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Sunday night nerves in preparation for tomorrow’s return to work

When I was a kid I would often get what I would call “Sunday night nerves”. Having had a great (or maybe not-so-great) weekend, Sunday evening would arrive and it would be time to think about going back to school on Monday morning.

My apprehension was often compounded when I was around 9 and 10 because Monday morning was swimming at Yiewsley Swimming Pool in Hillingdon. I used to hate swimming, and to this day I haven’t managed to learn how to do it.

Of course, that was 15 years ago. However, this evening I feel like I have swimming class tomorrow.

I’ve effectively been out of the office for 3 weeks, on holiday and on a short business trip to Copenhagen to speak at a conference. However during that time, it could be argued that cracks have started to appear in the project that I’m running.

(Interlude: As I write this post, my mind is racing away at how frank I should or shouldn’t be on this post. There’s a lot of stuff going on here to think about, with the added dimensions of professionalism around discretion and the appropriateness of keeping some stuff “private” despite my desire to be open and public about everything.)

Has become stagnant?“, as one member of the community put it whilst I was away.

He writes:

A few months ago there was a lot of hype and it sounded promising but for me personally I havent seen much in the way of new “things” for the developing community to use. Yes, the feeds are great but to some extent they were already out there and if we’re honest it was only a matter of time before people began to use them without the BBC’s consent. We are yet to see anything of the API’s which have been “to follow soon” for months now and there has been little implementation or word of it from any of the numerous prototypes that have been put out.

“Those who live by the sword, die by the sword”, as they say. And as someone who has been very vocal both inside and outside the BBC about the importance of being open and transparent and “public” about our business, it was only a matter of time before the “joy of it all being in public” worked the other way.

Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve (or maybe it should be I’ve) received criticism about backstage but I guess this was the first email that’s really bitten me. The guy’s points are valid, and whilst I can come back with on- (and off-) message responses, his perspective of the project is entirely valid.

Tom Loosemore, James Boardwell and myself put a huge amount of time and energy into launching backstage. We launched, and whilst it was not by any means a earth-shattering amount of data we were initially releasing, the point was the BBC was waking up and “getting it”. The idea was, and still is, that that the BBC would take this opportunity to rally round and begin thinking about the Web2.0 possibilities of every project it released.

Two major things have happened since then. Firstly, James left the BBC – and I can’t tell you how devastated I was when I found out he was leaving. James and I had only worked together for a few months, but we made a really fantastic duo. He’s a totally amazing, smart and creative guy; one of the best people I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. People – if you like the idea of backstage, the cred has to go to James cos he was bouncing it around the BBC years before I got involved.

It’s really not appropriate for me to talk any more about James’s departure then I already have, but I don’t (and can’t) by any means blame him for going or anything like that. My point is only that his departure created a void in the backstage team that I don’t think anyone could ever totally fill.

The other thing that happened was that I realised that the BBC didn’t have enough of a strategy in place to fill backstage’s future demands of RSS, API’s and Web2.0 feeds. My hope that everyone would start bending over backwards to pump out RSS feeds and make API’s available for their content was flawed.

So in addition to running backstage I’ve also been trying to advocate the need, requirement – and sod it, benefit – of putting an RSS feed into every page we make, and making Web2.0 API’s into as many content pots as we can.

But as you can see, so far, in many people’s eye’s I’ve failed. It’s still coming, we’re slowly getting there. But it’s not yet happened. And I can understand why the community is pissed. Actions speaker louder than words.

Back to the original poster’s views on backstage being “stagnant”:

I think the concept of the backstage is great but I for one would like to see a more active, engaging approach from the BBC and I think there is only so many places one can take an RSS XML feed… How about some ideas from the BBC about things they would like to see? How about real life ideas which they potentially want to implement?
Any thoughts on this?

I think for me what really cuts me up on this one is that we have been trying to communicate the types of development we’d like to see on backstage, via our competition (we’ve only had one so far, but there will be more). We’ve also got backstage prototypes we’d like to implement, and indeed are implementing back into the site.

The issue here, of course, is that this guy isn’t seeing that. That’s not his fault, that obviously has to come down to us, and at the end of the day, me. Clearly we are not communicating well enough with our audience and community.

So I guess looking back on it, the two key jobs I’ve been trying to do…

  • Ensuring backstage accommodates the needs of our expert audience, and
  • Ensuring the BBC is pumping out the Web2.0 stuff it needs to, to backup the momentum of backstage

… have both failed in the eyes of our community. And they’re the only people I care about as they’re the people I’m ultimately doing this for, they are my Key Performance Indicator.

So, back to swimming

I guess I’ve got those Sunday evening blues because I’m about to return to work and need to do a lot of sole searching to work out how I’m going to turn this around.

I am so passionate about backstage – that’s why I was tending to backstage business and emailing the community even at 2am in my hotel room in Tokyo during my holiday.

But clearly something isn’t working or it’s just not enough.

Yes, this maybe just one email from one person, but his views were backed up by a thread of similar comments.

Having thought about this all over the weekend, I don’t this is a terminal failure, not my a long mile.

It’s just a wake up call.

It’s where I go form here that will decide how backstage regains the recognition it deserves.

Ben (slighty dejected)

(PS: if ever you needed another example that this isn’t a BBC-biased blog, this is it. I guess I now need to add to my list of Sunday night apprehensions the fact that I’ll have to face my colleagues who’ll no doubt be reading this over their morning lattes and cappuccinos.)

Published in Thoughts and Rants


  1. Communities are always demanding, and it’s a good way to keep you on your toes. Remember though, that only a small percentage of those who consumer something ever interact with it. There’s probably ten times as many ‘viewers’ as there are ‘users’. You can get too caught up in the feedback loop.

    The other good thing about communities is that they can be very positive and self-moderating. If the information flow is good, and the community understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, then they’ll be over supportive.

    It is though very difficult to open up projects from organistations that aren’t used to it. Why not make that a virtue of the community, ask for their advice and help, and explain your progress. Good luck!

  2. Hi Ben-

    Just a short note to say that I think it’s *incredible* what you have been able to achieve with freeing up content to date.

    I work for an organisation that has had v close links with the Beeb in the past, and to the current day, and I suspect that there are cultural similarities particularly with respect to IPR police and business managers who just don’t get it…

    Eg take the number of RSS feeds my organisation has opened up, even to authenticated users – it’s not good (…

    And though an open content pilot project is being planned, our Creative Archive offerings are…err…I think the phrase would be non-existent!

    The one solo attempt I heard of by an academic to take the content they authored open after it was no longer being used by our employer, as he was entitled to do, got stamped on (

    (Sorry – the post was your gripefest, not mine!)

    So – stick at it… In the short term, just keeping the project going should be classed as a major acheivement…it’s coming good already, as the competition showed, and more is sure to follow if you manage to keep the faith!

    The potential of backstage will increase as a power law of the content you can open up, so every bit helps. Bear in mind that if you can open up RSS search feeds, then a lot of archive based applicaitons will become much easier for the community to exploit (though you may have to cap the number of requests, as Google etc. do with their API).

  3. I feel terribly bad for sending that message now 🙁

    Ben, BackStage is awesome and I *love* developing new things for it. Recently the activity has died down and I do believe I was correct in mentioning both the API situation and also the input from BBC staff – we’ve since had more input from Tom and others and it’s been a lot better (Tom’s post was great in that it outlined some great ideas). Also I think all of us in-list REALLY appreciate any feedback about prototypes from you guys at the beeb.

    As far as ideas goes, the TV Comp was something you guys put out there and Im kind of peeved since I was getting married in that time so I couldnt spend the time! I suppose I want more… I want ten.. fifity ideas of things you want. I dont want to be paid for it or for it to be a competition – hell, I do this stuff out of hours for fun and because I like it – I want to do innovative, interesting things and this is a great outlet.

    I’m also more and more convinced that our methods for communication really limit our creative abilities and are potentially reducing the amount of people we could have involved.

    Anyway, whilst I may have sent that message and still agree with what I said, i also forget to say that the project is awesome and I only said what i said because I want it to be better.

  4. Howdy! I know this is somewhat off topic but I was wondering if you knew where I could locate a captcha plugin for my comment form? I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having trouble finding one? Thanks a lot!

  5. Let me certainly digg it and personally recommend to my buddies.

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