Online Communities in the UK

Nigel Chapman, Director of BBC Online

Welcome and Introduction from Nigel Chapman, Director of BBC Online

17 June 1999

Good morning and welcome to the BBC Conference Centre. I am delighted to see so many of you here from such a large and diverse range of organisations.

Today's conference on Online Communities in the UK has been organised by BBC Online and BBC Multimedia Training. The aim of the day is to look at how we can work together to build the UK Internet industry and develop the Internet into a mainstream tool of communication for all citizens. A wide variety of expertise and experience is represented here today from across the public service and commercial sectors and we hope you will take the opportunity to get to know each other and share views and ideas.

The concept of community plays a crucial role in the development of BBC Online; indeed it is helping redefining the BBC's public service purpose.

Since the 1920's the BBC has existed to broadcast "information, education and entertainment" - the three key values of John Reith, the corporation's first Director General. Through BBC Online we can translate those values to the Internet by providing content of real worth - news, education, background and interactivity around BBC programmes.

The BBC is using the Internet to forge a new relationship with licence fee payers. Nearly everyone in the UK contributes to the BBC through the licence fee and the Internet allows us to bring the BBC closer to people's lives and to make ourselves more accountable. Through the Internet we can build closer relationships with our diverse audiences and encourage their participation and feedback.

Perhaps more importantly, the BBC is using communities to encourage our audiences to talk to each other, putting like-minded people in touch to share experiences and interests. Through community forums, the BBC can act as a catalyst for all kinds of debate across the UK.

To give you an idea of the range and diversity of our community offerings to date, here's a sample of what you can find with a few minutes browsing on BBC Online:

"Too many innocent people have been killed and made homeless… I feel so helpless. What else can we do?" (11 year old girl)"

"Doesn't what is happening in Kosovo just show you how selfish our world is. Just what is the point in tearing lives to pieces for no good reason. Why can we all just not realise fighting solves nothing and be kind to one another? (14 year old)"

This weekend a teenager asked how to cope with suddenly finding out she was adopted. Among the replies came this touching answer:

"Remember your adoptive parents chose you, so you are a very special person. Don't be hard on yourself or the people who love you, being adopted does not make you any less of a daughter or your adoptive parents any less parents. Remember they love you and you love them."

Community will be at the very heart of the future development of BBC Online, allowing our audiences to have a stake in a wide range of BBC programmes and content and to interact with programme makers.

Soon we will be announcing the next stage of our community development and this summer we will be launching dedicated community sites to encourage debate in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, allowing audiences to talk about the major issues affecting their lives.

The BBC has an additional public service role on the Internet - that of "web educator" helping ensure the benefits of new technology can be shared by all. Research we conducted showed that at least 10 million people in the UK were interested in exploring the Internet, but didn't really know where to start.

The BBC's 'WebWise' campaign aims to encourage people to feel confident in taking those first hesitant steps and has proved hugely successful. The BBC offered free Internet "taster" sessions at over 5,000 venues across the UK. Within three weeks the WebWise helpline generated over 125,000 calls from people eager to try out the Internet for the first time.

This could only be achieved by building partnerships - for WebWise the BBC linked up with thousands of organisations from schools, colleges and libraries to football clubs, pubs and supermarkets.

Now we want to build further partnerships to encourage new and experienced Internet users to use the Web as an everyday means of communication. One proposal that will be discussed here today is the formation of a professional association bringing together everybody involved in online community development. The BBC wants to work with commercial websites, community organisations, software developers and ISPs to promote common standards and best practice in the UK.

Working together, we can use online communities to provide a platform through which people can express themselves and find meaning in an increasingly complex and often confusing world.

BBC Online Community Forums

BBC Online has begun the process of adding community forums across its websites to provide users with opportunities for feedback and debate. The community elements of BBC Online will be developed considerably in the latter part of 1999, and later this summer we will be launching dedicated sites for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Current BBC Online community offerings include:

BBC Online live chat with Sir Christopher Bland

24 June 6.00pm BBC Chairman Sir Christopher Bland will take part in a live chat for BBC Online. Visitors can question the Chairman about any aspect of BBC policy and programming…and perhaps even the appointment of the new Director-General.


The EastEnders Community Forum has proven enormously successful, with visitors discussing a range of topics about the programme, its cast and plotlines. Some of the cast drop into the forum from time to time to take part in the debate and answer questions. Matthew Robinson, Executive Producer of EastEnders often logs on and has even dropped a few teasers about forthcoming plot developments.

Network Asia

The Network Asia forum is rapidly becoming a vibrant discussion area on all aspects of Asian culture and life in the UK. Recent topics have included religion, music and fashion, social mores and whether youngsters should conform to the traditions of their parents.

Home Truths

The web site and forum for John Peel's popular programme on family life and relationships are closely tied in with the weekly radio show, with many contributors to the forum invited to recount their experiences on radio. The community forum allows people space for discussion of issues such as coping with bereavement and adoption through to the lighter and quirky side of family life and relationships.

Children's BBC

Chatterbox - Over-2-U is a place where youngsters can express themselves and post news, views and reviews on what gets them motivated, aerated or just plain exasperated. The forum began life as a light hearted area for youngsters to discuss favourite programmes, jokes and fashions, but has evolved to introduce areas for serious debate including some poignant thoughts about the situation in Kosovo and how to cope with exams.


The Antiques community forum has become a popular place for collectors or anyone with a passing interest in Antiques to drop by and ask questions or share their knowledge. Experts from the BBC's Antiques Roadshow and Antiques Show drop by regularly to provide advice, help and information to visitors.

The Animal Zone

An opportunity to discuss all things related to animals with the team of the BBC's acclaimed Natural History Unit and other acclaimed experts in the field of natural history and animal biology.

BBC News Online

Talking Point allows visitors to take an active part in the news and debate the major issues and stories of the day. Recent debates have included whether Europe should bother electing a parliament and a discussions on whether a lasting peace can be achieved in Kosovo. BBC News' top correspondents are also available to answer questions, with thousands of people putting questions to John Simpson, Katie Adie and Jeremy Paxman recently.

BBC Knowledge

The BBC's new digital channel makes full use of the Internet to help viewers explore the ideas and themes raised by programmes and question guests and presenters.

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