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Shownar: reflecting online buzz around BBC programmes

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Dan Taylor Dan Taylor | 13:35 UK time, Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Today sees the launch of Shownar; a new prototype from BBC Vision which aims to track online buzz around BBC TV and radio programmes and reflect it back in useful and interesting ways, aiding programme discovery and providing onward journeys to discussion about those programmes on the wider web.

For as long as the BBC has been making programmes, audiences have been talking about them and we have done our best to showcase some of those conversations on-air, via programmes like Feedback and Points of View. However, it is only with the advent of the internet that those conversations have become accessible to a much wider audience. Here on bbc.co.uk we have a range of blogs, messageboards and other commenting tools, which enable users to talk about our output. However, much of the conversation about BBC programming inevitably happens away from bbc.co.uk on people's personal blogs or microblogging services such as Twitter.

Shownar screen shotShownar aims to track the wealth of activity that takes place around BBC progammes online and work out which are currently gaining the most attention. So why do it? To borrow from the site's About pages: "First, it will help you find shows that others have not only watched, but are talking about. Hopefully it'll throw up a few hidden gems. People's interest, attention and engagement with shows are more important to Shownar than viewing figures; the audience size of a documentary on BBC FOUR, for instance, will never approach that of EastEnders, but if that documentary sparks a lot of interest and comment - even discussion - we want to highlight it. And second, when you've found a show of interest, we want to assist your onward journey by generating links to related discussions elsewhere on the web. In the same way news stories are improved by linking out to the same story on other news sites, we believe shows are improved by connecting them to the wider discussion and their audience."

So, how does it work? In the first instance, we decided to focus on tracking in-bound links to programme-related pages on bbc.co.uk, so we could be confident that the discussions were actually about a BBC programme, rather than a different usage of, say, 'archers' or 'apprentice' (although intelligent keyword matching remains a future aspiration). Rather than develop technology to crawl the web ourselves, we decided to partner with data providers who were already doing that, and who could supply us with good, clean data. We took a look at a range of possible suppliers, and for this initial prototype chose data provided by Yahoo! Search BOSS, Nielson Online's BlogPulse (which indexes over 100 million blogs), and Twingly (which searches microblogging services like Twitter, Jaiku and Identi.ca for links, even when they are shortened using URL shortening services such as TinyURL and bit.ly). We are also ingesting data from LiveStats, the BBC's own real-time indicator of traffic. Once ingested, this data is processed according to a specially created algorithm to calculate the 'buzz measure' for every BBC programme - more detail on the algorithm can be found on Shownar's Technical information page.

The front-end interface offers a range of different ways into the data, from the 'fresh buzz' chart on the homepage, to the schedule heatmap which shades the 'hottest' programmes on each of the BBC's TV channels / radio stations (which also have their own pages). There is also a Catch up on iPlayer page, enabling you to filter programmes available to watch on demand by channel, genre and time of day. The genre cuts are particularly compelling, enabling you to see, for example, which Comedy programmes are generating the most buzz. There's also the blueprint, which provides full access to all of the data, including permalinks, so I can tell you that the most buzzed about factual TV programme at midday on Monday 22nd June was BBC Two's James May on the Moon.

The site has been live as an internal BBC beta for a few weeks now and it's already started to have a real impact on my consumption habits, introducing me to programmes I had missed in the schedules such as Radio 2's Back from the Dead: The Return of Spinal Tap, BBC One's Famous, Rich and Homeless and BBC Two's NASA: Triumph and Tragedy. It's also doing the job I hoped it would do in terms of onward journeys, with particularly rich discussion around Radio 4's The Reith Lectures. To find out how your blog links and microblog updates can end up on Shownar (and for information about moderation) visit the Get involved page.

We're keen to hear your feedback on Shownar, so please leave a comment below or send us your thoughts by email. If the prototype proves successful, we are hoping to integrate the functionality of Shownar into bbc.co.uk. Possible future developments include additional data sources and a full API.

Shownar was designed and built by Schulze & Webb, with input from a small BBC project team: Katherine Sommers, Mark Simpkins, Catherine Wingate, Yuri Kang, Andrew Barron, Chris Sizemore and myself. We hope you enjoy using it.

Dan Taylor is Senior Portfolio Executive, Internet for BBC Vision.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Will you just be analysing the statistics from Shownar or will you actually be looking at what people are saying about the programmes?

    There's no point saying that a programme is popular because of the amount of "buzz" it's created - the majority of people might be discussing how rubbish the programme is!

  • Comment number 2.

    There sure was a lot of "buzz" about Bonekickers!

    What a poor name, and as for following Blogs, and the Twits - how incredibly unoriginal.

    I hope you'll be following the likes of Digital Spy, a rather more established community than those other fads.

  • Comment number 3.

    "Today sees the launch of Shownar; a new prototype from BBC Vision which aims to track online buzz around BBC TV and radio programmes and reflect it back in useful and interesting ways, aiding programme discovery and providing onward journeys to discussion about those programmes on the wider web."

    Any chance of having that in English rather than 'Merkating speek'?...

  • Comment number 4.

    thanks for the comments on Shownar, everyone. i'm part of the BBC team behind Shownar.

    good point, Blanche Hunt's Grimace (aka Nippie Sweetie) -- that's why we don't use the term "popularity" at all on the Shownar website, but, rather, "buzz". Shownar is not about popularity, it's only about discussion which references BBC programmes on the Web, whether positive or negative.

    so, the top "buzzing" programmes on the Shownar charts could very well be there due to less than glowing reviews -- but that's important for the BBC to reflect in some way, we feel.

    Tengsted, assuming Digital Spy publishes a blog online, then, yes, we are almost definitely following it. and when/if it links to a BBC programme webpage, then very likely Shownar will link to the Digital Spy post. see http://www.shownar.com/about/get_involved for the background on how links to blog posts get surfaced on Shownar.com.

    as for "fads", well, if faddish websites are where people are discussing BBC programmes, that's where we need to look for buzz, i'd suggest? still, i think i get your point: we shouldn't forget about the more established arbiters of taste here?

    Boilerplated, how's this:

    blog posts and microblog posts (for instance, twitter posts) that include a link to a BBC programme webpage get tallied up by Shownar as "buzz votes"... the more buzz votes a programme and/or episode gets, the higher, in general, it'll rank on Shownar charts.

    the ranking system is a bit more subtle than that in practice, but this, i hope, gives you a less "merkating" sense of what Shownar is up to?

    more here: http://www.shownar.com/about/technical

  • Comment number 5.

    "blog posts and microblog posts (for instance, twitter posts) that include a link to a BBC programme webpage get tallied up by Shownar as "buzz votes"... the more buzz votes a programme and/or episode gets, the higher, in general, it'll rank on Shownar charts."

    All very good but how do you tally those who mention programmes outside the blogasphere, how do you monitor Usenet, or web forums such as Digital Spy etc.

    The BBC seems to be obsessed with blogs and microblogs and thus is obtaining very lop-sided views... :-(

  • Comment number 6.

    I think is quite an exciting project.

    One thing I see as an issue straight away:
    When you go to a show's Shownar page, you get a chart of recent buzz - however, there's no colour legend or vertical scale, so while it may be pretty, it's utterly meaningless!

    Anyway - I'm sure you'll be making lots of interesting changes. I'll keep my eye on this - it'd make for a good way to choose what to watch.

    Andy

  • Comment number 7.

    @boilerplated

    Thanks for your feedback! I also worked on Shownar, and hope I can answer your question.

    We decided to limit the number of data sources searched for the prototype. And although the data currently used by Shownar includes some from messageboards and forums, we'd love to get more. This is a work in progress, so any suggestions for other places to look are welcome.

    Kat Sommers, BBC

  • Comment number 8.

    Onpause, yes, you can assume that's what I was putting across.

    as for "fads", well, if faddish websites are where people are discussing BBC programmes, that's where we need to look for buzz, i'd suggest?

    Just going for the fads like the Twits and Blogs whilst ignoring a whole host of long established message boards and forums is not very inclusive, is it? You'll not get the complete picture from T&B alone.

  • Comment number 9.

    Tengsted,

    I can see what you are saying, but the word "Prototype" has been used in both the article itself and in the comment responses. This is a system under test, and therefore not completed or ready for full roll-out.

    If the system works, surely it can and will be expanded to include as many sources as possible when the final release comes around ... if not, what was the point in wasting development time that could have been better spent.

    Prototypes are generally about making sure that the system works and can provide you with the information you require, rather than the actual information gathering.

    If the BBC limits the gathering to those sites on full roll-out that would be a mistake, but at the moment I would suggest it is almost irrelevant.

  • Comment number 10.

    RE "sparks a lot of interest and comment"

    How will you know if the interest is due to the programme item itself or due to the distortion created by excessive trailing and marketing?

  • Comment number 11.

    #10. At 2:43pm on 01 Jul 2009, _marko wrote:

    "How will you know if the interest is due to the programme item itself or due to the distortion created by excessive trailing and marketing?"

    Or even excessive blogging! Also, how does the system know the difference between a blog that criticises and one that praises a programme?...

  • Comment number 12.

    It doesn't.

    See comment 4 from Onpause in response to my previous comment.

    (Apologies, I don't know how to do quotes or anything flash on blogs. They don't seem to come with a set of instructions!)

  • Comment number 13.

    hi again.

    in reference to "how does the system know the difference between a blog that criticises and one that praises a programme?", Blanche Hunt's Grimace (aka Nippie Sweetie) is right -- we don't, at this point at least, intend to highlight the difference between criticism, praise, or indifference...

    partly because that's a significant technological challenge (see, for instance, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sentiment_analysis) but also because Shownar isn't intended to reflect positive or negative opinion per se. it's all about linking to Web-based discussion, and it's intended to lead Shownar site users to discussions of BBC programmes.

    then users can read those discussions, positive, negative, & indifferent, and decide for themselves whether to watch or listen or perhaps take part in the discussion and comment themselves...

    by the way, this isn't at all to say that the BBC isn't interested in negative (and positive!) opinions about it's programmes -- of course we are interested in that. it's just to say that the collection of this type of feedback isn't the purpose of the Shownar.com prototype...

  • Comment number 14.

    #13

    Thanks for the reply, actually I think that this will be a tool more for your (the BBC's) own internal use more than those outside of the industry, by it's very nature (repeats excepted) comments will be very much reactive.

    I've probably not put the above very well but I hope you get the gist of what I'm getting at, being able to track and read what ordinary, none focus/survey group, people are saying without them actually knowing that you are doing so will be very valuable indeed I suspect.

  • Comment number 15.

    I think its worth pursuing but in its present state its not very user friendly (for example for a couple of presenters I know!) I recommend the team and its supporters find a nice chill out room and ask not what its for,

    but

    What is Shownar LIKE?

    in other words what is the metaphor (cf 'desktop' or 'search engine' or 'memory')

    The current one is buzz.... = filtered noise ...like me listening for the mobile to squeak or rather counting the squeaks

    but it is also a (poorly organised) search engine

    or even Google's 'mention count' of key words.

    or just a count of pink petals falling from a cherry tree in a week in April

    What is it like?







  • Comment number 16.

    #15

    Hi @cping500, thanks for your feedback!

    Shownar does use search data, but I think its primary function is not as a search engine, but navigation. It helps you find unusual and interesting BBC programmes. It also does a lot more than filter noise - there's more about that here http://www.shownar.com/about/technical.

    Any suggestions for how we could improve it?

    Thanks!

    Kat Sommers, BBC

  • Comment number 17.

    The ability to change the Region/Nation of the BBC Channel would be good. Currently it's defaulted to BBC 1 London/BBC2 England.

  • Comment number 18.

    #17

    Hi @Tengsted,

    That functionality is available (though we're aware it's a bit hidden). On the home page, scroll down a bit until you get to the "Show Finder" on the right hand side of the page. You'll see a link to change regions/frequencies next to it.

    Hope that helps.

    Kat Sommers, BBC

  • Comment number 19.

    Thanks Kat!

  • Comment number 20.

    Hi @Kat Sommers,

    I'm one of Digital Spy's co-founders. You can find our forums here: www.digitalspy.co.uk/forums/

    How do we go about getting our users' views on BBC content surfaced on Shownar? DS is Britain's pre-eminent entertainment and digital TV news and discussion website with 5.5m unique users every month - and the forums are always discussing BBC programmes!

    If we can do anything in a technical sense to facilitate this please let me know.

  • Comment number 21.

    #20

    Hi James,

    Thanks for your interest. The prototype aimed to demonstrate what was possible with a limited number of data sources. As such, it currently only links to blogs, and doesn't specifically search forums and messageboards (although some do creep in).

    We'll try to keep everyone updated on its development, but in the mean time you can send feedback here: http://www.shownar.com/about/contact_us

    Kat Sommers, BBC

  • Comment number 22.

    If you're looking to partner with people who are monitoring the internet anyway, perhaps you need to talk to the US Gov't about getting a feed from their "Carnivore" program.

  • Comment number 23.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 24.

    LOL BBC lighter still. Trivial twitter about sums up the dumbing ever down BBC.
    For this sort of nonsense we lose all the BBC proper messageboards for news.
    Cheap ways to avoid accepting real people's debate, while looking modern.
    Blogs are useless we all know that, vanity show offs scared of entering debates. Hence the big move into them by the BBC.
    You have had proper messageboards for some time and been serially closing them down. The BBC never has any interest in that rich source of specific 'buzz'. The BBC is rapidly moving to systems where the BBC selects what they agree with, so they can ignore the public, having been shocked how the public do not share the BBC in house political position.
    Oh but trivial Archers messageboards are no problem light nonsense and the trivial get to predominate the BBC.
    So how are you collecting news and current affairs 'buzz'? You just announced the closing of the last one of your own messageboards. Still the BBC prefers total control like Have Your Say where post are not even put up sequentially as received. Where no debate is possible, no questioning.
    Oh well never mind the BBC thinks it is so clever with this sort of totally irrelevant latest wizzo drivel 'Shownar'.
    Guess the public have to go without what they want in News messageboards so the BBC staff can keep raking in the J Ross like general gross overpay.

  • Comment number 25.

    Instead of the blogs having to link to a page on bbc.co.uk when they talk about a programme, couldn't they just add something like a keyword for the programme, and each programme could have a unique keyword?

  • Comment number 26.

    #25

    Hi @HD1080,

    Sorry for such a late response! I didn't see your comment until now. Keywords were considered for the system, but because it is automated, and has over 8,000 programme names in a moving 15-day window to contend with, it was difficult thinking which keywords could be used for each.

    For instance, searching for "apprentice" wouldn't bring up very good results for one of our most popular shows. But looking for http://www.bbc.co.uk/apprentice would.

    We hope to include keyword searches later in the project, but for now decided to focus on what was possible in the short-term, and build a scalable system.

    Thanks for your comment, and sorry again for my late respnse.

    Kat Sommers, BBC

  • Comment number 27.

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