BBC Online keeps it simple for refreshed homepage

Head on over to the BBC's website and you'll be presented with an option to use a beta version of the new BBC Online homepage, a test-bed for what will become the standard homepage in the next couple of months.

The beta has just gone live and presents a cleaner, simpler and easier to use online portal; one that Ian Hunter, managing editor of BBC Online, described as "a new vision" at a briefing at BBC HQ in Wood Lane which Pocket-lint was present for.

"It is a statement of what the BBC thinks is important at a particular moment in time," he said, referring to the importance of the homepage. "The weakness of the current version is that it's too narrow in focus."

Hunter stated that 85 per cent of visitors to the current homepage, of which there are more than 9 million per week, simply click through to news, sport and weather and often ignore the wealth of additional content that BBC Online has on offer.

The purpose of the new homepage, GM of News & Knowledge at BBC Future Media, Phil Fearnley, said, was to open up the Beeb's web goodies to the masses.

"The homepage operates in a unique position in that it's not really a destination in itself, it's much more of a navigational device to the rest of the content," he said. "We see it much more as a product that is about getting the audience to the widest possible content that the BBC has."

So what does the new homepage look like exactly? Fairly minimal, it has to be said - tipping its cap to the current, white-spaced trend that is dominating the web (as per Pocket-lint's funky new design).

At the top is a carousel-style gallery, with three panels that can be reached by using the left and right arrows. It's all very tablet-esque; a deliberate ploy according to James Thornett, its production manager.

The carousel gives the BBC a chance to highlight what it thinks are key areas, with the most prominent positions on the far left being chosen by an editorial team. "It clearly has an editorial position, because of the very nature of what it is, and what it stands for," explained Hunter.

The carousel also highlights the top news and sports stories, and there are simple to use filter options to see your favourite categories. Gone are the advanced customisation options, with Hunter stating that only a third of visitors to the BBC used them, and only a third of these people using anything more advanced than location settings.

Talking of location, there will be nation-specific homepages, or location based ones of your choosing. This is set in the same way in which your weather page is currently set; via a postcode entry. It's London only for the first beta although Thornett said more locations will be added soon.

At the bottom are what the Beeb is calling "draws" - expandable columns for the most popular stories, a "What's On" section and an "Explore" section that is basically a tag index of the whole site.

It all looks pretty swish, although the challenge for the BBC is to make the homepage worthwhile in a web that is dominated by search and news front pages.

It's a challenge that Hunter is relishing though. "We believe there is considerable scope to differentiate the BBC homepage and the news homepages, and to do a considerably better job for the totality of users, not just those whose world revolves around news, sport and weather," he said.

The beta is available now - head on over to bbc.co.uk and give it a spin.