Archives for July 2008

Switch between BBC Music and Musicbrainz

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Patrick Sinclair Patrick Sinclair | 11:09 UK time, Thursday, 31 July 2008

I'm one of the software engineers working on the BBC Music Discovery team. For those of you playing with the new BBC Music Beta, here's a bookmarklet that makes switching between the BBC Music site and MusicBrainz a touch easier.

Drag this BBC Music/MusicBrainz link to your bookmarks bar in your browser. Now, when you're on an artist page (e.g. Coldplay) click on the bookmarklet to switch between BBC Music and MusicBrainz artist page. When you're on a MusicBrainz artist page, click on the bookmarklet to take you back to the respective BBC Music artist page.


music beta and linked data

Guy Strelitz | 14:58 UK time, Wednesday, 30 July 2008

By now you may well have found the new BBC Music beta site - Matthew Shorter and Tom Scott have both blogged about it, and it's shown up on TechCrunch. If you haven't seen it yet, I strongly urge you read the blogs and take a look - it really is a huge step forward for BBC Music online, and for the data infrastructure of as a whole.

I'm not going to repeat Matthew and Tom here. Instead I'm going to explain how some of the thinking and technical features have come together in one of the really cool things we've been able to achieve - the data graphs on the new Artists Gateway and on Artist pages.


VCS, JSON and The Star
A large proportion of music played on BBC radio is played out through a system called VCS - basically an enterprise-scale mp3 player. As well as injecting music into the broadcast chain, it publishes data about the track now playing internally, and since September 2007 this internal feed has been archived.

The Music Discovery team have hooked the feed and archive, associated the tracks with schedule data and with MusicBrainz artist IDs, and injected the resulting data into /programmes. The immediate result is tracklists for each programme on programme pages.

We've had to roll tracklists back for the moment. They'll return in the near future.

But as well as individual programme views, /programmes can provide artist playout data - look at /programmes/music/artists/2fddb92d-24b2-46a5-bf28-3aed46f4684c.json for data on The Ting Tings and compare it with their beta page on /music. Yes the feed is public - you can hack with it too!

Back in March Michael blogged about five linked data sources at the BBC.


Until this week /programmes was still the only node on the graph. This makes /music beta node number 2.

Data formats
Linked data means more than purpose-built data feeds between BBC systems, and more than making those feeds public. HTML is pretty good for making human-readable pages, but we all know it sucks when you start trying to screen-scrape data. So to help you do whatever you want with our data, we've made all the pages in the /music beta available in XML, YAML, JSON and RDF versions, and RDF versions of /programmes will be available soon.

Nick Humfrey and Patrick Sinclair are the semantic experts, and they'll be blogging about this in detail. But for more of the thinking behind it take a look at Nick's and Tom's presentation at Xtech.

Beta to live
At the moment links on pages only run from /music to /programmes, but not back the other way. That's because the existing Artist pages are still running alongside the beta. As soon as we come out of beta, the tracklistings on programme pages will link back to Artist pages on /music.

The main criterion for coming out of beta is the inclusion of tracklisting data for music played off CD or even vinyl but not out of VCS, which includes specialist shows and all of Radio 3. And that's what we're working on right now.

BBC Music Artist Pages beta

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Tristan Ferne | 12:22 UK time, Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Matthew Shorter (Interactive Editor, Music, BBC Audio & Music Interactive) says...

"I'm happy to announce the launch today of a beta of our new artist pages on the BBC Music website. We now have a dynamically published, persistent and automated page for every artist we broadcast on the BBC, and thousand of others besides."

Read more and comment at the BBC Internet blog.

We'll have some more details about this beta site on here soon.

Links for 25-07-08

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Tristan Ferne | 16:05 UK time, Friday, 25 July 2008

OpenTaste - Welcome to the Web Personalized
"OpenTaste is an open standard for making your online persona portable." - an open format for taste (and not just attention) data.

Anarchogeek: Beyond REST? Building Data Services with XMPP PubSub
For presence and updates in social software we might have to leave standard REST web services behind and find a way to use message passing. Here's one way to do it using XMPP, the technology behind Jabber and Google Talk.

NPR: Inside
A blog from NPR (National Public Radio in the US) which focuses on the NPR Web site and all the tools and services they're developing for it. Including a new API to access their audio, text and images.

BeebMC - BBC Radio addin for Windows Media Center
A Windows Media Centre add-in for listening to BBC radio streams.

Football Superstars
A forthcoming football MMOG (massively multiplayer online game) that is supported by podcasts from Radio Five Live.

DoodleBuzz:Typographic News Explorer
Try sketching your own interface to the news.

More at ttp://

Wider, bigger, better

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Yasser Rashid Yasser Rashid | 16:14 UK time, Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Teams of designers, developers, project managers and producers within Audio & Music Interactive have been very busy recently working together to deliver a refresh of our radio network and music event websites.

Thanks to the work of the central Future Media & Technology (FM&T) team in rolling out the new page layout system called Barlesque (I won't go into detail as you can find all the info you need over at the BBC Internet blog) we are now updating all our radio network websites with a new look and feel and integrating the programme and schedule data from At the same time we have have had another team who have been working on improving our event websites.

The first radio network to launch with the new page layout was 1Xtra back in April. Some of the key changes are: a horizontal navigation bar across the top of the site and the schedule page, which is now using /programmes data which means it's fully automated; every broadcast has its own page and there are also links to iPlayer content. Here's a before and after example: you can see how the move to the new wider pages has made a significant improvement to the look and feel of the website.



6music has also had an update and, as well as the horizontal navigation and automated schedule and episode pages, the other significant update is the restructuring of the homepage into distinct sections and the incorporation of larger images that help to highlight new content. Comparing the old Stephen Merchant show page with the new one you can see how the new version is a lot less cluttered, as we no longer have the long list of links in the left hand nav and the banner area is a lot cleaner, incorporating a tidied up Listen Live call to action with presenter graphic.



Over the coming months, all our radio websites will be getting the new Barlesque treatment and will include data from /programmes. At this stage we are just focusing on updating them to the new page width, freshening the visual impact and implementing the horizontal navigation.

If you are a regular visitor to either 6Music or 1Xtra then you will probably notice that on many pages, the show pages in particular (for example the 6mix page), the content area still retains the old page layout.

As some of you have commented this results in a lot of redundant space on the left-hand side of pages, where we have tried to make full use of the branding and graphical assets that are associated with the network. This isn't ideal and will be addressed at some point in the future. Completely overhauling our entire portfolio of radio network websites will take some time to do as there are thousands of pages to update. We feel there's more value to the websites' users if we roll out incremental updates, so that visitors immediately gain the benefits of features we are able to deliver in the short term. We hope that by updating the look and feel and including some new features (such as a page for every programme episode, a simpler horizontal navigation and links to iplayer) our audiences can see that we are making and launching much needed improvements to the sites.

We have also been working hard on getting our event websites up to scratch. Radio 1's Big Weekend site launched in May in the new Barlesque layout and this gave us an opportunity to make better use of images and video. For Glastonbury this year the new page layout has made a huge difference. Being the kind of festival that it is, i.e. absolutely massive, it has by the end of it a huge amount of content to sift through. The homepage has been simplified giving a lot more breathing space to promote content and including an indicator of new content when it appears. We also focused on simplifying navigation around the site, focusing on links to video, photo and diary aggregation pages. Typically our navigation is around artists so giving space to a 3 column layout on the line up page has been feasible this year as we have dropped the left hand nav and simplified the page by not having any additional sub navigation, in lots of ways it's a big improvement on how we presented the line up from last year. Our treatment of photographs has also improved and they make a much greater impact at their new size the Subways photo page is one example.

Artist pages have also been given an overhaul, and its apparent when you compare pages from this year with last year's 2007 featival site. As you can see the pigeon detectives artist page this year contrasts hugely from last years.

We have also incorporated maps onto the the site. The Big Weekend site featured Grimmy's guide which gave an overview of Maidstone. This proved to be a fun way to find out more about the area in which Big Weekend was being held so with Glastonbury we explored how we might be able to plot content on to a map of Glastonbury as well as a map that shows where Steve Lamaq went on the Saturday of the festival. We are still in the early stages of using maps on our websites and I feel we are currently going through a sharp learning curve of understanding what works and what doesn't in terms of editorial content as well as usable functionality. Sarah, the designer that worked on the maps, will soon be posting her thoughts on the subject and giving an insight into her process and some of the challenges that emerged.

With each event website we try and improve on what we have done before and now that Glastonbury is over, and we have filled the website up with lots of great content, we are doing some final testing of the site with members of the public to see where we have got things right and what we can improve for next time. We try and roll any suggested improvements into the next event website and we still have more sites to follow this year, 1Xtra Love Summer is our most recent launch with Reading and Leeds to follow next month and the Electric Proms in October.

If you have any feedback on the 6Music, 1Xtra, Big Weekend or Glastonbury websites, then leave a comment - it would be great to hear your thoughts.

Some iCal views into /programme data

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Duncan Robertson Duncan Robertson | 16:07 UK time, Thursday, 17 July 2008

UPDATE: Due to the webcal:// URI scheme not being official, and causing problems and confusion for people when subscribing to calendars in some browsers, and on some OS'es, I have removed them from this article.

iCalendar is a standard for calendar data exchange. It is most notably used by Apple's iCal application, Microsoft's Outlook and Google Calendar, to import and export calendar information. We thought that some of the views in /programmes would also work well in the iCal format, so we have exposed a few for you to subscribe to, and play with. We don't yet have public links pointing to these urls ( the work to automagically display all available formats per url is in progress ), but I have stuck some examples below so you can get the idea. We'll start with day schedules examples:

Subscribe to the day schedule for BBC One London:
or tomorrow:
or any day:
or the day schedule for Radio 6 Music:

Upcoming episodes that are in the genre Music/Dance & Electronica on the BBC:
Upcoming episodes that are in the genre Music/Dance & Electronica on Radio 1:
Upcoming episodes in the genre Sport/Athletics on the BBC

Upcoming episodes of Eastenders
Upcoming (New) episodes of Eastenders
Episodes of Eastenders available to watch again

Hopefully, that should get you going. Checkout the actual urls to see how they are constructed, this will help you experiment with others.

The Feeds above are all available to subscribe to. This means that in your iCal supported calendar of choice, you would choose to Subscibe to a calendar instead of just importing one. This would expect a URL (like the ones above), and will normally allow you to add how often you would like the URL checked for updates.

A note though. If you choose a top level genre to subscribe to on the BBC, like for instance Music, you will find that amount of data returned will overwhelm your calendar. In this case choose a sub-genre below to filter down the results.

Finally a photo of my phone, with some upcoming Sci-Fi programmes on the BBC showing. Just because I like to live the stereotype.

iPhone Sci-Fi screenshot

Video games and music at E3

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Chris Bowley Chris Bowley | 13:17 UK time, Wednesday, 16 July 2008

In years past, E3 has signalled fevered excitement from console fanboys around the world eagerly waiting to see who will steal a march in the latest round of the console wars. 2007 heralded a new E3, one which is less about glitz, glamour and booth-babes and more about giving smaller publishers a chance to be seen and heard on an even playing field. The Big Three console manufacturers (Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony) have continued to hold their traditional E3 press conferences in which they attempt to brag about how theirs is the format of choice and announce new products - both hardware and software. Much like Steve Jobs announcing the latest shiny thing from Apple, these press conferences are important events and are now streamed live around the world.

It will depend on who you ask as to whether there was much for the hardcore gamer to get excited about (although the announcement that long-standing PlayStation 3 exclusive Final Fantasy XIII is in development for the 360 almost melted the internet) because following the remarkable success of the Wii, everyone is clamouring for a piece of the newly expanded casual gaming market.


Any third-party developer invited to present at one of these press conferences is clearly highly valued by the platform owner and Microsoft's briefing included sections from both Red Octane, developers of Guitar Hero and Harmonix, developers of Rock Band, illustrating the popularity of music games. Music games can straddle both the hardcore and casual gaming markets as they allow for great accessibility and yet still provide a challenge for kids with too much time on their hands. These two massively popular franchises are also demonstrating the power of downloadable content with in-game sales even rivalling iTunes. The cross-over from playing a game to making music will take a step further with upcoming releases of Guitar Hero World Tour and Rock Band 2. The former will include a studio mode allowing players to create and share their own songs while the latter's premium ION-made drumkit will also function outside of the game.

If playing 3/4-size plastic instruments isn't for you, Nintendo is developing Wii Music which will utilise its more sensitive Motion Plus Wiimote add-on to simulate playing over 50 instruments (even conducting an orchestra). You will also be able to use the Wii's Balance Board controller to act as pedals for your virtual drumkit. Nice touch.

The latest on our audio improvements

James Cridland James Cridland | 16:28 UK time, Wednesday, 9 July 2008

A few weeks ago, I posted about the audio bitrates for iPlayer beta, which is now the regular iPlayer.

In it, I mentioned: The future for live streaming is firstly to significantly improve the bitrate, and in parallel, that we were working on a Flash-based stream.

Well, as Robert Burns once said, 'the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry'. A few technical issues have transpired to push back our plans to do this a few weeks... which has magically coincided with a little thing called the Olympics. Any large organisation will sensibly have a code freeze during a big event, where no changes to network configuration or public deployment of code can take place - and we're no different. The upshot of all of that is that our changes to live audio quality will probably happen at the beginning of September.

Separately, I also ought to update you on radio's move to iPlayer, which has been very well received. You might have noticed that up until today if you visited, say, 1Xtra and clicked "listen live" you got the old radio console. We're slowly moving our networks over - and you'll spot more and more of these links now pointing over to the new iPlayer. (All your links will still work.) Our aim is to move nearly all of our networks over by the end of this week, with the biggest of them all, Radio 4, moving over on Monday. These times are subject to change, but I'd like to be as open as I can.

Finally, those of you with wifi radios may notice a temporary reduction in listen-again programmes. Rest assured, we plan to properly support wifi radios for listen-again going forward, and some of my team are working hard on new code to make manufacturers' jobs rather easier. Our apologies if your favourite show goes missing from your wifi radio in the next few weeks; we're working very hard to bring them back.

Once again, a reminder that this blog, and this post, normally deals with the BBC's UK-national radio stations only. In fact, I'm off to our colleagues in the BBC World Service this afternoon to tell them more about our plans.

Links for 04-07-2008

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Tristan Ferne | 16:04 UK time, Friday, 4 July 2008

First, some radio related hacks from Mashed the other week...

Mashed remote contrib: BBC music genres meet (meets OAuth)
Dan Brickley, who wasn't at Mashed but still created something, writes about building a genre summary for a user based on their favourites and our /music genre data.

My Mashed 2008 Hack: Recommending BBC radio shows and artists
Patrick, one of our developers, writes about his Mashed hack to build a recommendation engine based on what radio shows played what bands. I'm trying to persuade him to write more on the Radio Labs blog.

Linking Open Data: BBC playcount data as linked data
Yves writes about his hack showing some of the power of RDF by linking the BBC programmes data with Musicbrainz.

And some other BBC prototyping and innovation work...

URIplay - DNS for media
"URIplay is a name service for media content, giving each file a URI and a simple description. Think of it as DNS for media." One of the first projects from George and the BBC RAD team.

BBCi Labs
The first of an approaching horde of BBC Labs blogs.

And finally...

Dead Media Beat: Postage Stamps About Radio History

Bruce Sterling wonders "...which will die first: analog radio, or printed paper postage stamp".

More at

More about microformats...

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Tristan Ferne | 15:58 UK time, Friday, 4 July 2008

Since Michael posted about removing microformats from /programmes there has been quite a lot of discussion going on. Now over on the BBC Internet blog Jake Archibald and Jonathan Hassell explain more about why the BBC has started to remove microformats from pages that used the DateTime pattern.

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