Archives for August 2009

BBC iPlayer audio description is now available

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Jonathan Hassell | 11:42 UK time, Thursday, 27 August 2009

One of my favourite quotes from some focus groups that we did with blind and visually impaired people last year was:

"audio description is great... they are saying they are working on putting it on iPlayer, but I don't really believe them".

This, to me, summed up the frustration of a lot of our visually-impaired BBC iPlayer users - if iPlayer has subtitles and signed content, why doesn't it have audio description?

We've always been committed to high standards of accessibility across all of our sites and services, especially those new services like iPlayer which strive to deliver the benefits of emerging technologies to all our audiences. But it always helps to hear from our audiences exactly what they expect from us.

ad_logo.pngSo I'm delighted to say that we have now given visually-impaired people what they've been asking for - approximately 25 hours per week of the BBC's audio described programmes, across many genres including Childrens', are now available on iPlayer.
We also have plans to extend the coverage of the service to include more of the BBC's weekly broadcast audio described programmes in the future.

How do I get it?

The great thing about audio description on iPlayer is that it is simple to get, and it's free. Quite a number of people at those focus groups were still worried about having to work out what set-top box they needed to watch audio described programmes on TV, how much it would cost, how to work out which BBC programmes have audio description, and how they'd navigate to them.

iplayer_audiodescribed_scre.jpgNow, if you already have a computer which is able to use iPlayer (and pretty much all computers do), together with whatever Screenreader or magnification software you use, you've already got all the technology you need.

All you have to do is to go to the "Audio described" category in iPlayer (or Children's iPlayer), look at the listing of the audio described programmes available from the last 7 days, and select the programme you'd like to play.
It's as simple as that. Give it a try.

Why has this taken us so long?

The BBC is the first broadcaster in the world to include audio described TV programmes in our video-on-demand service. Because of that, we have not been able to use existing technology from within the BBC or elsewhere to help us bring audio description to iPlayer. Our technology team (with our partner, Red Bee) have had to research and develop all of the technology and infrastructure to make it work ourselves.

And that takes time...

After investigating several delivery models and doing a lot of custom R&D to make this happen, we're delighted to be able to offer a solution which should not only work well now, but also be able to cope with any technology changes required by the ongoing advances in picture and sound quality which the iPlayer team are constantly working to achieve.

So what do you think? - send us your views

We hope you'll agree the wait has been worth it, and that the addition of audio described programmes to iPlayer will open up more of the BBC's TV programmes to our visually-impaired audiences, whenever you want to watch them.

Initial feedback that we've received from people in the blind and visually-impaired community is very positive, as this quote from someone on the blind support group TAFN shows:

"iPlayer does have audio description because I have just watched all the weeks episodes and I am impressed. There is a pause, stop button which is easy to locate and you can even restart the episode. If you go back again it will take you to the same place where it was if you listened last time. I find it very accessible and easy to work and I am very pleased with it. Only problem, it has made me start watching Eastenders again"

Now that sounds like a good problem to have...

If you have any comments or suggestions about how the accessibility of iPlayer could be further improved, we in the BBC Audience Accessibility Team would love to hear your views.

Jonathan Hassell is Head of Audience Experience & Usability.

Feedback on the Open meeting

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Seetha Kumar Seetha Kumar | 10:58 UK time, Thursday, 27 August 2009

I promised to report back after the 1st Online 'Open' meeting which we held on Friday 14th August. Many of your comments have struck a chord. For one thing, we should certainly have clarified that the 'open' meeting was with industry players, regulators, suppliers and stakeholders rather than with users of BBC Online.

open_day_250_250.jpgAs it's generally hard to get things right first time round, I was reassured as I walked into Nesta to hear genuine support for the initiative we were taking. Looking through the constructive feedback we've received since, many found it helpful and insightful. This was the first event that tried to outline what BBC Online is going to focus on over the next 6 - 9 months and we plan to do more in future.

External linking came up. We'd already taken steps to expand the ways in which BBC Online links to other websites and click throughs have been running at 10 -12million per month. We want to establish new and richer connections to the wider web where they are editorially relevant and meet our public purposes. We know that our users want us to do this and it's a process that we take very seriously.

I know we inevitably disappointed some who attended. Some areas - particularly formal learning - were covered in insufficient detail for people who feel the BBC competes with their businesses in this area. In this case, it was because we are currently assessing the range of what the BBC provides to support learning by children and teenagers, in order to shape a discussion with the BBC Trust later this year which will inform our ongoing strategy.

Unsurprisingly - given the audience who attended - there were questions and concerns about the effectiveness and transparency of the new media Approved Supplier List (ASL). This provided an opportunity to explain that we are currently reviewing the ASL, a shared, central repository of information - where they are, what they do, what they have worked on in the past and so on - on external suppliers for the use of BBC commissioners.

I want to emphasise that this review, which will be completed by early next year, is aimed specifically at BBC Online. We are working towards establishing a clear and concise process which enables the BBC to commission the best output from the best qualified supplier for any given project. Since online does involve a level of technical complexity, we want external suppliers to have access to clear information about what we require, so that the process is as efficient and transparent as it can possibly be. Through working closely with suppliers, we aim to use their feedback to streamline the process for outsourcing content and services.

It is business as usual whilst the review is conducted and we continue to commission content and services across BBC Online from a wide range of supplier companies.

Seetha Kumar is Controller, BBC Online.

  • Watch the videos of the Open day here.

Experiments with location-based content: BBC Open Air

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Dominic Tinley | 12:30 UK time, Wednesday, 26 August 2009

openair_home.jpgBBC Learning Innovations has been looking at new ways of providing location-based content on mobile phones. Under the working title BBC Open Air we've recently finished a demo website that combines events listings from the campaign Breathing Places with information from BBC Weather.

We first started looking at informal learning applications for mobile phones in 2004. At the time the technology was not widely available for any one of our ideas to become a reality. Skip forward to 2009 and not only can phones tell you where they are but on some newer phones this can all be done through the standard web browser.

The BBC Open Air demo uses the open source Gears software offered by Google to find out your location and pass this back as a search term to find relevant local information. At the moment Gears is supported on all phones running the open source Android operating system as well as newer Windows Mobile handsets. It's also available as a plug-in for Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari on desktops, laptops and netbooks.

summary_openair.jpgIf you have one of these newer phones with built-in Gears support you don't need to install any additional applications to find content for where you are. The BBC Open Air demo is not like an iPhone app, it's a standard web page you can visit from any browser. And as we appreciate not all users have the latest phones it should degrade elegantly and let you search by postcode or place name.

Providing location-based content has long been a chicken and egg problem. There's not much incentive for a content producer to geotag new web pages when most search engines do very little with this extra detail. Similarly, there's not much incentive to create a pan-BBC site that enables users to search for content by location when there aren't many geotagged pages.

With BBC Open Air we wanted to build a complete demo with a location-based search at one end backed up with some useful content at the other. We considered various datasets and decided on combining Breathing Places, encouraging people to get closer to nature, with a local Weather result, essential related information for anyone venturing outdoors.

The user proposition is simple: go to www.bbcopenair.co.uk wherever you are and find the nearest relevant BBC content. At the moment that means the nearest places where you can get closer to nature but potentially we can add data from other learning campaigns or other bits of the BBC. We've designed the site with this in mind:

The first results page will give one result from each data set. You can then select 'more like this' to see just one type of result sorted by distance, or you can select 'all local results' to see all types of result in one list (which will obviously make more sense as we add more types of data to the site). For any given result you can click on 'details' for further info and a link to the original data.

Building this demo allows us to test and demonstrate the technical feasibility of finding a location using the core capabilities of new mobile devices rather than having to develop bespoke applications that a user must install. We can also test the overall concept and interface on potential users.

We've run some trials, found some bugs that need fixing, and already have good ideas about what should come next. For one thing since we built the demo Apple have added geolocation to the Safari browser on the iPhone so we want to add support for this.

We're collating all the feedback we receive which will inform recommendations about the further development of the demo into a fully-scalable live service and the future development of similar websites and mobile services. Please give it a try and send any feedback through the Open Air site.

Dominic Tinley is a Development Producer for BBC Learning Innovations

Guardian Hackday

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David Rogers David Rogers | 10:20 UK time, Tuesday, 25 August 2009

At the end of July the Guardian held an internal hackday at their offices in King's Cross. They invited two engineers from BBC Radio's A&Mi department, Chris Lowis and David Rogers. We teamed up with Leigh Dodds & Ian Davis from Semantic Web specialists, Talis to produce an 'Interactive-MP-Media-Appearance-Timeline' by mashing up data from BBC Programmes and the Guardian's website.

Before the event Talis extracted data about MPs from the Guardian's Open Platform API and converted it into a Linked Datastore. This store contains data about every British MP, the Guardian articles in which they have appeared, a photo, related links and other data. Talis also provide a SPARQL endpoint to allow searching and extraction of the data from the store.

Coincidentally, the BBC programmes data is also available as a linked datastore. By crawling this data using the MP's name as the search key we were able to extract information about the TV and radio programmes in which a given MP had appeared. A second datastore was created from the combination of these two datasets, and by pulling in some related data from dbpedia. Using this new datastore we created a web application containing an embedded visualisation of the data.

We created the web using the lightweight ruby web-framework Sinatra. A simple RESTful URL schema provided access to a web page showing basic information about an MP.
mps_appearances_600.png
In addition we queried the datastore to give a list of all of the MPs appearances across Guardian and BBC content. This was returned as a JSON document, and passed to an embedded Processing Java applet. A Java applet may seem like an unusual choice in 2009, but Processing is an excellent choice for the rapid development of responsive graphics applications, due to its integration with existing JAVA libraries, and its powerful graphics framework.

Leigh at Talis put together a screencast showing the app in action. The Processing applet shows a month-by-month scrollable timeline. The user can move back and forward in time, at variable speeds, by pressing the mouse either side of the applet frame. In each month slot, a stack of media appearances is displayed, represented by the logo of the BBC brand, or in the case of Guardian articles, the Guardian brand. Moving the mouse over a media appearance reveals the headline or programme description and clicking a media appearance will navigate the browser to the episode page on the /programmes or the article page on guardian.co.uk.

We demonstrated the application to the hackday audience, and in the prize giving ceremony were awarded the 'Best use of third-party data' award. We think that the application demonstrates some of the ways the structured RDF data provided by BBC's /programmes website can be used. This project shows how powerful the linked-data concept is when used in conjunction with other data that has been exposed in a similar way. As more media organisations expose their domains in this manner, more interesting and wide-reaching visualisations and web-applications can be built.

David Rogers is a Software Engineer, Future Media & Technology for BBC Audio & Music & Mobile.

Machine tagging the BBC

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Tristan Ferne | 11:53 UK time, Monday, 24 August 2009

I'd like to propose an experiment. If you ever publish a photograph on Flickr that features, or is otherwise related to, a BBC TV or radio programme you might think about machine tagging it with the programme's unique identifier. First find the programme's unique PID (that's the 8 character ID you find in /programmes or iPlayer URLs; the "b00lj1nc" in http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00lj1nc), then add a Flickr tag that looks like this...

bbc:programme=b00lj1nc

That's it, the photo is now machine tagged. Machines can now discover that this photo refers to this programme. This is a rather trivial example; my radio tuned to Any Questions on BBC Radio 4. If you click through and check the tags on Flickr you'll see something that looks like the machine tag above.

Any Questions, Friday evening

Read more and comment at the BBC Radio Labs Blog

h2g2: an update

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Sophie Walpole | 18:26 UK time, Thursday, 20 August 2009

slide1_hg.pngThe first stage of the MOT for h2g2 was held last week. Taking part were representatives from strategy, audience research, commissioning and of course the h2g2 team themselves led by Nick. The opening MOT session usually takes about two hours and then we agree a timetable for reporting and next steps. Those of us who lead the reviews try to make the atmosphere in the room positive and collaborative in order to really dig into the issues as honestly and objectively as possible. Here are some of the headlines...

In terms of audience size and appreciation h2g2 does well (150k or so weekly users) and is clearly much loved by those who use it (and thanks to all of you who contributed so thoughtfully to this blog). Here are some of the slides from the audience research presentation and below them some of the thoughts and questions that came out of the discussion.

slide2_hg.png

slide3_hg.png

What works?

The editorial quality of the best of The Guide, the "serendipity factor" and the very strong, collaborative community.

What needs improving?

The look and feel is woefully outdated now - but thankfully the new design is in hand. Links to the rest of BBC Online and the BBC's output could be improved.

What is the strategic fit?

This was the longest part of the discussion. h2g2 was brought into the BBC in another era, and while the community is strong and purposeful and the Guide has some great content, it is very hard to describe what it is to anyone unfamiliar with it. While h2g2 does to some degree "inform, educate or entertain" is this enough in itself to justify future funding? How can we build on the welcoming and collaborative atmosphere of the community? Can it be used to reach out to new users and introduce them to the benefits of online interactivity? Lots of questions. Our next task is to set about finding the answers...


Sophie Walpole is a Portfolio Executive, BBC Online.

Ed's note: Nick Reynolds is away on holiday at the moment but will be back in a week or so and will let us know more about future plans for h2g2. (PM)
Ed's update: I should have credited the "42" image used in the first slide at the top of the post. It was created by Wikipedia user Martinultima and posted under this licence: Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported. Apologies and thanks to Shoobot for pointing this out. The original image can be found here. (PM)

Living Live Online

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Brett Spencer | 14:48 UK time, Thursday, 20 August 2009

5live_newsroom_250.jpgIt's an exciting time at BBC Radio 5 live as we gear up for our first new website launch since 1974. Well it seems that long since we last had a new website, although it's probably about 6 years in reality.

The new site will launch in September and my colleagues Jags Parbha and Rob Banathy and I have been working alongside the very fine boys and girls at Good Technology to produce what we hope will be a truly innovative experience.

GT came up with the tagline very early on in development of Living Live Online, reflecting exactly what we wanted to achieve. It's a principle we have tried to stick to as we have progressed the new site. Our mission has been to bring the online offering much closer to the radio station, reflecting the live nature of the network.

The new site will bring two significant developments. The first is 5 live Now, a unique offering that will reflect online the live debate between 5 live and its audience. This will surface most of our listeners' texts, emails, online messages and social media contributions. It also means we can use far more content from the audience than we would have time for on the radio.

The discussions will be archived along with the audio of the radio programme, which brings us to our second innovation. The new site will be the first in the BBC to feature chapterisation. While our podcasts have performed very well, 5 live audio on demand does not. Listeners don't want to hear three hours of the breakfast show on iPlayer and its difficult to find the parts you do want to hear. Chapterisation will break the programme down into clearly labelled items and means that the 5 live schedule will become far more navigable for the user than ever before.

We'll blog more about the new site as we build up to launch and of course value your feedback.

Brett Spencer is the interactive editor for 5 Live.

Improvements to BBC Local Radio online

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Ian Myatt Ian Myatt | 15:30 UK time, Wednesday, 19 August 2009

It was a proud day last November when we finally integrated all our local radio stations into the BBC iPlayer. However, as the more observant will have noticed, the audio remained in the same format, Realmedia.

300_lr_online_1.jpgAlthough our UK wide national stations have been using Flash-based streams for some time it has taken a significant amount of re-engineering behind the scenes to expand use of this technology to all of our nations and local radio stations.

In December we introduced MP3 format to the on demand programmes from our nations stations (Radio Scotland, Nan Gaidheal, Wales, Cymru, Ulster and Foyle), and as of today I am pleased announce that we have extended this to all 40 of our English local radio stations.

So now, when you listen to on demand programmes from any of our radio stations there will be no need for any additional software providing Flash is already installed on your machine.

The improvements don't stop there, in the autumn we will be upgrading all of our live radio streams to the AAC format, and for WiFi radio users we'll also be offering streams in Windows Media.

One of the major problems we have still to overcome is the quality of our source audio for the streams. By their nature, local radio stations are, well, local and thus the emphasis has always been placed on distribution to the local transmitter. As a result we don't currently have high quality feeds of all of our stations in a centralised location and instead the audio used for the streams aggregated through a variety of different methods with varying degrees of quality. Sorting this out will be one of our next challenges!

Watch this space for further developments.

Ian Myatt is Executive Product Manager, Nations & English Regions

"It's clear that Burgess was a louche, hard drinking, dishevelled, outrageous man."

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Paul Murphy Paul Murphy | 15:31 UK time, Tuesday, 18 August 2009

image of Guy Burgess sunbathing
So says BBC Historian Jean Seaton of the picture that emerges of Cambridge spy Guy Burgess from previously unreleased documents published by BBC Archive. The memos, letters and expenses claims are from Burgess's early career while employed at the BBC.

While the documents touch on things like Burgess's unhappiness with his salary and the questioning of his expenses, they also paint a picture of a long-gone much more genteel office world of tea trolleys and unreturned library books.

BBC Archive's other new collection, The Cambridge Spies, covers the gradual exposure of the Cambridge spies over four decades through a fascinating selection of TV and radio programmes.


Paul Murphy is the Editor of the Internet Blog.

The Open day in full

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Paul Murphy Paul Murphy | 11:08 UK time, Tuesday, 18 August 2009

open_day_250_250.jpgLast Friday BBC Online held its first Open meeting and I'm very pleased to say we've got a video record of the day in full to share with you. Seetha Kumar, Controller, BBC Online; Nic Newman, Controller, Journalism, BBC FM&T; Chris Kimber, Managing Editor, Audio & Music Interactive and Simon Nelson, Controller, Portfolio and Multi-Platform, BBC Vision presented many of their plans for online over the next six months to an audience made up of BBC Onlines's industry partners, suppliers and regulators. The panel also answered questions at the end of the session. The intention is to hold these sessions every six months and to share them on the Internet Blog.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

Seetha Kumar, Controller, BBC Online introduces the Open Day.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

Nic Newman, Controller, Journalism, BBC FM&T on their future priorities.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

Chris Kimber, Managing Editor, Audio & Music Interactive on the challenges presented by new technology and changing audience behaviour.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

Simon Nelson, Controller, Portfolio and Multi-Platform shows the new social media products being developed in BBC Vision.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

Open Day: Q&A session with BBC Online's suppliers, partners and regulators.

Score! Your football team news now available on the BBC mobile homepage

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Ulyssa MacMillan Ulyssa MacMillan | 15:02 UK time, Thursday, 13 August 2009

Football news and results is one of the most popular services on the BBC's mobile site. That's no surprise - when you're out and about, it's easy to use your phone to follow a match or get the latest signing and transfer news.

244_homepagemyclub.jpgIn April we launched our customisable mobile homepage and now we've launched a new feature for football fans. Users can now add a 'My Club' topic - the top three headlines for your team plus links to the latest live text commentary, results, tables and fixtures. As with the rest of the homepage, you can position the content wherever you like - top, middle or bottom.

We're also currently thinking about what we can do to enhance our coverage during the season, such as the different kinds of information people want- in the build up to a game, during the action and following the end of a match.

If you've got any ideas or requests, we welcome feedback on how we can develop this, and all of our services. You can mail us directly; or use the feedback form on the mobile site.

For now, please try our My Club topic and tell us what you think. It's available on all handsets that support the customisable mobile homepage.

Here's how to add it:


  1. Go to the homepage at www.bbc.co.uk/mobile on your phone (or text MOBILE to 81010, texts to the BBC cost 10p to 15p)

  2. Click on 'Customise my homepage'

  3. Scroll down until you see My Club (Football) in the list of available topics

  4. Hit the plus sign to add it to your homepage

  5. If you want to move it up the page, select the 'Reorder your homepage' link and use the arrows to reorder your homepage

  6. Press the save button and you'll see My Club on your homepage

  7. Then you just need to pick from the 158 teams we cover.


My Club covers the Premier, Scottish Premier and Championship teams, Leagues One and Two, the Blue Square Premier and Scottish League Divisions One, Two and Three.


Ulyssa MacMillan is Executive Producer, Mobile Browser

BBC Online Open Meeting

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Seetha Kumar Seetha Kumar | 12:05 UK time, Thursday, 13 August 2009

Since I've become Controller I've heard the word 'open' a lot more. No surprises because openness as a philosophy has helped define the web, what with 'open source,' 'open to the web' and 'open id'.

One of the few advantages of taking on a role that was born out of a time of difficulty is the opportunity to start afresh. My role you may recall was created in response to a somewhat critical report from the BBC Trust when it reviewed the Online Service Licence last year. In the past the BBC's online services have been criticised for seeming opaque and perhaps too closed.

Openness and transparency are values the BBC espouses. We are trying to build a more open BBC and build more partnerships across the whole web. Have a look at nature's library.

So, as a first step, I am hosting the first BBC Online 'Open meeting' where myself and colleagues will be sharing the plans we have for the next few months E.g. News, sport, weather, knowledge building, radio and music, entertainment and children's.

It's tomorrow and as we focus our efforts on planning the session, I know we won't get it entirely right. This is fine, because we can only learn how to do so next time.
 
We'll be reporting back next week and I'd welcome any feedback you have.

HTML 5 and timed media

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Sam Dutton Sam Dutton | 11:49 UK time, Thursday, 13 August 2009

HTML 5 work

HTML 5 is the next version of HTML, the markup language used on the web. Not all the details of the HTML 5 standard have been agreed, but many of the proposed changes and new features have already been implemented in existing browsers.

As part of our work on the P2P-Next project, we built a simple HTML5 demo that works in current versions of Firefox, Safari and Chrome: a sample of RAD's R&D TV with subtitles and chapter navigation. This will not work in current versions of Internet Explorer, nor earlier versions of Firefox etc.

What we built

HTML5_screenie-350.jpgThis prototype plays video and audio without plugins, and allows jumping to chapters and 'scrubbing' within the content. It uses simple JavaScript framework to enable web page elements to be changed via individual HTML or CSS 'events', and for loosely-coupled publish/subscribe control of page components such as carousels. In particular, our JavaScript enables synchronised changes to HTML and CSS relative to a 'time parent', such as an audio or video clip, or even clock time. In addition, our solution needs to work with live events, whereby pages would be propagated in real-time.


Read more and comment at the RAD blog.

Pic of the Day: h2g2 MOT

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Nick Reynolds Nick Reynolds | 09:55 UK time, Thursday, 13 August 2009

hootoo_600.jpg

At the time this picture is published I'll be in a room with other BBC people doing the h2g2 MOT.

Thanks for all your comments on Seetha's post, which have stimulated a lot of conversation in the office in the past week.

We won't be able to give you instant feedback (and some things in the room may have to remain in the room). But expect a blog post giving a flavour of what was discussed early next week.

Nick Reynolds is Social Media Executive, BBC Online, BBC Future Media & Technology

Round Up: Wednesday 12 August 2009

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Paul Murphy Paul Murphy | 15:44 UK time, Wednesday, 12 August 2009

At the end of last week Seetha Kumar wrote on the blog about the series of site MOTs she's introduced since becoming Controller of BBC Online and invited people to comment on h2g2 which is being reviewed tomorrow. To date we have over 100 insightful comments about h2g2 which is fantastic. Expect news on feedback soon.

It's an old post from November 2008 (BBC HD: Picture Quality and Dolby Research) but regular blog contributor Andy Quested (aka "Mr HD") has been replying to some recent comments about HD quality, encoders, fades and the like. Essential reading for all HD aficionados or anyone worried about "obvious blocking on crowd pans".

At dot.life Maggie Shiels asks "Has Twitter's popularity peaked?" From comments in previous months I know that some of you will be hoping that the answer is a resounding "Yes!"

Muslim Demographics is a YouTube video that uses data to portray the rapid Islamification of Europe and the United States. Radio 4's More or Less made a video in response that's posted on the Radio 4 Blog. Series editor Richard Knight says on the blog:
"So how reliable are the statistics in the 'Muslim Demographics' video? The short answer is: not very. But the long answer is more interesting, because the video is mix of the right, the wrong and the unknowable."

characters_use.jpgYou can now use pound signs, quotation marks and other 'mixed characters' when making comments on BBC blogs. Not a big thing but another step in the right direction.

If there are any subjects you'd like the BBC Internet Blog to cover please let me know in the comments.

Paul Murphy is the Editor of the BBC Internet Blog.

An insight into BBC Usability & Accessibility challenges and methodologies

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Jonathan Hassell | 12:00 UK time, Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Recently, my colleague Adam Powers shared an explanation of what the User Experience & Design teams do here at the BBC.

In the same spirit I thought readers of this blog might appreciate a deeper look into the methodologies our Usability & Accessibility team use to keep all of our UX&D teams informed and connected with the contexts, needs, and preferences of all of our audiences.

So here's a recent presentation on Slideshare from myself and Chris Rourke - the Managing Director of User Vision (one of the Preferred External Suppliers for Usability & Accessibility research and testing that we regularly work with) - from the Internet World trade event at Earls Court earlier this year.

I hope this gives a useful insight into the work we do to ensure BBC Online, Mobile and Red Button sites and services are usable and accessible to all our audiences.

Please let us know if you find articles like this interesting, and if there are places you'd like us to share in more detail in the future.

Jonathan Hassell is Head of Audience Experience & Usability.

Goal! Football League and Carling Cup highlights on the web

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Paul Murphy Paul Murphy | 16:34 UK time, Monday, 10 August 2009

Editor's note: The football fans among you will have already noticed some welcome changes to the way Football League games are covered and reported on the BBC Sport website. This is an extract from a post on the subject at the excellent Journalism Labs blog where you can find out more.

James Howard, Executive Product Manager, Sport writes on the Journalism Labs blog:

"Almost as soon as the F1 season had started and had settled down, minds were refocussed on what we needed to achieve on the sport site for the new football season.

When the deal was signed for BBC Sport to have Football League and Carling Cup highlights on the site, we saw it as an excellent opportunity to revisit the club pages and the divisional indexes - as well as revisiting the way we do live coverage of each match.

Lewis Wiltshire on the sport site has explained some of the restrictions (we only have the highlights for 7 days and can only be put up 24 hours after matches).

There will be goals from every match and a round up of action from the Championship, League 1 and League 2 . Highlights will be on the site for 7 days and available to watch 24 hours after matches finish. The SPL pages have also been updated."

Read more and comment on the Journalism Labs blog.

Pic of the Day: Mixed Characters

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Nick Reynolds Nick Reynolds | 11:04 UK time, Monday, 10 August 2009

As browndov has noticed you can now use pound signs, quotation marks and other "mixed characters" when making comments on BBC blogs.

The photo below was taken a couple of weeks ago as the technical team did the work to make this happen. It shows the "user story" relating to the change.

mixed_characters

Although this is a small (but welcome) improvement, there was a significant amount of technical work involved. Credit should go to Tom and his team.

Nick Reynolds is editor, Social Media, Central Editorial Team, BBC Online, BBC FM&T

N.B. A version of this post was published on Friday but got lost due to a technical glitch. Apologies.

MOTs: Putting h2g2 through its paces

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Seetha Kumar Seetha Kumar | 13:40 UK time, Friday, 7 August 2009

One of my priorities in my first year as Controller has been to introduce a regular editorial review of every significant component of BBC Online. The BBC is about quality, trust, and relevance and these values need to be imbued across all our output.

Editorial reviews are an intrinsically creative process which needs to be embraced by site owners. The logic is simple - if you take pride in what you do, and care about your user, it is a win win. How else do we improve our offer? There must be wisdom and benefit in standing back, interrogating what we have in order to understand what's not quite working or what's working well - in which case there are shared learnings. In the end it's all about pushing ourselves to offer real utility to our users, and in a way that clarifies our point of differentiation in the market place.

It's never easy when you introduce something new. After three trial runs we have come up with a blueprint for how to run the reviews - or MOTs as we call them. I like the MOT analogy. We are all used to testing cars which have to be kept roadworthy after three years - now I am hoping that the BBC Online teams will get used to having their websites tested to ensure they serve our audiences well and meet our current quality and accessibility standards.

2cv_300.jpgAs part of the ongoing MOT process we'll be reviewing the h2g2 website next week. h2g2 is one of the BBC's few websites that has no broadcast equivalent on TV or radio, and it relies wholly on its users' contributions for its content. As such we thought it'd be good to share some of the thinking that goes into an MOT and we'd invite you to contribute to our thinking on this occasion.

The Online MOT has a core set of questions which the website owners should answer. The broad themes are:


  • Strategic fit: How does this site fit into the wider BBC Online service? Does it serve the BBC's public purposes clearly?

  • Place in the market: Where does it sit in the wider UK market? How does it relate to external sites covering similar themes?

  • Audience: What is the key audience need that the site seeks to meet? What is the target demographic?

  • Quality: Does the site clearly display the BBC's editorial values of accuracy, independence, impartiality, taste and decency.? Does the sit adhere to our publisher principles? Does it meet best practice technical, UX and accessibility standards?

So as we prepare for h2g2's MOT we'd value your comments on h2g2 to include as part of the review. We'll be following up with news on the outcome of the h2g2 MOT in more posts over the coming weeks.


Seetha Kumar is Controller, BBC Online.

Sketches of a hackday

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Tristan Ferne | 16:26 UK time, Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Last week Radio Labs and RAD held a joint mini-hackday to explore visualising some of our music data. We had several multi-disciplinary teams building quick prototypes and hacks, what I called "sketching with data, designing with code". Here are some snapshots of the results...

Treemap of chart albumsAlbum covers from the charts are laid out as a treemap.

Filtering the charts by weather

Filtering the charts by weather conditions.


Read more and comment on the Radio Labs blog.

BBC R&D Mobile Research

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Jerry Kramskoy Jerry Kramskoy | 12:03 UK time, Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Mobile research is ramping up here in FM&T. A chunk of our work is staying informed on technologies and trends, such as smart phone OSes (Symbian OS, Android ...) and runtime environments (J2ME, Flash Lite ...).

The possibilities and constraints of both browser-based and non-browser based are researched. There is always this tension in balance of breadth of device support versus employing more of the device features.

One upcoming area of work is centred on using the mobile phone as a remote control over other devices, such as digital video recorders, catering for accessibility. Another upcoming area will investigate possibile services around Femtocells deployed in the home. A related area is handover between 3G and WiFi.

The remote control research will investigate suitability of different wireless connectivity options (including Bluetooth, WiFi and mobile cellular networks), device discovery and UI presentation, along with supported accessibility options offered by different mobile runtimes.

Accessibility requirements lead to the possibility of separate media streams, as aids, being delivered over broadband to accompany a broadcast. This raises interesting challenges in media synchronisation between the mobile device and the TV, as the media originate in different networks.

For example, clean audio stripped of background music or sound effects could be delivered to the mobile's headset, for the hearing-impaired, alongside the video broadcast being watched on the TV. We're looking forward to very interesting research in this whole area shortly.

Femtocells aren't exactly a household name, so far. However, they have been in trials around the world including the UK. If deployed in the UK, they can enable some novel in-home mobile services. So here is some background on femtocells, starting with problems they are intended to address, followed by what femtocells do, ending with some possibile service ideas, which we will be experimenting with.

Some key issues for operators with 3G include indoor coverage, radio capacity and core network capacity.

The radio frequencies used for 3G are in the 2 GHz spectrum. Such frequencies have difficulty penetrating buildings etc. resulting in poor indoor coverage. So, a lot of the time, you can't get a signal in your home, and you can't rely 100% on being reachable on your mobile at home. Next, any mobile cell has a maximum (configured) amount of radio traffic that it can accomodate, and once "full" becomes inaccessible to new users until someone stops a voice or data call, or moves to an other cell. This radio capacity is shared across a cell and likely prioritised for voice traffic. High datarate services over 3G can rapidly consume capacity, meaning either a few happy folk per cell or everyone's service getting downgraded to accomodate newcomers. The core mobile network sits behind the radio access network (RAN: all the cells and connectivity to the core). The core has to bear all this traffic between the Internet and the RAN, so its capacity may need growing to support this accumulative traffic. The femtocell addresses these issues. (WiFi is discussed below).

Enter the Femtocell...

It's a complete 3G base station belonging to the operator's radio access network (RAN), located in your home (similar form factor to your wireless router). Don't worry about being fried. It radiates at very low power (a 1/10th of the power of your DECT phone). It gives 5-bar coverage in your home.

There should be no more lost incoming calls and voice/data traffic is seamlessly handed over between an outdoor cell and this indoor cell. Because of the proximity of the mobile phone to the femtocell, the mobile transmits at very low power - it's not trying to "shout" at an external macrocell which eats up battery. So battery life should be extended for your mobile activities (voice and data).

What about capacity and quality of service? An HSDPA-based femtocell, supporting say 4 users, offers peak raw data rates of 1.8 Mbps per user. (As with any cell, "raw" means all data over the air, including overheads with protocol headers, error correction etc. The datarate delivered to the mobile application is less).

That's a lot more than iPlayer needs. This will only improve with time if new versions support the higher datarates available through later modulation techniques. But the key point is that your services are running over licensed spectrum. The operator is in control of who gets to use what and hence can make guarantees on Quality of Service.

What about the backhaul? Femtocells can be integrated with the mobile network to offload data traffic direct to the Internet, without touching the mobile network core. So the net effect is reduced capacity requirements for the operator, and reduced latency for your data services.

Any mobile base station engages in mobility along with the mobile phone. As mobiles come in/out of range of a cell, the mobile network knows, so it can track where to route the mobile traffic. Think about what that means. Suppose software gets notified when you're entering or leaving the house. What could that do for automated media services? How about having your home "system" quietly load up your mobile each evening with stuff for your next day's journey? How about notifying your DVR that you've watched 15 minutes of Spooks on your mobile and the DVR knows to just serve up the remainder? Or vice-versa? You've got 10 minutes to go and the system requests the BBC network to transcode this for your mobile and deliver it back quietly overnight to be transferred to your mobile. What about if your car had 3G and it prep'd for the next day's journey? These are all possibilities.

Since WiFi backhauls direct to the Internet also, the same statements can be made about reduction in mobile core capacity. WiFi operates in the unlicensed spectrum, so competes with other WiFi networks in the area, typically causing increased retransmissions.

Ofcom research has shown that about 90% of WiFi traffic is control traffic, leaving 10% for user data. See http://www.ofcom.org.uk/research/technology/research/exempt/wifi/wfiutilisation.pdf (page 6 especially). QoS guarantees can't be made. There have been various announcements concerning WiFi - 3G seamless handover. So, we will need to investigate this also, again looking at service opportunities triggered around mobility and entering / leaving the home network.

Jerry Kramskoy is a Senior Technologist (Future Media Infrastructure), Research & Development.

Save Our Sounds

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Kate Arkless Gray | 16:10 UK time, Monday, 3 August 2009

When I first got asked if I would like to come and work on a project about acoustic ecology, I really had little idea what that meant.

After a while of getting my head around the concept of studying the world through sound and preserving endangered sounds, I was hooked. As a radio producer I like to think that I have a good appreciation of sound, but a simple exercise proved that even I take sound for granted most of the time. On the way to work one day I listened, really listened, and noted down all the sounds that I heard. Suddenly I realised how much gets lost in the general noise of everyday life.

The BBC World Service's Save Our Sounds project was all about getting people to stop and listen, to think more about the sounds around them and persuade them to try their hand at a bit of acoustic ecology themselves.

Alongside two documentaries from the Science Radio Unit, we created an interactive sound map which allows people to upload their sounds and place them on the map where they were recorded. Even those without recording capabilities can listen their way around the world with the sounds that have been sent in by other people. There's some truly fascinating stuff on there.

For the last two months I've been building up the Save Our Sounds community, by tweeting, emailing, talking to bloggers (and writing posts of my own) as well as doing radio interviews on community, local, national and international radio.

Its been such an honour to be the public (type) face of such an exciting project. Everyone I've spoken to about it has their own memories of special sounds and many have gone on to contribute to the project.

We've been running features like Sound Scavengers and Desperately Seeking Sounds - a sort of audio match-making service. People write in to tell us about a sound they'd like to hear again, and we ask the community if there's anyone able to record it. We've reunited people with things as diverse as Alpine cow bells to snails eating lettuce!

It's been such a thrill coming in each morning and seeing what has been submitted over night. Wolf-whistling birds, Ghanaian weavers, Japanese potato sellers, and the Antarctic ice-fall are just a few of my favourites.

sos_500.jpg
Picture of Richard Ranft and Kate from the World Service Flickr stream.



Last night we handed over a disc with all the sounds that we've collected so far to Richard Ranft - the Head of the British Library Sound Archive. They have kindly agreed to house our collection of sounds so that they are well and truly "saved".

My time on the Save Our Sounds is up now, but the project goes on and the map will continue to accept sounds from around the world. Do send some in. Whilst I feel a pang of sadness saying my goodbyes to all the people that have helped with the project, I'm also really proud of what we've achieved. Anyway, a quick visit to the map to listen to the laughing hippos (you'll find them in the Serengeti) will soon have me smiling again.

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