunned me, but we'll try.

Neil's site also contains designs of the PDA version of myBBC which I also worked on (finishing off for someone else who had changed jobs), and the amazing Web on TV version which caused pain, suffering and everything else for me to code along with our resident web on TV expert. Ah the joys of OnNet boxes and Bush web TVs... Thank goodness they never really took off.

One thing I did find on the BBC's servers may astound you. In a way it doesn't astound me that it's still there, but there you go.

myBBC was turned off towards the end of my time as a Client Side Developer, although I only found out by noticing that Paul Hammond was coding something with the templates. That I found it three years on is a testament to my old team.

As I recall, at the time, the only people who ever bothered about cleaning off old files from our development server was myself and Paul. We both left in 2003 - me first in the summer and Paul headed off to Radio and Music not long after as I recall. Whilst I was rooting around for myBBC nostalgia the other day, I thought I'd take a look at the server - see if it was still there. Low and behold, from what I could tell, no one had cleared out the server since the pair of us left. Thanks to the lazine... sorry, wonderfulness of my old team, this little joy is still sat there, merrily wasting about 10k on a BBC server. Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you, the page which was shown when myBBC was deactivated.

myBBC is closed webpage

Okay, the bbc.co.uk branding at the top wasn't there when the page itself went up, but it's a bit of a nostalgia fest for me. And I'm glad that other people are remembering myBBC Online as well. It wasn't exactly pioneering at the time - Yahoo and Lycos had done similar things - but it's still a project that's deep in my heart, and it's interesting to see that there's some people out there who would like to see similar stuff to day.

And now if you've got this far, you deserve a "reward". And to give you that, and to get us back where we started, here's something that's not very well known. The thing is, back in 2000, not long after the original myBBC Online launched, we did a wireframe. That wireframe was about how we could incorporate myBBC into the BBC homepage.

You see, at one point there was a plan which, if implemented, would have seen the BBC homepage that we love and admire today, would gradually morph into one where the user could customise huge chunks of it... Kinda like what some people are designing as part of the reboot:bbc.co.uk competition.

Of course it never happend, for many good reasons. But it's fascinating in a way to see how things have come around. Google's customisable homepage anyone?

[Adopting continuity announcer voice] And look out for more myBBC fun as next week, Andrew models the myBBC project T-shirt! It has a myBBC Online logo on it and everything! Or perhaps not...

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