Archives for February 2009

BBC HD Update: DOG Patrol

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Danielle Nagler Danielle Nagler | 19:10 UK time, Friday, 27 February 2009

Hello Everyone,

I'm sorry that you've been concerned about my demise. No - its not as bikenutt suggested that the questions are too difficult to answer.

But in terms of how I allocate my time, it seems most valuable to come on when I really have something to share with you, a difficult issue for me and the channel, or some news about developments. There is a lot happening, and I will have quite a few developments for you in the next couple of weeks

My time over the last month has been spent working on the future of the channel, our programming, and also on an interesting trip to the US to talk to broadcasters there who are further down the HD road. It is really useful to understand where we might be headed and obviously we want to make sure that the plans we make are likely to fit with where you - our existing, and I hope future audience - might want us to go.

I've also of course been busy on DOG patrol - making sure it doesn't appear where I've told you that it won't. In relation to that there have been questions from smithap66 about a DOG on 10 Days to War, and from paul_geaton about Nature's Great Events.

The decision I took was about the removal of the channel ident from drama and music programmes. Finding the DOG on those two is consistent with that since one is a current affairs/factual piece (albeit with some dramatisation around it), and the other is a natural history programme. So I do believe that - as promised - we have kept the DOG away from the programmes we committed to, and while I'm sorry about any irritation it may still be causing you, I did say that I did not plan to remove it from any other areas of programming for the time being.

There are also a couple of points raised about our sport content. Paul_geaton wanted to know why there was no surround sound on the Six Nations Rugby. We don't always put 5.1 on our sport output - it is an additional cost and one of those things that we weigh up on an event by event basis. Andrew Knight asks whether cost issues are conditioning our thinking about Formula 1 and HD - the answer is no, not really. A decision about F1 and HD sits primarily with the rights holder (F1/Bernie Ecclestone), rather than with the BBC. We are keen to do it as soon as possible.

Andrew Knight also asks about our plans for upscaled content and the migration of whole BBC channels into HD. The BBC wanted to offer a service that was HD in its entirety - that's why we have BBC HD for the time being, a channel which tries to bring together the best of the BBC's content in HD, with some obvious scheduling nightmares along the way when the "best" of one BBC channel clashes with the "best" on another.

Many other broadcasters have chosen instead to go down a route of simulcasting their main service, upscaling content where necessary. That is an easier option editorially in many ways - and maybe easier for you as an audience to find your way around. We didn't want to do that because we wanted to be able to offer you the content we felt could gain most from being made and shown in HD, wherever it was broadcast on the BBC. And any upscaled channel will inevitably at this point in our migration to HD contain a lot of non-HD content. I believe there will come a time when we do try to make at least one of our existing channels available in HD, but I hope that when we do so, non-HD content will be at a minimum so that the channel feels like a worthwhile HD viewing experience for you.

As I've suggested, there are some quite exciting things to share with you in the next few weeks - so I will be back.

Danielle Nagler is Head of BBC HD, BBC Vision

Interesting Stuff 2009-02-26

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Dave Lee | 12:29 UK time, Thursday, 26 February 2009

The BBC Trust has launched its public consultation on the much talked about Project Canvas. The consultation documents are here, including the BBC executive's application.

According to the Guardian:

The new venture will be open to any broadcaster or content company - from YouTube to the NHS to Five - to utilise to deliver interactive services and programming to Freeview and Freesat households.

Formula One! The Chain! Murray Walker! They're all back on the BBC! We're very pleased. Here's the complete run down of F1 coverage across all our platforms. Of particular interest:

Every session on the track will be broadcast live on the Red Button. There will be a choice of commentary between main TV network and Radio 5 Live; a split-screen option that will incorporate the main network feed, in-car camera, and a latest leaderboard; and a rolling highlights feed."
As well as the comprehensive on-track coverage, there will be an additional one-hour post-race analysis programme, immediately after the network programme goes off-air, on the Red Button. This will gives viewers the opportunity to share their views on the race's main talking points and to ask questions of the presentation team, Humphrey, Coulthard and Jordan."

And a (small!) selection of website features:

- An 'F1 mole', a diary-type blog featuring the latest gossip and inside stories
- Murray Walker's video race review following every race of the season
- Regular Murray Walker Q&A
- Interactive circuit guides including commentated laps with associated telemetry, embedded video footage, imagery and data

Really worth reading the whole list -- there's plenty going on.

ElectricPig is reporting that BBC iPlayer will be available on Freesat this year:

Discussing Panasonic's new Viera Cast technology, spokesman Matthew Billing told us the iPlayer would be absent from it at launch due to a sheer "lack of manpower" at the Beeb.
"The iPlayer will appear on Freesat this year," he said. "The team the BBC has working on that is probably the same one that will work on Viera Cast, so that will come later.""

Timelines are brilliant ways of displaying historical content, says Ant Miller, in this insightful post:

As it goes the BBC has some pretty groovy timelines in service, but by and large these are exquisitly hand crafted pieces of digital interactive animation. The next generation of tools are going to have to give that same slick and accessible interface, but to widely heterogenous assets, sometimes from widely different sources!

Dave Lee is co-editor, BBC Internet blog, BBC Online, BBC Future Media & Technology.

Interesting Stuff 2009-02-23

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Dave Lee | 16:25 UK time, Monday, 23 February 2009

The BBCi Labs blog has written a neat rundown of ideas developed at the 'One Big Day' event they held recently. The prototypes put forward are products of the One in Ten scheme, which allows staff spend some of their workiing hours doing something a bit experimental.

Picture from BBC iLabs Blog

Martin Belam has posted his third (and possibly final) post about the Points of View message boards. Opinions, it seems, are deadlocked. has a good interview with Erik Huggers, who shares his thoughts on the iPlayer, the semantic web and the end of Project Kangaroo.

Meanwhile, Anthony Rose has been introducing the next phase of the BBC iPlayer. Broadcast Now reports:

[I]t synchronises iPlayer on all of a user's devices, such as PC, mobile phone and PS3. This means that if you stop watching a show on your computer, you could continue watching it from exactly the same point on your mobile."
Second, the application allows users to select MSN Messenger friends with whom they can share their iPlayer experience. The application replaces the usual iPlayer navigation at the top of the web page with three categories: Me, My Friends and Everyone."

Ian Forrester at Backstage says there won't be any bigger scale events like Mashed this year -- but that's not to say there won't be plenty going on. He's posted a calendar here.

On the Backstage mailing list, a real life dilemma has spawned a virtual solution. Tom Morris' Radio 4-loving mother failed to find a programme online, so he patched together a work-around allowing users to search for descriptions of shows.

Dave Lee is co-editor, BBC Internet blog, BBC Online, BBC Future Media & Technology.

Interesting Stuff: BeebCamp 2

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Dave Lee | 14:25 UK time, Monday, 23 February 2009

We like to think we're an innovative bunch here at the BBC, and so events like 'BeebCamp' are a very important part of what we do.

The first BeebCamp, held last year, was a resounding success. Last Wednesday saw the second unconference organised by BBC staff. Taking inspiration from the popular BarCamp events, BeebCamp is designed as a collective, spontaneous bashing together of ideas, with no set structure to the day. In attendance were mainly BBC employees, but with a few external thinkers invited in for good measure.

Sadly, the BBC Internet Blog team couldn't attend, but thanks to the plentiful amount of bloggers in attendance we needn't miss out on the chat.

Roo Reynolds has written this great round up of the day's themes, events and conclusionsN.B. This is a link to last year's Beebcamp. Apologies - Ed.

Ian Forrester, from BBC Backstage, has posted a selection of videos from the event. Here's a discussion about what we should do with the official @BBC Twitter account.

More of Ian's videos can be found on the BBC Backstage channel.

Rachel Clarke, senior project manager at twentySix London, provides a non-BBC look at proceedings with her round up.

Charlie Beckett, director of POLIS, ran a session on User-Generated Content (UGC) and blogged his thoughts here, recalling events on the now infamous snow day:

The BBC famously got 60 000 people sending in pictures and video during last month's snowstorms but, as I asked, why not just stick it all on Flickr? Why bother with all this stuff?
The answer from the technologists was various. Firstly, it must add value. There is enough content on the Internet already, the BBC shouldn't add to it just for the sake of it.

Photo by Steve Bowbrick

Jason DaPonte left BeebCamp with an idea burning a hole in the back of his mind: Would it be possible to have a pre-pay BBC?

Jason writes:

Would this water down the quality of our content? It could. And that would be a disaster; but I suggest that we would only allow ideas that clearly deliver public value and were true to the BBC purposes and values into the system in the first place to avoid this. Yes, we still need commissioners and editors to perform this function - I'm just proposing a more direct and accountable connection with audience members.

Could it work?

No chance, says Nick Reynolds:

Underneath it is the argument you sometimes hear from people who say "I only like Radio 4 and Radio 3 so why can't I just pay for that?".
The answer is "because there probably aren't enough of you to fork out the millions of pounds to keep them on the air".

Philip Trippenbach says maybe, but with some restrictions:

I'd say widespread, constant community polling is a great thing and should happen. But I don't think the number of viewers who are prepared to pay for something should dictate whether it gets made or not. It should be - and is - relevant to programming decisions, though.

While you're on Philip's blog, check out this post for a tidy round-up of blogs about issues discussed at BeebCamp.

You can take a look at the reams of photos taken at the event here (or by using the slideshow at the top of this post).

Attendees and others have been busy tagging BeebCamp-related articles/blogs on Delicious -- find them here.

And finally, see micro-reactions via Twitter here.

Dave Lee is co-editor, BBC Internet blog, BBC Online, BBC Future Media & Technology.

BBC News Radar

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Jake MacMullin | 08:21 UK time, Friday, 20 February 2009

The BBC News Radar displays a list of recently published stories from any section of the BBC News web site. It displays both stories that have just been published for the first time and stories that have been recently updated. We've had an internal application of the same name within the BBC for some time - so I can not claim any credit for the idea of displaying all of our new content in one place. This prototype has been developed to explore the idea of providing a publicly available version of this application. We look forward to hearing your feedback.

Read more and comment at the Journalism Labs blog.

Jake MacMullin is a Senior Software Engineer.

Interesting Stuff 2009-02-19

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Dave Lee | 20:28 UK time, Thursday, 19 February 2009

BBC News was hit by some technical problems earlier this afternoon, preventing users in certain areas accessing the site. Steve Herrmann explains on the News Editors' Blog:

The BBC News website was temporarily affected by technical problems this lunchtime which meant users in the UK were unable to get onto the site for about 20 minutes as a result of problems with our London servers. We're sorry for this, the site is accessible again now and we are looking into exactly what happened and why as urgently as we can.

Steve Herrmann isn't the only one with technical headaches. BBC New's Click team had a bit of a problem on a recent jolly to Barcelona.

In town to cover the Mobile World Congress, the team found themselves in a nightmare when their equipment encountered a little trouble -- the tape got stuck. Thankfully, BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones whizzed back to London with the camera, allowing specialist BBC engineers to take control of the situation.

Brilliantly for us, the whole episode was documented on TwitPic...

The good news is that somehow they managed to rescue the tape (we're assuming without using that hammer), footage intact, and the show will be on the BBC News Channel as planned this Saturday. Phew.

If you're a fan of the show you can get all the behind the scenes action by following them on Twitter (@BBCClick). We were extremely impressed with this:

Yesterday we posted Ashley Stewart-Noble's piece about the BBC Flickr pool. Senior software engineer Curtis Poe enjoys his moment in the spotlight -- a picture of his hand was used to illustrate a radio show.

Congratulations are in order for the BBC Mobile team: they won the 'Best Mobile Video or Audio' award at the Global Mobile Awards 2009 on Wednesday night.

James Cridland offers some early reflections on the Radio 4 blogging experiment. It's good, he says:

More fascinating are the comments - discussing only the way the Radio 4 audience would be expected to. "Mr Damazer sir, would you be in the marketplace for a suggestion for an afternoon play repeat?" asks one correspondent, while another says: "To paraphrase; good programmes should: make most people smile some of the time, some people smile most of the time and on no account should anyone never smile once at all throughout a whole programme/series." '

Charlie Beckett reports on workshops on UGC and the Digital Revolution from Wednesday's Beebcamp.

And finally, if you're wondering why the BBC's Twitter masses has been a little quieter today, that's because we've been unable to access the site from within the BBC. Hopefully we'll be back tomorrow.

What is PIPs?

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Jonathan Tweed Jonathan Tweed | 11:07 UK time, Thursday, 19 February 2009

There have been a few posts recently that have mentioned something called PIPs, but what is it and what does it do?

PIPs (Programme Information Platform) is the programme metadata system behind all of the BBC's online offerings, including BBC iPlayer, BBC Programmes and BBC Search. It is also used to supply programme metadata to the eRadio application on Red Button and going forward will be the source for all audience facing programme metadata distributed by the BBC.

As an aggregation platform for programme metadata, PIPs sits at the heart of the publishing chain, pulling together metadata from multiple sources both inside and outside the BBC. It might seem strange that the BBC should need to aggregate its own metadata, but the reality of separate divisions, platforms and processes means that everyone does things differently.

Most of our data (all TV and national and nations radio) is provided by Red Bee Media, but other parts of the BBC, such as World Service, self provide their own metadata. English local radio is another interesting example. For local radio the schedules are entered by a BBC team in Birmingham, using a scheduling system provided by Unique Interactive. In each case the metadata is then further embellished directly in PIPs by interactive production teams, who add things such as images, related links and other supporting content using the Programme Information Tool - an editor for PIPs data.

As you can imagine, with this many sources and destinations for the data if everyone talked directly to everyone else things would quickly become unmanageable and fragmented. PIPs takes the strain to simplify life for everyone else. We ingest data in multiple formats (TV-Anytime, DAB EPG and our own XML format) and over multiple protocols (HTTP and FTP). We then add nice web friendly IDs (the PID that you should recognise from BBC iPlayer and BBC Programmes) and make the data available to downstream systems in a single consistent way: a REST API and our own custom XML format.

As new sources come online, and there are plenty more to integrate - Archive, non-English World Service, Worldwide and News to name just a few - they "just work" downstream, at least from a metadata perspective. For example, when Local Radio was added to PIPs, BBC Programmes and BBC Search started publishing pages and generating results for all 40 stations automatically, with no changes required to their applications. Of course, they subsequently went on to make a few minor tweaks to deliver a better experience for users interested in those services, but they were icing the cake, not baking it again.

By using PIPs everyone has access to the same metadata with the same IDs, ensuring consistency and easy integration between platforms. Data sources can change, data exchange formats can be swapped and new sources can come online and noone needs to know the difference. PIPs adapts and everyone else carries on as normal, the details hidden behind a powerful abstraction.

In his recent post about integrating local radio into BBC iPlayer, James Hewines said:

Each [division] is empowered with the editorial autonomy they need to ensure we end up with a mix of content [...] At the same time, the sheer physical dislocation of these divisions means that they have evolved distinct production and distribution systems. The challenge is stitching these elements together so we don't expose our seams to the audience."

That's what PIPs does.

Jonathan Tweed is Product Manager, PIPs, BBC Future Media & Technology.

BBC iPlayer Flickr group

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Ashley Stewart-Noble Ashley Stewart-Noble | 14:06 UK time, Wednesday, 18 February 2009

In one of my previous posts I mentioned that I manage a Flickr pool for BBC staff to submit their images for use on all the network TV and Radio stations that appear in iPlayer (around 20 channels). These images appear, through syndication, on BBC iPlayer, the BBC homepage, our programme sites as well as the other portals we run here.

Our images come from a variety of sources. BBC Pictures supply us with the professionally shot imagery for the BBC's highest marketing priorities, we have our internal archive of images stretching back to the beginning of our broadcasting history (though the majority of this has yet to be digitised) and we use photo agencies.

The BBC has an ongoing commitment to commissioning professional photographers to illustrate its output and that will never change. However, digital cameras and the internet have created a new generation of amateur photographers and the Flickr group is one way for me to harness this amateur potential, enhance the BBC's professional offering and give people the chance to engage with the BBC.

We use the Flickr group to send out requests and notifications - due to the nature of iPlayer, we can't credit images, but I like to let contributors know where their images will be used so they can share the bragging rights and enjoy the small amount of kudos it brings.

After only four months, the pool has passed the 1000 image mark and to date my team have used around 100 images from it to illustrate our sites - a drop in the ocean of the 3000hrs of programming per week that need illustrating.

I've been asked why the Flickr pool is for BBC staff only:

1) I need to ensure that the people submitting images are who they say they are - so if there is a copyright issue I can address it with them directly.

2) I am one man who leads a busy team and I currently don't have as much time as I'd like to open the group out to a wider audience.

Having said that, I am researching ways and means to open the group up to a wider, more public audience, so watch this space.

Images used so far from the pool include:

(click to enlarge)

A Passage to India

Used on this page. Supplied by Kahmac.

Iain Burnside - Venice

Used on this page. Supplied by polkadotsoph.

The Essay

Used on this page. Supplied by phil-jackson.

Ashley Stewart Noble is Senior Content Producer, BBC Online, BBC Future Media & Technology.

Interesting Stuff: RAD Lab hard at work

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Dave Lee | 10:42 UK time, Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Jemima Kiss has lifted the lid on a top-secret BBC project ... almost:

The first product of the [RAD] lab is this: the social media guide. It's a personalised aggregation tool for online media content, pulling in not just BBC TV and radio but your favourite content from YouTube, 4OD and the rest of the web. It's extremely sexy, but, alas, in closed beta and extremely hidden. So hidden that we're not allowed a screen grab of it in case anyone panics and thinks it's a real, finished product.

The good news is that you can follow developments at RAD (that's Rapid Application Development) on the new RAD Lab blog. So far, Chris Needham has been explaining experiments in RadioDNS.

Dave Lee is co-editor, BBC Internet blog, BBC Online, BBC Future Media & Technology.

Interesting Stuff 2009-02-17

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Dave Lee | 13:47 UK time, Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Did you watch the rugby at the weekend? Message board user 'battlingbot' did, and got a bit of a snotty surprise:

Just watching the rugby match with wales v england and the referee just blew snot out of both his nostrils in Full High Definition and Dolby Sound Effects and in close up.

Lovely. Perhaps one of the few examples of when HD isn't a good thing.

The Points of View message board goes on -- and shows no sign of slowing down just yet. Ex-BBC man Martin Belam writes on his blog:

It is a fascinating online cultural smash, but, the fundamental problem still for me seems to be that just because the BBC can do a board dedicated to general chit-chat about TV, should it? It has never really been clear to me what the POV users get on that they couldn't get on the message boards at Digital Spy or UK Nova."

And as I write this, Martin has posted a follow up post, saying:

The only real reason for having a Points Of View messageboard is if programme makers and executives engage with the views expressed there. If it isn't going to be able to achieve that, then it isn't great value for the rest of us who are paying the Licence Fee to subsidise a chat forum for the 50 or so regular users there."

Over on the iLabs Blog, BBC software engineer James Parkin reminds everyone that you can get rid of the (potentially) annoying 'Press Red' logo on your TV:

If you want to hide it and are watching Freeview try pressing the green button. On services other than Freeview, you need to press a different button to remove the trigger. Here is the complete list: Freeview - Green. Sky - Back Up. Virgin Media - Blue. Freesat - Green or Back.

BBC Online's Robert Burns mini site received over half a million pageviews in January.

Last week we announced that Mark Damazer, controller, Radio 4, has started blogging. His entries are making waves -- even being featured on page 3 of the Daily Mail at the weekend.

Dave Lee is co-editor, BBC Internet blog, BBC Online, BBC Future Media & Technology.

Welcome to the RAD Labs blog

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George Wright George Wright | 20:37 UK time, Monday, 16 February 2009

Editor's note - there's a new blog in town! As always we wish George and his team well.

Hi everyone. You're reading the first post on the new blog from the people working in RAD. We're a new, small team within BBC Future Media and Technology. I'm George Wright and I head up RAD. I have, and will continue to, blog on the main BBC Internet blog ( available here )

RAD works on near term prototypes, products and services across all digital platforms. We're part of a wider group encompassing Mobile, Audio and Music, and are based in London, W1. Our colleagues in Audio and Music already have an excellent blog at Radio Labs, as does the Journalism team, and we hope to emulate their approach to sharing new ideas and gain insight into your thoughts using the Web.

RAD completed recruitment and opened its doors in November 2008. We have a remit which stretches across all digital platforms and content areas, trying to help shape the BBC's thinking, encourage liaision with longer term research (both internally, within the BBC's fantastic R&D department, and externally, be it with academic partners or startups), and release code and output which delivers new ways of tackling problems like distribution for AV content, service discovery, UI and UX for new platforms, and much more.

Read more and comment at the RAD Labs blog

George Wright runs the RAD (Rapid Application Development) team in BBC Future Media & Technology.

BBC iPlayer on Virgin: 100 Million Views

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Rahul Chakkara Rahul Chakkara | 18:42 UK time, Friday, 13 February 2009

In April 2008, we launched the first phase of TV iPlayer on Virgin.

Then, I blogged about how getting BBC's on demand content into the living room and onto the television was a big deal. It seems, our audience agree. Since June 2008, when we went live with the final phase of TV iPlayer, we have had more than 100 million programme views.

I had high expectations but even so, this is a staggering result.

Gideon Summerfield, product manager for TV iPlayer, is going to give more details next week.

Virgin was the first platform because of the size of the addressable audience (3.4 million households). Since then, we have been working at making BBC iPlayer available on other platforms and devices. Our challenge is to maximise reach this emerging market whilst maintaining a familiar and trusted BBC iPlayer service and remaining cost-effective.

I'll keep you posted on our future plans.

Rahul Chakkara is Controller, TV Platforms, BBC Future Media & Technology

Interesting Stuff 2009-02-12

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Dave Lee | 14:30 UK time, Thursday, 12 February 2009

Another day, another site launch. Here's the new page for Nature's Great Events.

You can watch plenty of clips from the show, including this one featuring a polar bear sliding along some ice with its cub, all set to the peaceful soundtrack of David Attenborough's legendary commentary.

The BBC News Channel was in a spot of bother over this image, which was used -- without permission -- as a backdrop for an interview.

Here's a post from Bitter Wallet explaining the whole saga:

Bailey contacted the BBC to ask what the blithering hell they were playing at. With not even a stump to stand on, the BBC admitted the fault (all the time referring to some previously unknown website called Flikr), while offering to pay Bailey a nominal amount and insist he stop bad-mouthing the organisation"

Thankfully, as this Guardian piece explains, the matter has been resolved amicably:

"Someone from the BBC called me and I feel happy with the explanation," Bailey told Smith.
"I previously felt I was being ignored by the BBC when my intellectual property had been infringed. I think the BBC will walk away with knowing they have to be careful with broadcast images and they will have to have tighter controls."

PaidContent has this intriguing piece about how men tend to gravitate towards sites like BBC iPlayer (with its categorised content), while women go to search engines to find what they need. [Insert old chestnut gag about men not wanting to ask directions here.]

And while on the subject of iPlayer, Virgin Media has revealed that iPlayer content has been viewed over 100 million times via the cable digital provider's on-demand service.

Red Nose Day is fast approaching, and already we're hearing of ways people are using the web to raise money. TwitterTitters is attempting to gather comedy writing via Twitter, which it'll then publish to raise some cash.

Dave Lee is co-editor, BBC Internet blog, BBC Online, BBC Future Media & Technology.

Better audio for BBC Radio online

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James Cridland James Cridland | 20:47 UK time, Wednesday, 11 February 2009

It's been some time in coming, but today marks the next step in improving the audio quality of BBC Radio online.

For our UK-national radio stations, if you become an BBC iPlayer Labs tester (and you're in the UK), you can try our new live streams.

They're much higher quality than we've offered in the BBC iPlayer before now; using the AACfamily of audio codecs, we're offering great audio quality without using all your bandwidth. And, just as importantly, the streams don't need any new software - just a recent version of Flash Player. No media players, no Totem or VLC, no plugins for Quicktime.

We're rolling this out in today's iPlayer update under the "iPlayer Labs" label to gain an understanding of how the streams perform in real life. Our embedded media player lets us know when you have buffering issues, for example; and we'll be using the information we gain from this to further tweak our streams before we make them the default in a few months.

During this time, we'll play with the bitrates, to see what effect that has, as well as the embedded media player's code to make it more resilient of choppy network conditions. So don't worry if the audio quality goes down or up, or if it fails altogether - this is a test, after all. The system producing these streams is not also fully resilient, so you'll spot some short periods of downtime (during which time you'll proabbly want to stop being a Labs tester). We'll try to make these breaks as few as possible.

We're now also using AACfamily streams for the listen-again service. This went live today for everyone; though you'll currently see (and hear) no difference, you might spot that your internet bandwidth usage is significantly less, which should be good news for those on limited bandwidth connections.

I'd be really interested in your feedback in our live streams, as we continue testing them.

James Cridland is Head of Future Media & Technology, BBC Audio & Music Interactive..

Interesting Stuff 2009-02-09

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Dave Lee | 13:20 UK time, Monday, 9 February 2009

Today's blog post is sponsored by Twitter, the world's most popular microblogging service.

I'm kidding, of course, but some BBC Radio listeners have been feeling a little overwhelmed by the explosion of Twitter-chat over our airwaves, suggesting that DJs are unfairly (and annoyingly) publicising the networking site. We blame Jonathan Ross.

BBC tweeters will be trying to make sure they don't make the same mistake Peter Horrocks did. The head of the BBC newsroom inadvertently announced some job appointments using his Twitter account.

The Guardian's Media Monkey tells us:

Radio 4 boss Mark Damazer is to become the first BBC radio station controller to have his own blog and will make his debut today, Monkey can reveal. No word yet on whether there will be a "green ink" button for the station's famously sensitive listenership to make their comments."

And here it is! The new Radio 4 blog from Mark. He's made an enthusiastic start:

It may not work--but I thought that given the nature of the R4 audience--loyal, demanding, inquiring--I am hopeful that I will learn some useful things and that you will feel more in touch with the station."

PaidContent has this interesting interview with the BBC's Future Media controller, Richard Titus:

We have a lot to do. The BBC, historically, hasn't been as good at reaching younger audiences - mobile is a way that we can build a bridge. We have to get beyond news, sport and weather (on mobile). Mobile skews younger, very similar to our radio mandate ... many of them don't have laptop computers... we need to start targeting services and products there. Twenty percent of the audience for BBC Mobile uses no other services from the BBC."

This article in the Financial Times on Sunday explores the mobile ambitions of the iPlayer further.

Any readers out there that make use of the /programmes XML may be interested in this bug discussion.

Finally, Jem Stone, BBC Communities Executive, Audio and Music, has written one of the most insightful pieces on integrating Twitter that I've read for a long time. It's a whopper, but well worth reading.

Dave Lee is co-editor, BBC Internet blog, BBC Online, BBC Future Media & Technology.

Interesting Stuff 2009-02-07

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Dave Lee | 14:51 UK time, Saturday, 7 February 2009

Firstly, the sad news that Katherine Everett (right) one of the pioneers of the BBC's adventures in "new media", died on Wednesday night after a long illness. She was 51.

The BBC's director of Vision paid tribute to her colleague, saying:

Katharine was also a pioneer on the broadcasting side of the industry. More than 10 years ago, Katharine led the BBC's groundbreaking approach to digital television, modern channel planning and new services, and integrated interactivity in the heart of our shows."
She will be greatly missed and much remembered."

Project Kangaroo -- a venture that would have made content from the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 available on one on-demand service -- has been "blocked" by the Competition Commission. You can read the report here.

Media Guardian's Mark Sweney calls it a "setback rather than a disaster".

The decision hasn't been popular with advertisers. Matt Simpson, chairman of the IPA Digital Media Group, told Brand Republic:

Kangaroo was held by a lot of agencies as a potential catalyst for spending and investment into digital."

The Times' business editor David Wighton blasts the decision:

It's hard to contemplate being cruel to a Kangaroo - but the Competition Commission has ruthlessly hunted down Project Kangaroo, a website that had promised to give viewers the best of British television in one place, for free."

Our long-running discussions about the Points of View message board has led to this piece in the Media Guardian. Jemima Kiss delightfully describes the debate as a "brouhaha". Our own Nick Reynolds says there's no "conspiracy" to shut the boards, but rather:

We're trying to be very open about it. We're thinking aloud..."

Jemima throws her thoughts into the ring with:

I can recognise the concerns from users, especially if they have built up a community of fellow regulars on a format that works for them. But I can't help feeling that longer term, messageboards have too little structure to easily invite newer users, are complex to browse and don't have the topicality of chronologically organised blogs. Aren't they just a legacy format, headed the same way as betamax? It's not that blogs are the perfect answer, but that answer is probably a combination of many things far more open and distributable than messageboards.

And the Points of View communitity have reacted and commented.

As a final thought, Blogcetera asks the questoin "Is watching TV on your mobile worthwhile?":

Sport has been one the most promoted services particular football, but it does tend to turn into a video version of that old standby the "Spot the Ball" competition."

His argument reminded me of a blog written at the end of last year by (BBC employee) Jon Jacob:

What hit home more than anything else was the way I was watching it. In recent months I've done battle with a man who reckoned that people are incapable of concentrating on small videos for any longer than 3 minutes. Any more than the magic three minutes and they'll lose interest and go some place else. Nonsense, I responded to him in an email. If the subject material is good people will watch."

Dave Lee is co-editor, BBC Internet blog, BBC Online, BBC Future Media & Technology.

Creating a great user experience for the whole world

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Tammy Gur Tammy Gur | 12:29 UK time, Thursday, 5 February 2009

If you have been following the BBC's web services you'll have noticed the sites transform their design over the course of the last year. The sites have been moving from a narrow design to a contemporary wide-screen one, 1024 pixels wide. This move is part of the new pan BBC visual language mentioned in Richard Titus's post, a move which began with BBC's homepage.

The World Service followed suit in October with the relaunch of BBC Persian in the new format and this week with the launch of BBC Brasil.

Over the course of 2009, we will continue to re- launch the portfolio of sites; covering 33 languages, in doing so we will and have been facing some unique challenges. These challenges are subject of this post.

Change comes to the World Service online

The move to 1024 for the World Service sites could have been a fairly mechanical job of applying the BBC's new-look style guidelines, a new 'lick of paint'. Could have, but wasn't. Instead we took the opportunity to rethink our entire offering, both editorially and technically, to make it more appropriate to our many different markets. In other words, to take a step further in our ongoing journey of "localisation".

The look and feel employed currently across the World Service language websites, with the recent exception of Persian and Brazil, follow the model of "one size fits all". That one size is the (pre-1024) English news site. It ensured that the World Service offering was efficient in that it offered a consistent user experience and adhered to the principles of usability. I'm referring to those basic principles that apply to users regardless of their geographical location; the need to master the same techniques for navigation, scanning a page for what is most interesting, and following what is sometimes referred to as "information scent".

However, "one-size-fits-all" doesn't offer much flexibility to adapt to differing user behaviours, preferences and cultural differences. Not to mention the different types and standards of equipment that are commonly used by ordinary people in all those places. Remember: 33 different languages, 33 different markets as far apart as India and Brazil. Each of which hosts numerous local services that are (by definition) designed for the people there. How could a single-design really compete in such a variety of circumstances?

A Balancing act

Earlier I described localisation as an 'ongoing' journey. That's because editorially, the World Service language sites are already targeting their particular market. It may be a surprise for some to learn that the sites are not mere translations of stories written in English. Yes, the non-English sites do take and re-present the most relevant of the English-language content, but they also generate content specifically for the country and language groups they serve. The language services that produce the sites, are staffed by journalists who speak and write in the target language, and who know the target markets profoundly.

So how did the World Service team approach the targeting of a local market within the discipline of design and user experience as well as editorial content? And how can we resolve the tension between this and the need to operate strictly within the principles of a global brand?

There are four main aspects of the local markets we focused on to inform this work:

- The script: Latin-style scripts familiar to English readers impose a certain kind of design. Other scripts, including ones reading from right to left, using characters whose differentiation can be more subtle, suggest a different kind of design. In this area we looked at how to create emphasis, a flow of reading that is easy on the eye as well as how to balance the use of space within the page imposed by each script. These aspects impact the overall page layout, legibility and the treatment of the brand. They require bespoke treatment for each script.

- Editorial design: the layout of the content was looked at in order to reflect not only a hierarchy of importance within the editorial content that is unique to each site, but also the density of content on pages that is expected by users in the market. We also focused on the balance between images and text to denote types of content, as well flexibility in layout that would better reflect the dynamism of the news and the production turn around to support this pace.

- Navigation:The focus here was to explore and research the reorganizing of varying types of information within each site in order to create site structures and a navigation mechanism that enabled easy and clear routes into and across the content.

- Interaction design: Some patterns of behavior such as interacting with carousels or the features that allow users to 'take away' elements of content and ingest in their sites, are familiar in some parts of the world but are not as intuitively understood by users in other parts of the world.

We used a variety of methods to gain a better understanding of these aspects within each market. We carried out a competitor analysis; we did some extensive 'number crunching' to interpret usage statistics and qualitative surveys. And we also engaged with the users themselves. We initiated online forum discussions, where we asked for feedback about specific aspects of the site such as navigation, legibility, layout etc. We also organized user-testing laboratories to find out about the interaction and usability aspects of the sites.

And as all who have worked in user centred design know: we made our designs pass through multiple iterations, informed by these findings, until we felt we got it right.

The solution: uniform building blocks arranged in unique compositions

The result of our research is a palette of common elements: a layout grid, an approach to the chunking of text blocks, an approach to information architecture, a varying set of interactive structures. All of them follow BBC principles of usability, accessibility, readability and simple common sense. All of them respect the BBC brand. However the arrangement of those common content elements into compositions is, or will be, unique to every language service.

Designers now have the tools, namely a repository of building blocks using a coherent style and functionality to make the content work with the visual characteristics inherent in the script itself. With these building blocks they are able to fine-tune the overall design of a piece to its market. They also enable creating sites and additional services that take into account an optimal use of the equipment and connectivity that most of the people in the market actually have.

The Work is not done

The work on the redesign will continue to evolve, even once the sites have launched, informed by the fast moving changes of the web but also and most importantly by the invaluable user feedback that active users provide.

If you are one of those who have already contributed, thanks! Keep those comments coming in!

Tammy Gur is Head of Design, BBC World Service Future Media.

New BBC weather site launched

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Richard Chapman Richard Chapman | 13:22 UK time, Wednesday, 4 February 2009

As I commented on this blog yesterday, like many other commuters I too have had to endure this week's snowfall. While we can't improve the British weather, we have now done everything we can to improve your BBC weather website.

BBC Weather has always used developments in technology to improve the quality of its output, dovetailing improvements in forecasting techniques with new and emerging broadcast platforms.

weather.jpgOn my first day at the BBC Weather Centre the output was focused mainly on forecasts on television. Today the Weather Centre is a fully multi-media operation with over 100 broadcasts a day, presented by a weather team of 22, on TV, radio, online and the red button.

It wasn't until 1998 that the first version of the weather website went live, and it was a very different looking site from the version that is available from today. We have had a couple of site refreshes over the last decade but nothing on the scale of today's offering.

Richard Chapman is editorial manager of BBC weather.

Read more and comment at the Editors at BBC News.

Interesting Stuff 2009-02-02

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Dave Lee | 16:37 UK time, Monday, 2 February 2009

Is it Jeremy Clarkson? Is it Leo Sayer? No! It's the amazing BBC White City snowman, spotted on my way to work this morning:

Note the quality of the sculpting -- how many snowmen have arms like that? Very impressed indeed. Twitter followers seem to think the resemblence to Clarkson is strong. So strong, in fact, that we've been asked to provide a Snow-Hammond and a Snow-May to complete the set. Snow-Stig may be a little easier, mind you.


The Digital Britain report last week has got those in the digital industries talking. The Guardian's Jemima Kiss writes:

The report says the corporation has big role to play in supply, education and marketing of new digital service and public awareness, but Chitty is concerned that the BBC seems to have become "increasingly unsure about spending on internet services" and of criticism from commercial rivals about areas they regard as unfair competition.
Azhar thinks the BBC's has an obligation to educate, entertain and inform the public about broadband services and new platforms, and nobody is better placed to do this.
Perhaps if this future involves the BBC building on this obligation through promoting and supporting our startups, the digital future will start looking far brighter. But the future is too important to be left to the businesses of the past.

For more discussion on the report, try our Backstage mailing list. Alternatively, 'finkelfan' has started a thread on the Points of View messageboard.

The BBC Trust's statement can be read here.


Michael Smethurst's post on the Radio Labs blog "How we make websites" has gone down well, with 773 delicious bookmarks at the time of writing, and positive reactions including this from DE Tools of the Trade.


BoingBoing describes the deal allowing the BBC to put 200,000 of the country's publically owned oil paintings online as "ferociously awesome". "The BBC is doing a great service to our knowledge of art," says Jonathan Jones on the Guardian Art Blog.


BBC Switch has launched 'Proper Messy', a new interactive drama. Fans will be able to receive text messages from characters, influence their decisions with comments and, in keeping with tradition, watch it on the telly.


There's nothing quite like seeing Duncan Bannatyne -- who celebrates his birthday today (along with a certain 22-year-old BBC Internet blogger) -- shout "do you think I'm stupid?!" at a poor Dragon's Den contestant. Well now enjoy such sharp reality checks online! (Although it's worth pointing out that the identity of the 'online' dragons are yet to be announced, so keep an eye on this one.):

From the press release:

The most innovative and entertaining ideas will be selected by the BBC to be pitched to the online Dragons. These encounters, capturing all the drama and tension that is the hallmark of the show, will be available exclusively online.


Fans of David Attenborough's latest work (and indeed, all of his previous work) will be pleased to learn that the veteran's 1950 series 'Zoo Quest for a Dragon' will be made available online. In David's own words:

Zoo Quest was a true adventure in all senses of the word. Looking back to over 50 years ago, it's interesting to see how the BBC's natural history documentaries were just as popular then as they are today


This post caught our eye over the weekend. Have you tried using the iPlayer to learn how to play some music?


Finally, Econsultancy has put up an interview with our very own Nick Reynolds asking about his approach to blogging and social media at the BBC.

Dave Lee is co-editor, BBC Internet blog, BBC Online, BBC Future Media & Technology.

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