Archives for January 2008

Even penguins can listen to BBC Radio

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James Cridland James Cridland | 12:13 UK time, Tuesday, 29 January 2008

One of the good things about working at the BBC is the wide range of listeners that get in contact with us. One such listener, Tim, sent a series of emails to us detailing his issues on listening to BBC Radio on the iPlayer for Radio.

From some of the press coverage we got last year, you'd probably think that we're a Microsoft house. We're not. As a senior manager within the BBC, I wander about with the near-ubiquitous BlackBerry (naturally), and a smallish under-powered HP laptop running Windows XP. But many of our designers and developers use corporation-supplied MacBook Pro machines; some bring in their own iBooks to supplement their Windows PCs, and some have even surreptitiously installed Debian on their desktops and pretend that I haven't noticed. While we're careful about what connects to our internal network - which, incidentally, is called 'Reith' after our first Director General - we also have a 'dirty' internet connection within the Audio & Music Interactive offices, so my team can use what's best for them.

It turns out that our listener Tim was also using what's best for him - he was running Ubuntu, the wildly popular version of Debian which has, for many people, been their first real experience of a GNU/Linux system. Tim was having problems installing Real Player so that he could listen to BBC Radio online. Well, it just so happens that I, too, run Ubuntu on two laptops at home, so when I got home last night, I spent a while writing Tim some proper instructions to install Real Player on his Ubuntu machine. Yes, I lead an exciting life.

Alongside Windows Media, we use software from Real Networks to enable the widest possible range of listeners to hear our radio programmes - and, while we're beavering away behind the scenes properly integrating with the stupendously successful iPlayer, I thought that if you, too, are having the same issues with installing Real Player on Ubuntu, that you might find this set of instructions useful. (Incidentally, I know I'm using a Dapper repository when I'm really running Gutsy. For whatever reason, Real Player isn't in the Gutsy repository. It works, and that's the main thing.)

As an aside, I do recognise that Real Player is free (as in beer), but not free (as in freedom) - and the Helix player, which is free-libre, won't apparently decode our streams. I want to let you know that we're constantly evaluating additional ways to listen to BBC Radio online. And failing that, there's this thing called a DAB Digital Radio which is really rather popular these days.

APML isn't just for humans*

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Tristan Ferne | 15:00 UK time, Friday, 25 January 2008

We have recently been looking at APML (Attention Profiling Mark-up Language). APML allows you to share your own attention data. That's data about what you have given your attention to; whether by browsing websites, reading RSS feeds or listening to music. You could then take your attention data profile and pass it to another website which would then be able to automatically customise itself to your preferences or interests. That seems to be its conventional use-case.

Michael from our team has been looking at this from an alternative direction. What if you could generate APML for a music radio show? That would be based on the music that the show or DJ has played and, by extension, has been paying attention to. So Michael has hacked up some APML feeds for some of our radio shows based on their tracklistings (warning - these are very beta and we cannot guarantee they are accurate or stable).

APML for BBC music radio

And he's also generated APML for John Peel, based on the artists that played in sessions on his show from 1967 to 2004. Michael is a big fan of The Fall and it's not necessarily a coincidence that they come out top...

John Peel data, including APML

We tried feeding these into idiomag, a personalised music magazine that accepts APML, and after some teething troubles this now works. And we've also put them into Sun's Tastebroker, an experimental site for generating and processing attention data, and they've kindly generated some recommendations based on the radio show profiles.

A couple of things that this has thrown up around APML. One, there is no validator for APML out there, if you know of one then let us know as it would be most helpful. And we also think that the concepts in APML files should allow URIs to identify them more accurately. At the moment they just have a text attribute describing the concept but the addition of a URI that could point to a resource on MusicBrainz or wikipedia would help better define the concept involved.

What else could we do? Well, if we tracked what radio programmes people listened to then we could generate APML for them based on what they've listened to. This could be both for music and for speech once we've got more tags like the ones on /programmes, and indeed, how about /programmes/:pipkey:/apml? Or maybe we could provide a service that compares an individual's APML profile to the APML profiles of our radio shows and then generates recommendations appropriately. It seems to me that there could be interesting services built around aggregating or combining APML profiles and lots of opportunities for sites to import APML to bootstrap their recommendations.

* Acknowledgements to Matt Biddulph.

Links for 25-01-2008

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Tristan Ferne | 12:34 UK time, Friday, 25 January 2008 » Blog Archive » Creating amazing music blog experiences
Adobe AIR app from Yahoo! for reading MP3 blogs and mixing, listening and sharing your experience.

APML for BBC Radio Music Programmes
Attention data for BBC radio programmes. I'm just writing something about this. It's very beta and may break.

QR codes for BBC programmes and some other stuff «
The team has recently added QR codes (mobile barcodes) to the /programmes site. Just add /qrcode to the URL. :: Backstage Blog :: Hack Day 2008, or rather shall we all get Mashed?
Plans for a BBC Hackday 2008

Internet radio: all the music without the awful adverts | Technology |
About 'My Classic FM' - "Classic FM is deliberately not aimed at "connoisseurs of classical music", but it would be nice to have a "difficulty knob" to turn up."

russell davies: rung tones
Russell Davies on his search for a ringtone - sound design, artificial vs natural sounds and learned responses. Interesting stuff. – the Blog · Free the Music
Full-length tracks and albums are now available on, with some restrictions.

Robert Paterson's Weblog: Future of Radio - Bryant Park - Twitter - My Diner in the Morning
Using twitter to build a community around a radio programme - "This I think is the future if Radio and TV. To wrap the Program with a society."

A proposal to build an internet radio station around XMPP/Jabber that posts now playing, accepts requests and enables chatting.

More at

BBC Podcasts Browser prototype

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Chris Bowley Chris Bowley | 18:00 UK time, Friday, 18 January 2008

A few months ago a couple of my colleagues developed an optimised podcast directory for the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch. In a piece of work along similar lines, also started under our 10% time initiative, I've had a go at developing a full-fat podcast browser application prototype using the CoverFlow visualisation.

Podcasts browser screenshot

The podcast browser allows you to browse all our BBC Radio podcasts, filtering for a particular station, genre or keyword. You can play a podcast episode while continuing browsing and subscribe to any podcasts you like. Please note this is a beta and may be unstable. It may slow down while buffering playback.

Please have a play with it and let me know about any bugs and/or if you have any suggestions for it. If you want to know a bit more about how it works, read on.

The project was initially a reason to try out Papervision 3D, a powerful 3D library for ActionScript 3. There are a number of CoverFlow implementations using Papervision on the Internet and I used one by John Dyer as a starting point because he built it using the latest Papervision v2 alpha codebase. The project also incorporates the Tweener library for animations. Both are available under the MIT opensource software licence.

Adobe are currently developing AIR (Adobe Intergrated Runtime) which provides a framework for writing desktop applications using HTML, JavaScript and Flash and this provides possible further development of the application. At the moment I have an AIR version of the same browser application but I intend to add the ability to manage podcasts subscriptions.

BBC Podcasts Browser prototype (beta)

Visualising Radio

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Yasser Rashid Yasser Rashid | 15:48 UK time, Wednesday, 16 January 2008

A recent BBC Click article discussed the topic of visual radio, an area that I've been working on during the last year or so. The article gives a good overview of some of the issues around visual radio but I thought I'd expand on some of the topics that it touches on.

Audience expectations is one of several key factors currently driving visual radio. Andy Parfitt mentions in the article that:

young audiences expect different things to audiences that have grown up with that sharp divide between tv and radio

and this is very true, we live in a very visual culture where almost all the gadgets we buy have rich colour screens that give us feedback when we interact with the device itself and consume media through it. However, if I'm listening to the radio on my mobile and I hear a song I like there is nothing that tells me what it is, and this can be very frustrating. Its not a very satisfying user experience but visual radio is an attempt to address this situation.

One of the most common reactions I get when using the term visual radio is 'isn't that just tv'? The simple answer to this is no. The work that I've been focusing on complements radio programmes with additional information such as the network branding, the track that's currently playing, contact details such as sms, phone numbers and email addresses. To use some inhouse terminology we are calling this glanceable information - snippets of information that are suitable to radio content that you wouldn't want to stare at while you’re listening to a show but will be useful if you hear something great and want to know what it is.

A good example of this is from our current trial DAB slideshow service:


To view the DAB slideshow images you need device such as the iRiver. If you don't have one you can also check out examples from other broadcasters on the page that have put together.

In a similar vein is the Radio 1 3G trial that is not available yet but will hopefully be broadcast in the near future. For this we have the same information, however we have also been testing out how we might integrate images pulled from the presenter galleries on the website. Also the Radio 1 logo animates in time with the music which is just a bit of eye candy that looks good on your phone.

Enhancement is also an important aspect of visual radio. Each show has a different tone and reaches out to different audiences. Network graphics and presenter images help to reinforce the show's brand and convey its own distinctive identity to its audience. Enhancement also means taking advantage of the capabilities of a device and providing new ways to interact with the programme itself. This could be anything that uses the interface of the device to access menus, to participate in games or view on-demand content for example. With technologies such as IPTV short form video is also a possibility, either live or on-demand it’s something that could be useful to present interviews with guests or user generated content.

To illustrate an example of this here is a short flash movie from an internal demo that was put together to convey a rich way of presenting a radio programme using IPTV:

Sorry, you need to update your Flash Player

A few things to point out here are:

The playful way we have introduced in-studio footage swapping the Radio 1 logo with a video of Colin Murray. We decided very early on that presenting full screen footage of the studio isn't very compelling so Colin only appears when there is a bit of chat between tracks or when he interviews guests.


When music is playing there are dynamic images of band shots and single/album art.


Text message stream displaying incoming text messages sent into the colin murray program. we get lots and lots of sms sent in to radio programmes and the presenters only ever read a very small portion of them the sms ticker therefore is a simple way to give feedback to the audience.


A simple method of voting on tracks, this would not only feedback to the audience but also to the presenters so that they can gauge interest on certain tracks they play.


This demo is not something that we can build and broadcast overnight but it does provide a vision to aim for and it illustrates the core components that make up visualised radio. Also this example highlights how it’s important to have a different approach to radio than if we were presenting TV.

As it’s still evolving there are lots of challenges from a design perspective concerning visual radio. The first is to establish a consistent user experience. There are lots of devices with their own constraints in terms of screen resolution and dimensions and they also have different inputs for interaction. The user experience also changes depending on the technology used to deliver the content. For example, its takes time for the images to load when you’re listening to the radio using DAB on the iRiver and there are issues of compression when you’re watching content using 3G. At the moment it’s trial and error but I can imagine in the future there will be design patterns for the way we interact with visual radio and guidelines for best practice of visual radio assets.

The subject of music vs speech radio is also an important area to highlight. Its important to bring up this distinction because they both require a different approach in terms of design. So far we’ve only really looked at music programming and music content is relatively easy to deal with, band photos, track playing info and additional snippets of info are all useful. However speech content such as that on radio 4 requires a different approach. On a practical level the data is not as dense as it is with music info. We create our own internal data for programmes however if for example we haven't got them, then for music content band photos could potentially be pulled in from flickr and gig information from or For speech radio we have the base level information (programme, contact info etc) however to do more creative stuff we need the right metadata to help us connect pieces of data together. An interesting starting point that has lots of potential are the tags on the /programmes site for example.

Finally being sensitive to the audio is an important design consideration for speech radio. An example I often use is the BBC documentary Return to Sarajevo. When listening to such documentaries it’s only the most basic level of information that is necessary because the audio creates images that can be so vivid in your head. Its easy to offer a lot of features but with powerful documentaries its often best to strip things back and keep it simple. I guess the important factor here is always giving the person listening/watching the option to turn things off if they don't want to be distracted!

Visual radio is still in its experimental stage which means there is a lot of opportunity to play and test out ideas. The work Tristan has done recently around the Archers is an example of this and currently as a 10% time project a group of us are exploring ways of mashing up the now playing data with content from across the web.

Links for 11-01-2008

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Tristan Ferne | 16:51 UK time, Friday, 11 January 2008

Not many links this week, sorry!

idiomag + apml - idiomag | your music magazine
Personalise this online music magazine using your APML attention data. You can generate an APML profile from your or Pandora profiles by going over to this prototype from Paul Lamere at Sun.

BBC R&D - Festival of Technology
"The Festival of Technology is an opportunity to experience and trial the latest ideas coming from BBC Research and our partners." - come and see some serious future-looking engineering research. I think they may be booked up now (for non-BBC visitors) but you might be able to get on the waiting list.

More at

Fans, universities and Little Chris Moyles

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Tristan Ferne | 11:47 UK time, Friday, 11 January 2008

This Monday we're being visited by Tim Wall and Andrew Dubber from Birmingham City University. I'm working with them on this project...

Listener online engagement with BBC radio programming

A knowledge exchange and collaborative research and development project to study how BBC radio programme listeners use the internet to interact around programmes, extend their experience and create new media products based on the original programming. The investigators will work with BBC Audio & Music Interactive to explore the creative fan culture that has been built around the BBC's radio music, fiction and speech programming through a range of fan-controlled, commercial and BBC intern media of communication.

Phew! Basically we'll be studying fans of BBC radio, their perceptions, behaviours and activities.

I was originally inspired to start the project having read Henry Jenkin's book - Convergence Culture - on fans, media and telling stories across multiple channels. It's really good - go and read it. But also by all the fan sites for BBC radio that already exist out there, things like Archers fan fiction, the incredibly comprehensive Unofficial Mills, The Little Chris Moyles video, Gardeners Question Time on Flickr (actually, I've no idea if this is just a naming coincidence, but it's a great idea anyway) or the Sarah Kennedy Facebook group. As far as we know very little work has been done on radio fandom, with the majority of academic work concentrating on TV, film and sports.

The rest of the project team consists of Bethany Klein, also of Birmingham, Matt Hills from Cardiff University and Lyn Thomas from London Metropolitan University. Each of them will be working on an individual project, yet they are all related and will hopefully form a coherent set of findings at the end.

  • The Archers - where is it discussed online and in what kind of spaces? What kinds of discussion and creativity take place? Have Archers fans gained new skills online? London Metropolitan
  • Celebrity DJs - looking at the fan cultures around Terry Wogan and Chris Moyles, particularly how to build closer relationships with radio audiences and fandom as a career path. Cardiff
  • Fans of specialist music (probably jazz) - what fan activies and forums exist on the internet? Why are they there and not on the BBC? What can the BBC do to better support these communities? Birmingham City University
  • A history of interactive engagement in radio - what is the relationship for listeners between older and newer interactive technologies? Radio has always had phone-ins but are the same users who used to call in still present on email or the messageboards? Birmingham City University
  • Finally, how does the BBC perceive the audience and how does the audience perceive BBC radio personalities and programme teams. It sounds like there's going to be a bit of workplace ethnography here. Birmingham City University

The project is being funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and BBC Future Media & Technology as part of a knowledge exchange programme. The aim is to transfer knowledge and learning between universities and the BBC. So the universities will get access to BBC staff, material and content and the BBC will get insight and new thinking from the universities.

What we hope to get out of this is a greater understanding of radio fan cultures. What is compelling about fan activities, how the BBC can facilitate these activities and serve these fans and, ultimately, how to improve our sites and services for fans. But also to extend this to benefit other audiences, either by using aspects of fan sites or by encouraging fan-like behaviour in those who wouldn't usually describe themselves as fans.

The whole arts and humanities research thing is all new to me, having a science background, so personally it's quite a learning experience. And it's also a bit different from our usual prototyping because of the time-scales. The project has taken around 6 months to set up, and is now a couple of months into a year long project and I'll be posting updates on the project as we go.

10 percent time

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Tristan Ferne | 12:13 UK time, Tuesday, 8 January 2008


I've been triggered by a mention over on the Backstage mailing list to write about our 10% time initiative. You might have heard of Google's 20% time? Well ours is only half (or maybe twice) as good.

All of our team (designers, developers, project managers etc) are allowed to spend 10% of their time working on something different - it can be anything they like as long as it is related to work and will benefit the business. Obviously not everyone has time or inclination to do this and it's not mandatory but we try to support and encourage it.

We keep it fairly informal and it is all self-scheduled. I just keep a list of ideas and projects on a wiki and arrange monthly catch-ups where people can talk about what they're doing. The idea is to get lots of ideas and quickly built prototypes rather than complete solutions. Then, if the idea is good, it will get picked up by our normal production process.

The first visible results of this are the iPhone podcast pages but there are a few more projects in progress right now, including some work on gaming and radio, music reviews and even my Archers visualisations. Expect posts here on these projects soon.

We're doing 10% time because it's a great way to get ideas and try them out quickly. It's an excellent chance to learn a new skill, which benefits the other 90% of work too. I think it's widely agreed that no-one is ever effective 100% of the time and it can work really well to have a side project that you can work on when you get stuck or need a change, and so far we certainly don't spend 10% of our collective time on this. But best of all, it makes FM&T A&Mi a more fun place to work.

There are a number of other 10%-like schemes going on around other areas of BBC Future Media and Technology and by all accounts they are pretty successful.

(Awesome logo created by Sarah)

Links for 04-01-2008

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Tristan Ferne | 15:44 UK time, Friday, 4 January 2008

Tagomendations - making recommedations transparent - Duke Listens!
How to use tags to show why you're making a recommendation and making artist recommendations through overlapping, distinctive tags. This is a really good blog if you're interested in music discovery on the internet.

From Beethoven to The Prodigy - Navigating tag space - Duke Listens!
Visualising gradually moving from artist to artist using descriptive tags while "minimizing iPod whiplash"

Audiosurf: ride your music
Game-like driving/spaceship/roller-coaster music visualiser!

Epeus' epigone: URLs are people too
People should be represented by URLs, not email addresses. A number of people round here are starting to look at identity and users' data.

Cantometrics - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
"Cantometrics (roughly speaking, "song measurements") is a method for relating the statistical analysis of (primarily) sonic elements of traditional vocal music (or folk songs) to the statistical analysis of sociological traits"

Apple readying HD Radio push for Macworld
"Apple plans a push for iTunes Tagging-ready, HD Radio-equipped boomboxes with iPod docks during the mid-January Macworld Expo event". Tag the song playing on the radio, it tells your docked iPod and then later syncs with iTunes so you can buy the song.

Interesting interfaces at Current TV
Check out the vertical scrolling and expanding TV schedule and the flagged-up discussions in the Viewpoints section.

More at

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