Seriously, Ten: What's going on?

The major security flaws suffered by the Big Brother Web site are the most recent example of an apparent "launch first, fix later" approach with Channel Ten.

Another year, another season of Big Brother with its parade of politicians expressing moral outrage at housebound bogans and their illicit antics.

But with the nudity and profanity-laden Uncut TV program abolished in light of last year's post-turkey slap outrage, the scandal for the 2007 series has thus far been focused on troubles with the official Big Brother Web site.

As ZDNet Australia reported, major tech glitches plagued the site shortly after its launch, exposing registered users' personal information to others and requiring the temporary withdrawal of premium services from paid subscribers.

The login problems look to be fixed now, but the site maintains a tarnished image among BB fans. The forums on fan Web site behindbigbrother.com feature numerous threads dedicated to complaints about the official site, with the "Official Web site Problems" topic logging over 1,300 posts so far.

In a February blog post regarding Channel Ten's new Web site, I said this:

My one lingering reservation about Ten's online strategy is that there still seems to be a culture of "launch first, fix later".

We saw this with the Biggest Loser site (in which forum users begged for a moderator to intervene and delete offensive posts), and earlier with the offering of episodes of Supernatural for download, which provided an error-laden experience that inspired another scornful blog entry. And now it seems to have happened again with Big Brother.

So what's going on at Channel Ten? Why the recurring online stuff-ups when they have a team of around 25 people devoted to their Web offerings, and former LookSmart CEO Damian Smith at the helm to boot?

Until recently, Ten stood out as the only major TV network in the country without a formidable online presence. This seemed particularly strange in light of the huge volumes of traffic enjoyed by the ninemsns and Yahoo7s of the world.

But one little-known factor in the network's late arrival to the online party is this: Ten launched a portal back in 2000 -- in a joint venture with Village Roadshow -- and it bombed big-time. Called SCAPE.com, the doomed site was to include "access to numerous specialised online radio stations, ticketing, a sophisticated matchmaking service ... and a comprehensive national entertainment guide for consumers to get the latest in what's on, where and when" (see the 2000 press release in PDF format here). Barely six months -- and AU$44 million -- later, SCAPE had ceased operations and was in voluntary administration.

Given the failure of that youth-focused venture, it's understandable that Ten were subsequently reluctant to devote any further funds to the perilously intangible Internet. Perhaps that's a major part of the problem: the bitter aftertaste of dot-com failure is mixing with this misguided notion that while TV shows must be completed and polished to be released at a scheduled time, the dynamic nature of the Web means you can always publish a site in embryonic form and add features and functionality later.

Still, there's hope for the network. Users are returning to the now-functional forums on the official Big Brother site, with one even offering a light-hearted version of what happened behind the scenes during the outage:

Within a few days we began round the clock work to blame the appropriate people, devise some feeble excuses and then call my 12-year-old nephew Kyle who is 1337 when it comes to computers and that to get us out of trouble. The fault is now fixed with a solution put in place and securely fastened there with duct tape, and we are confident it will not recur ... often..