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Democracy Live

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Mark Coyle | 13:22 UK time, Monday, 2 November 2009

dl_screenshot.jpgIf you're a user of Twitter, you may have spotted the quiet arrival of the BBC's new website called Democracy Live at the end of last week.

The site is officially launched today, but for technical reasons we lifted the barriers to the outside world on Thursday evening. Although we didn't announce its availability, such is the power of social media that people were quick to find us and start tweeting about the site.

Total Politics even reviewed Democracy Live on Friday and concluded by saying: "It brings a decidedly 21st-century edge to watching parliamentary discussion."

"DL", as it's become known in the BBC, is the result of about 18 months of development work.

It brings together, for the first time in the BBC, live and on-demand video coverage of proceedings in our national political institutions and the European Parliament. Democracy Live builds on previously available content in the form of video streams, guides and biographies.

But the real magic lies in the site's search function, which is unlike anything the BBC has done before.

By its very nature, the business of politics can be lengthy. Can you/would you watch an entire six-hour long debate from the House of Commons? Possibly. But you'd need to be a battle-hardened political observer or someone with a very keen interest in the subject to do so.

Democracy Live gives you the ability to search for a specific word or words spoken in the proceedings and the results will give you links to the points in the video where they were spoken. The ability to home in on the passages which are of direct interest and relevance to you is at the heart of Democracy Live's purpose.

Our search is powered by a speech-to-text system built by two companies called Blinkx and Autonomy which create transcriptions of the words spoken in the video.

Generally speaking, the industry standard for accuracy in speech-to-text systems is reckoned to be about 80%. In Democracy Live tests, we've seen slightly higher than that. We've taken account of different accents across the UK but the system might still be a bit confused by some words. Have a look at the explanation of how the site works for more about search and other questions you may have.

One aspect we're particularly proud of is that we've managed to deliver good results for speech-to-text in Welsh, which, we're told, is unique.

Blogs and websites have become as much a part of political reporting as traditional print and media outlets and that's why we're making as much of our video as possible available for embedding elsewhere.

At launch, you can take content from all the institutions with the exception of the House of Commons and the House of Lords (discussions continue with the authorities at Westminster). However, you can't edit our video for embedding. What you see is what you get.

You can also "Follow" a representative. Choose a biography - these come to us from the parliamentary experts Dods - either by searching for it or getting there from the 'Your representatives' section and click on the button in the top right. The 'Follow' function will appear on the site shortly.

Another innovation is the video wall on the home page. You'll be able to spot quickly when proceedings are live, and when they're not you can click through to an earlier item of business.

Elsewhere on Democracy Live, you'll find guides to each institution and a guide to who makes decisions in the UK's devolved system of government.

Politics and political debate are part of our everyday lives and events of the last few months have seen a renewed interest - for positive and negative reasons - in what goes on in our political institutions.

We hope that Democracy Live proves a useful addition to how people access and understand these processes. Let us know what you think by email at democracylive@bbc.co.uk. You can also follow us on Twitter at bbcdemlive.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    Mark Coyle:

    Thanks for bringing to the community, this excellent
    service....

    =Dennis Junior=

  • Comment number 3.

    The "how the site works" link is 404ing at the moment.

    The speech to text is a great innovation - though it'll be fun finding more words and phrases that trip it up. Searching for "Lisburn" (a city ten miles south of Belfast) shows a lot of references to the "Treaty of Lisburn" - instead of Lisbon! Without the context, a human ear would struggle to differentiate between the two.

    The video on the front page is impressive - good way to see who's working!

  • Comment number 4.

    I just registered to say kudos to the BBC for making this available and placing a link on their front page.

    It gives the opportunity for casual browsers to get more direct knowledge about our democracy, a good beginning in tackling the problem of political apathy, mistrust and media distorted views.

    I find it especially pleasing that you have included the European Parliament among the tv feeds, lets hope it creates greater understanding of what the EU actually does for all of us. That said their debates are not know for their excitement...

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 6.

    There may well be a conflict of interests with people wishing to use the new Democracy Live site and ISP's who impose a usage quota for their customers. Has this been considered by the BBC?

  • Comment number 7.

    With all the problems of bias and the Executive Editor of Question Time misleading readers to his Editor’s blog, I do not think the BBC should be running this feature. The words democracy and BBC do not go together well.

    For what it is worth I think that The Speaker should seek funding to have Parliament employ its own production company to handle its entire media output.

  • Comment number 8.

    Great Idea,democracy needs all the help it can get as its under attack from fundamentalists;freemarket fundamentalists that is,constantly!

  • Comment number 9.

    Why not link this in with www.TheyWorkForYou.com ? That site has a lot of information on MPs, complete with the Hansard (the authoritative record of what happens and is said in parliament). Would be a shame to duplicate effort.

  • Comment number 10.

    To KennethM,

    Should they call it the Ministry of Truth, and its production function the Tele-programmes Department (or Teledep in Newspeak)?

  • Comment number 11.

    What an excellent site - I have already posted a link on my blog to promote it www.grays8.freeserve.co.uk.

    It will surely become a point of reference for all interested in politics - can the bandwidth meet demand?

  • Comment number 12.

    #6. At 4:41pm on 02 Nov 2009, len wrote:

    "There may well be a conflict of interests with people wishing to use the new Democracy Live site and ISP's who impose a usage quota for their customers. Has this been considered by the BBC?"

    Why should the BBC be concerned about the commercial relationship between ISP and it's customer, if your ISP doesn't allow unlimited or fair-use bandwidth and you want to access content such as this (and I don't just mean DL) then you need to think hard about if your present ISP is offering you the best deal - never has the phrase about "Knowing the value of everything but the worth of nothing" been so true as when choosing a ISP, cheap isn't always best!

  • Comment number 13.

    #9. At 7:19pm on 02 Nov 2009, Tim Green wrote:

    "Why not link this in with www.TheyWorkForYou.com ? That site has a lot of information on MPs, complete with the Hansard (the authoritative record of what happens and is said in parliament). Would be a shame to duplicate effort."

    Whilst you have a valid point I must disagree with the comment that Hansard is the authoritative record of what happens and is said in parliament, that is simple not the case, Hansard (in it's corrected version) is the authoritative record of what an member intended to say - a subtle but important difference for researchers, journalists etc.!

  • Comment number 14.

    To put it on twitter is good. And it get the news out on the net.

  • Comment number 15.

    #14. At 11:20pm on 02 Nov 2009, Matthew Little wrote:

    "To put it on twitter is good. And it get the news out on the net."

    What, and these pages aren't the (Inert)net?!

    Very bad that this leaked onto Twitter before being officially launched on the BBC website, a bit like government policy being released to the media before a statement being made in the House...

  • Comment number 16.

    Democracy on the Go! Yeah, heading the right way!

  • Comment number 17.

    To Boilerplated. It was on twitter whan i look at it, but it is way things are going.

  • Comment number 18.

    Any plans to update the https://www.bbc.co.uk/parliament/ link to point to the new site located within the Democracy Live section? At present it still points to the old https://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/bbc_parliament/

  • Comment number 19.

    Really Excellent. The old politics site was a bit of a dusty backwater but this is truly excellent.

    I hope this new investment in technology can quickly recouped by rolling out across the website and subtitle services quickly to make best use of this worthwhile technology. I like the fact old material is a available.

    Well done great work.

  • Comment number 20.

    This is the problem with democracy: people are only interested in things that affect them.

  • Comment number 21.

    Pretty cool. Would be great to have RSS feeds for each representative's activity, as well as a user you can follow for each on twitter, identi.ca, etc.

  • Comment number 22.

    "But the real magic lies in the site's search function, which is unlike anything the BBC has done before."

    You mean it actually works!

  • Comment number 23.

    This is all very well, but is an example of politicians and the BBC seeking political engagement with the public by coming at it from the wrong direction. Whilst people no doubt need to understand what goes on in Parliament etc it is infinitely more important that Parliament understands what people want and think - something that our politicians seem unable to do or don't want to do. Information needs to flow upwards, not downwards. As a help, why can't the BBC make provision for readers to comment on each BBC website story ( a bit like the Guardian's CIF pages ) instead of the somewhat artificial, limited and contrived HYS system ? Then Politicians might begin to understand what people think and will be able to be held to account if they don't deliver accordingly. Too much to hope for I know, but it would be a good start.

  • Comment number 24.

    Any chance of you doing some work to correlate your voice recognition with the official hansard transcript?

  • Comment number 25.

    #24. At 10:19am on 09 Nov 2009, mrg017 wrote:

    "Any chance of you doing some work to correlate your voice recognition with the official hansard transcript?"

    I hope not, for the reasons I gave here, as I said, Hansard (in the 'corrected' version) is a record of what the MP intended to say, not always what they actually said.

  • Comment number 26.

    2In reply to comments @ #23:

    "As a help, why can't the BBC make provision for readers to comment on each BBC website story ( a bit like the Guardian's CIF pages ) instead of the somewhat artificial, limited and contrived HYS system ? Then Politicians might begin to understand what people think..//.."

    Sorry but the HYS forum is over run by rants rather than considered debate, to allow that sort of diatribe that onto the main news website would diminish the value of the BBC's news content and would not actually give politicians any insight into what the majority of people in the country think as the majority of people do not make comment via internet forums etc..

  • Comment number 27.

    In reply to #25 what i was thinking of was a way of looking at hansard and hearing what was actually said - I would expect that for some searches the voice recognition would fail but a search in hansard succeed and if they could detect the correlation between the audio and hansard they could still take you to the right place.

  • Comment number 28.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 29.

    Hello
    One of our group pensioners from https://www.pensioners.co.uk/ noted this which is a wonderful example of how the internet connects to democracy to make a difference to society. Quite uplifting to know that the silent majority can be heard, Anna Politkovskaya or Alexei Dymovsky all prisoners of conscience.
    https://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/russian_cop_uses_youtube_to_expose_police_corrupti.php

  • Comment number 30.

    When are we going to wake up to the simple fact that until we have an option to vote “no confidence in any of the participating parties ……………. “ we do not have democracy.

  • Comment number 31.

    I like the idea but the BBC promoting democracy. Fanciful.

    I do hope the great and the good will be asking for a true democracy. How about starting with a Democratic European Union instead of the European Socialist Republic.

    Might actually be the start of a popular revolution


  • Comment number 32.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 33.

    In principal, this doesn't sound like a bad idea. However.....
    I hope that BBC will include public forums for discussion of the issues after closing down the Radio 4 Today and the Radio 5 News Messageboards which were very lively with topical debate.

  • Comment number 34.

    Awesome site and to reiterate another comment the site search actually works. Thanks.

    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 35.

    I've known about this site for some time, and I think it's a fantastic idea. It's nice to see media attention on all aspects of government, beyond coverage of just Parliament itself.

    I also applaud the transcripts of all debates - this makes searching for relevant topics a dream!

    There is one aspect of implementation I find awkward though. Often you'll see suggestions of 'Short debates', 'Oral debates' and 'Select committees' to watch, with no further clues as to exactly what was being debated, or which committee was sitting. It would be nice if hovering over these items gave useful clues as to what they're about! This similarly applies to the schedules pages.

    It would also be nice if the Institution pages had more information about what's been recently debated, rather than just a snippet of videos (again, lacking any discernible information about the topics up for debate) and information about how that given institution operates (which is essential for most people, but of little interest once you know about it).

    Perhaps some aggregation of news stories from across the media (not just BBC News), that relate to whatever topic or institution you are currently viewing, would be useful too? Perhaps Google News would provide a good mechanism for this? This might also go some way to abating Murdoch's issues with BBC News!

    Finally, I'd like to make a potentially controversial suggestion. I like the idea of following representatives, but there's greater potential, given the live nature of the data you have available, to keep people informed about the people they follow. How about creating a BBC Twitter user for each representative that you track, and 'tweeting' whenever that representative speaks, or has been mentioned, in live/recently recorded coverage? You've already done most of this work with the transcripts and searching for mentions of representatives' names. It would be quite exciting to be 'tweeted' when your MP speaks in parliament, then switch over to live coverage to see what's happening, for example.

    Generally though, I see this site as only positive, and I look forward to seeing what innovations you develop with this wealth of data next!

  • Comment number 36.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 37.

    This is the way to cover politics. I've long said as a linear channel BBC Parliament just can't do it justice and it needed to be more interactive, and this does exactly that - and more.

 

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