Formerly BBCi (still the brand for interactive TV services) and before that “BBC Online”, the Web-based service of the BBC is one of the world's largest and most visited websites (forty-sixth most visited according to Alexa on 30 September 2008) . As of 2007, it contained over two million pages.
The service's original home was www.bbcnc.org.uk (the "nc" standing for "networking club") launched on 11 May 1994 as a paid subscription service. For a joining fee of £25 and a monthly subscription of £12, members of the club were given access to an early type of social networking site featuring a bulletin board for sharing information and real-time conversation, along with a dialup internet connection service.
Within 12 months, the BBC offered "auntie" on-line discussion groups; web pages for select web-related programs and BBC departments; free web pages for associate members; and an internet connection service www.bbc.co.uk was introduced in 1996 though the old address also remained active for some time afterwards.
The BBC Director General John Birt sought government approval to direct licence fee revenue into the service, describing planned BBC internet services as the “third medium” joining the BBC's existing TV and Radio networks, achieving a change in the BBC Charter. This led to the official launch of BBC Online at the www.bbc.co.uk address in December 1997.
For a time, www.bbc.co.uk was used for the organisation's corporate and educational site, while entertainment-based content appeared on www.beeb.com. The two sites were merged c.1998 to become BBC Online at www.bbc.co.uk. In 1999, the BBC bought the www.bbc.com domain name for $375,000, previously owned by Boston Business Computing , but the price of this purchase was not revealed until 6 years later. As of 2005, www.bbcnc.org.uk no longer exists. The beeb.com address now redirects to the BBC Shop website run by BBC Worldwide, at www.bbcshop.com.
In 2001 BBC Online was rebranded as BBCi. The BBCi name was conceived as an umbrella brand for all the BBC's digital interactive services across web, digital teletext, interactive TV and on mobile plaftorms. The use of letter "i" prefixes and suffixes to denote information technology or interactivity was very much in vogue at this time, notably with the launch of the iMac and the iPod by Apple Computer; according to the BBC, the "i" in BBCi stood for "interactivity" as well as "innovation".
As part of the rebrand, BBC website pages all displayed a standard navigation bar across the top of the screen, offering a category-based navigation: Categories, TV, Radio, Communicate, Where I Live, A-Z Index and a search. The navbar was designed to offer a similar navigation system to the i-bar on BBCi interactive television.
On 14 December 2007, a beta version of a new bbc.co.uk homepage was launched, with the ability to customise the page by adding, removing and rearranging different categories, such as 'News', 'Weather' and 'Entertainment'. The widget-based design was inspired by sites such as Facebook and iGoogle. The new BBC homepage left beta stage on Wednesday, 27 February 2008 to serve as the new BBC Homepage under the same URL as the previous version did.
In February 2001, BBC Online incorporated Douglas Adams' previously independent h2g2 project into its group of web sites, and is now replacing all its existing message boards with the DNA software derived from that project. The site's Collective magazine also uses the DNA software. The website has extensive technical information available about its operation. The BBC also makes some of the content on bbc.co.uk and the BBC News Website available in XML format on its developer network backstage.bbc.co.uk. Also, through participation in the Creative Archive Licence group, bbc.co.uk allows legal downloads of selected material via the Internet.
The BBC also runs a message board for young people named onion street.
There is integration between television output and website content with aspects of children's programming have followup information on their websites.
Initially streams were generally broadcast in the RealAudio and RealVideo formats controlled by RealNetworks and the BBC drew criticism with some for using those closed formats which, at the time, could only be played using RealPlayer. In response to such criticisms, the BBC negotiated a deal with RealNetworks a 'cut-down' version of RealPlayer which did not contain as much advertising and marketing.
Windows Media has also been adopted and since Autumn 2006, a Windows Media stream of all national BBC radio stations has been available.
More recently, the BBC has been experimenting with MP3 downloads and podcasting facilities for an increasing number of radio shows, with a high level of success; a less publicised trial of Ogg Vorbis streams for certain programmes was less successful, and has now been discontinued.
Users that block certain of these tracking domains will find certain parts of the BBC's websites inaccessible. Doubleclick provides a partial optout mechanism, but it requires the user to accept another cookie, a DART cookie, from doubleclick.net. Users blocking doubleclick.net will be unable to do this.
In 2006, the BBC began making controversial plans to raise revenue by including advertising on BBC News pages served to non UK users. bbc.co.uk is currently freely available worldwide (via various URLs including BBCNews.com) but planned video services and a lower than expected licence fee settlement paid for by UK residents only has caused the BBC to consider ways of monetising its global popularity online. From November 2007, visitors from outside of the UK have seen banner advertisements on the site.
Prior to this there had been criticism from some, as web users outside the UK could use the services (including the entire BBC radio services) without having to pay for them. It has been suggested in the past that the BBC block users outside the UK. In addition, where rights to sporting events (such as certain football or cricket matches) do not include international online coverage, users from outside the UK are blocked from listening to commentaries.
In defence of its open policy, the BBC's site is primarily hosted from two locations , New York and London. The London site is funded from the licence fee and the New York server is funded through a series of government grants (similar to the BBC World Service) and not directly by the licence fee. However those grants do ultimately come from the British public.
The review was published in July 2004 and it was recommended that the BBC "prioritise news, current affairs, education and information which is of value to the citizen." In response the BBC also shut down a small number of sections of the site, including the Soaps section.
In November 2004, the Governors of the BBC announced a newer, much more tightly drawn remit for bbc.co.uk as part of their response to the review. They also announced, as Graf had recommended, a new approach towards external providers which will see bbc.co.uk aiming to spend at least 25% of its eligible budget on content and services through independent commissions by the end of 2006/07.
The implementation of the Graf report has seen the popular messageboards in the BBC Sport section shut down, as the BBC tries to promote its 606 brand, but these changes have proved unpopular as the interface has proven unusable and large numbers of content providers have abandoned the BBC site.
On 15 July 2005, the BBC announced that the site was closing as of the end of the month, although the Doctor Who section would be unaffected as the series was an ongoing BBC concern. The announcement explained that this was "part of the restructuring of the BBC's online activities". It was promised that some of the content would be moved to new places on bbc.co.uk, although as of March 2008 it is currently still all online at the no-longer-updated Cult site.