O'Really?

May 8, 2012

BBC Connected Studio: Get involved in shaping digital content at the Beeb

BBC: The Olympic Broadcaster

Olympic broadcasting by the BBC from Quay House, Salford Quays, Manchester

The BBC is currently seeking external partners for collaborative innovation around BBC Online. This is happening through a series of events called BBC Connected Studio. It’s open to small, medium and micro businesses, individuals and digital agencies from the creative sector who want to work with the BBC developing new functions, features or formats for online audiences.

The first studio was held in Manchester last Friday focusing on Home Page, Search and Navigation (HPSN), a part of the Beeb that gets around 9 million (and up to 40 million) unique visitors every week from the UK alone. International visitors to this page get sent to bbc.com which is completely separate. Here are some rough notes on the event from a non-BBC outsiders perspective.

The basic format of the day goes something like this:

  • You are given a brief
  • There is an introduction from various people to kick things off
  • You have access to experts within the BBC, to pick their brains
  • There is time to work up your ideas on the day
  • Then you pitch an idea in ~2 minutes (like a much friendlier version of Dragons’ Den) to an assembled audience of about 80-ish people collected on the day.
  • There is time for questions and feedback
  • Successful pitches are notified after the event with the opportunity to build a functioning prototype and potential pilot project

For the event last Friday, the studio was kicked off by introductions from Ralph Rivera and Adrian Woolard, James Thornett and Clare Hudson.

During the day, there was expert advice available, formally at Speakers’ Corner and informally via conversation. This covered a wide range of topics including Simon Williams on audiences, Tim Fiennes on market analysis, Tom Broughton on homepage technology, Steve Gibbons on user experience and Phil Poole on personalisation.

Following this there was time to work on concepts and plan presentations, including a very useful audience feedback session with some real users of the BBC home page.

At the end of the day there were just over 20 open public pitches and 9 closed private pitches (those with sensitive intellectual property rights). I teamed up with Nick Drummond (of ATilla the AT-AT pet fame) to pitch an idea called Show Me More – providing links to BBC content directly on the home page (bbc.co.uk).

What worked well

The event went well, especially since this was the first one of the series. The audience feedback sessions and speakers corner were well organised and well attended. Whatever the outcome, this was a good opportunity to bid for work, see what goes on at the BBC and meet some of the people behind the BBC online. There was lots of advice available on how to work up a pitch, the audience was friendly and respectful. It was enlightening to watch other people’s presentations. The fifth floor of Quay house at MediaCityUK (pictured above) is an ideal venue for this kind of event with lots of different sized spaces for collaborating, thinking, eating, drinking and enjoying the fine views of Manchester from an elevated perspective.

How it could be improved

There was (inevitably?) a fair amount repetition in the 20 pitches as everyone was pitching to the same brief. It might be better next time to have fewer pitches and encourage people to work in slightly larger groups and reduce duplication. You can’t say very much in two minutes but perhaps that’s the idea…

As an aside, I’d love to see a public open API to BBC content, as far as I know there isn’t really one (yet). An open API would allow innovation by opening up content and services to organisations and businesses outside the BBC. Something along the lines of the Twitter API, Flickr API or Google Maps API would be great. An API seems to fit squarely with the needs of it’s constitution as a public service broadcaster. I asked about this at Speakers’ Corner and on twitter (speakers’ corner of the interwebs). There are security issues (as usual) but:

I think there might be a BBC SPARQL endpoint somewhere (there certainly used to be), which is an API of sorts but can’t find the exact location at the time of posting this.

All in all, BBC Connected Studio was informative and fun, thanks to Adrian Woolard and everyone at the BBC for your excellent hospitality. If you’re interested in taking part, it’s well worth joining in.

How to get involved

If you’d liked to get involved in BBC Connected, there are various events scheduled in 2012 on different products at the Beeb including: Weather & Travel, CBeebies, UX&D, CBBC, Sport, TV / iPlayer, News, Knowledge & Learning, Radio & Music. For more info subscribe to the BBC Internet blog, follow tweets @BBC_Connected or visit BBC Connected Studio.

April 2, 2012

Open Data Manchester: Twenty Four Hour Data People

Sean Ryder at the Hacienda by Tangerine Dream on flickr

Sean Ryder, the original twenty-four hour Manchester party person of the Happy Mondays, spins the discs at the Wickerman festival in 2008. Creative commons licensed image via Tangerine Dream on flickr.com

According to Francis Maude, Open Data is the raw material for “next industrial revolution”. Now you should obviously take everything politicians say with a large pinch of salt (especially Maude) but despite the political hyperbole, when it comes to data he is onto something.

According to wikipedia, which is considerably more reliable than politicians, Open Data is:

“the idea that certain data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control.”

Open Data is slowly having an impact in the world of science [1] and also in wider society. Initiatives like data.gov in the U.S. and data.gov.uk in England, also known as e-government or government 2.0, have put huge amounts of data in the public domain and there is plenty more data in the pipeline. All of this data makes novel applications possible, like cycling injury maps showing accident black spots, and many others just like it.

To discuss the current status of Open Data in Greater Manchester there were two events last week:

  1. The Open Data Manchester meetup “24 hour data people” [2] at the the Manchester Digital Laboratory (“madlab”), which recently made BBC headlines with the DIY bio project
  2. The Discover Open Data event at the Cornerhouse cinema
Here is a brief and incomplete summary of what went on at these events:

(more…)

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