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Inside the BBC’s Incredible Interactive WWI Museum

Your dad just ran out of reasons to avoid the internet.

The BBC has introduced iWonder, a digital content platform that offers interactive World War I guides. And. It. Is. Super. Cool.

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Launched in early January, the new BBC site is as comprehensive and curated as any three-dimensional museum, chock-full of content covering all aspects of WWI. iWonder invites visitors to listen, view, read, thumb through and wander, which turns out to be such an enjoyable way to meander through a site that, an hour or so in, you hardly realize how much time you’ve spent learning. Mission accomplished, BBC.

Unlocking learning potential

“Over the last 15 years, BBC Online has produced some really fantastic factual and educational content,” said BBC Knowledge & Learning Executive Editor Chris Sizemore in an interview with Journalism.co.uk. “And so we identified an opportunity that would play to the strengths of that.”

Sizemore went on to explain the site was created in part to “unlock the learning potential” of the BBC’s deep archive of information. Rather than simply throwing up columns of longform text, iWonder’s content features 17 multimedia “guides” crafted with the education of inquisitive, lifelong-students in mind.

“The guides are not designed to be news, they’re designed to deliver reflection,” Sizemore said. “And that’s why they’re led by a question. You think twice about something, or maybe you think twice about yourself.”

One guide, for example, challenges the belief that a majority of WWI soldiers died in the trenches. An eight-step guide including videos, a photographic timeline, digital map and interactive exercise proves that, in fact, 88 percent of British soldiers survived the trenches. The digital exhibit even gives visitors a feeling for what the experience was actually like for the soldiers.

soldiers firing line

Going deep

Anything the BBC creates is expected to be finely-crafted and historically accurate, but what makes iWonder so unique is its depth. Each guide dives deep with seven or eight easily digestible pieces of material, engaging visitors much more than any article or single piece of content ever could.

Econsultancy recently rated the site high in terms of consistency, responsiveness, dynamics, accessibility, format richness and explorability, calling it, “a powerful tool for schoolchildren or older autodidacts.”

Besides the guides themselves, the site includes more traditional, yet equally fascinating content, including audio galleries of narrated soldiers’ letters and the 1914 Wonderground Underground map, a satirical piece of art that saved the London Underground during the war. With so many stories contributing to complex exhibits, wandering through them all would take, well, about the same time it would to wander through any museum. Only, now you can do it from your couch instead of weaving through packs of hyper school children.

Making connections

While iWonder covers events dating back to 1914, it is undoubtedly presented for a 2014 audience. A clear effort was made to link the past to contemporary culture, most notably in the music-themed guide, “How did Pack Up Your Troubles become the viral hit of WWI?” hosted by a hipster-esque musician.

And in addition to relating WWI-era Britain to the present day, the site also connects visitors to BBC’s other media. Much of the enticing sidebar content on iWonder directs back to BBC’s main sites, such as BBC News Magazine and BBC Radio, a subtle strategy sure to drive traffic.

“I think the promise in the future is that the tendrils of iWonder can reach out to the rest of the BBC online estate,” Sizemore added, “and offer people some ‘iWonderousness’ wherever they are.”

WWI is just the beginning. More iWonder guides are planned for 2014, covering topics like science, natural history, the arts, religion, and ethics. Nerds, history buffs, anglophiles and dads, get ready for more museums to come right to your doorstep.

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Image by State Library Queensland
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