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Archives for August 2011

10 years of the Internet on the radio: Going Digital and Clicking My Fingers

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Bill Thompson Bill Thompson | 17:34 UK time, Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Tim Berners-Lee interviewed by Bill Thompson

Tim Berners-Lee (right) being interviewed by Bill Thompson.

During June and July 2001 I helped some friends in the BBC's Radio Science Unit with Go Digital, a new technology programme that had been commissioned by the World Service for their English language service, where it would sit with programmes on health and science as part of the broader non-news coverage on the English language service.

Working with Tracey Logan, the presenter, we made some pilot programmes that were not intended to be broadcast, fine-tuning the balance of packages, presenter introductions and conversation with the 'studio expert' or 'presenter's friend' who was supposed to turn up each week and offer commentary, background information and - where necessary - a translation of any obscure technical terminology from the interviews and reports that made up the bulk of the show.

It was a role I described as 'well, Tracey', since after each interview or pre-recorded package she would turn to me and I'd go 'well, Tracey', and say something I hoped was helpful.

The show was first broadcast in August 2001 and I agreed to take part in the first four or five programmes, while things bedded in, but it was made clear that once Tracey had found her feet there would be a different guest each week to provide some variety and ensure that the commentary wasn't limited to one person's perspective.

Go Digital was well-received, and celebrates its tenth anniversary this week with a special live broadcast from the Radio Theatre in Broadcasting House. Gareth Mitchell took over as presenter in 2004, it was renamed 'Digital Planet' in 2005 and became Click (the radio version of the TV programme) earlier this year.

It has changed time slot, changed duration, had many wonderful producers (including some who may not have understood anything about computing or technology but tried very hard), moved from its original home in S7 in the basement of Bush House to the glory that is C21, and travelled the world, most notably to Venice to report on digital art that features in the Biennale.

Although much has changed it is still recognisably the same programme. I can say that with some confidence because I'm still there, presumably because it would be more trouble to find someone else, and so nobody has yet bothered. I don't go 'um', sound generally coherent and turn up each week.

Much has changed since 2001.

MySpace didn't launch until 2003, and has had time to grow and decline while we've been on air. When we launched there was no Facebook, no YouTube and no Twitter, while Google was only three years old. The Code Red worm was attacking computers running Microsoft's IIS Web Server, and I was using a Sony Vaio laptop with 128 megabytes of memory and a massive 20 gigabyte hard drive. My mobile phone was a phone, although it did send and receive text messages.

Over the years we have covered the technology landscape, from AI to Zero-day vulnerabilities, with a lot of attention paid to developments outside the developed economies, and a constant focus on people rather than the computers, phones or networks. The pace of change means that we are never short of topics with which to engage, whether it's the use of social media to provoke political change, the challenged to our ideas of privacy, our ability to keep up with Moore's Law and double the capabilities of our computers every 18 months or so, or the importance of digitally transmitted information services in transforming the lives of the world's poor and deprived.

It's a testament to the World Service that the programme has remained a key part of the science offering, and that talking about digital technology is still seen as worth doing, but that may be because we're not really a technology programme at all. Tracey, Gareth and I have always been more interested in the people than the technology, and we try hard to avoid simply holding up shiny toys and going 'ooh' and 'aah', even though I'm an avowed technophile.

And now we're in the midst of a revolution in human capabilities caused by the emergence a new class of intelligence-amplifying tools that will be as profound in their impact as the invention of stone tools, fire or print proved to be. A smartphone and Google-equipped teenager today, able to tap into much of the world's knowledge and their entire social network without a thought, is a very different person to me at 18, and they are going to build a different world to live in.

I hope that we get to report on it, for a least a little while longer.

Bill Thompson is Head of Partnership Development BBC Archive

Supporting UK digital media

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Barbara Greenway Barbara Greenway | 17:27 UK time, Friday, 5 August 2011

Last week, my colleagues and I in the BBC's Audio & Music Interactive department (A&MI) hosted an event for ninety representatives of the UK's digital media industry.

The event gave indies (independent suppliers) the opportunity to meet the BBC staff that commission work for A&MI, and vice versa. We plan to run these events at least once a year from now on.

It was a really important and useful gathering, both for us and the industry. BBC Audio & Music Interactive invested £3.8 million in the digital media industry last year.

We've a good track record of working in partnership with indies to deliver great content and services. Last year we commissioned 391 projects from 91 different digital media suppliers, 41 of which were new suppliers to the department. Projects ranged from building Radio 1's Big Weekend mobile check-in experiment (Future Platforms) to refreshing 6 Music's homepage (Kent Lyons).

Read the rest of Supporting UK digital media and leave a comment on the About the BBC blog.

The Specialist Classical Chart Podcast is back - this time for good!

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Andrew Caspari Andrew Caspari | 16:45 UK time, Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Otto Klemperer with the New Philharmonic Orchestra

One of my recent joys working on our interactive services for BBC Radio has been receiving our monthly figures for downloads and podcasts from our site. Last month listeners successfully put 14.8 million downloads on their PCs or mobile devices.

That's up from 9.8 million in July last year. One of the reasons for the increase is the boost in the number of speech programmes we can now offer. The recent release of 500 editions of Desert Island Discs and the archive of the Reith Lectures has proved very popular. Podcasting is a great way to build up your own collection of programmes to enjoy whenever and wherever you want!

And although we have done great things with speech content, it's not been so straightforward with music in podcasts. So I'm really pleased to say that, as of today, we're bringing back a podcast which should appeal especially to classical music fans.

Although to date we've released many podcasts containing the speech content of classical music programmes, such as Composer of the Week, we've not been able to include longer extracts of classical music. That's because we don't have the rights or the permission to do this, and the BBC has been wary of doing anything that might adversely affect the commercial classical music industry.

But now, something has changed. Working with the BPI (British Recorded Music Industry) earlier this year we tested a podcast of the segment of Radio 3 Breakfast that covers the Specialist Classical Music Chart every Tuesday morning. This includes a number of excerpts of music from the chart, each of which can be up to 9 minutes long.

The audience seemed to like the offer.

What's more, any fears that it might discourage people from buying classical music or listening to live radio proved unfounded. In fact nearly 25% of those who listened to the podcast said they were inspired to listen to more live radio, whilst 70% said they were listening to the same amount (eDigital Research for the BBC). 80% of listeners said the podcast had introduced them to music they had not heard before. Good news for the music industry came with the finding that 25% of listeners to the chart podcast had purchased classical music as a result. The BPI's classical committee is pleased with the outcome, saying the podcast supports the work to "...obtain a wider audience for the specialist classical chart and for serious classical music in general". So, all in all the trial was a success.

Now the BBC Trust has agreed to a change in the Radio 3 service licence to allow the Specialist Classical Music Chart to become a permanent offer from the BBC. The podcast is back from today, and you can download it here. As a distinctly average guitarist, I'm delighted that a classical guitar release is top of the chart at the moment, so I hope an extract of the number one is included.

Andrew Caspari is BBC Head of Speech Radio and Classical Music, Interactive

  • The picture (from 1970) shows "Otto Klemperer who celebrated the bi-centenary of Beethoven's birth by conducting his nine symphonies in sequence with the New Philharmonic Orchestra".

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