Back in 2009, we started the work that would become http://howbigreally.com and http://howmanyreally.com with the BBC, releasing those two prototypes over the last two years under the banner of “BBC Dimensions“.
Our intention from the beginning was to design the service as a module that could be integrated into bbc.co.uk at a later date if they proved successful with audiences.
Earlier this year, Alice worked with the engineers at BBC News to do just that, and now the first BBC News stories featuring the “How Big Really” module are starting to appear.
Here are a couple of examples – a story on the vast amount of space given over to car parking in the world, illustrated with the module juxtaposing the total space used by parked cars over the island of Jamaica!
…and a more recent example showing the size of a vast iceberg that has just broken free of a glacier on Greenland.
Of course, as with the original http://howbigreally.com prototype, you can customise the juxtaposition with the post-code of somewhere you’re familiar with – like your home, school or office.
The team worked hard to integrate the prototype’s technology with BBC News’s mapping systems and the the look/feel of the site overall.
Here’s Alice on some of the challenges:
We worked with the BBC Maps team to create a tool that could be used by editors, journalists and developers to create How Big Really style maps. Chris Henden and Takako Tucker from the team supplied me with the BBC Maps Toolkit and did a great job of explaining some of its more nuanced points, particularly when I got into trouble around Mapping Projections.
The tool takes an SVG representation of an area, including a scale element, converts it to a JSON object that is then rendered onto a map using the BBC Maps Toolkit. Immediate feedback allows the map creator to check their SVG is correct, and the JSON representation of the shape can then be used to build the map in future.
It’s really satisfying for us to see something that started as a conceptual prototype back in 2009 find it’s way into a daily media production system of the scale and reach of BBC News.
Thanks to all the team there – also Chris Sizemore, Lisa Sargood and Max Gadney for shepherding the project from whiteboard sketches to become part of the BBC journalist’s digital toolkit.