‘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:

4 thoughts on “‘Hacking the BBC’, a BBC Backstage Retrospective

  1. I thought the whole thing was great and it gave me ideas to create stuff. Sad it’s gone and I was still creating things to do with it. 🙁

  2. Yes it was hard facing the fact that Backstage had pretty much come to a end. I tried many different ways to keep it going in my head and even bounced ideas off people like Brendan Quinn, George Wright and many others but in the end it was perfectly formed for its time. On everything it did, it make a massive positive mark. From the startup culture which followed to the effect on BBC programme making. It was job done and not only done but done well…

    Thanks again for the comments and agreeing to do the interview. And on a more personal note, I wish you luck Ben in what your doing, it was a pleasure to do BarCampLondon with you and its lead me places where I couldn’t imagine being 5 years ago.

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