Number or No Number?

Posted on 21 February 2007 in BBC red button, Interactive TV (No comments)

I mentioned the other day that all but four pages within the new BBCi weather service had page numbers and that I was contemplating adding in those extra four. Whether to do so or not turned out to be an interesting decision.

Part of this based on the fact that we normally only ever give page numbers to content that remains the same - it's fixed in stone, it's concrete. So for example, a Weather map is always there, but a page of travel information about the M67 isn't.

Then there's technical grey areas too like, say, the TV listings for a particular TV channel. The code behind it is written in such a way that everything is automatic. So when More 4 was added to Freeview, we needed to do nothing to our code.

Because the channels can change, it's technically more difficult to always know which pages are where. Not impossible, but not simple. Still, one day we might just end up with every channel's TV listings having their own page number. And what a glorious day that will be. (And if we do, boy will I be very glad we did bother to introduce those four digit page numbers as we'd have difficulty crowbarring them all in on a 3 digit system!)

Anyway, as usual I'm easily distracted. So just what is the issue about those four weather pages? And which ones are they?

Well they're four text summaries in the Forecast Summary section (page 4010), and first thing on Thursday morning, the section will look like this:

  • Thursday day
  • Thursday night
  • Friday
  • Saturday

So the logic's pretty simple. The first page is always today's weather, the second is always tonight's. Third is tomorrows and the forth is the day after tomorrow. Sorted.

Which is fine, until 6pm on Thursday night when everything changes to...

  • Thursday night
  • Friday
  • Saturday
  • Sunday

Now as far as the code is concerned, it's just

  • page 1
  • page 2
  • page 3
  • page 4

So page 1 can be two different things depending on the time of day.

Therein the problem. If page 2 was always tomorrow's weather, I'd be fine, but it's not. It might be tomorrow's weather, it might be for today. It's not consistent. And to put them on each page regardless would then mean our page numbering policy was not consistent.

As any usability guru will tell you, consistency is one of the cornerstones of making something usable. The perfect navigation system on a website for example, sees a site always follow the same rules on all it's pages. And it's no different for interactive television. The same buttons do the same things on all pages. Menus all work in the same way. Consistency helps people use things better. (And yes, I know that in some parts of the BBC's Interactive TV offerings, green is used for back and in others it's yellow! It's bad, m'kay?!)

So changing things just for Weather isn't a good idea - either change the whole of the BBCi numbering system (which would certainly be interesting technically!) to apply numbers to content which is more transient, or we don't do it at all.

Now if only I had thought of this a few months ago when we were re-working the code. Cos then we could have opted for the third option - combine all four pages into one like they are on Ceefax. That way, I wouldn't have to worry about it and I can just give it one, consistent number. Say 403 or something...

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