Philosophy · 6 June 2013 · Ian Malpass

Why I’m OK with the BBC Homepage Clock disappearing

So, the BBC Trust (the group charged with keeping the BBC honest) has upheld a complaint about the clock widget on the homepage, and has decreed that it should be removed.

The essence of the complaint was that the clock displays the time based on the user’s computer’s clock—not the actual, official time. The clock was very popular (perhaps due to memories of the omnipresent clocks in BBC idents of yore) but it only took one complaint to get it removed.

This seems, on the face of it, ludicrous. And yet I’d argue it isn’t.

In my opinion, the BBC has a duty to present truth. Perhaps it doesn’t always do it terribly well, but there is an expectation (based on its Reithian upbringing, its public service mandate, and the obligations of the licence fee) that it will do so. Here, the BBC Trust has held it to that duty. That it has done so on a feature that is on the face of it trivial is neither here nor there. It’s the brown M&M in the bowl.

Think, for a minute, about the feature. “As a user, I want to be able to see my system clock’s time, but shown to me with the gravitas and imprimatur of the BBC.” That’s not truth. It’s not even particularly useful. It’s eye candy, perhaps a nod to designs of yesteryear, but it shouldn’t be there.

I know I’m not a typical user. But I also know that there are many users of who aren’t all that tech-savvy, and for whom the distinction of “well, it’s just a client-side rendering of your system clock” is completely opaque. When creating features on the site, clarity and truth should be guiding principles, and the occasional reminder by the BBC Trust is right and proper.