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 backstage.bbc.co.uk become stagnant?“, as one member of the community put it whilst I was away.
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 bbc.co.uk 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.)