Posts Tagged ‘open’

Virtual Revolution and R&DTV: An open question

February 7, 2010

It’s unfair to compare two things which are completely different.

Virtual Revolution is a glossy television series about the internet aimed at a mass audience on a Saturday night on BBC TWO.

R&DTV is a video aimed at a much smaller audience who want to know about “interesting tech stories inside and outside the BBC.” It’s not on television, it’s online.

However, both do claim to be “open”.

From the BBC Backstage blog post:

“R&DTV is a pilot show, designed to be shareable, remix-able and (strange gap here in the original copy)
redistribution. It was built for the internet era and all
the assets which make up the show are released under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial license.”

From the Virtual Revolution’s website:

“The Virtual Revolution was an open and collaborative production, which encouraged the web audience to help shape the series”


“It was also a radical change for BBC documentary making – an open and collaborative production, which asked the web audience to debate programme themes, suggest and send questions for interviewees, watch and comment on interview and graphics clips, and download clips for personal use and re-editing, all months before broadcast.”


Which is more “open”? Virtual Revolution or R&D TV?

What impact or influence does being “open” have on the finished product in each case? If they had been not “open” would this have made any difference?

What are the benefits and disadvantages of being open?

This blog is not Harry Hill’s TV Burp (if only) so this is not a “fight”…


Blogger In Residence Brain Dump

March 14, 2009

Here’s a brain dump of thoughts in no particular order around running a blogger in residence for six months:

1. I really enjoyed working with Steve. Intelligent, personable, funny. Lots of energy and persistence and the rare ability to understand the technology but also able to talk about what it means in a comprehensible way.

2. The most difficult bit was getting him hired, both in

  • HR terms (I had to fill in 6 different forms and kept being told I had filled in the wrong ones) and
  • politically (I still bear the scars. Let’s just say that some people’s fears about letting Steve loose in the organisation turned out – mainly – to be unfounded. But if you’re thinking about doing something similar, don’t underestimate the cultural residence you might face and remember our old friend “chain of command!”)

3. Steve came up with lots and lots of good ideas. The trouble was choosing which ones to do. We had the rights lab in the diary three times and had to pull it each time for different reasons. I hope it still happens.

4. My job changed half way through. Good for me but meant I was doing too much and probably didn’t give Steve as much attention as I should have. Plus he was only working a couple of days a week. He should have been full time.

5. You can only do the kind of under the radar culture challenging type of work that Steve was doing for about six months. By then you come up against the limits of what’s sayable and doable, legally, culturally and politically. By the end I was spending too much time arguing with people about what Steve was doing and not enough time actually helping him do it.

Also and inevitably any “agitator” or even “critical friend”  starts to go a bit native.  From the outside the BBC might look like a forbidding fortress.  Once you’re inside it’s a rather attractive magic kingdom, full of interesting people doing interesting things. A month ago Steve turned to me and said “Let’s do this the proper way! Let’s comply it!”

Which is fair enough.

If the BBC is to become more open then its not enough for people to talk about it or do low level blackops/skunkworks. It needs to be embedded in the heart of the organisation at a strategic and high editorial level. And the case has still not been properly made, let alone proved.

Steve had good ideas but I didn’t have the time or the knowledge to plug them in to the right part of the business to do that.

6. The social media skills Steve has are in short supply in the BBC. It’s no surprise that he’s now editing the Radio 4 blog.

People seemed to enjoy the event on Tuesday. What made it particularly good was the very high quality of the panel. And perhaps the fact that people of that calibre were prepared to come showed that Steve’s work has had some effect… 

Photo of Steve below by Roo Reynolds  (no relation) on flickr.


Marc Canter: “Right Things” – Wrong Information

September 16, 2008

I noticed Marc Canter’s blog post “Getting the BBC to focus on the right things” on Saturday.

Marc seems a bit misinformed about the BBC.

Let’s take some of his statements in order:

“…if the BBC can get rid of Flash, let alone Silverlight and Quicktime…

I don’t think Erik Hugger’s original blog post said that the BBC was going to “get rid” of Flash. It simply said that the BBC was going to adopt some open standards like H.264 for its video and audio content on the web. 

“No one cares if YouTube uses Silverlight, Ogg or Flash.”

Well I may not care, and Marc may see this as an argument from 15 years ago but the BBC backstage mailing list still rages with this kind of argument regularly. Some people, perhaps a small number, care very much. My colleague at the BBC James Cridland has views on this.

As I am a layman not a technologist, I tend to agree with Marc.

Licence fee payers in general don’t care much about the technology that powers what they watch and listen. They just want it to work.

And this is a practical argument, not a moral one (my thanks to Simon Hopkins who first alerted my mind to this confusion around “moral” matters).

If all licence fee payers used closed systems then that’s what the BBC should use to deliver its content. If they all used open ones then that’s what the BBC should do. The actual situation is somewhere in the middle. It’s about tactics, not principle.

“what about OpenID, oAuth, OpenSocial and Portable Contacts? … perhaps this post will get you supporting OpenID…”

Marc seems unaware that the BBC joined the OpenID Foundation in April of this year. See this blog post from my boss the redoutable Jem Stone.

“The BBC is a government unit who have been charged with opening up – by law.  As government policy, and as one of the world’s leading media entities, it is your DUTY to open up,”

The BBC is not a “government unit”.

Editorially, strategically and in the way it’s regulated, the BBC is independent from the British government, and certainly doesn’t do things just because they are “government policy”.

As for “by law”, I’d be interested to know what law Marc is talking about. I’m unaware of any legislation that compells the BBC to be open with its’ data or its’ content.

And as for “duty”, see my point about morality above.

The BBC does want to be open. The BBC’s current director general Mark Thompson has said he wants the BBC to be more open in all aspects of what it does.

I like openness myself.

Some of the things that Marc wants are being looked at at the BBC by the teams in the Future Media & Technology department (he should read the BBC Radio Labs blog).

But life (and more to the point British media) is, I’m afraid, a little more complicated than perhaps everyone would like.

And as I’ve blogged before, it’s easy to talk about being open and a lot harder to actually do it.

“Corporate Blogging: How To Be Open”

September 9, 2008

Martin Belam asked me to write this article for the online magazine FUMSI. So I did.

Here’s a link.

And an extract:

I don’t want to be forced to reveal my salary details to any Tom, Dick or Harriet. And if Jonathan Ross doesn’t want to either, then that’s fair enough by me.

But I do want the BBC to be more open. There are lots of things we could be open about, yet we seem to waste a lot of energy trying to keep them secret. Mark Thompson has said he wants the BBC to be more open, although as Director General he may find his job becomes more difficult when it actually happens.

Emily Bell: What Conversation Exactly?

April 30, 2008

N.B. My personal views. Not my employers.

I was interested to read Emily Bell’s column about the BBC in Media Guardian on Monday.

There is an irony of course in saying “we need to start a new conversation about the BBC” in the dead format of a newspaper column. It’s not a blog so there’s no opportunity to comment. So there’s no chance of a “new conversation” actually happening.

But since Emily wants a conversation I’ll try and start one.

It’s also ironic that Emily’s column appears on the same day as Steve Hewlett’s which casts doubt on Channel 4’s plea that it’s in terrible trouble (a point also made in Media Guardian’s podcast last week).

Personally I think to blame the BBC for C4’s predicament is odd. As Maggie Brown (another Guardian writer) says in this week’s Ariel, C4’s troubles are in part of its own making (I quote: “C4 needs help… but not dollops of cash to splosh around”).

Is the BBC really to blame for the rise of Google?

For the recession? For the downturn in advertising revenue (inside the UK the BBC doesn’t have any impact on advertising revenue)?

Can all the troubles of the traditional broadcasters and the newspapers be laid at the BBC’s door?

I appreciate that from the outside the BBC can seem like a huge death star crushing all before it (when you’re on the inside it can seem like a cross between Kafka and the Keystone Cops – the Borg it certainly isn’t!). But it’s an absurd overreaction to say:

“But the ecology of some parts of the UK media is now so uncertain and fragile that it can be depleted by a single blow from the end of the BBC’s tail as it rolls over in its sleep.”

This is just not true. When the BBC wants to launch a new service it now has to go through all the regulation the rest of the industry has always wanted precisely to prevent this happening.

I also disagree with Emily about newspapers. Newspapers (like the Guardian itself) seem to me to actually understand what’s going on better than the traditional broadcasters. I predict they will thrive and give the BBC some healthy competition.

At least Emily has the grace to admit that the BBC has done all that everyone has asked of it. I happen to think that the BBC Trust is doing a good job (and can hardly be accused of being a management poodle after it closed BBC Jam). But there are people inside the BBC who think the BBC’s creativity, ability to innovate and public service remit is being stifled by over regulation and constant sniping from the rest of the industry.

Emily’s suggestions deserve examination.

“Maybe the iPlayer should have everything?”

Errm… well that wouldn’t exactly help the commercial sector as it wouldn’t be able to have adverts on or raise revenue. Project Kangaroo is a much better bet. Essentially this is a collaberative, commercial version of the iPlayer: the BBC helping commercial broadcasters make money. Perhaps if the Guardian wants to make money out of video they could be a partner in Kangaroo. I’m sure they’d be welcome.

“…shouldn’t BBC radio pages on carry buttons and players for all commercial rivals in those regions or market segments?”

It’s true the BBC needs to link out to other sites and providers more. And I suspect in the coming year we will see a lot more of this. But this is a cultural problem which will be solved as more and more people in all media companies (not just the BBC) realise the importance of linking. Heavy handed attempts to force the BBC to link will just result in a lousy user experience.

It’s also true that the BBC should be more open and help the rest of the industry with sharing ideas etc. Mark Thompson has said he wants this. Anyone who reads my blogs will know this is something I believe in. And I like to think that in a small way the Internet Blog that I edit and more importantly things like BBC Backstage are steps in this direction. But again this is a cultural problem which won’t be solved overnight.

It’s unusual (and a strange kind of conversation) to attack someone and in the same breath ask for their help.

Perhaps Emily could make some more suggestions about the ways the BBC and the rest of the UK media sector could work together.