Today the BBC staff newspaper Ariel published a column by me about the BBC music beta. Here it is:
A few years ago I spent possibly the happiest nine months of my BBC working life on attachment at BBC Music Online.
I was most proud of my Frank Sinatra profile. A nice picture of Frank on a web page with some killer facts and recommended albums and books.
That profile disappeared a long time ago. The relaunched music beta site contains no handcrafted web pages written by a BBC person about their favourite act. You might think I’d be sad. In fact I think that the music beta is a breakthrough for the BBC.
There’s loads of stuff about Frank Sinatra on the Internet. The Wikipedia entry on Frank is far more comprehensive, authoritative and just better than anything I could ever write.
So instead of continuing to make BBC content on subjects that are well covered elsewhere, why not use other people’s content as a way of powering your own stuff?
This is the approach being taken by the Music team in their new beta, pulling in entries from Wikipedia and data from music community MusicBrainz and linking it up with the BBC’s rich music offer on radio and television. As an idea it is simple and brilliant, and it also runs completely counter to the BBC’s traditional way of doing things.
We think the answer to any problem is to make more stuff. This works on radio on TV because they are time bound. Once you’ve filled up 24 hours with a day’s worth of programmes it’s pointless to produce any more. But the internet is not time bound – it’s potentially infinite. You can pump more and more stuff into the ether forever. But if it’s not linked to anything else and impossible to find you’re just clogging up the system. The solution on the internet is to do less, make it work harder and ensure that everyone, everywhere can find it, share it and use the data.
It’s an approach that could work elsewhere. One of the most testing problems in UK media is public service local media. ITV wants to reduce further its regional news commitments, while local newspapers are lobbying hard against the BBC’s proposals to add video to BBC local websites. But rather than competing to make more (or indeed less) stuff wouldn’t a collaborative approach work better? Is there a common set of local community data which the BBC, local newspapers and ITV could build editorial ideas on?
From now on if I want to indulge my love of Frank Sinatra, I’ll just edit the Wikipedia page, knowing it will turn up on the BBC. Collaboration is the future, and not just in music.