Category Archives: backstage.bbc.co.uk

‘Hacking the BBC’, a BBC Backstage Retrospective

Back in October 2010 the BBC announced that BBC Backstage - the developer platform and open data project I had created with Tom Loosemore and James Boardwell back in 2004 - would be closing at the end of the year.

It was sad news, but one that was both expected and appropriate. The project set out to do big things:

  • introduce a large and buerocratic media organization to the concepts of open data,
  • share that data with 3rd party developers in order to let them find new and experimental uses for it
  • foster internal and external innovation practices that were new, chaotic and sometimes challenging to an old encumbant.

But I think its fair to say that on the whole, the project met its goals and expectations.

As a by-product I think BBC Backstage, and the community that formed around it, also helped kick-start the fledgling London Startup community that we have today. What was then called “The London New Media Scene”, primarily because of the agency orientated slant of the London industry at the time, influenced a generation of non-commercial hackers and NTK subscribers to become entrepenurial and start building startups.

With BBC Backstage winding up, the BBC has produced a wonderful retrospective, “Hacking the BBC”, which I had the honour of being interviewed for. You can download a copy here (pdf) or see below.

The closure of BBC Backstage is certainly a sad day for me, but at the same time I’m confident that it was time to do it. The challenge for the BBC is maintaining the concept of open data and external innovation – and weaving it through the entire fabric of the organization. They claim that is something that is happening, and I think there are good people there championing the notion – but I think the BBC still has some way to go before that box can be really ticked.

You can read Jemima Kiss’s coverage on the Guardian’s website or you can check out a few photo memories I have of the project:

A very flush-faced looking me launching the project at OpenTech 2005 (photo by Natalie Downe)
Ben Metcalfe and the launch of BBC backstage

The BBC Backstage Team winning a New Statesman Award for innovation, 2006
New Statesman Award 06

and of course, cheekily snapping Tom Loosemore in a suit:
IMG_1893

Channel 4 launches tiny widget/mashup competition

Given that I helped establish (probably) the first developer mash-up competition run by a media organization and also my recent foray into the world of widgets, I was particularly interested to read that UK broadcaster Channel 4 is dipping its toe into the water by running a similar competition around it’s Film4 service.

And to continue the ‘toe dipping’ analogy further, I’d have to suggest that it is only a little toe – as a quick review of the ‘Platform 4′ contest site demonstrate.

Create a widget or mashup from two RSS feeds, the winner gets £1500 and two runners up get £250 each. That’s it.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic start and I want to congratulate them for it (I have a feeling my ex-BBC colleague and backstage.bbc.co.uk supporter Matt Lock could be behind this as he’s now at C4). However I really hope they build out Platform 4 into a complete developer resource to help bring innovation into Channel 4.

Finally, if the BBC, Channel 4 and even ITV can get together and build out an IPTV offering, it would be great to think that Beeb and C4 could combine efforts along with other developer networks to help support each other.

[via TechCrunchUK]

Backstage hosts round-table debate on DRM to kick off it’s first podcast

(disclosure: I was part of the team who launched backstage.bbc.co.uk, although I no longer work at the BBC. Many of the people around the table are friends and ex-colleagues)

So I just finished listening to the inaugural backstage.bbc.co.uk podcast, which launched with a debate about DRM and the distribution of television (and radio) via the Internet.

I guess I have comments and views on both the content of the podcast and the ‘meta’ of the podcast — the fact backstage is doing one in the first place.

My views backstage.bbc.co.uk doing a podcast

First off congrats to Ian for getting this pushed through Editorial Policy – no doubt it was a lot harder than one might think, esp as the BBC has some regulatory issues around releasing podcasts that are ‘bespoke for the web’ and not based upon previously broadcast material. Nice one mate, and to Tom L and the rest of the gang. In fact congrats to the team generally who have taken backstage.bbc.co.uk to a new level since my departure.

I think it’s great that the BBC was able to bring this debate into the public, and in fine BBC balanced round-table tradition it offers representatives from the BBC, the commercial broadcast sector and proponents of free distribution.

I hope there will be more of these, opening up what’s going on inside the organization’s future media dept. Not only does it begin to allow cluetrainy conversation to occur across the decision making process, but it seems like the appropriate thing for a license fee funded organization to be doing.

However I don’t think these kinds of podcasts should be released under a backstage.bbc.co.uk brand.

Maybe it’s just nomenclature, but I think the BBC needs a unifying brand under which it can offer greater transparency and dialogue around it’s new media operations – just like BBC News has BBC Newswatch (although that’s a lot more out of post-Hutton regulation that desire).

What I’m talking about is something that encompasses backstage, but has a remit greater than just backstage. Just before I left I tried to start something called open.bbc.co.uk in an attempt to do this. This is not sour grapes now I’ve left – it didn’t take off simply down to me talking my eye off the ball as I was preparing to leave and as such I didn’t put as much time behind it as I should have. I also didn’t get enough management buy-in to make it stick. I put my hands up to that. However I don’t think that makes it a bad idea in general and in my opinion should be pursued.

As I listened to Ian (who now runs backstage) I kept wondering what I would have added to the debate if I was in his position during the recording. I think he was in a difficult position as he could only speak ‘officially’ and on behalf of the BBC. In the end I decided that I would probably have said very little – as although I have great personal interest in the subject, it’s not actually an issue that falls within the official remit of backstage. As it happens, this is broadly speaking what Ian did too – which I think was a positive move as his larger contribution was to make this all happen in the first place.

The other point about the podcast was that it was very long – 60 minutes in fact. In general that’s too long for a weekly podcast – it’s difficult to find 60 minutes in your schedule every seven days. However considering the nature of the discussion, I do think it warranted the duration – I just think they should keep these to an irregular series as and when needed.

As to whether there should be a backstage.bbc.co.uk podcast, that’s really up to Ian as he knows where he wants to take backstage. However if he does, I think he needs to do short 20 minute casts rather than mammoth debates like this one.

My views on the DRM issue discussed in the podcast

So onto the issue actually discussed in the debate – DRM. Firstly, I think it would be great if the BBC prepared a transcript of the debate – either through official means of via one of the outsourced transcription services available on the internet. The problem with podcasts is all of the useful debate is locked up in binary and thus difficult to search against.

I’ve listed some of the sentient points below, but for the sake of brevity I’ll cut to some of my conclusions.

Much of the BBC’s issue right now is that it doesn’t have the correct agreements in place to broadcast it’s archive material. Such are the nature of the production contracts that were in place when programs were made that they do not allow the BBC to simply make them freely available on the Internet. There’s more detail about that in the podcast, but yes it is true.

However that doesn’t preclude the alteration of production contracts from now onwards to allow the BBC to far more relaxed online distribution rights Sadly this point was missed from the debate.

The long tail may well be where much of the value is, but there’s still a great deal of value in the head too. And for a medium that is trying to breakthrough into mainstream adoption, showing last week’s Eastenders (a UK soap opera) and Spooks (think CSI but anti-terrorism), is perhaps the best place to push this. And by making this available, I mean in a less restricted format than is currently being proposed.

However what’s needed is a radical shakeup in the area of archives, and maybe putting out a moratorium on the restrictions of all content before 1997 (10 years) unless those content owners opt back in. Yes, I know that’s very controversial, but something controversial has to give somewhere here otherwise this is never going to move forward. It would also require a change in the UK law, and again that’s where the BBC has power over others. Yes, it was a leading light in broadcast standards, yes it doesn’t wield that kind of power on the Internet but it still does in UK legal circles.

Personally (now in a non-BBC position) I would also have added to the debate that DRM prevents me from exercising my full rights under UK copyright – such as being able to consume a given piece of media on any device I personally own for my own domestic use. Clearly this can’t occur if the DRM’d file is locked to a single device or won’t play on all of the devices I own (including non-Windows hardware).

There are many other well made points, from all sides of the table, and as such I would recommend the listening of this podcast even if you are not a regular podcast-type person. The format actually lends itself to this kind of debate.

The main issues that were raised:

The big issue right now is that the BBC is exploring the direction of offering BBC TV to UK viewers via Microsoft-powered DRM. This of course would only allow Windows users to view the content, and effectively lock out the 25% of the userbase who use other platforms. As one participant remarked “that’s like excluding all of Scotland, Wales and Northen Ireland out from watching BBC TV”.

Tom Loosemore, who’s title ever-changes but basically has been at the forefront of much of the BBC’s new media strategy, made the case for why DRM was needed and went on to explain that there was ultimately no suitable DRM solution that catered for everyone. As he put it it was “do DRM or do nothing”.

He also made the interesting point that it’s a funny position for the BBC to be in, which has always led the way with broadcast standards but on the Internet is not in any real power to lead standards in this area.

There was some interesting debate from the advocates of free distribution as to whether doing nothing was actually better as it created a vacuum that would ultimately kick content owners into facing up to the opportunities they were missing out on.

However Tom made it clear that he didn’t agree that that outcome would occur (and I agree). Channel 4 are already offering their own programming online and so were Virgin Radio (James Cridland from Virgin participated in the debate, representing the commercial broadcast sector).

The other point the advocates of free distribution made was that rights holders should try to be convinced to let go some of their rights as otherwise all this good content remains locked up. Again, Tom made the point that many of them have pensions and other incomes based upon their secondary usage — although an obvious response to that (that wasn’t made) is to question how much anyone is really making from all this content locked up in the BBC’s vaults that cannot easily be broadcast. Just how much interest is there in a 30 minute BBC Philharmonic Orchestra production from 1983?

There was a lot of discussion around the table as to whether DRM is right or wrong/evil, and if the latter whether it is the concept or the implementation that is broken. Someone from the free distribution camp gave the example that he still bought newspapers, CD’s and DVDs despite the fact that he could also read the news online and listen to music and watch films via the TV and Radio — a clear example that most people are prepared to pay for content if given sensible ways to do so.

Like I said, it’s well worth listening to if you have 60 minutes in your commute/etc.

Ian Forrester is the new man @ backstage.bbc.co.uk

I would like to be the first on the blogosphere to congratulate Ian Forrester on successfully becoming the new Senior Producer of backstage.bbc.co.uk (which is the new title for my old job).

Ian Forrester

I left the BBC because after six years I needed a new challenge – but also because I felt that backstage.bbc.co.uk needed some flesh blood to take it to the next level. I’m pleased that Ian got the job, as I know that’s exactly what he’ll do.

Anyone who’s familiar with his organisation of the regular London Geek Dinner events will know he’s Mr Community. He’s also co-organising the BarCampLondon with me too, of course.

Ian brings some fantastic new skills and experience to the post – particularly with his established ties with academia which was something I particularly felt was lacking during my tennure. He is also another strong believer in the merrits and ethos of the BBC having worked for many years on the BBC World Service sites.

I know Ian will be successful in his new job, and I wish him all the very best of luck with it (not that he needs it). Well done mate.

Why I have an ‘extreme’ alter-ego

Much of what Tara wrote in her recent post ‘Missing the point’ resonates with me too.

A couple of months back, someone asked me why I’m such an extremist. Surely, everything traditional marketing can’t be bad. Why not be a big more moderate.

I replied, I’m an extremist because someone has to swing the pendulum over. Here is a diagram to illustrate what I mean:

(click to see the full size image)

The reason I sometimes find myself taking (/being seen to take) an ‘extreme perspective’ is often to counter-act equally extreme conservatism on the other side.

Except that ‘extreme conservatism’ is generally considered to be an oxymoron.  It appears it’s only those of us wanting to be a catalyst for change can be considered ‘extreme’.

Sometimes an ‘extreme’ goal is an achievable one, and it’s worth going out on a limb to get it.  You start off with your out-there position and push and push and chip and chip until something happens.

But there are also times when I know what I am wanting is just not going to happen, but I know that if I ‘shoot for the stars, I might just reach the moon’.  I know that I’d be happy to compromise somewhere in the middle for the sake of realising some change albeit not what I originally wanted.  But push the extreme as hard as I can to get the middle-ground closer to where I want to ultimately arrive.

I had to do that a lot at the BBC, both in BBC News and also whilst working on backstage.bbc.co.uk of course.  The BBC is definitely a place where great clumps of conservatism litter an otherwise cutting-edge landscape. (or is it the other way around?)

The trick was to establish a credibility before going AWOL from the plan.  And even when I did go AWOL for some it wasn’t AWOL enough – but the story of black-ops projects is another story for another time… perhaps.

Back to this blog post… I know that this modus operandi combined with my dotBen ‘let’s kick the shit up’ gadfly approach rubs people like Tom Coates up the wrong way.  I have a lot of respect for Tom – I don’t get on with him (and hey, I’m sure the feeling’s mutual), but I’m the first to admit he knows what he’s talking about (my guess is that the feeling isn’t mutual on that one!).

However his methods are different but we’re trying to arrive at the same goal.  Some might say he’s taking the traditional approach based on academic reasoning and I’m just being, well, a shit stirrer.

But actually this is no different to what Socrates did when he interacted with the Athenian politician scene.  And it was Plato who coined the phrase ‘gadfly’ when writing about this very relationship.

So, there is a method in my madness somewhere.  Ian Betteridge may not get the whole alter-ego thing and decide to mock it – but he is denying a very fundamental psychological proposition that the Internet has thrived on – that of the avatar.  Again, another post for another time on that one.

dotBen is/was a thinly veiled disguise to allow me to be extreme whilst protect my original professional standing.  But it hasn’t worked as well as I thought – for a start it got put into the limelight at a certain LesBlogs conference.  Since then slowly the two have merged into one.

I guess I’m not schizophrenic after all.

As I leave the corporate world behind me, I find myself working out what my single identity is.  Am I going to go out on a limb or am I going to play it safe be like (almost) everyone else?

C’mon – you know the answer to that already.  I’m going to continue to mother-fuck the status quo.

Not in a reckless way, and not just if it’s ‘for show’.  But in the many examples where taking the extremist view – like Tara – will actually create the desired outcome.

We’re not all loonies really.  Oh yeah, and Nelson Mandela eventually became South Africa’s president.  Go figure.

I had a change of heart…

So look, it’s the morning after the night before and I’ve decided to take down the links to the JSON and RSS feeds.

In general don’t feel it ‘wrong’ for someone to link to them directly, after all they were all listed in a javascript file on the BBC News Website (or derived by changing easily guessable paths in the URL). That’s how I discovered them, it’s been years since I had access to the BBC News Webservers so there was no ‘insider knowledge’ of paths etc.

BUT yes I do admit that because I personally know the licensing position of this data it wasn’t something that I should have done.

And despite the fact that I warned on the blog post that the data wasn’t licensed for off-site use, I take the point that it was little irresponsible to encourage people to do it anyway. Feel free to ridicule me on your blog posts, mash-up photos of me with egg on face, etc etc.

I do, however, still maintain that if I hadn’t posted the urls, it’s highly likely that someone else would have as they were put into the public ether by the BBC on their site.

But please, kids, don’t try those urls at home. They’re bad for you.

(BTW I decided to take this down after a night’s sleep on it, the BBC didn’t ask me to take it down)

Backstage.bbc.co.uk wins Innovation Award

I attended the NewStatesman New Media Awards 2006, last night. I’m pleased to say that backstage.bbc.co.uk came away with the prize in the Innovation category.

Tom and myself collect the award from David Milliband MP

Despite not working at the BBC anymore, I was honoured to be able to join Tom Loosemore (whose job title at the BBC is ever-changing, last time it was ‘Head of foresight, BBC New Media and Technology) on stage to collect the award.

I was actually quite shocked when the envelope was read out, because the project was up against some stiff competition from last.fm and others.

Additionally the other sites were more ‘consumer facing’ than backstage, which I felt might have been to our detriment as some of the judges were not technical/industry people (human rights activist Peter Tatchell, for example).

However backstage.bbc.co.uk was chosen, which was fantastic – and a great tribute to everyone who has made it happen at the BBC and of course the community who make the site what it is.

In the last 7 days some pretty negative things have been written about backstage by Tom Coates (ex-BBC now at Yahoo!) in the middle of a mud-slinging post directed towards BBC Director of New Media Ashley Highfield.

I’ve stayed out of the Highfield debate as I just don’t see really what it achieves – regardless of whether I think Tom’s spot on, way off base or somewhere in between.

But I would like to take this opportunity to address some of the criticism Tom has made specifically upon the Backstage project. (I do so personally, and not on behalf of the BBC of course).

Tom writes:

And then there’s BBC Backstage – a noble attempt to get BBC APIs and feeds out in public. What state is that in a couple of years down the line? Look at it pretty closely – despite all the talk at conferences around the world – and it still amounts to little more than a clumsy mailing list and a few RSS feeds – themselves mainly coming from BBC News and BBC Sport. There’s nothing here that’s even vaguely persuasive compared to Yahoo!, Amazon or Google. Flickr – a company that I don’t think got into double figures of staff before acquisition – has more public APIs than the BBC, who have roughly five thousand times as many staff! This is what – two years after its inception?

So my first point is that officially backstage.bbc.co.uk is actually a year old (last Sunday). Whilst that’s not a counter to some of Tom’s later points, I think it’s worth remembering that the project has only been operating outside of a limited beta for 12 months – not ‘a couple of years’.

Tom points out that backstage consists of a clumsy mailing list – which is very true. But it’s interesting that most of the other developer networks – such as Google’s and Yahoo’s also use mailing lists as their primary communication mechanism[1][2]. Sure it’s lo-fi, but it appears to be what the target audience often want. Sometimes fancy social-software isn’t always the answer. Particularly with us command-line loving geeks.

Tom also fails to consider the moderation costs that would have to have been born by the license fee payer if backstage had used a forum. Unfortunately the regulatory position the BBC finds itself in means that it does not enjoy the same editorial freedoms on editorial content (even if it’s user-generated) as Flickr does on it’s Flickr Groups (warning: exteme language behind this link).

Tom compares the achievements of backstage.bbc.co.uk to that of Yahoo, Google or Amazon – but all three of these services have budgets way in excess of the budget that backstage has.

If the figures I’ve heard for Yahoo Developer Network are correct, then backstage launched on a 10th of what Yahoo! Put into the YDN. And I would guess that many of the API’s already existed within the projects, because of the nature of Yahoo!’s business.

I also think it’s unfair on many levels to describe backstage as being just ‘a few RSS feeds … from BBC News and BBC Sport’. For a start it’s not true, there is content from other parts of the BBC on there and also there are other (non-RSS) feeds. The TV listings data now has an API too.

What Tom forgets is that Yahoo! et al are in the business of running a service (well, services) and of course they are synonymous with offering an API. The BBC does content (rather than services) and as such I think the propositions it has made available – often in RSS – is actually appropriate for what people want to do.

RSS is simple and ubiquitous, and practically all scripting and programming languages have at least one no-brainer parser for it.

Finally, Tom cites Flickr has having more API’s than the BBC, even though Flickr has 5000 times less staff than the BBC.

Well, having enjoyed an abridged version of Cal Henderson’s “How we built Flickr” talk I know that Flickr was built with the API first and then the front-end second.

Sure, that’s the correct way of building such applications and it means you immediately have an API you can leverage publicly. And no, the BBC didn’t (and generally still doesn’t) build things like that.

It certainly should from now on, but many of the systems the BBC uses today were already in use in a live environment before Flickr was even a twinkling in Caterina and Stewart’s eyes. I would have liked there to have been some, but (for those existing systems at least) unless it’s budgeted there’s no reason why there ever will be.

On that last point, that in itself is something that was a far greater challenge than anything that I alone could fix/solve/change in the BBC. Sure, I think it’s unfortunate. I’d even go so far and agree with those who’ll say that’s wrong. But welcome to corporate culture.

I’d be the first to agree with Tom’s inference that having 5000 less employees might be a good thing (if you are just building one application) – it certainly cuts out the bureaucracy. But the BBC is building more than one application.

It’s also why I wrote some thoughts about separating innovation teams ‘away from the mothership’ in enterprise environments – which essentially is what Yahoo have done with Flickr (rather than incorporating them into the giant machine). It’s also why I’m now a consultant in this field and no longer a cog in such a machine.

Backstage certainly suffers from the fact that it is constrained by the BBC’s bureaucratic nature, the lack of an API strategy within its enterprise systems, the regulatory requirements placed upon it, and the lack of initial funding for the project early on.

But I also think its many positive and pioneering attributes should also not be forgotten.

For a start the BBC was the first significant original content producer to encourage it’s users to mash-up its content. The Washington Post should be congratulated in its more recent efforts in this area too – but who else in the content game has had the foresight to participate in this arena? I’m hard pushed to name anyone else…

Backstage also was really the first developer network to strive to showcase the efforts of its community from Day 1. Yahoo! Gallery does that now (and I would admit very nicely, albeit certainly on a bigger budget) but it wasn’t a feature when YDN launched. This for me is one of the key things that backstage got right – because it encouraged it’s user-base to submit work by rewarding them with exposure to the not only the BBC but everyone else who was visiting the site.

It’s for these reasons that I believe backstage was recognised with the New Statesmen New Media Awards 2006 Innovation Award last night.

Neville on Astroturfing, Me on Project Astroturfing (Mk II)

Neville Hobson (of the excellent For Immediate Release podcast) has a nice piece on his blog about Astroturfing.

Neville quotes from Wikipedia’s definition:

…astroturfing describes formal public relations projects which deliberately seek to engineer the impression of spontaneous, grassroots behaviour. The goal is the appearance of independent public reaction to a politician, political group, product, service, event, or similar entities by centrally orchestrating the behaviour of many diverse and geographically distributed individuals.

I never realised this was called ‘astroturfing’ but I’m definitely aware of what it’s describing (although I don’t really get why it is has been called this. I thought an astroturf was a fancy all-weather football playing surface???).

In fact what I’m particularly interested in is ‘new forms’ of astroturfing… Unlike the original idea of covertly posting messages and creating spin, I can see a whole new era of astroturfing whereby corporations and other similar institutions and entities create false communities and campaigns that pretend to be 100% from the grassroots.

SanDisk’s iDon’t.com, which I blogged about last month, is an example of this. It’s an anti-iPod campaign that’s totally driven by SanDisk despite appearing to be ‘grassroots’.

Now, through projects like backstage.bbc.co.uk and Reboot:bbc.co.uk (and others) I’ve tried to foster a grassroots community on behalf an institution. I’ll also be doing this kind of work with the Citizen Agency.

But I’ve always wanted to ensure that everyone involved is clear this is a facilitated experience – ie it’s coordinated by the company but in such away that involvement in the project is mutually beneficial for the individual too.

Astroturfing is a marketing term that has been derived from politics, but don’t forget that more often than not, developer networks and other similar platforms are created just as much for their marketing benefits as they are for pure innovation and R&D.

As practioners and leaders of these concepts, I think it’s important that we maintain integrity and ensure that astroturfing doesn’t occur – for the sake of the most vital part of this equation, the users themselves.

It’s especially true in a consultative environment where corporate clients might be standing firm on their strategy and it’s a matter of taking the cheque or walking away.

Now, I want to come onto something that happened with the BBC’s Reboot:bbc.co.uk project to support a further iteration of this idea (BTW, I’m not saying, and will not be saying, that Reboot:bbc.co.uk is an example of astroturfing!)

Reboot logo

The idea of Reboot:bbc.co.uk, in a nutshell, was that the BBC asked it’s users (albeit ‘expert users’ who understood Web2.0 stuff and could build or design websites) to submit ideas for what they would like the bbc.co.uk homepage to look like. It was a project I helped set up, although I left the BBC before the competition finished.

Since the BBC’s announcement of the winner there have been a lot of mixed reaction. Some supporting the winner and others not (I really am not going to comment either way, it’s not appropriate).

However one of the reasons people have been interested, it appears, is that there has been a miss-assumption that the winner of the competition will become the next bbc.co.uk design.

This is not true, but clearly it’s another example of the potential for misrepresenting the true reason for running these kinds of projects.

Just as bad: Project Astroturfing

Like astroturfing (miss-representing who the community really is) there is also the risk of miss-representing the purpose of the project in the first place.

Now in the case of Reboot:bbc.co.uk I know it’s been a case of genuine miss-communication and miss-understanding. But I also know of a number of (non-BBC) ‘developer competitions’ and other similar projects that have not just been “awareness + goodwill campaigns” but have actually been used to create the foundations of company product roadmaps, boost account signups to meet VC demands, and sometimes blatantly steal ideas and IP.

Hey, if you want to do that then that’s cool (er, I guess… although it’s not for me thanks). But at least be clear – both in your T’s&C’s and also in the plain English.

BTW: if any of my former colleagues are reading this, I urge you to check out this amusing quote from a post by George Nimeh:

You’ve got to hand it to the BBC (and Ashley Highfield, in particular) for having the insight/guts to do this.

Made me chuckle. Yes, you’ve got to hand it to Ashley for the insight! :)

BBC News adds live stats (+ XML)

The BBC News Website has added a number of “Live Stats” features to their site. And I’ve been able to derive the urls for all the XML files powering it – creating some amazing mash-up potential!

First off, the “official” features are:

BBC News Live Stats Puffbox

screengrab of the BBC News live stats puffbox

These appear on all stories (Puffbox is the term for anything on the right-hand side of a story or promotion pieces on index pages).

BBC News Live Stats Map

BBC News live stats map

It’s a nice enough consumer-orientated Flash map, I thought… But then realised “Arhh, Flash!”. Of course, that means the data will be driven by XML-over-HTTP! So here comes my derived ‘unofficial’ features:

BBC News Live Stats: Most Popular by Region:

 Worldwide (ALL)
 North America
 South America
 Europe
 Africa
 Asia
 Australia

BBC News Live Stats – Most Popular by Email:

 By Email

BBC News Live Stats – Most Popular by the Hour:

 Today
 Yesterday

In all cases, stories are listed purely by their ID in the BBC News CPS. However, urls can be easily derived as follows:

For text/’normal’ IDs:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/bbcnews.benmetcalfe.com/livestats/-/1/hi/news/<id>.stm

For video IDs:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/go/bbcnews.benmetcalfe.com/livestats/-/mediaselector/check/nolavconsole/ukfs_news/hi?redirect=st.stm&news=1&bbram=1&bbwm=1&nbram=1&nbwm=1&nol_storyid=<videoid>

(Please keep the reference to the bbcnews.benmetcalfe.com namespace in there – BBC folk use those urls to monitor link popularity, and I believe it is important for the BBC to be able to discover just how important third-party use like this is in terms of driving traffic back to their site.)

Also, the new BBC News Alert Ticker contains some interesting OPML files that include reference to previously un-announced “Breaking News” RSS feeds:

BBC News RSS – Breaking News:

 Breaking News (UK Edition)
 Breaking News (World Edition)

(Like most BBC News RSS feeds, it is probably safe to assume that both the “World Edition” and the “UK Edition” would carry the same breaking news. The generation of two feeds is a ‘bug’ from the way the BBC News website is run with separate UK and International facing options)

Conclusion

Well there you go. I may have left backstage.bbc.co.uk, and the rest of the BBC but I’m still keen to make sure all this good data gets out into mash-up space.

Finally I would like to take the opportunity to confirm that all of the above urls were derived by sniffing HTTP packets being requested by computer to the BBC servers by the Live Stats Map or from the OPML files that came with the BBC News Alert Ticker. It’s all public data folks, and nothing NDA.

The rumours are true: I’m leaving the BBC…

When I joined the organisation, back in 2000, I didn’t think I would be at the BBC for more than one or two years. But on 8th May 2006 I will have been at the BBC for 6 years.

And it’s been six wonderful, inspiring and amazing years. But I’ve decided that it’s time for a change – and with that new challenges and new opportunities.

bbc.co.uk

I’ve had the privilege to work on some amazing projects, including:

… and of course backstage.bbc.co.uk – which has been an incredible and thoroughly enjoyable project to help create, establish and run. It’s probably one of the coolest projects in the BBC at the moment.

It’s going to be really sad to be saying goodbye, especially to my pet project backstage.

The BBC is changing – for the better. The BBC does get it, well importantly the right people get it. BBC.co.uk 2.0 is going to be fantastic, (Oh, and the BBC isn’t going to be doing MySpace contrary to popular belief or miss-quote).

So, I’ve done my yelling, shouting, and harassing. It’s happening. I’m not saying it’s all down to me – it isn’t. But everything I hoped to see – video on demand, social software, blogging, and perhaps even some forward thinking ways in which we distribute news – are in the process of beginning to happen (or certainly will happen).

BBC 1.0 is dead. Watch out for BBC 2.0, and perhaps you could even be a part of it? But for me, it’s now time to move on.

What’s next?

I’m not sure what I’m going to do next. I’m in discussions with a number of companies, and I definitely still want to move to California.

But I can’t get away from the fact that everyone, from my close friends through to Robert Scoble keep telling me I should do a start-up. And I certainly have some ideas.

I had a minor epiphany at last week’s CHI Conference, where I realised I could swing it with these clued up interface people just as much as the next person. I know age-old interface adage such as the 0.1 second real-time system rule, I’ve advised the BBC on what makes a site accessible and I’ve conducted usability studies.

I can also code (that’s my ‘foundation’ skill), design, create products, run webservers, market stuff on the blogosphere, run communities, evangelise, and even negotiate business and legal stuff. And for each of these I’ve proved myself, working at the sharp end.

So if anyone has the skills to build something from scratch end-to-end, it’s me.

I’ve also been quite inspired having recently met start-up founders Albert Lai (of Bubbleshare) and Kevin Burton (TailRank).

But equally I’m going to continue to talk to the different companies I’m in contact with about their opportunities in California – all of which are exciting and interesting in their own way (some of which might be surprising too!).

It’s not too late, if you’re interested in someone with my skill-base and experience do let me know. I reckon I’ll be a free-agent by July.

In the meantime, look out for a couple of BBC memories and anecdotes over the next few weeks.