Being one of the world's great broadcasters, the corporation was always going to turn its gaze onto the Internet. But how was a huge media organisation, with vast resources and an enormous reservoir of experience, going to cope with a medium where, for once, the viewer rather than the broadcaster is in charge of the content on their screen. To make things even more interesting, the corporation is a public-service broadcaster, a concept which permeates the Net's entire ethos. In some ways, the BBC should be the perfect on-line broadcaster.
So how have they managed? Anybody who has spent time on-line has become more than sick of ploughing through the digital disaster areas that most websites have become: garish graphics, dead links and pointless gimmicks. You might even be forgiven for thinking that there is something inherently impossible about putting together a decent web page. The BBC, however, proves this need not be the case. It is tastefully laid out, easy to navigate and full of useful information.
When you first log onto the main website, you'll notice the stuff you'd expect: listings, upcoming events, previews and so forth. But then the fun begins. The main page also contains articles and previews of upcoming programmes on the channel's British network. Much of the material is clearly aimed at British surfers (the BBC won't give out figures for what proportion of hits come from overseas, so it's impossible to say how this translates into viewers). However, the public-service side of the BBC's online activities ends here, simply because there are legal restrictions on what the organisation can do with the licence fee. The answer is Beeb, the corporation's commercial Internet wing.
Beeb has a very liberated feel, compared to the corporation's other output. One of the most popular features is Oi!, the Internet's equivalent to the phone-in. Invited celebrities at the BBC studios sit at a terminal and field questions sent in by e-mail. This is, of course, an increasingly common concept on the Internet. The difference is that the BBC can attract publicity outlets and can woo big names.
Simon Calder, our own travel editor, and star of BBC2's Travel Show admitted that it's a weird experience. "When you do a radio phone in, it doesn't matter too much what you say because, once its been broadcast, it's gone forever. With this, you're still having to answer questions on the hoof, but afterwards there's a record of it for everybody to see."
The back issues are well worth leafing through. For example, the best exchange of recent interviews came with Michael Palin. On that occasion, they had a web camera trained on him which fed through to viewers' screens. One questioner asked: "Michael, why have you got one collar in your shirt and the other outside. Can't you make up your mind, or what?"
The BBC's main licence-funded web site
The commercial arm, including Oi!Reuse content