Archives for May 2008

Links for 30-05-2008

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Tristan Ferne | 17:19 UK time, Friday, 30 May 2008

YouTube - GTA IV Integrity 2.0 pt2
Did you know "Radio 2.0" is featured in Grand Theft Auto? "...we're going to do a radio show and a podcast about a radio show and a blog that's about the podcast that's about the radio show...". Quite funny. Warning - may contain bad language.

Islands of music
Self-organising map of listener's music tags from

A simple visualisation of BBC radio's livetext, but using Matt's XMPP feeds

Some upcoming events...

Cognitive radio and software defined radio - The IET
"This seminar will give a comprehensive overview of Cognitive Radio (CR) and Software Defined Radio (SDR)."

dana centre - Fine Tuning
"How can engineering help us understand and enjoy our music more? Work out the creative possibilities offered by new software and equipment, and chat to engineers and musicians face to face in this musical bonanza. Treat your ears..."

More at

Updated: Scrobbling your BBC Radio listening

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Chris Bowley Chris Bowley | 14:49 UK time, Friday, 30 May 2008

Just a quick note to announce an update to the Mac OS X Dashboard version of my BBC Radio / widget. From your comments I realised both widgets aren't as stable as they might be and I've recently had a bit of time to (hopefully) rectify that. The Mac version now uses Audioscrobbler protocol v1.2 and jQuery for all ajax requests (which is infinitely more stable than my custom code :)

The same caveats apply as before (its still beta!), but hopefully this version will behave itself a little better. As always, all comments gratefully received.

Download for OS X Dashboard
Version 0.3 | 30th May 2008

The Radio Labs calendar

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Tristan Ferne | 12:10 UK time, Tuesday, 27 May 2008

James has been nagging me to add a calendar to the blog so here it is:

It shows forthcoming public events, conferences and lectures at which members of our team will be speaking or just attending. You can see it in full here. It's a bit sparse at the moment but it should start to fill up.

A widget for iPlayer Radio

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Tristan Ferne | 12:00 UK time, Friday, 23 May 2008

From Richard Leeming, Executive Producer for syndication at BBC Audio & Music Interactive...

So here's a new toy for you to play with and I'd love to find out what you think about it. We've recently built a nifty little widget called the iPlayer launcher which, er, launches the iPlayer streaming the radio network of your choice. That's all.

We've already put it up on our Bebo homepage. And now we've made a Google Gadget out of it too. Coming soon we'll be making widgets for a variety of other sites too. But if you plan to add it to your iGoogle page now I'd be interested to hear any feedback.

Links for 16-05-2008

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Tristan Ferne | 16:14 UK time, Friday, 16 May 2008

Radio stories - we make money not art
Some novel radio ideas expressed as art objects

Near Future Laboratory » Blog Archive » Nokia Homegrown
Nokia's Design Strategic Projects, bringing design thinking into business. Including various green projects like a charger that turns off and the Remade phone. - Home
Games With a Purpose - Louis Von Ahn's site for games that generate useful data. Now includes a music game.

Annals of Innovation: In the Air: Reporting & Essays: The New Yorker
Malcolm Gladwell writes about simultaneous scientific discoveries and a company that exists solely to brainstorm and patent new ideas.

Archers timeline
Fan-produced timeline. Impressively starts at 1896!

Gin, Television, and Social Surplus - Here Comes Everybody
Finally, in case you haven't seen this. What can we do with all the cognitive surplus that used to be absorbed by TV?

More at

Microformats and accessibility - a request for help

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Michael Smethurst Michael Smethurst | 15:01 UK time, Thursday, 15 May 2008

Microformats logo

The web is a wonderful place for humans but it's a less friendly place for machines. When we read a web page we bring along our own learning, mental models and opinions. The combination of what we read and what we know brings meaning. Machines are less bright.

Given a typical TV schedule page we can easily understand that Eastenders is on at 7:30 on the 15th May 2008. But computers can't parse text the way we can. If we want machines to be able to understand the web (and there are many reasons we might want to) we have to be more explicit about our meaning.

Which is where microformats come in. They're a relatively new technology that allow publishers to add semantic meaning to web pages. These might be events, contact details, personal relationships, geographic locations etc. With this additional machine friendly data you can add events from a web page directly to your calendar, contacts to your address book etc. In theory it's a great combination of a web for people and a web for machines. But it has some potential problems.

One potential problem is microformat's use of something called the abbreviation design pattern. The abbreviation design pattern uses the HTML abbreviation element to add machine friendly data to pages. Here the human friendly data is enclosed in abbreviation tags and the machine friendly data is added to the abbreviation title attribute. So we see markup like:

<abbr class="dtstart" title="2008-05-15T19:30:00+01:00">19:30</abbr>

The question is what happens if you're using a screen reader. We've looked at quite a few screen readers out of the box and by default they don't expand abbreviation elements so the user still hears 19:30 not 2008-05-15T19:30:00+01:00.

But screen readers allow users to configure them to turn on abbreviation expansion. For any user who switches this on they'll hear 2008-05-15T19:30:00+01:00. Which isn't pleasant...

So we're looking for help. Do you use a screen reader? Know someone who does? If so do you / they have abbreviation expansion turned on? When you visit what do you hear? If you can help we'd love to hear from you...

Helping machines play with programmes

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Tom Scott | 13:50 UK time, Tuesday, 13 May 2008

As part of our work on developing BBC Programmes we have been looking at how we can make the data available for other development teams outside the BBC. And at last weeks XTech Nick and myself presented a paper outlining our work to date and some of our future plans.

We have been following the Linked Data approach - namely thinking of URIs as more than just locations for documents. Instead using them to identify anything, from a particular person to a particular programme. These resources in-turn have representations, which can be machine-processable (through the use of RDF, Microformats, RDFa, etc.), and these representations can hold links towards further web resources, allowing agents to jump from one dataset to another.

To date our work on Programmes has been focused on providing persistent URLs to HTML documents of our primary objects : episodes, series and programme brands. However, we have also been looking at how we can make this data available to machines. So what does this look like?

For starters the HTML is marked up with hCalendar and hCard microformats to help the machine identify schedules and cast and crew information. Semantic web with a small 's' if you will. But more interesting is our work on alternate data serializations - big 'S' Semantic Web.

As discussed in our presentation we have developed an ontology to describe programmes; and we are now working to make the data available in a variety of formats: XML, Atom, RSS 2, JSON, YAML, RDF. Although, currently we only have XML, YAML and JSON views for schedules i.e. the following urls:


To access these add .xml .yaml or .json to the end of the url. For example the xml serialization for the Radio 1 schedule is:

The JSON serialization for today's Radio 4 schedule is:

Read the rest of this entry

Radio 1's Band In Your Hand

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Tristan Ferne | 14:41 UK time, Friday, 9 May 2008

I recently asked Hugh Garry, a producer for Radio 1 interactive, to write about his latest project...

For last year's Big Weekend I ran an ARG called Frozen Indigo Angel. It was a superb project that saw me spend a few months lying to my family and colleagues, causing major security alerts at Radio 1, wondering around London in a bunny suit and playing the role of an agent meeting strangers on street corners across the UK.

I have really happy memories of it. My only regret being that I took the secrecy element of it too seriously. Because of the storyline it was impossible to PR without giving the whole game away. A few day after launch I had the national press wanting to know the story behind why Paul Denchfield was claiming I had sacked him to which I simply replied "There is no story - the bloke is a crank". A great opportunity for press around the game lost. The real press should have kicked in towards the end when the game merged with the ill-fated Perplex City Season 2, which sadly had its box lid closed before it really got started. Apart from the players and people within the BBC not a lot of people knew what a brilliant game it was.

So... for this year I wanted to do something simple. Attention grabbing. Gimmicky if you like. Something I could demonstrate in one click, that I didn't have to lie to my girlfriend and boss about or dress in a bunny costume for. The result was Band In Your Hand.

Band In Your Hand

With Madonna topping the bill at this year's event demand was always going to be high for the 15,000 pairs of tickets available so we wanted to do something for the people who didn't get tickets. Over half a million people were on the receiving end of bad news by the time ticket registration closed. In their email delivering the bad news there was a link directing them to Band In Your Hand. There they could download some software and print out a sheet of paper with two Radio 1 logos on. When they held the first logo up to their webcam The Big Weekend tent appeared on the paper they were holding. Out of the speakers boomed Zane Lowe's voice apologising for the lack of tickets but in their hand they now had The Frattellis playing live. As they held the other logo to the webcam an exclusive acoustic video performance of The Fratellis' 'Mistress Mabel' appeared on the paper. You can see the video of Scott Mills trying it on this page.

The application uses augmented reality technology that has been around for a few years. I'd been looking for an excuse to use it since seeing the demos at Picnic07, and bearing in mind how I felt about last year this seemed like the perfect opportunity. My first worry was that you'd need a top-end machine to use it but it works on any PC running XP or Vista and could be viewed using a £10 webcam (like mine). The next issue was the scanning - did it have to be printed on special paper? No is the simple answer. It can scan anything you tell it to scan and can read from t-shirts if that's where you want the augmentation to appear... like this.

The exclusive video, the secret page, the magic of the technology and the wow factor of seeing it in real life all add up to another fantastic project to have worked on. Unfortunately music rights restricted us to a seven day window and it was not available on Macs so there were a few barriers, but other than that the whole project was quite effortless. The video of Scott Mills trying it has just been added to YouTube and seems to be spreading faster than a nasty rumour in the offices of Radio 1, so it should live on way beyond the 7 days in video form.

The chances to use this in radio are very limited but the possibilities for TV and education are endless, perhaps Top Gear might be able to demo cars in greater detail like this. Anyway, that's not for me to be thinking about now.... I need to be thinking about what we're doing for Big Weekend 2009. All suggestions welcome.

You can read more about technology and the Big Weekend from Ben Chapman over on the BBC Internet blog

Pushing the Programmes Ontology - Programme Information over XMPP PubSub

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Matthew Wood | 18:55 UK time, Wednesday, 7 May 2008

If you've been following this blog you'll know that we're the team behind BBC Programmes. For some time now we've been leading the BBC's efforts to expose information about its radio and TV programmes on the web, for consumption by people and machines.

You may also have noticed that recently I've been spending a little too much time with XMPP.

Happily I've found a way to bring the two together: you can now get rich information about BBC radio shows pushed to you - as they are broadcast - over XMPP PubSub.

If you point your XMPP pubsub client at you'll find a node for each of our national stations: /home/, /home/ etc...

At the start of every radio broadcast I'm publishing metadata about that show to its station's node, wrapped in an Atom Entry. For your Linked Data entertainment it's also serialised as Turtle RDF conforming to the Programmes Ontology.

I can already think of a few things to do next...

  • Add BBC TV stations

  • Separate the delivery of the programme metadata (which we actually have before broadcast) from the 'on now' trigger event

... but I think this is a pretty interesting start. Maybe next we should try and use it to build a real EPG on a real radio...?

(And if you're lucky enough to be at XTech, go say hello to Michael, Nic, Patrick, Tom and Duncan who'll be talking about All This and More on Thursday...)

We're Playing Your Song: Personalised Track Notifications over XMPP

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Matthew Wood | 15:32 UK time, Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Just a little XMPP toy: send the message lastfm yourlastfmusername to and we'll ping you when one of our music stations is playing a tune by an artist you like to listen to. Fun, huh?

Behind the scenes I'm pulling your profile via which wrangles it into APML. This means I'm storing your preferences in a way that should work as well for speech shows as it does for music. So I could use tastebroker's view of your feed to let you know when Radio 4 is broadcasting something you might be interested in. But that's for another time...

(Oh, and if you want us to stop pinging you, just send forget me...)

Olinda - a new radio

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Tristan Ferne | 13:10 UK time, Tuesday, 6 May 2008


Updated - see bottom of post

Olinda is a new radio that has been built for BBC Audio & Music Interactive. It includes innovative features like modularity and social networking in a physical device. But we normally build websites and other digital media so why would we want to build a new radio? To actually have a device in the physical world? These are the three reasons I give...

1. Physical things make people think differently and can help them better understand new concepts.
2. The digital radio market in the UK is fairly mature and very successful but there is not a huge amount of innovation at the moment, we think there might be room for something that will help stimulate that market.
3. Online radio is great but people still like to listen to the radio through actual radios.

So last year we commissioned a design and technology consultancy called Schulze and Webb to build a real, working, physical, innovative DAB radio. It has two main features; modularity - making the radio expandable - and social features - for discovering programmes and starting conversations. At Radio Labs we have recently been thinking about how radio and social networking could work together, if you came to Futuresonic you may have heard us talk about it. Olinda is one way that they could meet.



Olinda is an extendable and customisable radio. On the side of Olinda is a studded, magnetic connector for plugging in expansion modules. This is an open, standardised hardware API - with defined connections and defined protocols for the data. It's a bit like the expansion port on an iPod, and this makes the radio modular. It's a hardware version of the APIs around websites like Flickr, or Twitter - which, by virtue of their APIs, are all surrounded by a rich ecosystem of supporting sites and products. These plug-in modules for Olinda can use the API to find out information like which station the radio is tuned to and the current LiveText, and also lets them send instructions to the radio. This enables anyone; the manufacturer or third parties, to create add-on modules which should all work with any radios implementing this API. And we think this could create a secondary market for DAB add-on products which will benefit both manufacturers and consumers.

A tear-off player module for kids. It records all their favourite childrens' radio progamming and then unplugs to become a standalone MP3 player.

A projector module that projects the station name and currently playing track details onto your ceiling.



As part of the project Schulze & Webb have built a single module for the radio which uses the hardware API and proves that it works. It's a social module which includes wi-fi wireless networking and integrates radio listening with someone's close friends, their immediate social network.

When you get the module you configure it to connect to your home wireless network and then you set it up with your friends. You'll notice in the pictures that there are slots for your friends - these are wipe-clean spaces for writing your friends' names or sticking in a picture. So each slot on the wireless is customised and configured to represent one of your friends. And each slot has an associated combined light and button.

Then whenever they are listening to the radio their slot on your radio will light up. And when you push the associated button your radio will show you what they are listening to. And if you want to listen alongside them? Just push select and it tunes to the station - you're now listening alongside your friend.

So we hope this might provide a sense of community around your radio, harking back to the times when families and friends used to gather around the radio to listen. But Olinda provides this in a glance-able, non-intrusive manner. And it will start to support conversations around radio programming and the discovery of new shows and stations. Social networking for your radio.

The configuration and communications all happens on a website called Radio Pop. It's a prototype site we built last year and will shortly be re-launching as a more robust beta. When you first turn on your Olinda radio you will be given a unique code for that radio. You can enter that code on the Radio Pop site to associate that particular radio with your account. From then on, whenever you use Olinda to listen to the radio it will update your Radio Pop account with that listening. And when your friends listen to their Olinda radios, their data will be sent to Radio Pop and then on to your radio, causing those friend lights to turn on. But, obviously I guess, it's not just other Olinda radios that this will work with. Anything compatible with Radio Pop will work with Olinda and vice-versa. So if your friend is listening to BBC radio through the internet then their button on your radio will still light up.



We've tried to use some of the expectations of people who are used to websites and interactive products in the design of the radio; the station presets on this radio will be automatically generated. The outer tuning ring lets you scroll through all the available radio stations. The inner ring only scrolls through the stations that you listen to most. And the radio should be suitable for its situation, so there are two screens. There is a forward-facing screen for viewing information like the scrolling LiveText from across the room and a secondary screen for when you're standing over the radio interacting with it. The radio itself ended up being relatively visually conservative. This is partly due to cost and partly because we didn't want to take anything away from the concepts and new ideas by making it look unlike a conventional radio.

Olinda is a design prototype and we want to encourage development of these ideas and stimulate the potential market around Olinda, similar DAB radios and the modular add-ons. Maybe it will eventually lead to some real products. We feel that part of the role of the BBC is to encourage innovation like this and to maybe do things that others wouldn't consider. So we are making all of the ideas and concepts behind Olinda available under a Creative Commons-type license - licenses that basically allow for sharing and remixing of the work, provided the original author is credited. What we're not doing is building a product for the BBC to sell.

The BBC grants any third party a fully paid-up, perpetual, worldwide, non-exclusive license to use, modify and sub-license all concepts, design elements and novel technical solutions in Olinda, provided such third party conspicuously and appropriately publishes on each copy an appropriate notice acknowledging the BBC and the copyright that it owns. In non-legal terms: if you can see it, you're more than welcome to it (and please say thanks).

You can read lots more about Olinda and its associated ideas by downloading the pamphlet. Or head over to Schulze & Webb to read more about how it was developed. There is also a press pack for download (warning: 85MB).

Postscript: Olinda? It was named after a city in a novel by Italo Calvino. We have since discovered it's also a real city in Brazil.

Update: I just wanted to clarify that we aren't planning to ship CAD files or source code now that Olinda is out in the world. Most of the heavy lifting in the radio is done by chips that are bought in, so publishing their code isn't possible. We'd love to see these ideas adopted by radio manufacturers, and part of being a good citizen in the industry is to work with them. So the license is there to say 'go ahead' to any manufacturer who wants to pick up the design elements, how the hardware API works, and the other solutions the radio demonstrates.

At Futuresonic

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Tristan Ferne | 10:18 UK time, Thursday, 1 May 2008

As Yasser mentioned recently, Radio Labs is up in Manchester for the next couple of days at Futuresonic. We're set up on the first level of the Contact Theatre with a couple of screens, a sound system and a load of computers and cables. Why? Because we (possibly foolishly) volunteered to spend the two days of the conference hacking together a prototype.

So what's it going to be? Well we're not sure yet, that's part of the process, but we think we're going to be prototyping something with Arduino, cameras, live radio and visuals. More details to follow.

You can follow our progress on Twitter at

Update: We did build something! We ended up with some Processing-driven motion tracking which fed live data to some audio filters applied to live radio. It certainly got people double-taking as they walked past and caused strange machine-like sounds. And we learnt that it was really hard developing something in a conference environment - people coming up to talk to you isn't necessarily conducive to coding. And you miss out on the sessions.

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