BBC Online recently celebrated 20 years since its very first online presence, the BBC Networking Club, went live, making the BBC one of the first major news organisations to get online.

The corporation has pioneered many early internet technologies, including the first live audio streaming in 1995 and the launch of BBC iPlayer 2007.

So from BBC's first steps into the digital world to its first tweet, blog and Facebook post, and to the more recent innovations in BBC Instafax and Reddit AMAs, here is a retrospective look at 20 of the most significant editorial, social, and technological milestones at BBC Online over the last two decades.

13 April 1994

The BBC Networking Club is launched, a not-for-profit subscription website offering a bulletin board for updates and information about the BBC.

The site went live to coincide with the first episode of the educational TV series, The Net, and a series of individual websites for key services and programmes, including the World Service and Tomorrow's World followed soon afterwards.


The BBC pioneers the first ever live audio streaming for the Radio 5 Live series, The Big Byte.


The BBC builds a prototype site for the Atlanta Olympics to test online sports coverage.

March 1997

The BBC's Budget 97 site is launched, featuring news coverage and analysis and a quiz (and this was well before BuzzFeed and UsVsTh3m, remember).

The site was later redesigned to become Politics 97. Then, following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in August, the site underwent another metamorphosis to become a BBC Special Report on the ensuing investigation.

Compare this to how the BBC Budget site page looks now.

Politics 97
The BBC's Politics 97 site

December 1997

The first official BBC Online homepage is launched at, and with it comes BBC News Online.

Speaking to, Giles Wilson, BBC Online features editor, explained that the site was published with the BBC's in-house CPS (content production system) – a descendant of which is still used today.

BBC Online
The first official BBC Online homepage in 1997

July 2000

BBC Sport, which up to now existed only as an "index on the main news site", is launched as a separate site.

"The new site was built on the same platform as News, and the relationship is still close," said Wilson, despite the fact that BBC Sport is now based in Salford.
May 2001

The first blogs start to appear on BBC News. Wilson notes that Nick Robinson, then a "young political correspondent", set up a daily column on the general election.

"Once he started [blogging], he never really stopped," Wilson said.
11 September 2001

Wilson notes that the terrorist attacks of 11 September were "a watershed for news websites around the world" as well as for the BBC.

"Servers struggled to cope, though ours did not actually collapse," he said, adding that even Google told people to watch the news unfold on their televisions rather than try to go online.

"We were amazed that our lead story got two million page views, and it was by far our biggest story at that point. In technical terms it taught us a lot about how to cope with big demand when there are big stories."

March 2002

The BBC introduces what Wilson refers to as 'multi-platform authoring', "meaning the same stories are written for BBC News Online as were for Ceefax".

The move was "very significant for us, though hopefully no readers noticed," he added.

"Even now our top four paragraphs follow a Ceefax style because even though it has been turned off, millions of people still use the BBC's Digital Text service."

8 January 2007

The @BBCNews Twitter account sends its first tweet – an update on the trial of Saddam Hussein.

"For the first 18 months or so the account was driven by an RSS feed of headlines," Wilson explains. "It wasn't until later that we started writing lines specifically for Twitter".

25 December 2007

BBC iPlayer launches on Christmas Day, offering TV fans the chance to watch the last seven days of BBC programmes on their computer.

The service is now also available on mobiles, tablets and connected TVs, with head of iPlayer Dan Taylor recently revealing on the BBC Internet blog that the platform serves 10 million programme requests a day.
November 2009

Alex Gubbay – who is now director of digital platforms at Johnston Press – becomes the BBC's first social media editor.

Gubbay, who was previously editor of the BBC Sport website, would "co-ordinate tweets and Facebook Pages", as well as social media posts from reporters "out in the field".
19 November 2009

BBC Online publishes its first SEO (search engine optimised) headline: US 'has evidence of South Africa mercenaries in Guinea'.

As Wilson explains, this was "the first time we had longer headlines on stories for keywords and not just the Ceefax version".
January 2010

To coincide with the release of the first iPad, the BBC launches its first news app, which Wilson notes has now been downloaded more than 30 million times.
24 March 2010

BBC News launches its Facebook Page, focusing on the forthcoming General Election. The Page now has more than 6 million fans.

March 2012

BBC News launches its first 'responsive' site aimed at mobile users, which scaled to whatever device it was being viewed on.

At the time Steve Herrmann, editor of the BBC News website, revealed on the BBC Editors blog that 26 per cent of visitors to the BBC News website were now coming from mobile or tablet.

November 2013

BBC social media accounts reach some significant milestones, with the @BBCWorld Twitter account hitting 5 million followers, the Google+ Page passing 4 million +1s and the BBC News Facebook Page achieving 3 million fans.

Elsewhere on Twitter, the @BBCBreaking account was about to pass 8 million followers, now at more than 9 million.

Speaking to at the time, assistant editor of social news at the BBC Mark Frankel put the growth down to close collaboration and a strong emphasis on visual content.

16 January 2014

The BBC launches Instafax, 15-second video news updates and headline round-ups on Instagram.

Speaking to shortly after the launch, Chris Hamilton, social media editor for BBC News, described the project as "taking inspiration from Ceefax and bitesize news".

The BBC Instafax account currently has more than 26,300 followers.

19 January 2014

BBC iWonder is launched. The interactive guides, presented by historians and experts, combine both newly-commissioned and archive content, and are designed to encourage learning and challenge opinions.

"The guides are not designed to be news, they're designed to deliver reflection," Chris Sizemore, executive editor at BBC Knowledge & Learning told at the time.

17 March 2014

The BBC does its first ever Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) with chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet.

The discussion included Doucet's recent trip to Tehran, her most hair-raising moments and advice for aspiring journalists.

According to the BBC College of Journalism blog, the AMA received more than 53,000 unique page views with people spending an average of 1:46 minutes on the page.

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