BBC Online Strategy

In February 2010, BBC Online sumbitted it’s response to the BBC Strategy (read: budget) Review, announced the summer before.

Along with committing to reducing it’s budget by 25% by 2013, they’ve committed to halving the number of top-level directories# (i.e. anything that falls after, such as /eastenders or /drwho). The BBC currently has over 400# of these top-level directories (not including redirects) and by the end of this year, 172# will be shut down with their content moved to other areas of the site or archived offline.

The new online strategy focuses on doing “fewer things better” and they plan on grouping online content into one of ten categories:

Noticeable changes will include programmes no longer having their own top-level directory, for example Eastenders will move from to Likewise and will probably become which will then link off to CBBC/CBeebies and teaching material such as Bitesize from the Knowledge and Learning product.

There’s already been some lively discussion on the issues around deleting and archiving BBC websites facing removal that kicked off with an initial post from Adactio blogger Jeremy Keith. He suggested that the BBC’s plans to halve its top level directories were cultural vandalism. The tenor of the criticism was the same – that the BBC is failing in its duty to preserve a record of its online past. Some sites, like which is a collection of 47,000 memories and 15,000 image created by people who lived through World War 2, has been debated heavily of something that should be preserved regardless of it’s age or irrelevance to the BBC’s new strategy simply because of it’s historical and cultural value to people around the world.

This massive re-organisation that BBC Online are currently undertaking is very similar to our Linking You project; as we have discovered so far, higher education institution’s websites (including our own) have also over the years become monolithic beasts. I think for the BBC, with the huge success of iPlayer and the huge increase in second screen viewing (e.g. chatting to your friends on Facebook whilst watching TV) has made the BBC realise that they need to wake up a bit and envelop themselves in the digital age. This quote below by Erik Huggers (director of BBC Future Media and Technology) particularly emphasises the point:

“The BBC’s online strategy has, for many years, been to play a supporting role to our broadcast output. Programme first, website later. This is not the best way to deliver our public purposes in a digital age.” #

Likewise universities are slowly realising that their primary audiences (i.e. students) aren’t living in a world of paper handouts and prospectuses any more; they’re connected 24/7 and want real time, personalised content. In age of increased tuition fees, potential students are going to be more interested in HE websites that suggest courses to them based on the things they’ve “liked” on Facebook and email you a personalised prospectus, versus those institutions that ask for their address so they can send them a massive document in the post a fortnight later.

The recent redesign of University of Lincoln’s homepage has already started the process of culling unnecessary links and the grouping of content into, not products, but areas of interest:

In terms of a URI model this could easily convert into:

/schools (or /departments)

and maybe a few others such as:


From this BBC debate I think the thing that we’ve got to consider as we develop a model for HE websites is that we are going to have to make sacrifices because physical value does not necessarily represent value on the web (e.g. a University may stand by it’s vice chancellor’s vision but that doesn’t mean it is necessarily worth being a top-level directory on a HE website at /vc_message). Also we need to work out exactly what elements a university is made up such as courses, faculties, accommodation information and then try to fit it into a group of core categories (similar to the BBC’s “online products”).

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Other University of Lincoln services URIs

Following on from my post about the URI structure in our existing corporate website I’m now taking a brief look at a number of other websites and web applications that we have at the University, WordPress, Blackboard (, SharePoint 2003 (internal –, external – and Posters at Lincoln (


We have an active blogging community here at Lincoln with over 400 registered blogs running on a WordPress MU install. WordPress has built in friendly URIs (permalinks in WordPress terminology) so I was expecting to see a good proportion of blogs that had a good URI structure.

I wrote a script – – which simply grabs the permalink structure for each registered blog so that I can see an aggregated view of the settings that have been set up for each blog.

Here are the results:

Permalink structure Number of blogs
/%year%/%monthnum%/%day%/%postname%/ 404
/%postname%/ 8
no permalink structure 3
/%year%/%postname%/ 2
/articles/%postname%/ 1
/%year%/%monthnum%/%postname%/ 1
/%monthnum%/%year%/%postname%/ 1

96% of blogs are running with the default permalink structure which basically means you have URIs that looks like In terms of readability this does result in URIs that can be easily understood. As for predictability of a specific post’s URI then I think you’re perhaps better off doing a search from the blog’s home page. I did a Google search for “thoughts on WordPress permalinks” and there seems to be a consesus that the default permalink structure is “good enough” SEO wise however there are performance gains by using it over %postname% because it reduces the number of queries WordPress has to do internally to return the correct post.


The interface of Blackboard comprises of a HTML frameset page which if you read the source code actually explains itself:

“The Blackboard Academic Suite environment includes a header frame with images and buttons customized by the institution and tabs that navigate to different areas within Blackboard Academic Suite. Clicking on a tab will open that area in the content frame. Web pages containing specific content, features, functions, and tools are accessed from the tab areas.”

Basically this means that the home page, regardless of whether or not you’re signed into Blackboard or not is always and it also means you can’t directly link to a Blackboard resource (as I’m about to without screwing up the interface). You could say this doesn’t matter at all from an SEO stand point because resources aren’t externally available however I’m can’t help sympathising with someone trying to explain how to access a Blackboard resource over the phone; I’d imagine it would go something like “click on this, now that, now sign in, now click the top link in the list on the left, now select you the course you want, then this, that and you should now see what you want”, as opposed to “just click on the link I’ve just sent you”.

Taking the above into consideration (i.e. that Blackboard links are essentially irrelevant to the end user) it is interesting to see what some Blackboard URIs look like:

Blackboard Module URI
View Grades
Example course
Course blog
Supervisor wiki

A few URIs seem mildly related to their content such as the example course and the gradebook however others like the community home page almost seem random.

SharePoint 2003 (interal) (external)

Our SharePoint 2003 installation is our institution’s internal content repository and intranet. Every department and faculty has it’s own “site” (read: section) and providing you know exactly what you are looking for (searching doesn’t work) then it is generally quite useful. Unlike Blackboard however SharePoint is not built using frames and so you can give out direct links to content, for example:

Resource URI
ICT department
University Resource
First aiders
External news

At first glance the SharePoint URIs look as random as Blackboard’s however I’ve had explained to me why this is. Basically SharePoint is made up of “sites”. In the 2003 version the first 20 sites can be named whatever you want, for example “External News” or “University Resources” however after that SharePoint insists on using folders that count up, prefixed with the letter “C”, e.g. C0, C1, C2, and so on up to C19. Inside these “sites” again you can have another 20 directories named whatever you want and then the C directories start. This basically means that sites are capped at 40 directories per directory, half of which you can alter the name. Confusing yes. Logical no. I’ve been informed that this is no longer the case in SharePoint 2007 onwards.

As a result you can potentially have sites that have a nice friendly URI structure (if you discount the /default.aspx at the end) e.g. However for sites which are granted C-directories (such as the ICT department) the URL loses all contextual relevance. Again I think the best bet for users is to follow links through to the resource (or if they’re feeling brave, try searching for the content).

Posters at Lincoln

Posters at Lincoln was one of the first sites I worked on when I started working for the Online Services Team here at the University. It’s development brought about the Common Web Design and a number of other projects we’ve worked on over the last year. Therefore forgive me if I’m a bit bias in this overview.

The site is split up into “groups”, such as ICT Department or Marketing and Communications, and “campaigns”, which are posters created for different events and public notices.

We designed the URI structure to be SEO friendly and semantically relevant with URLs like:

Resource URL
Home page
About page
All campaigns
Marketing and Communications group
Get Satisfaction campaign
Science Fair campaign

As you can see, the URI structure is very simple and clean in contrast to some of the other examples mentioned above. This is partly down to the fact that the framework we built the website in, Codeigniter, has sexy URIs support built in, but also because it’s trivial to make Apache serve up extension less URIs.

This brief overview has hopefully outlined some of the differences between the URI construction of some of the online services we use at Lincoln.

Related Posts, 10 years later

University of Lincoln home page

Over the past ten years, the University of Lincoln’s home page has evolved into a monolithic repository of course descriptions, staff profiles, news items, policy statements, information for staff, students, parents, the media, and anyone else who may stumble across the site.

Using an online sitemap generator I have created an XML sitemap and and a plain text list of all of the publicly accessible URIs on the site. I’ve removed anything that isn’t an html document (i.e. if it doesn’t have a mime of text/html it wasn’t counted). This amounts to some 4189 pages on the site. I’ve parsed this out further to what essentially are the top level directories:

My immediate impression is that there are are a lot of directories – over 100! Also what on earth do all of these acronyms mean?

Some are URIs are obvious and you’d find them on most sites – /home, /webteam, /contact. However the library section is under /lr instead of /library (LR according to the page title means Learning Resources, however the pages talks about Library and Learning Resources – i.e. so should it not be /llr?). I was interested to discover /lsad is The Lincoln School of Art, /luac stands for Lincoln University Assessment Centre (aren’t we technically The University of Lincoln – Lincoln University is in New Zealand (or also in three places in the USA)), /shsc is Lincoln School of Health and Social Care (again, why not /lshsc) and finally /socs is the Lincoln School of Computing Science (*cough* not /lsocs – also sometimes student societies are refered to “socs” so there’s even more confusion here). There seems to be an awful lot of inconsistency here in terms of the acronym used for the directory and the actual acronym we use internally. However the main problem here is that an outsider doesn’t understand our internal acronyms – if I was a potential arts student I’d have thought an all encompassing /arts would be better understood than /lsad.

There also inconsistency in the directory hierarchy. Some information is a subdirectory of /home whereas everything else is in the root directory /. It could be that URIs that start /home/ are less important than others, but then you could subjectively say that /home/legal is more imporant than /surveys. Likewise why is /opendays not under /events/opendays.

There is also a lot of apparent repetition. Campuses are represented under /home/lincoln/brayford/, /home/lincoln/cathedral/, /home/lincoln/cathedral/, /home/hull/ but Holbeach is on the root at /holbeach, and then there is also /riseholmecampus and /hull. Should all of these pages not be under /campus/ or /locations/ ?

Every school or faculty page (what’s the difference between a school a faculty and a department if you’re a potential student? Is one better than the other? Do I need to apply to the school or faculty? Does a school represent the academic side and a faculty represent the administrative side, if so, what is a department?) has a section contains staff profiles e.g. (by the way /cjmh stands for Criminal Justice and Mental Health, which apparently is an entity of the Law school a research group). However some departments/faculties/schools/research groups have a the member of staff’s name in the URI (as above) whereas this member of staff’s page is just a number – (again with inconsistent acronyms – LISHPA somehow stands for Lincoln School of Humanities (surely LSH?)). Note how the first staff page is a .htm whereas the second is .asp (is there a joke here about one being more dynamic than the other?). Over in CERD (Centre for Educational Research and Development), one member of staff can be found at – why does this URI contain the word “staff” twice (likewise all the other profiles for CERD except one contain “staff” twice too)?

Whilst we’re on the subject of strange URI features, what’s with the funky underscores for course pages, e.g., and Some pages also don’t replace spaces in the file name with underscores or hyphens e.g.

To conclude, I’ve highlighted a number of big inconsistencies and problems with the current URI structure for the corporate site in this post. My opinion of the URI structure that is currently in place is that the website has been influenced by corporate policy and politics and a lack of understanding by some departments in how they represent themselves on the web has resulted in a messy collection of pages. This isn’t one person’s fault, it’s just the organic development of a site which has lost its message. I believe the Linking You project is an excellent opportunity to explore the reasons why this institution has a website in the first place and through the technical and blue sky consultations which we plan on having with different internal and external stakeholders, we can develop a plan for a new website which is consistent, obvious and relevant.

Following this post will be a post by Nick that describes a hypothetical corporate website that was developed from scratch with no preconception of how the current website works. Coming up, we’ll also be writing about the URI structures for some of the web based software we use at Lincoln such as SharePoint, WordPress and Blackboard. We’re also going to write a presentation to present at our first technical consultation that we plan on holding in March.

N.B. In this post all staff names have been redacted and all links have attributes of rel=”nofollow”. Also I realise that department names have changed over the years and the website hasn’t updated in some instances for legacy or SEO reasons, but an outsider or a search engine has no knowledge of this.

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