BBC iWonder: Introducing Interactive Guides

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A new way to tell stories on the web

Interactive guides take a different approach to presenting content compared to traditional web articles or TV and radio programmes online. They organise video and audio, rich infographics, written summaries, and activities into stories that make the most of our interactive medium. We know from plenty of research that people learn better by doing, and we’ve designed our guides to be “sit forward,” placing a user’s interactions with the content at the core of the experience. Interactive guides take the audience through a series of steps that ask them to look at multiple perspectives of intriguing questions, always with the chance to reflect on the significance of the story at the end.

The initial set of interactive guides mark the start of the World War One season on the BBC and are presented by experts including Dan Snow, Kate Adie, Ian McMillan and Neil Oliver. For more on these read Executive Producer Tim Plyming’s blog post.

A multi-screen modern media landscape

To achieve this, our team has employed responsive web design from our first lines of code. With responsive web design, the devil is in the detail. On mobile especially, response times are absolutely crucial. If a web page takes longer than a couple of seconds to load, you’ve already lost a huge percentage of potential browsers. To keep response times down to a minimum, we’ve had to develop a system that loads in just the essential components of the page at the right times. Mobile-sized images download first, then when the page’s Javascript detects the browser’s capabilities, higher-resolution images get ‘loaded in dynamically.’ This can mean the difference of up to a mega-byte’s worth of content for a browser to download. At that page weight, a mobile browser can become agonisingly slow.

Being able to repeatedly produce immersive experiences

Over the past year or so, many highly engaging web experiences have delighted web audiences, such as the New York Times’ Snowfall story. When our development team first set out to imagine what our interactive guides experience should be, we looked at those examples with a degree of envy. But we also noticed that most seemed to be “one-offs” and didn’t work well on mobile devices. We were adamant that we wanted our new format to have all the qualities of this class of highly immersive story – but tailored for every device – whilst being straightforward for our editorial teams to reproduce quickly and repeatedly.

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Digital Design

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