Hype Check: Why the BBC's iWonder 'App' isn't quite so wondrous


There’s lots of noise in the tech community this morning about the BBC’s launch of their ‘iWonder’ platform – which is being called the corporation’s first foray into “second screen” technology. However, on closer inspection they appear to have invented, umm… a website.


Don’t get me wrong – it’s a very pretty website. The first batch of “guides” are all related to the centenary of the start of the First World War and follow all of the modern web 2.0 conventions: big images, lots of scrolling and white space, swishy integration of text and video content. But it is still just a website. I’m not sure why this is classed as technology news.

What does make the new brand and website relatively notable is that it is the first content the BBC has produced in a number of years that isn’t anchored to a particular programme. Whilst the guides feature various BBC big guns like Dan Snow and Kate Adie, they are more magazine-like, and not specifically part of Snow’s battlefield documentaries or Adie’s From Our Own Correspondent.

It’s an interesting U-turn as a few years ago, following several rounds of cuts under the “Delivering Quality First” mantra, the BBC’s online operation was stripped back considerably – with all of the content having to be either linked to iPlayer, the BBC News empire or directly supporting programmes.


So we’ve come full circle in one sense – back to the BBC Online of old that used to produce acres of content that had nothing to do with the telly – from a cult section, to a trying to actually create the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (this has since been spun off of the BBC into a separate organisation).

Today’s announcement of the iWonder guides carefully avoids any mention of apps and instead carefully highlights these new webpages will be accessible via mobile and tablets (your “second screens”, after the TV). So just like pretty much every other website ever created then.

To be fair to the BBC, not creating apps might be a smart move given the costs that would be associated with making compatible software for iOS, and the many different versions of Android – not to mention lesser used platforms like Blackberry and Windows Phone. It’s probably not worth the Daily Mail front page headache such expenditure could lead to.

So is there anything actually new tech wise? For the consumer, not so much – but it seems that behind the scenes the BBC have build a new platform to make churning out guides relatively straightforward. They have 25 guides planned so far – so it is easy to imagine that they have had someone write the code to mean the less tech-savvy writers can just copy and paste their text and have the platform do the swishy-scrolling and graphical heavy lifting.

So really (and if you enjoy a tortured analogy), it is a bit like telling the world that you’ve just installed a new version of Microsoft Office… which won’t really affect how we consume what you write if you still use the same old printer.

Still – fair play to the BBC for making a noise about this, and congratulations to their press office for finding a tech angle on their new and well made World War I coverage. Just don’t try to make me think this is some mind-blowing innovation,

James O’Malley
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