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Automatically linking artists and news on the BBC Music Beta

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Patrick Sinclair Patrick Sinclair | 15:57 UK time, Friday, 31 October 2008

One of the challenges we face on the BBC Music Beta is to provide links to interesting and relevant content on the artist pages we are publishing - and keeping this information up to date.

On the current music site, the BBC Music Interactive team have manually entered links to news stories about a given artist. With the huge number of artists that we are now publishing on the Music Beta site (400,000 and counting), this would require an enormous effort to maintain these links. For example on Cliff Richard's profile there are two featured news stories about Sir Cliff - both dating from 2006. This stale data results in a poor user experience - if the featured news stories are two years old, the user might wonder if the site is actively being maintained.

On the BBC Music Beta we are taking a different approach. Using a simple technique involving hyperlinks and MusicBrainz, we can automatically associate news items and artists.

On many of the news stories published on BBC News journalists add related internet links. If a story covers a music artist, it might link out to their home page, their MySpace site or even a Wikipedia article. In MusicBrainz, each artist can have several URLs associated to them. By simply cross-referencing each link on a news story with the URLs in MusicBrainz, when we find a match we can confidently say that the news story relates to the artist associated with that URL.

For example, this story on confirming Madonna's and Guy Richie's split has a link to Madonna's homepage at http://www.madonna.com/. When we look up the http://www.madonna.com/ in MusicBrainz we find it associated with the MusicBrainz artist Madonna, allowing us to link to that news item from Madonna's artist profile. With this we can generate a news feed with RSS for any artist.

This simple technique is completely automatic and will perform across any of the 400,000 artists in MusicBrainz. As it is based on matching links added by BBC editors we can be very confident that a news item will be associated with the correct artist. We also believe that it adds value to the web, as BBC editors will be encouraged to add useful links from news stories so that these can be aggregated on artist profile pages. Editors from BBC Music will play a more active part in maintaining artist links in MusicBrainz instead of manually associating artists with news items, improving the data quality in MusicBrainz.

We would like to extend this technique on other music news sites besides the BBC but it requires that these sites link out to external sites, not just to their own pages. As discussed by Tim O'Reilly, there is a current trend for sites to prefer linking to themselves. Perhaps our approach to linking news stories with artists will encourage such sites to start linking out again.


  • Comment number 1.

    So really, you're suggesting that perhaps URLs are better artist identifiers than the rather obscure MusicBrainz hex strings?

  • Comment number 2.

    Both the artist URL and the MusicBrainz GUIDs are important!

    With the artist URL we can match the news item to the correct artist.

    But the MusicBrainz GUID allows us to publish one news feed for that artist at a stable, globally unique resource - the BBC Music Beta artist profile.

    We are hoping that as we improve our artist pages people will start linking directly to them and we can pull the MusicBrainz GUID straight out of the URL.

  • Comment number 3.

    I was thinking - why not get the BBC News staff to link directly to the BBC music pages, perhaps in the "See also" section of the page.

  • Comment number 4.

    Great, creative hack. Love it!

    Good way to avoid getting bogged down in semantic analysis and suchlike.

    It's very interesting how Myspace pages are in many places becoming a tool for authentication. What happens when people finally stop using their Myspaces?! It's happening... slowly but surely.

  • Comment number 5.

    You just blew my mind a little, this is such an elegant way to build the site!


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