Google’s Latest Competitor - The BBC?

BBC Logo Orange

Today the BBC site launches their new homepage and my initial reaction was to wonder if suddenly they might pose a mighty big threat to Google? Bear with me a second while I ramble on about a few things:

##The New BBC Homepage

Click on the thumbnail to the right or go and set your own up. Looks pretty doesn't it?

New BBC Homepage

It's pretty slick, loads fast and has lots of rich content on the page. My homepage has been Google.co.uk since forever but looking at this almost makes me want to set the BBC page as my homepage. If the search box did something other than search the BBC site (more on this later) I might even switch. Shocking right?! I think I need a lie down.

OK, I'm feeling better now but I'm still impressed by the BBC homepage - not only does it work well, it offers me a huge amount of quality content right there on the page - news, radio, video, pictures. Pretty orange colours. Everything.

So this is a competitor of the Google iGoogle homepage right? Well kind of, I actually think it goes one step further.

The signal to noise ratio has always been a big problem for the internet, that's what Google does after all - it aims to sift through all the noise to find you some signal. But the BBC homepage goes one step further - it doesn't find you signal (more on that later), it provides you with signal - between BBC News, BBC Radio, BBC TV you have a large portion of what you need. Talking of video....

##iPlayer

BBC iPlayer

In case you've had your head buried under the sand (or in case you're not based in the UK) the BBC iPlayer is a service which allows you to watch any BBC show up to 7 days after it's broadcast on TV for free online. To be honest I watch very little TV online or offline (other than Family Guy, which incidentally isn't available through the iplayer for obvious reaonss) so I haven't been that bothered about the iplayer. Having spent a little time browsing around though I'm incredibly impressed by the quality of the videos and the ease of use of the site. It's pretty slick and for certain comedy shows it's going to be much easier to catch them through the iplayer than trying to watch them on TV. (Note: for any US readers we don't really have Tivo over here so there isn't the same culture of just recording stuff left right and centre and watching at our leisure.)

Sure, there's a couple of issues with the service which really should have been fixed by now in my opinion. The URLs are nasty which is pretty annoying and I think stops the shows spreading as easily as they might through facebook, forums and the like. Taking off a load of tracking code crap which gets automatically appended to the URL you're left with something like this for a particular show URL:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/page/item/b008ysrg.shtml

Wouldn't it be handy if you could see which show it was from the URL? Also - since these URLs expire after 7 days, wouldn't it be handy to have the date in the URL? People would very quickly learn to understand if a BBC iplayer link was still 'live' or not.

My second gripe with the iplayer is the lack of RSS feeds. What godly reason is there for not allowing me to subscribe to shows I want to watch via RSS? Seriously that one change would convert me from a 'that's nice' attitude to a 'use it regularly' attitude.

As this service gets better and expands this competes with youtube at least on some level.

##BBC Search

BBC Search

Wait, you cry - the BBC isn't a search engine - how can it be a competitor? Well listen closely amigo. Have you tried searching through the BBC site recently? Sure, often the first thing that's returned is an internal BBC site search but if you narrow the search to the WWW then what do you get?

The answer to this question isn't clear. The best I could do was find this article from 2005 which showed that under the hood the results were Yahoo-driven but with some tweaks to the algorithm.

Regardless of who powers the results, they're different from any of the big 4 (Google, Yahoo, Live, Ask) so there's certainly something going on that's unique. Of course that's not all - instead of adverts you get editorialy chosen links. Yipes - a blend of hand-edited search results combined with an algorithm to back them up? Sounds formidable.

Here's the BBC's own words on their search results.

##Conclusion

So what am I driving at? What I'm saying is that while still inferior in many ways to Google, in the UK the BBC could easily position itself as the defacto homepage to start your browsing and that actually a lot of that browsing will stay on the BBC site. This hurts Google straight off the bat. But combine that with some forward thinking, have the BBC develop their own algorithm (or partner properly with Microhoo!) and position the search box on the BBC homepage as a web search not a BBC search and suddenly you have a search engine capable of taking on Google.

The sheer weight of the BBC brand in the UK (and in fact worldwide) means that they would be trusted overnight. A small amount of branding and positioning for this service and I think the BBC could easily become the second biggest search engine in the UK. That's not something to be sniffed at!

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