Archives for June 2009

Shownar: reflecting online buzz around BBC programmes

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Dan Taylor Dan Taylor | 13:35 UK time, Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Today sees the launch of Shownar; a new prototype from BBC Vision which aims to track online buzz around BBC TV and radio programmes and reflect it back in useful and interesting ways, aiding programme discovery and providing onward journeys to discussion about those programmes on the wider web.

For as long as the BBC has been making programmes, audiences have been talking about them and we have done our best to showcase some of those conversations on-air, via programmes like Feedback and Points of View. However, it is only with the advent of the internet that those conversations have become accessible to a much wider audience. Here on bbc.co.uk we have a range of blogs, messageboards and other commenting tools, which enable users to talk about our output. However, much of the conversation about BBC programming inevitably happens away from bbc.co.uk on people's personal blogs or microblogging services such as Twitter.

Shownar screen shotShownar aims to track the wealth of activity that takes place around BBC progammes online and work out which are currently gaining the most attention. So why do it? To borrow from the site's About pages: "First, it will help you find shows that others have not only watched, but are talking about. Hopefully it'll throw up a few hidden gems. People's interest, attention and engagement with shows are more important to Shownar than viewing figures; the audience size of a documentary on BBC FOUR, for instance, will never approach that of EastEnders, but if that documentary sparks a lot of interest and comment - even discussion - we want to highlight it. And second, when you've found a show of interest, we want to assist your onward journey by generating links to related discussions elsewhere on the web. In the same way news stories are improved by linking out to the same story on other news sites, we believe shows are improved by connecting them to the wider discussion and their audience."

So, how does it work? In the first instance, we decided to focus on tracking in-bound links to programme-related pages on bbc.co.uk, so we could be confident that the discussions were actually about a BBC programme, rather than a different usage of, say, 'archers' or 'apprentice' (although intelligent keyword matching remains a future aspiration). Rather than develop technology to crawl the web ourselves, we decided to partner with data providers who were already doing that, and who could supply us with good, clean data. We took a look at a range of possible suppliers, and for this initial prototype chose data provided by Yahoo! Search BOSS, Nielson Online's BlogPulse (which indexes over 100 million blogs), and Twingly (which searches microblogging services like Twitter, Jaiku and Identi.ca for links, even when they are shortened using URL shortening services such as TinyURL and bit.ly). We are also ingesting data from LiveStats, the BBC's own real-time indicator of traffic. Once ingested, this data is processed according to a specially created algorithm to calculate the 'buzz measure' for every BBC programme - more detail on the algorithm can be found on Shownar's Technical information page.

The front-end interface offers a range of different ways into the data, from the 'fresh buzz' chart on the homepage, to the schedule heatmap which shades the 'hottest' programmes on each of the BBC's TV channels / radio stations (which also have their own pages). There is also a Catch up on iPlayer page, enabling you to filter programmes available to watch on demand by channel, genre and time of day. The genre cuts are particularly compelling, enabling you to see, for example, which Comedy programmes are generating the most buzz. There's also the blueprint, which provides full access to all of the data, including permalinks, so I can tell you that the most buzzed about factual TV programme at midday on Monday 22nd June was BBC Two's James May on the Moon.

The site has been live as an internal BBC beta for a few weeks now and it's already started to have a real impact on my consumption habits, introducing me to programmes I had missed in the schedules such as Radio 2's Back from the Dead: The Return of Spinal Tap, BBC One's Famous, Rich and Homeless and BBC Two's NASA: Triumph and Tragedy. It's also doing the job I hoped it would do in terms of onward journeys, with particularly rich discussion around Radio 4's The Reith Lectures. To find out how your blog links and microblog updates can end up on Shownar (and for information about moderation) visit the Get involved page.

We're keen to hear your feedback on Shownar, so please leave a comment below or send us your thoughts by email. If the prototype proves successful, we are hoping to integrate the functionality of Shownar into bbc.co.uk. Possible future developments include additional data sources and a full API.

Shownar was designed and built by Schulze & Webb, with input from a small BBC project team: Katherine Sommers, Mark Simpkins, Catherine Wingate, Yuri Kang, Andrew Barron, Chris Sizemore and myself. We hope you enjoy using it.

Dan Taylor is Senior Portfolio Executive, Internet for BBC Vision.

BBC R&D on saving the archive

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Ant Miller Ant Miller | 16:10 UK time, Monday, 29 June 2009

[Editor's note: This piece first appeared in Ariel last week.]

For 15 years a dedicated cadre of engineers and managers from R&D has been working to develop tools which will preserve the BBC's vast archive into the future.

The latest product of their efforts is the ASTOR demonstrator - (aka 'the world's heaviest laptop') which is currently being tested by the archive and network media research engineers.
Astor demonstrator
It's big, runs pretty hot, weighs close to half a ton, and can store dozens of hours of HD content, but perhaps most amazingly is that in its brief few months of existence, it's clocked up more than 10,000 miles. That's because in April, Rajitha Weerakkody and I took the prototype box along to NAB (the world's largest broadcast technology conference and exhibition) in Las Vegas.

The story began three years ago, when R&D started looking at the best ways to store large amounts of AV content in digital form. We produced a huge amount of data as well as recommendations and proposals, but it was clear that the digital storage industry couldn't match the needs of our archive, nor the needs of the thousands of other broadcasters who faced the same challenge.

Led by the technologist Richard Wright, R&D joined forces with academic researchers and industry experts to develop a new system which could manage the vast volumes of digital data. This became known as the 'Avatar-M' research project, and we revealed the first technical prototypes at the NAB. We're hoping to thoroughly test the kit at Kingswood over the summer, before enhancing the platform and possibly incorporating elements of the Dirac video codec (also produced in R&D).

In September the kit, plus its trusty band of demonstrators, will take to the road once more - this time to Amsterdam for the European forum for broadcast tech, IBC.

Ant Miller is Senior Research Manager, BBC Research and Development.

A Week in the Life of BBC Sports Stats

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Mike Hilton | 14:50 UK time, Monday, 29 June 2009

I lead a small team of developers charged with keeping the nation's sports fans informed with the latest sports scores, results, tables and fixtures (or, depending on your sport, tournaments, order of play, leaderboards, rankings, race meetings ...).

We have some great partners who supply us with 'raw' stats data across the breadth of sports and competitions that you demand. Our job is to group, collate, filter and format the information, and get it out to you on all the platforms you might want to access it from as swiftly as possible.

Read more and leave your comments on the BBC Journalism Labs blog.

Visualising radio - phase two

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Mark Friend Mark Friend | 15:53 UK time, Friday, 26 June 2009

vistrial.jpg

Over a third of people in the UK listen to digital radio each week and most of these devices have a screen. As a result, people increasingly expect visuals to supplement their listening. With that in mind, we're running a trial to bring a new level of interaction, including the faces and events of live radio, to the screens of your computer and your mobile.

This started at the beginning of June with 5Live's Simon Mayo show (5 Live's Interactive Editor Brett Spencer wrote about visualising Mayo here). At the start of this week the trial moved on to The Chris Moyles Show, Radio 1's Zane Lowe show, Switch, Radio 4's live science magazine show, Material World, and BBC 6Music's The Hub. The programmes in the trial represent a cross-section of BBC Radio output and target audiences in order to give us representative insights into how we can innovate and offer a much richer experience to those listening to their radio on a device with a screen, but without losing any quality to traditional radio output.

So how does this trial look to audiences? They will be able to go online to access the 'console' which will give them a whole new view of their favourite radio programme. The new 'console' will bring you live steaming video feeds from the studio, as well as giving you the opportunity to send messages into the programme, live DAB text, track listing information and even tweets from the Twittering classes. On other BBC blogs over the next week or two you'll be able to read about other aspects of the trial too, for instance, information about the video kit we're using (which is quite different from the tech you'll find in a TV studio).

It's important to note that this trial is not about turning radio into television. Early experience tells us that the pictures we get from our radio studios are very different from the material produced in BBC TV studios daily. There's something about the intensity of a filmed radio interview that I think you're going to find fascinating. But this is not just about AV - there is far more interactivity being offered to audiences through the new console. For instance, you can email the show directly from the console, and see the results of an audience vote on a 'swingometer'. We call this 'glanceable' content - the kind of stuff that will add something to your listening experience without being essential to it.

Another important aspect of the visualisation trial is our plan to share our findings with the rest of the radio industry, once the trial is complete. The whole UK radio industry needs to understand the implications of visualisation better and we're happy to help spread the knowledge we acquire during the trial.

5Live's Simon Mayo trial ran from 1-19 June. The remainder of the trial started with The Chris Moyles Show on Radio 1, and will run across all participating programmes until 31 July.

Posts by Brett Spencer on the News Editors blog and Guy Strelitz on the Radio Labs blog have already appeared and Mark Damazer, Radio 4 Controller, has written about the Material World experiment on the Radio 4 blog. Participants and listeners will be twittering their experience - on both sides of the glass and on both sides of the mic. Keep your eye on the hashtag #vistrial to read their contributions (but remember the BBC doesn't control what appears on Twitter).

Please join in with our experiment in adding pictures to live radio - on your computer or on your mobile - and let us know what you think, here on the blog or via the participating programmes.

Mark Friend is Controller, Multiplatform & Interactive, BBC Audio & Music

Interesting Stuff 2009-06-25

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Dave Lee | 17:50 UK time, Thursday, 25 June 2009

Since our announcement last week about the new, higher quality BBC Radio streams, we've had a variety of interesting feedback. CNet considers the implications of the announcement on DAB radio:


[U]pgrading iPlayer's streams is a walk in the park compared to upgrading a national digital broadcast infrastructure and the hardware that receives it. Pair this with wireless broadband technologies such as WiMax, and DAB's lifespan could be cut shorter still.

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AVReview reports on Danielle Nagler's blog last week about HD programming this summer.

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Anything that comes from the keyboard of Tim 'Father of the Internet' Berners-Lee should be listened to. The BBC's Tom Scott sent this our way: Berners-Lee's report into putting government data online. In his conclusion, Berners-Lee cites the BBC's Programmes pages as a good use example.

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Silicon.com has published this neat 'Cheat Sheet' for Project Canvas.

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Microsoft's Bing blog has a complete run-down of the interactive maps in use across BBC Online. It's an impressive collection!

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Blogger Dave Cross logs his frustrations about some support he got from the iPlayer team on his blog. Thankfully he managed to catch 'Leonard Cohen: Live in London' in the correct ratio in the end. (And thanks to Jonathan for sorting it out at our end - Ed)

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Congratulations to the BBC mobile team who have won a "Meffy" award for "TV & Video Service" for BBC iPlayer on mobile.

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And finally, this will be my last post as co-editor of the BBC Internet Blog as I move on to other sections of the BBC. It's been a pleasure being on the frontline of BBC relations with the tech community. If you're interested, I blog here, and tweet here. I'd like to thank Nick Reynolds for taking me on, and wish the new editor, Paul Murphy, the very best of luck.

Dave Lee was co-editor, BBC Internet Blog.

Visualising Material World

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Mark Damazer Mark Damazer | 11:20 UK time, Thursday, 25 June 2009

We're experimenting this week. Material World - our weekly science programme presented by Quentin Cooper - will be accompanied, live, by some pictures. It will not be television and I won't reveal exactly how it will work - but give it a try. The visuals will stay up for several days after the programme - so if you don't catch it live you will still be able to see it.

Read more and leave comments on the Radio 4 Blog

Mark Damazer is Controller, BBC Radio 4.

What's happening with Freeview HD?

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Graham Plumb Graham Plumb | 17:00 UK time, Wednesday, 24 June 2009

[The Editor: In our recent open post we had several questions about the roll-out of Freeview HD. This is the first post on the blog from Graham Plumb, Head of Distribution Technology, BBC Operations Group.]

The plan is still to launch Freeview HD on December 2nd at the Winter Hill transmitter serving Manchester and Liverpool. The plan has always been to roll Freeview HD out around the country following switchover and Winter Hill was selected as the first achievable transmitter. There will need to be a retrospective upgrade of regions that have already switched.

The originally mentioned date of November came from the fact that Winter Hill starts to switch over in November. But it was quickly realised that the BBC's second Multiplex (Mux B) that is being converted for Freeview HD actually switches over on 2nd December at Winter Hill.

The March 2010 date in the Ofcom document is simply the last backstop date by when Winter Hill has to be on air to comply with our licence conditions. They've built in a contingency (as already happens in switchover licences).

The BBC has been working on plans to deliver early upgrades to some stations (serving high populations) that are late in the switchover programme and would otherwise have to wait long for Freeview HD.

One example is London that switches over in 2012 but we're planning to upgrade its Crystal Palace transmitter in December this year. There are another four main transmitters that we plan to upgrade in the first half of 2010. We can give the names and dates of these transmitters in a little while when plans are a bit firmer. We are also planning an upgrade to the Digital UK postcode database, which will tell viewers when they can expect their transmitter to be upgraded to Freeview HD.

Although everything is still on track against plans, there are significant technical and contractual challenges - not least to get transmission and domestic receiver equipment through design, development and delivery stages within an ambitious timescale. As with any major technical project, there is always a risk of slippage due to circumstances beyond anyone's control. However, there is industry-wide commitment to rolling out Freeview HD as soon as possible, and good progress is being made on all fronts.

Graham Plumb is the Head of Distribution Technology, BBC Operations Group.

A new way to get travel news on the move (2)

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Ulyssa MacMillan Ulyssa MacMillan | 16:22 UK time, Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Usually the BBC's travel news service will tell you when engineering works overrun. This time, unfortunately, it was us who took a little longer than planned to get our new mobile travel site up and running.

Our new mobile travel news service offers a wider range of information on delays and disruption to all kinds of transport services.

You can search by road, postcode or town name to find the information that matters to you. You can sort the results by time or severity of delay, and find out if an earlier accident or traffic jam has cleared.

Most of us have journeys that we take frequently, so we've introduced the ability to personalise the service by creating a favourites list which gives swift access to the information you want in just one click.

For the first time, we're also offering public transport information. Whether you need updates on rail, ferries, air travel or the London Underground, the new service helps you find out what might affect your journey, so you can be prepared.

Hopefully your travel plans will go as smoothly as possible, but if you want to keep an eye on potential disruptions to your journey, please try our new service.

To use the service:
- click on the Travel news link on our mobile homepage
- or type the address www.bbc.co.uk/mobile/travelnews straight into your mobile phone
- or text the word TRAVEL to 81010 to receive a direct link (texts to the BBC cost 10-15p).

BBC Archive takes a trip to the moon

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Jim Sangster | 13:50 UK time, Wednesday, 24 June 2009

This week sees the start of a month of activities commemorating the first moon landings. You might have already caught James May on the Moon and there are more programmes lined up over the next few weeks. Tying in with this, I've just finished curating a collection of programmes for the BBC Archive site about how our relationship with the moon has developed in the last 50 years.
Presenters of the BBC's coverage of the first moon landings (from left to right): Patrick Moore, Cliff Michelmore and James Burke, standing in front of a large photograph of the moon

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BBC Red Button now available via BBC HD

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Michelle Melkman | 17:20 UK time, Tuesday, 23 June 2009

If you've got a Sky, Virgin Media or freesat HD set top box, you will probably know about BBC HD, the TV channel that offers best quality HD programming. However, you couldn't press red to access the BBC's interactive services from this channel.

Until now that is!

HDScreenExamples-HDBridge.jpg

Read more and leave comments on the Press Red blog
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HD Masters Conference Keynote Speech, 23 June 2009

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Danielle Nagler Danielle Nagler | 13:21 UK time, Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Hi,
I thought some of you might be interested to read a speech I gave earlier today at the HD Masters Conference in London.

I hope you will recognise within it the extent to which your comments do inform some of my thinking around HD (and there's a specific reference to the blog at one point). You might also want particularly to look at the list of titles of programmes which are now working in HD and will deliver to BBC HD over the coming months (towards the end of the speech).

All the best
Danielle


Given the collective insight and vision assembled here, I'm sure the ground swell of the HD revolution was apparent to all of you when you last met.

But it is just under a year since I took over as Head of BBC HD and I've found the events of the last twelve months dramatic. To see HD TV sets ranked alongside baked beans, olive oil and low energy light bulbs as the consumer goods that are bucking the recession is certainly not something I would have anticipated.

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Good Radio Club: a follow up

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Paul Murphy Paul Murphy | 10:30 UK time, Tuesday, 23 June 2009

While not everyone remains convinced that radio with pictures is anything other than television I've only seen good things about the Good Radio Club experiment being run by colleagues over at Radio 4. Bluntly speaking Good Radio Club is the juxtaposition of two different media, Twitter and a selected live radio broadcast, with listeners posting links and commenting on the programme while they listen. It's all made possible by the judicious use of the hashtag to round up the relevant tweets.

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By way of an introduction: Open Post, Monday 22 June 2009

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Paul Murphy Paul Murphy | 10:32 UK time, Monday, 22 June 2009

Hello, I'm the new editor on the BBC Internet Blog. I thought it was time for another open post where we invite you to post your comments and questions about anything to do with BBC Online, BBC iPlayer, BBC HD, and the BBC's digital and mobile services.

As I'm settling in at the start of my second week here, there will no doubt be many questions that I won't know the answer to but it'll be a great opportunity for me to find the person who does. I'm particularly interested in hearing what subject areas and topics you'd like covered or the types of posts you'd like more of. I was going to say something about the posts that I think work well but rather than pre-empt your feedback I'll do that in a week or two.

You can find the open post we did in May here and the very first open post way back in March is here.

Paul Murphy is the editor of the BBC Internet Blog.

Changes to international pages (3)

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 16:56 UK time, Friday, 19 June 2009

It's taken a little while to go through your comments and questions about the way we present content for audiences inside and outside the UK (see previous posts here and here). Our project team has helped me by answering a number of them below.

On the wider issue of being able to choose access to the UK/international front pages, we're continuing to look into possible options to address the concerns that so many of you have expressed.

Regarding the other issues raised, then...

Read more and comment at the Editors at BBC News

Steve Herrmann is editor, BBC News website

Another exciting new sound for BBC Radio

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James Cridland James Cridland | 10:30 UK time, Friday, 19 June 2009

"Welcome to the exciting new sound of Radio 1!"

Those words, spoken on 30 September 1967 by Tony Blackburn, heralded a new sound to the airwaves. And today on the BBC iPlayer, I'm proud to also be able to welcome something new - this time, an "exciting new sound" for all our UK national radio stations on the internet, as we make a number of changes to our live and on-demand streaming infrastructure.

The BBC iPlayer now uses Flash-based streams for live radio as well as on-demand radio on all our UK national radio stations (that's stations like BBC Radio 1, BBC Radio 7, or the BBC Asian Network). Flash Player is already installed in many corporate environments - and, since Flash is in use on many other websites (including the video for BBC iPlayer), chances are you'll already have it. For live radio, the BBC iPlayer requires Flash Player v9.0.115 or above - which has been freely available since December 2007. The current version is v10; and we're joining broadcasters like Absolute Radio in the UK and ClearChannel, CBS Radio and NPR in the US in using Flash as our default player format.

In the UK, we've taken this opportunity to greatly increase our audio quality: doubling the bitrates for most live streams, and using a significantly more efficient audio codec which increases the audio quality yet further. The results are excellent. For the technical, our UK streams are 128kbps AAC (192kbps for Radio 3, which has a wider dynamic level, and 96k for BBC Radio 5 Live, which is only available in mono). For bitrate watchers - AAC is much more efficient than MP3 at the same bitrate, and thus gives a significantly better sound. And yes, these bitrates are the same for both live and on-demand radio. Bitrates may change from time to time, but we'll let you know when they do.

Outside of the UK, we've also introduced Flash-based streaming: for both live and on-demand. We're hoping the convenience of our Flash-based streams are welcomed by our international audiences. For overseas listeners, we're using 48kbps HE-AAC v2 format stereo streams (known by some as aacPlus) for all our stations, excepting BBC Radio 5 Live which is a 32kbps HE-AAC v1 mono stream. Just as the UK, these bitrates are the same for both live and on-demand radio.

We've concentrated hard on getting the audio right, too - ensuring that we take a digital feed directly out of the transmission chain, rather than a previous rather roundabout route involving satellites. The processing of our audio quality is now tailored for listening at your desk or in your living room; and carefully optimised for online listening.

This is a really significant step - as the BBC's online radio services take a great leap in audio quality. It's been far too long coming; but now, you'll find the listening experience online is among the best we offer. I'm really proud of the audio quality we are making available today.

And there's more

I'm also happy to let you know today that we've made live streams for BBC Radio 1,2,3 and 4 available in Windows Media format for our overseas audience - a format hitherto unavailable. If you've an internet radio device, make sure you're using the ASX files we publish in the iPlayer help site: these changed location earlier this year.

I've posted a link to this posting in the BBC iPlayer radio messageboard, where I, and the rest of the community there, would be happy to answer any questions you may have - whether your question is about the BBC iPlayer or an internet radio device.

Happy listening.

PS: If you're a fan of BBC World Service, that comes fully to the BBC iPlayer in this new quality in the next couple of weeks; and nations and local radio streams will be upgraded by the end of the summer.

James Cridland is Executive Producer A/V Products, BBC FM&T Audio & Music and Mobile.

Moderation: Let's talk it over (2)

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Nick Reynolds Nick Reynolds | 08:45 UK time, Thursday, 18 June 2009

The last time Paul of the Central Communities Team discussed your queries about moderation it was (I think) a reasonable success.

Quite apart from anything else, as a result of the comments on Paul's blog post we were able to fix a small bug.

So we're going to try it again.

From 2 p.m. today Paul will be on the PM blog answering your questions again. He'll also respond to comments on this post, but you might be better to go to PM first.

Nick Reynolds is editor, Social Media, Central Editorial Team, BBC Online

The Green, Green Grass of Home

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Ashley Stewart-Noble Ashley Stewart-Noble | 14:45 UK time, Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Last night my Twitter alerts page for "BBC Homepage" lit up like a Christmas tree. On looking, I noticed that the sudden interest was caused by Tweets suggesting the BBC Homepage had changed its colour scheme to green to show solidarity with the Iranian protesters.

This is not the case.

The colour change was a pure coincidence and one that has appeared several times since the weekend, but only spotted and Tweeted last night.

green_bbc_home_pageWe change the colour palette on the BBC Homepage to tie in with the default picture that appears in the highlights box in the top right hand corner of the UK-facing homepage. When you click separate tabs, the colour palette changes. Last night's was green to pick up on the background of the image we used to showcase Comedy Extra. The colours we choose are also reflected on the international facing homepage which changes its palette when we change ours.

Colour changes on the home page are not made to reflect the news and sport agenda. Should breaking news interrupt our editorial schedule for that area, we default to the colour used by BBC News (Red).

grey_bbc_home_page2As a user, you can stop this colour rotation by going into the 'Add more to this page' section of the homepage and selecting a permanent default colour of your own. I find the colour changes a little distracting, so I have, with a nod to my Goth past, gone for grey.


Ashley Stewart-Noble is Senior Content Producer, BBC Homepage and BBC iPlayer, BBC Future Media & Technology

Radio With Pictures

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Nick Reynolds Nick Reynolds | 09:47 UK time, Wednesday, 17 June 2009

There's been a few things that (to our shame) we've missed on the Internet blog recently. One is BBC Radio (or Audio & Music)'s trial of "Visualising Radio".

5 Live's interactive editor Brett Spencer introduced the trials that started with the Simon Mayo show earlier this month.

Guy Strelitz looks at some of the technical detail on the BBC Radio Labs blog.

This week's Ariel, the BBC's staff newspaper, sent their reporter Adam Bambury behind the scenes to have a look. This is what he found.
Nick Reynolds is editor, Social Media, Central Editorial Team, BBC Online.

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More from the BBC Red Button "What If..." files

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Andrew Bowden Andrew Bowden | 10:43 UK time, Tuesday, 16 June 2009

When we're coming up with designs for new products, our design team tend to come up with a couple of different options so that the team can sit down and discuss what works best.

And it was no different in the early days when the BBC's red button pioneers were trying to work out what their new service would look like.

One idea was the very Ceefax inspired idea I wrote about recently. And with grateful thanks to the fact that no one has cleaned up our servers, I can show you one of the other options...

Read more and comment at the Press Red blog.

Andrew Bowden is Senior Producer, TV Platforms team, BBC Future Media & Technology.

Changes to international pages (2)

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 10:02 UK time, Tuesday, 16 June 2009

We've read through every one of your messages about the changes we made last week to the BBC site. What's clear is that many of you who've commented would rather we hadn't made them.

Many of you have explained why you liked being able to choose whether you see the UK or international version of the site, wherever you are in the world. The changes mean that's now decided automatically, depending on your IP address - where you are...

Read more and comment and at the Editors blog.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Interesting Stuff 2009-06-15

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Dave Lee | 16:42 UK time, Monday, 15 June 2009

We're expecting a surge of blogging activity after the Digital Britain report tomorrow, but before then it's time for a quick round-up of what's been going on.

It's been a lively week for the BBC iPlayer. The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones set blogs fluttering with his post about BT supposedly "throttling" iPlayer access. The Register picks up on the debate, also noting that Friday saw some unexpected (but now resolved) downtime:

Some BBC licence payers struggled to access the iPlayer yesterday due to problems with the Corporation's network connections.

Several readers contacted The Register to tell us that the online telly catch up service was on the blink.

"On Thursday 11 June 2009 there was a problem with our network connections. We worked hard to restore normal service as soon as possible and apologise for any inconvenience caused," said the BBC on its iPlayer website yesterday.

The comments provide some interesting reading.

Rory has posted a follow up post about the iPlayer here:

Now while other ISPs have grumbled about the impact of the iPlayer on their costs, I could not remember BT ever making such an forthright call for cash. And when I called the company, a spokesman made it clear that this was a new stance, and BT was happy for the world to know about it.

If you're not sure what all the fuss is about, Nevali has posted this entry underlining some of the issues while chucking in his own thoughts too.

Elsewhere, editor of the Radio 4 Blog, Steve Bowbrick, stumbles across the latest unconventional approach to security at Television Centre:

We haven't heard from Steve since.

Thanks to all of you who followed our Mobile Day posts. This Nokia E71 fan is particularly pleased with the news that the iPlayer is now available on their handset.

AllAboutiPhone were (somewhat) pleased with our live-tweet session with Jason DaPonte, but is left frustrated by DRM restrictions:

My next little bugbear is downloading of TV shows for offline viewing. This is supported on only a small subset of phones, and the iPhone's not one of them. This is because the Beeb has opted to use OMA 2.0 Digital Rights Management. In order to use this, a certificate has to be installed on the phone when it's built - apparently it can't be retro-fitted once the phone is on the market. Unfortunately the iPhone is not one of the phones that can use this sort of DRM; they use Apple's own Fairplay DRM instead.

Regular readers of these Interesting Stuff posts will know I like to highlight new minisite launches -- but this has to be one of my favourites: Transmission Impossible, with Ed and Oucho.

Dave Lee is co-editor, BBC Internet Blog

BBC News CPS for mobile

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Paul Caporn | 14:05 UK time, Monday, 15 June 2009

My role is as a Senior Software Engineer working on the Journalism Content Production System, which is the main content production and publishing system which delivers primarily the News and Sport sites. I have recently been working on delivering the new mobile site for BBC News and Sport.

For historical reasons the News and Sport mobile sites were produced by a separate system, driven by XML feeds from the CPS. This approach worked well for a number of years but the limitations of the content allowed in the feed, such as no related stories, plus slow publishing speeds caused by additional steps in the chain, meant it was time to look at publishing the mobile site in a more direct fashion.

Stories in CPS are written as a mix of custom BBC tags and raw HTML. The editing tools allow the journalist a lot of scope to express themselves as they wish, but it makes creating a valid XHTML output from the content quite a challenge.

The previous method for mobile publishing only had access to a limited set of the CPS content and many of the more complex editorial challenges of making content suitable for mobile were side-stepped. The content of stories was stripped down, for instance with all quotes and links removed. Only a limited set of the sections from the website was in use.

This made creating an XML representation of the story simpler, but for our new project we wanted to show as much of the story content as possible. I needed to try to contain the story, tame it and ensure the rest of the system only ever saw the XML view of the story. This is all about making the content offering on mobile devices richer and more optimised, developing business logic to make conscious decisions about which content is most suitable for different devices.

The conversion process had to process the content to be able to generate an XHTML output. This also provided a number of other benefits such as allowing the use of Xpath to interact with sub-sets of the story model and the use of XSL transforms to create subviews of the content for other systems.

Another area which required work was to allow for mobile contextual views of the content to be created, including list of stories in a section on the website to be calculated. The small screen size and differing capabilities of a mobile phone mean that although you might be able to cram a full fat web story onto a mobile, it may be not much use to our audience. There is also no point showing a story which contains lots of video and very little textual content to a mobile device if the video is not available in a suitable format for the device to play.

One of the main lessons from this project has been that there are downsides to building a very highly configurable system, as the CPS system is. Over the lifetime of such a system it becomes increasingly flexed in different ways. When a major piece of work arises, such as this project, this can be quite a challenge, as the system is not just the code - it is also captured in thousands of configuration settings in databases and configuration files and working practises based on how people have learnt to use the system over time. For context, we have about 1,000 journalists using the CPS on a regular basis.

Luckily we still have a number of long-serving old hands, with experience of the history of the system, who provided invaluable guidance. The important distinction is to try to keep functionality defined in the code, which provides testability, but to keep editorial decisions in the configuration layer and data. This separation can become unclear over time in a mature system with more than one way of approaching a task, so it is important to keep track of work-arounds and hacks.

We are currently working on a project to refactor the outputs from the CPS to generate XML output for all content and remove much of our presentation clutter and custom tags. The developments from the mobile project will be incorporated into this project, and will help this new cleaner content rendering to be more informed about how our journalists work and improve how our content needs to be structured.

Paul Caporn, Senior Software Engineer, BBC Future Media and Technology, Journalism

Interesting Stuff: Save Our Sounds

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Dave Lee | 11:01 UK time, Monday, 15 June 2009

Save Our Sounds is an exciting new project launched by BBC World Service which aims to gather and share unique sounds from around the world.

For all the latest news, you can follow Microblogger-In-Residence Kate Arkless Gray on Twitter here.

Kate explains more about the project in this post on the Radio Labs blog.

World Have Your Say has been getting in on the act too; asking which sounds are likely to soon be extinct. The whirrs of a 56k modem? The excruciating noise of a dot matrix printer? Can't say I'd miss them, to be honest.-- but then hearing the noises we associate with our first days on the internet already brings a tinge of nostalgia.

All the sounds will be plotted on this interactive map.

Kate will be appearing on Digital Planet tomorrow evening to talk about Save Our Sounds.

Dave Lee is co-editor, BBC Internet Blog.


Good Radio Club

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Steve Bowbrick Steve Bowbrick | 18:41 UK time, Friday, 12 June 2009

This weekend sees the return of Good Radio Club, our experiment in 'social listening'. If you joined in last time you'll remember that it involves tuning in to a radio programme and discussing it with others while you listen. There's a blog post over on the Good Radio Club web site that explains how to participate so I won' t repeat it here.

But why social listening?

It's where radio's going. No one doubts that the singular and intimate experience of listening to the radio - voices and sounds from far away - will persist. But the collision of radio and the Internet is producing a kind of hybrid: personal and collective at the same time. Listeners will spend part of their time in the old radio bubble, alone with the voices they love, and part of it in this new social space, where they share those voices with others and contribute to a conversation about them.

Read more, comment and join the club at the Radio 4 blog.

Steve Bowbrick is editor of the BBC Radio 4 blog.

Issues on News and Sport Video & Audio Playback

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John O' Donovan | 17:14 UK time, Friday, 12 June 2009

We have had a few issues across the News and Sports websites (and other areas of the BBC website) which has affected video / audio playback, the ticker used at the top of some pages and picture galleries.

It was caused by an update to some shared libraries used across the BBC. The problem with these libraries was quickly rectified, but unfortunately some of the corruption caused by these changes have been cached across multiple networks and in browser caches, which has caused intermittent and continuing issues from yesterday evening to this morning.

Support teams have been working on this and we believe this has now been fixed, but apologies for any inconvenience caused. If you are still experiencing problems then let us know, but before you do, please try clearing your browser cache to see if this rectifies the issue (some details here if you are not sure how to do this - How to clear your browser Cache).

John O'Donovan is Chief Technical Architect, FM&T Journalism

Sport on BBC HD

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Danielle Nagler Danielle Nagler | 16:00 UK time, Friday, 12 June 2009

Given the passions in the comments on my last blog, I wanted to respond directly to some of the comments.

The sport v other programmes debate is an interesting one - and one we also have internally.

Between you, you represent the polarised opinions absolutely: If you love sport, you'd be happy to have not a lot else on BBC HD; if you don't, then the sport we already do is quite enough.

My views on our sports provision are that if we could direct more money into moving the events we are responsible for faster into HD we probably would. But Andrew Knight is mistaken in suggesting that decisions to broadcast sport in HD are cost neutral. They aren't. And since the money comes out of the general licence fee pot, rather than direct subscription income, we have to balance how we spend it across all interests and activities.

Video of BBC HD Sport trail from Freeview HD on Flickr.

As far as F1 goes, as some of you recognise, the situation is not a result of a lack of pressure from the BBC. I have no doubt that F1 will move to HD at some point, but I tend to focus my energies on the content where my work can make a real difference to the point at which it migrates to HD delivery.

Heilanner is just one of those who pleads for a mixed schedule - pace andrew knight, we do commission research and it suggests that actually what people want is a very wide range of programmes. So that's what we try to offer. I can say that over the coming months, we are moving across to HD a number of well known BBC brands. Some of them will take a little while to come to screen, but the next series of Ashes to Ashes and Waterloo Road will be made in HD, as will Mary Queen of Shops and The Restaurant, and Countryfile and the Culture Show will also be arriving soon. There will be more. I know the programme that all those who write on this blog seem to be waiting for is Top Gear. Conversations are going well, and I hope to have more news soon. As for Wednesday83's request about Casualty, the series will move when it moves filming locations to Wales where a new drama area is being built to accommodate the production. The team will probably begin working in HD in 2011 to deliver to air from 2012.

Finally, let me just correct the impression that samuel1984 gives of our children's content. Content for children is on air from 4 to 6 on weekdays, I believe not an unreasonable proportion of our schedule given that the BBC broadcasts 2 complete children's channels. Those hours are split reasonably evenly between content for younger children (from Cbeebies) and content for older children (CBBC). I wouldn't expect adults to enjoy these programmes particularly - although some of those that we are developing work well as family viewing . But I believe that I would be wrong not to include an offering for children in our mix, and also that you may well be underestimating the value that children who have grown up with games consoles and high resolution online graphics place on television picture quality.

I know there is a great deal of frustration - summed up by tagmclaren - around where our HD offer is going. I would hope that you understand that I'm hardly going to share work in progress with a public forum. What I will say is that:

1. the BBC will not be making all its programmes in HD by next year - that isn't what the original commitment was, and in any case - in my opinion - the promise that all peak programmes from BBC One and BBC Two would be in HD wasn't necessarily the best way forward.

2. We will be making more and more of our programmes in HD, and broadcasting them in HD. Excluding sport, I'm expecting to make 300 more hours of original programmes available in HD this year alone.

3. I am well aware of the overwhelming demand for more hours of broadcast from the BBC in HD. There are issues to be resolved around extending channel hours beyond the current limits, but the message from you, and the rest of our audience has been heard.

4. I think that broadcasting the whole of the BBC's channel portfolio in HD is a very long way off - you know better than most what capacity would be required to do that, and how fast compression is coming into help. But that doesn't mean that I believe we will only broadcast a single compilation channel for evermore. We would not want to develop an HD offer which could not suit all the available HD platforms, and the capacity limits on Freeview are therefore a limiting factor at the moment.

5. We also have to balance our ambitions for HD with all the other things which audiences value from the BBC - including making original programmes in the first place. I'm not sure any of you would want a multitude of HD channels from the BBC with nothing worth watching on them.

Whilst frustrating, I hope this clarifies the position - trust me, you'll be among the first to know once I am in a position to share work currently underway

Danielle Nagler is Head of BBC HD, BBC Vision

BBC News And Sport on Mobile Update

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Kate Milner | 14:10 UK time, Friday, 12 June 2009

Editor's note: we ran out of time on mobile day and had some posts left over. We'll be publishing the best of them over the next few days. Enjoy!

It's been just over a month since we relaunched the BBC News and Sport mobile sites and we're already seeing the benefits, both for our audience and for the journalists.

The key benefit is that we've dramatically improved the publishing speeds. The mobile site is now published directly from the same Journalism Content Production System used to publish the desktop site. It means the mobile site gets the latest updates at the same time as the desktop site - absolutely crucial for breaking news and during live sporting events.

Sport is extremely important to our mobile audience and we know that Saturday afternoons are a key time, when football fans in particular want up-to-date scores and live text commentary on how their team is doing.

The move into CPS publishing means the Sport journalists can now easily manage the mobile content, to make sure the most relevant stories and stats are highlighted.

For example, during Formula 1 events, a journalist adds the Live Leaderboard to a prominent position on the mobile site, so people wanting quick updates on their phone don't have to spend ages hunting around for the key information.

The Sports desk is trying out a similar approach by highlighting Live Scores during key football matches. And with the Ashes approaching, cricket fans can also expect to find the latest scores at their fingertips.

As senior software engineer Paul Caporn will explain in a forthcoming post it was a huge task to migrate the mobile site from one publishing system to another and make changes to the content output. My role was to keep the audience needs at the forefront and to ensure that the new mobile site was easy for journalists to manage.

Journalists have to manage multiple outputs, including the web, Ceefax and Digital Text, so it was vital that we didn't create unnecessary extra work for them. The system had to be able to run itself for the most part, yet it also needed to be flexible for when extra editorial work is needed.

On the News side of things, this flexible approach means there is now more scope for journalists to respond quickly to big news stories, as the BBC News website's editor, Steve Herrmann points out.

And as my colleague Gavin Gibbons explained recently , this is just the beginning. Future plans include an improved sports stats service and more mobile video and audio.

Kate Milner is Product Manager, Mobiles, BBC Future Media and Technology, Journalism

Changes to international pages

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 05:56 UK time, Friday, 12 June 2009

Across the BBC website we are making a change to the way we present content for audiences inside and outside the UK.

Up to now, people outside the UK who visited the website could select a UK version and those within the UK could select an international version of the site.

A radio button in the "set location" section at the top of the BBC homepage and on the left hand side of News and Sport pages allowed you to switch between versions.

From now on this won't be the case...

Read more and comment at the Editors blog at BBC News.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website

Mobile Day 6.25 p.m: two questions to close

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Mark Kortekaas Mark Kortekaas | 18:39 UK time, Thursday, 11 June 2009

Hi I'm the new Controller of BBC mobile and I've been watching all the activity today.

A couple of questions that came up that I would like to respond to:

Android:

We look at all major platforms and Android is clearly one that we are looking at. While we do not have anything on the formal roadmap as of today I hope that will change.

Downloading of Video to handsets:

This would be a great application to have so one can download content for viewing when out of range. Personally I would like the content for my 30+ minute daily tube ride. Our issue is simply how to properly protect and manage video content as we do with the iPlayer desktop. When we launched that product to PCs/Macs/Linux machines Anthony wrote a great summary of the DRM issues.

However, we are not standing by and are trying to figure out a solution to this that is viable with scale.

I'd like to thank everyone today for looking at what we've got going on and to my staff for pulling it all together. Despite the London Tube Strike today we all made it in, thankfully it is sunny out so the route diversions home will be more enjoyable.

Bye for now.

Mark Kortekaas is Controller, A&MI and Mobile, BBC Future Media & Technology

Mobile Day: A round up

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Dave Lee | 18:36 UK time, Thursday, 11 June 2009

Phew. Mobile Day is over and, late tube-related arrival aside we've had a good day's work.

The easiest way to check out all the Mobile Day posts is by clicking here.

If you're just joining us, here are some highlights from the day -- as well as some interesting links from around the web about what we've been up to.

Jason DaPonte had a blast taking all your questions over Twitter. We believe he may be the first BBC manager to hold such an event. You can read all the chatter here.

Also on Twitter, we were pleased that we had at least one happy customer today:


Then...

And then...

ElectricPig seem to be as excited as we are about the possibilities of iPlayer on Mobile:

Best of all though, he let slip that the tweaks included in iPhone OS 3.0 could be used to improve BBC iPlayer on the iPhone: "We use standard web technologies for our streaming. We're looking at whether we can make that work with the 3.0 iPhone software".

On All About Symbian they caught hold of the news of the E71 release almost immediately, after following our blog updates like a proverbial hawk:

The BBC has just launched a standalone iPlayer S60 application (v1.0.0!) for the Nokia N95 and E71. iPlayer lets UK users catch up on BBC programmes that have been broadcast in the last week or so and has previously been exclusive to the Nokia N85, N96 and 5800, available as a Web Runtime widget. Although no formal announcement has been made by the BBC as I write this, it's as good as a done deal, as this BBC blog post strongly hints.

Dave Lee is co-editor BBC Internet blog.

Looking ahead to London 2012, the mobile Olympics

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Jason DaPonte | 18:32 UK time, Thursday, 11 June 2009

If I mention "the Olympics" to you - you'd probably think about names like Rebecca Adlington, Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps and their stellar performances last summer in Beijing. What you probably wouldn't be thinking is very much about the 2012 Games - unless you live somewhere near the Olympic park that's being built in East London.

That doesn't mean we aren't. The summer of 2012 is going to be HUGE for the BBC with London hosting the Olympics, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and other major sporting events being broadcast. We're excited about it and planning for it already.

The mobile industry changes quickly, though. Sure, it might not change as quickly as Usain Bolt can sprint, but planning 3 years out in this space isn't easy. There are big questions and variables to take into acount about consumers, devices and connectivity.

Fortunately, the BBC's cracking R&D team have been able to lend us a hand to help us come to grips with some of this thinking about the future.

I've been working with them for the past few months on a scenario planning joint project with the help of external consultants and a number of industry experts who contributed their expertise.

The work really began in 2004, with an in-depth scenario planning exercise led by BBC R&D. The resulting Digital Britain 2014 (DB2014) publication described how broadband would affect the UK over the course of 10 years. In the new research, we build upon the DB2014 stories and research to explore how the mobile landscape may look during the 2012 Olympic Games.

The scenarios are two diverging (but plausible) stories based on how politics, society, the economy and technology might unfold. They should be used as tools for planning products and services in the future by illustrating what the world could be like - they are not official strategy.

The stories are accompanied by tools that can also be helpful for testing product plans and strategies. For this project we've created:

- Living Histories: useful as background knowledge and useful as stimulus for workshops so your participants can begin to think about future possibilities
- Character Profiles: exploring the differences in the characters lives when placed in each scenario. They are in written form and recorded as video interviews
- Event Timelines: useful brainstorms to remind participants of the chronology of events from 2005-2012
- Summary: the thematic comparison is also useful in brainstorms to help keep clear the lines of distinctions between the stories

I've used scenarios in the past to facilitate creative planning and have found them useful both as stimulus for creative thinking but also for setting the landscape for brainstorms and other planning sessions to ensure they have productive outcomes. Brainstorms are often seen as a wasteful experience in organisations but I find that working with strong stimulus and inputs like these scenarios can be very helpful in making sure you get good, useful ideas out of sessions.

We will be using the tools above in our own planning and are sharing them with industry partners - I'll be discussing them with the Mayor's advisors on the Olympics next week. We hope that they can provide a shared starting point for developing partnerships that will enable us to deliver an amazing experience to our audiences in the summer of 2012.

The DB2014 scenarios examined what the UK might be like in 2014 based on a set of economic, political, social and technological drivers. Through a series of workshops, a set of key drivers were identified and refined:

1. Family ties - what social relationships are important in people's personal lives?

2. Mobility - the capacity for people to move between locations at home and overseas

3. Security - how safe the population perceives itself to be and the ensuing public policy

4. Digital copyright - to what extent will this be regulated by industry and government?

5. Technology - when will convergence/interoperability be fully achieved

Exploration of how the drivers would influence society over ten years led to the development of two distinct pathways that became the fictional scenarios Little Britain and Alien Nation.

The original scenarios have, in some respects, proved prescient and in one or two cases ominously prodigious. In this publication, we update the scenarios with a focus on mobile and the 2012 Olympics. Before delving into the updated scenarios, we considered to what extent we have experienced either a Little Britain or Alien Nation world since 2004.

Up until 2008, the UK seemed to parallel an Alien Nation model but since the economic downturn it looks remarkably similar to Little Britain. The new research brings us up to date, reflecting on the 2004 drivers and the last five years (through the lens of the scenarios Little Britain and Alien Nation), and sets the stage for helping us to imagine how the next three years will unfold in these fictional worlds.

So what are the story worlds set out in Little Britain and Alien Nation?

LITTLE BRITAIN

Little Britain is a story of the "People's Olympics", where the economy stays weak and local-issue politics gain strength and communities pull together. Technology (especially mobile) becomes increasingly important as a cost-effective means for people to come together and support one another. The Olympics emerge as a symbol of hope and community pride as sporting clubs and councils plan celebrations around sport and fitness. Digital communities, too, contribute to the festive atmosphere around the Games as they develop exciting, interactive mash-ups of professional and social media.

ALIEN NATION

Alien Nation is a story of the "Corporate Olympics", of economic recovery and revolutionary technology triumphing over security fears. The economy bounces back quickly. Mobile networks begin to function as social clubs as they offer advanced interactive services via 'walled tunnels' that are available exclusively to their subscribers - 'members' enjoy a seamless user experience across connectivity, device and content - things 'just work'. The new media service giants invest heavily in the Games to showcase their recent breakthroughs in mobile content and services, contributing to a national sense of excitement and expectation.

Here's a chart that compares what the world is like in each of the two worlds:

I'd love to know your thoughts on these. Does one feel more realistic than the other? Does one feel better or worse to you? Which of these worlds would you like to experience the Olympics in?

And, since we're still in early planning phases, any thoughts about what the BBC should or could be doing with the 2012 Games would be most welcome. Please let me know what you think.

Jason DaPonte is Managing Editor, BBC Mobile.

World Service on mobile

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Sheila Thomson | 17:13 UK time, Thursday, 11 June 2009

For the BBC World Service, mobile is a platform of immense opportunities and numerous challenges. Let me start with the opportunities.

A very high proportion of the four billion plus users of mobile phones come from countries where English is not the primary language. And yet, mobile operators in China and India (which have nearly a billion subscribers between them) have not reached even half their population.

In Africa too, mobile phone usage is growing at 50 to 60 percent per year. The Democratic Republic of Congo (population: 60 million) has 10,000 fixed phone lines but more than a million mobile phone subscribers. In Chad, the fifth least-developed country, mobile phone usage jumped from 10,000 to 20,000 in three years.

Mobile phone technology has helped many users bypass the need for a fixed-line phone, and is gradually shaping up as the main access point to the internet for the users. Unlike computer or television, a mobile device is not too power-hungry and be charged up easily even in areas that receive a couple of hours of power supply every day. And it is one device that people always carry with them - and reach out to check news.

Now for the challenges.

The BBC World Service publishes websites in 32 languages and has a global audience yet we need to employ a single technical architecture and interface that's suitable for all our sites. When editorial staff publish a page for the Desktop version of their respective websites, a mobile version is automatically generated on-the-fly. Behind the scenes, the in-house content management system employs a pre-defined set of rules to convert the multi-column layout into a single column, linear structure, more suited to a mobile environment. The benefit of this is that our busy editorial teams don't have to spend extra time and effort populating two versions of the same site.

The range of devices use when visiting our sites is wide and they vary considerably in terms of screen width, script support and multimedia capabilities. While some of our users are enjoying a near hi-web experience, surfing on the latest smartphone, many more are using low-spec devices, some with screens as narrow as a third of the width of an iPhone screen.

This means we need to keep markup and style simple, keep the layout as fluid as possible and try to maintain a balance between the need to scroll (for non-touchscreen users) and keeping links well-spaced apart (for touchscreen users).

Support for languages also varies greatly between devices. It depends very much on which script the language is written in. The basic Latin script is generally well-supported so we can be sure that what we publish in English, Spanish or Portuguese will be readable on nearly all devices.

The same cannot be assumed for content published using modified Latin (Vietnamese, Turkish) or non-Latin scripts (Cyrillic, Perso-Arabic, Devangari, Sinhala, Chinese, Burmese); many devices are unable to render the characters correctly and will instead present the reader with a screenful of boxes.

And then there's weight. Some of these scripts use double-byte characters which means that you have to download more kilobytes in order to read the same number of characters. This isn't a concern for users on a high-speed, fixed-cost contract but if you're using a lower-speed connection or pay-as-you-go then every kilobyte costs time and money. As many of our users are in this situation, a key concern is to keep the weight of each site as low as possible. One method that we've employed is pagination, allowing us to break a page down into smaller chunks which, individually, are quicker to download than the whole thing in one go.

So, where are we now? We are already publishing mobile sites in Spanish and Russian and later this month, we will be rolling out new sites in Arabic and Portuguese. Then we'll begin developing solutions for the more complex languages and a proposition for feature phones that cannot cope with or reflect the richness of a web offer.

What will these be? Keep watching this space...

Sheila Thomson is a Software Engineer at BBC World Service Future Media. This post was cowritten by Sheila and her colleagues Santosh Sinha and Amber Rose

Mobile at Radio 1's Big Weekend

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Hugh Garry | 17:05 UK time, Thursday, 11 June 2009

My thinking behind this year's mobile offering for Radio 1's Big Weekend was 'How do we make it spreadable?'. Of course we'd deliver a wap site as usual. This year we also offered some nice and shiny mobile sites for the N95 and iPhone. These are both examples of listeners coming to the BBC to access our content. But what I really wanted was to deliver the content to audiences. I wanted our mobile offering to 'explode' with content sprayed everywhere for people to collect and share.

In doing this, I had to consider the technologies we'd used in the past, the type of phones that Radio 1 audiences use, and what new technologies were available to us. So we devised a three-pronged plan to dissipate content in an interesting and effective way.

SMS Club

I recently gave a talk at the Audio & Music Interactive and Mobile departmental in which I talked about 'rethinking deadness'. Inspired by a great talk from the programmer and game developer Kathy Sierra, the idea of rethinking deadness asks us to look at ideas that we may think have had their time and think about ways of breathing life back into them.

The last time I ran an SMS club for Radio 1 was way back in 2001 and as someone with a forward-thinking role, SMS clubs were way behind me, dead and buried. Could or should they be brought back to life for a Radio 1 audience? Of course! Okay, so it doesn't have the sexiness of an iPhone app, but SMS is still a brilliant and simple way of getting content onto the phones of our audiences. SMS is pretty much the only mobile technology that every one understands - we shouldn't dismiss it - it's powerful! It's a way of easing people into mobile stuff; deadness awaiting a rethink.

So an SMS club was set up to deliver video, wallpapers and audio downloads, not forgetting show reminders pushing people to BBC Radio, Red Button and BBC Three coverage. The challenge was to make SMS clubs a bit more sexy for our audiences. I had an idea for a secret dress code. We spread the word that there would be a secret dress code for the weekend that would be announced via the SMS club on the Friday night. It was a way of tapping into the excitement of flashmobs without actually creating a flashmob.

Bluetooth Loo

I've been doing Bluetooth at events for four years and it's one of the most frustrating technologies out there. Bluetooth is free, relatively easy to distribute, our audience use it regularly and it's on almost every handset. So if we have 40,000 people gathered in one place waiting to receive Bluetooth, then it has to be a winner right? Wrong. Here are the problems I've faced year after years of trying:

• the music is too loud to hear the Bluetooth arrive
• when you are watching your favourite band you won't be checking your phone
• audience are wary of what is being sent
• Bluetooth doesn't really like huge crowds. Small groups, yes. But big crowds, no

So, late last year I put a nail in the coffin of Bluetooth at Radio 1 events consigning it to the bin of things I would never waste my time on again... forever. Then in March I had a Eureka moment, quite literally whilst jumping into a hot bath. If we could provide a place that audiences would hear Bluetooth arrive, where we could prepare them to engage with their phone, let them know what they were about to receive and do this in a place that the transmitters could handle, then perhaps Bluetooth might be worth another try.

The Bluetooth Loo was the answer to all these problems. Everyone knows toilets are a low point at festival, so the idea was to offer a nice clean toilet for festival-goers to use on the condition that you switched on your Bluetooth. It was a really silly idea... but great. It was branded really well and being blue stood out from all the green toilets. It really caught people's attention and the huge queues allowed us the time to engage with the audience about our mobile offering.

Designer QR Codes

An important part of what I do is introducing new technologies to our audiences. So in 2008, I added QR codes to the Big Weekend mobile offering. QR codes are two-dimensional barcodes that can take you directly to a website - the barcode is decoded by taking a photo with specific software on your mobile .

This year, we added a design element to the QR codes. There is a small percentage for error permitted within each code, this allows us to add a design element without interfering with the coded message. The idea was to produce individual codes incorporating images of headliners such as Lily Allen and Dizzee Rascal. 'Get Lily on your mobile' posters were spread around the site with instructions on how to use the technology. I'm not sure if it's the true geek inside of me, but I find them fascinating and adding the design element opened them up to non-geeks who wanted to find out more.

A key target for the 2009 Big Weekend was to make Radio 1 content shareable. Our three-pronged mobile strategy not only served this purpose but added an extra fun element to the weekend. It also gave us a mobile package well worth marketing via radio and TV trails.

The mobile site benefited hugely from this strategy. We saw a 361% increase in UK page impressions to the mobile site on the previous year's festival. More videos were watched on mobile than at any previous music event. The SMS Club had nearly 4000 members helping to push audiences to content across all platforms - that's the most of any SMS Club we've ever run. Over 800 videos, audio clips and wallpapers were distributed via the Bluetooth Loo that we hope will have been passed on by the user again and again and again.

Radio 1's Big Weekend mobile projects were produced by Hugh Garry, Senior Content Producer, Radio 1 Interactive and Jo Bellingham, Interactive Platform Producer, Mobile.

Feedback: The good, the bad and the just plain weird

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Mandy Pollard | 16:42 UK time, Thursday, 11 June 2009

Within the editorial team of BBC Mobile, we are responsible for replying to all the feedback that comes in about the mobile site, mobile iPlayer and live TV/radio on your mobile. As you can imagine, we get quite a range of queries and comments; positive, negative and some that are just slightly strange!

We receive hundreds of emails a day covering a wide range of subjects, including: problems with the mobile site, appreciation (yes, we get some nice comments as well) and queries about a particular piece of content or pointing out the odd spelling mistake (come on, no one's perfect) and asking why, for example, last night's Apprentice isn't yet live on mobile iPlayer.

To give you a taste of the kind if feedback we get, here are some examples from the past few weeks.

To start off, a bit of the good stuff:

Some of our users think we're just 'the best' - we really love them.

'You are flawless upto the point and very reliable.Highly informative,keep it up as you are the world s leading and best media org'

'Love the mobile site on my iPhone ... Superfast'

'Brilliant stuff. Always my first stop on my BlackBerry. Keep it up. Thanks.'

We recently launched a new mobile homepage and improved News and Sport pages which generated a lot of feedback response, some of which was very positive:

'the site is exceptionally good now especially being able to customise the page now with all of your favourites. Plus the size of the page is perfect!'

'The new mobile website is a great improvement. It's so much better having access to all the additional content. Well done, from a very regular bbc website user.'

'....It is quick to navigate, has access to many things conveniently located further down pages without needing to dig through sub headings.'

'You seem to be making a good site better. Pleased about quicker updates.'

However it wasn't all good news from our users:

'New site is so slow to move around. The older site was much more intuitive. Miss the simple way of moving to the next story. Now its having to keep going back to the front page each time. Lets have the old site back.'

'Sorry but I think the service has gone backwards. Main reason for using BBC mobile is faster loading times and getting information quickly. There seem to be fewer stories on BBC top stories meaning I have to navigate by sport.'

'I used to find the 'next story' link very helpful on the previous site, as I could easily navigate through the headline stories that you had without awkwardly having to go back and select the next.'

[We take all comments like the 3 above really seriously and these were all fed into the News team to investigate and look into]

Mobiles can be tricky devices and occasionally a small change in firmware or a rogue update can result in issues with a service:

'i cannot download straight to my nokia n96 from i player mobile. I have sent numerous emails please help'

[This was an issue that we had with the N96 and downloading iPlayer to the phone - we're happy to say that this has now been resolved.]

'hi i was wondering can not seem to play any bbci videos on my nokia 5800 but i can download it nd watch it on the phone however i was able to watch the videos online a couple of days ago can you please help me with this problem.'

[This was a result of a Nokia software update, which has also been resolved.]

And a happy customer as a result of the fix:

'Thanks guys, started working again!!! now i can watch eastenders on my phone :D you really know how to make a man happy :)'

And finally, some of the slightly more odd feedback we get (a guilty pleasure for us here we have to admit).

We have users writing in looking for their missing relatives. Unfortunately, as good as we are at tracking down problems with the mobile services, we can't offer to track down relatives.

Then there are the numerous users who use language we can't repeat on this blog directed at football clubs and their managers. Again, we can bring you the action as it happens but are afraid we can't affect it.

Nor can we indulge the users who ask us to provide adult content (not really a great use of the licence fee, we think).

And while we can't always help, we can sometimes sympathise. One user wrote in to tell us about his frustrations when people spit on the streets - and we're happy to say that frustrates us too.

If you want to send us any feedback:

You can do so via the 'Contact us' links which you will find at the bottom of every page of the mobile site, including the mobile iPlayer and live TV/radio sections. Aside from helping you out with any queries, we really appreciate general feedback on our services - new or existing - to help us analyse what works well or doesn't work so well and to help plan for the future of BBC Mobile.

To help us, and to help you get a reply:

We get hundreds of feedback queries and comments each day. We can't reply individually to every query but to increase your chances of an individual reply, please include the following information:

* Handset model (manufacturer and model)
* Firmware version (if known)
* Connection type (3G/Wi-Fi)
* Mobile network/Internet Service Provider
* Content accessed or failed to access (eg a specific programme in iPlayer or iPlayer as whole; a specific page or the entire mobile site etc)
* Error message displayed on the handset (if any) or exact nature of the problem you are experiencing
* Your location (UK/abroad)

You will also get an auto response message from us which confirms that your email has been delivered, provides useful links and outlines the areas where we can (or can't) help with queries. This doesn't mean that you won't hear from us directly (depending on what your query is of course), however we definitely can't reply to any non-mobile related feedback - but we will do our best to reply to the rest.

Mandy Pollard and Kieran Wyatt are Senior Content Producers

Wombile, the fantasy game for mobile

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Matt Hammond | 16:20 UK time, Thursday, 11 June 2009

Back in 2008, a bunch of past and present engineers from BBC R&D were inspired to take some time off and produce "something cool" for Over The Air, a BBC-supported event where "developers, designers, hackers and entrepreneurs" met to discuss, play with and create new mobile software and technologies.

We came up with Faebl, a fantasy game for mobile phones with GPS receivers that you play in the real world. To make it work we chose to write our own platform for multi-player mobile games, and called it Wombile. (Blame the names on the difficulty of finding short words that are easy to pronounce and still available as a ".com" domain!)

For a simple game written in just a few days, Faebl was surprisingly fun to play. Players who downloaded the software to a compatible phone were thrown into a fantasy battle taking place in the real world. If they were physically near another player, they'd be given the opportunity to fight them. If the other player didn't want to be attacked, they had to physically run away. Different weapons made different noises (played through the phones' speakers), and defending players had to pick an appropriate weapon to defend with based on the sound they heard.

Now, we and our game weren't the stars of the event by any means, but enough people thought there was something to our approach for us to be able to persuade our managers at the BBC to let us spend a bit of our work time on the project, and perform a user trial. In particular, we wanted to test a couple of things. The first thing was simply to find out how useful location-aware mobile games could be as a fun way to convey educational material to children. The second thing was an idea we had called "overlapping universes". One of the issues facing any multiplayer game is how to get a critical mass of users and guarantee a good multiplayer experience. The problem is harder when your users can only interact in the game world when they interact in the real world - particularly if you want to integrate games into people's everyday lives, rather than have them meet up in order to play them. "Overlapping" universes incorporate players from one game into another: the player positions and actions in one game have correspondences in the other.

To test this, we wrote two games for the trial, with different themes and rules. Players of one game, "Feud", played the part of a celtic tribe trying to gather resources and face (or avoid) each other in battle. Players of the other game, "Pack", were members of a tribe of wolves, who had to cooperate in order to successfully hunt down prey. The universes overlapped: celtic tribes appeared as dangerous bears in the "Pack" universe, for example. The trial was carried out by giving two small groups of children phones with the game pre-loaded, and sending them out to a field to play it for fifteen minutes or so. We briefed them about the individual games, but we didn't tell them that the games were different. Of course, they quickly realised that the games were different and interlinked, and many of them had worked out how by the end of the trial.

We've published a more detailed paper on the trials and the games we wrote for it, and you can watch the video we made of it here. What we haven't done is published much about the architecture behind the game.

There are a vast number of different ways of writing software for mobile phones, but two main (but non-exclusive) philosophies: "client-side", where the processing is performed on the phone itself, and "client-server" where the phone communicates with a computer over the Internet to perform most or all of the application's functions. In the latter case, the software on the phone is often the phone's web browser, but this wasn't an option to us because there is no commonly adopted way to access GPS information from the phone's browser.

Nevertheless, we wanted to adopt a client-server model. For one thing, it enables you to write a single client that only needs to be installed once. Writing a new application only requires the server to be modified. Wombile currently uses a very light-weight client, a bit like a cut down web-browser: the server tells it what to display at any point in time, and the client just sends back any actions taken by the user (like pressing a button on the phone's keypad, or selecting a menu option), plus additional information needed by the game engine, such as GPS position fixes. The communication is implemented via a custom protocol that requires less bandwidth than sending the game displays to the phone as web pages, and also results in a much more responsive user experience without having to execute any application-specific code on the client. The client also tries to cache images and sound files on the phone, to minimise lengthy pauses at the start of or during games.

This all fits nicely with the current state of mobile phone technology: storage space for applications is often limited, installing new applications is a non-trivial task for many users, and mobile Internet access is often slow but increasingly affordable. From a developer's perspective, a big challenge to deploying a new application is choosing from the very wide range of mobile phones currently to support Should the developer create just one version that runs on some range of phones, or develop many versions (producing "ports") that allow for variations in the capabilities of the runtimes available across this wider range of phones. Each port needs testing separately. The client side of the Wombile platform, a J2ME MIDlet, is no different in this regard and has the standard considerations for J2ME discovery, deployment, and installation. However, applications created for the Wombile platform can be developed with no additional concern for per-mobile testing, deployment or installation, which is very attractive to developers. The Wombile server implementation currently is research quality - a production quality server would have to account for additional per-device concerns, such as image sizes to serve to the client.

Wombile isn't the only client-server platform of its kind (Yahoo! Blueprint has a number of similar features, to give one example), but it is particularly suitable for location-aware mobile applications where a simple but responsive user interface is desirable without the complication of client-side processing.

We released the original source code for both Wombile and Faebl back in 2008, but many of the features I've described were written for the BBC trials. However we have continued to tinker with this in our spare time, and we will be dusting of the latest source code and preparing it for release soon. Since the Wombile platform itself is not a BBC project, this does not include the BBC owned "Feud" and "Pack" games, but does include "Faebl" and a few other little experiments.

If you'd like to use it in your own software, you're welcome to do so (subject to the terms of the Free Software Foundation's General Public Licence, version 2). Be warned though - it's research quality software, not fully-polished production code. It's not as well documented as we'd like, and although the client is standard J2ME, we've only tested it on various Nokia S60 phones with JSR 179 "Location API" support. Keep an eye on the Wombile website for the new release.

Matthew Hammond and Stephen Jolly are research engineers, BBC Mobile.

BBC iPlayer application on Nokia N95, N85 8GB and E71

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David Madden | 15:02 UK time, Thursday, 11 June 2009

I can hardly believe it's been over a year since we first launched BBC iPlayer on mobile on the iPhone and iPod Touch. My team has worked very hard since then to bring iPlayer to more mobile phones and today we are launching BBC iPlayer on mobile on the Nokia N95, Nokia N95 8GB and the Nokia E71.

We've developed a downloadable app which you can install by going to https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer on your Nokia N95, Nokia N95 8GB or your Nokia E71.

Catch Up TV

The mobile app combines the BBC's iPlayer catch-up TV service and live TV and live radio. As on desktop iPlayer, you can browse through Highlighted or Most Popular shows or view the last 7 days of BBC programmes by channel or category. We have also included a handy search function and channel listings for the last 7 days.

You will notice that catch-up radio is missing from BBC iPlayer on mobile on the Nokia N95, N95 8GB and E71. The reason for this is we need to do a little more work testing the catch-up radio encodes. I didn't want to delay the launch of BBC iPlayer on mobile on the Nokia N95, N95 8GB and Nokia E71 while we waited for the catch-up radio encodes and we will be adding this feature imminently.

Live TV and Live Radio

The Live TV tab includes the BBC TV channels, each accompanied by a simple Now and Next listing. All you need to do is click on the channel logo to watch TV on your phone. Similarly, the live radio tab lists all of the BBC's national radio networks, which you can now listen to where ever you are.

You may notice that some Live TV or radio programmes are marked 'programme unavailable'. This is because the BBC does not have mobile rights to all of our programmes so we have to remove those shows from the live streams.

At the moment, the BBC only has the technical capacity to encode the national radio networks and the BBC London version of our TV channels on mobile. This means BBC iPlayer on mobile doesn't yet offer live streams of BBC local radio stations or the BBC television channels for the regional nations like, for example, BBC One Scotland or BBC Two Wales. These will be coming in due course.

You will also notice that Radio 5 Live and Radio 5 Live Sports Extra are not included on the Live Radio section of BBC iPlayer on mobile. This is because the BBC does not have the mobile rights to some of the sport coverage provided by those radio networks. We therefore would have to remove those programmes from the live streams and we don't yet have the systems in place for doing this on radio. This is coming soon.

Downloading Programmes

You can download full TV programmes on the Nokia E71 and watch them any time you want for up to 7 days, after which they will expire. This is really great if you commute on the train or the tube, like I do. Each week I've downloaded The Apprentice on my Nokia N96 to watch on the tube on my way home from work. We've optimised the picture quality on downloads and it's so convenient to download your favourite programmes to your phone and watch them any time you want for the next 7 days.

The BBC only has the rights to make TV programmes available in iPlayer for a limited number of days after the original broadcast. We therefore have to use Digital Rights Management (DRM) software to ensure downloaded programmes expire after 7 days. BBC iPlayer on mobile uses OMA 2.0 DRM for its download service. For the OMA 2.0 DRM software to work, special authentication certificates need to be installed on the phone when it is manufactured. Nokia pre-installed these certificates on the E71, but not on the N95 or N95 8GB. So, unfortunately, we can't offer programme downloads to the N95s.

Streaming over Wi-Fi and 3G Networks

The BBC has a committed to giving our audiences convenient access to our programmes wherever you are, and, from the outset, we designed BBC iPlayer on mobile as both a streaming and download service. We also decided to only offer BBC iPlayer on mobile to phones that include a wireless broadband, or Wi-Fi, connection. This is because the BBC can deliver higher quality streams and provide a much richer playback experience over Wi-Fi.

If you have a phone that is compatible with BBC iPlayer on mobile, and are connected to Wi-Fi, then you will be able to access BBC iPlayer on mobile regardless of which mobile network operator your phone contract is with.

So, if you are a 3 customer, or a Vodafone contract customer, then you can play full BBC programmes over either your Wi-Fi or 3G connections. If you are a customer of any other UK mobile network operator you can still use BBC iPlayer, but only when your phone is connected via Wi-Fi.

Here's how that works on your phone. If the BBC detects a phone accessing BBC iPlayer on mobile over 3G on a network other than 3 or Vodafone, we will display a 'switch to Wi-Fi' message when you come to play a programme. This will prompt the user to connect via their wireless broadband (Wi-Fi) connection before being able to play the programme.

The BBC are working to get BBC iPlayer on mobile accessible across more 3G networks in the UK and will let you know when we have more news on this.

If you have a Nokia N95, N95 8GB or a Nokia E71 I hope you try out the BBC iPlayer on mobile application and enjoy watching BBC programmes whenever and wherever you want on your phone.

Try watching a downloaded programme on the train or listening to the radio when you are in the park or out for a walk. Or have a go connecting your phone to your home Wi-Fi and catching up on your favourite BBC programmes.

Interestingly, our initial research suggests that many people enjoying using BBC iPlayer on mobile in bed at night. It's always nice to catch a bit of your favourite programme before you turn the light out.

You can install the BBC iPlayer on mobile app by going to https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer on your Nokia N95, Nokia N95 8GB or your Nokia E71. BBC iPlayer on mobile is also available on a range of other devices.

David Madden is the Executive Producer for Mobile Media in the BBC's Future Media and Technology, Audio and Music and Mobile team.

Getting mobile in the Blue Room

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Roland Allen | 13:36 UK time, Thursday, 11 June 2009

Up on the fourth floor of Broadcast Centre (not to be confused with Broadcasting House) is the Blue Room.

Looking a little like the ultimate bedroom, the room is an area for BBC staff to get hands on with technology to help us better understand what our audience is using. You won't find any prototypes or demos here, it is instead a place to get to grips with everything that our audience is using to watch BBC content, or to send their content to us.

Roland Allen shows us around the vast array of mobile tech at our disposal.


In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

Roland Allen is Head of Technology Liason.

Jason DaPonte answering your questions live at 4pm

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Dave Lee | 13:14 UK time, Thursday, 11 June 2009

We hope you're enjoying Mobile Day so far.

At 4pm, Jason DaPonte will be fielding questions, via Twitter, about BBC Mobile. Jason is the Managing Editor of Mobile.

To follow what Jason is saying, Twitter users should follow @bbccouk.

Remember, even if you don't have a Twitter account you can follow the conversation by just visiting the @bbccouk homepage. If you want to ask Jason a question without using Twitter, feel free to use the comments facility on this blog post.

We'll post a selection of the questions and answers at the end of the day.

The era of the mobile reporter

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Rory Cellan-Jones | 12:36 UK time, Thursday, 11 June 2009

How has mobile technology changed the life of a BBC reporter?

If you'd asked me that a couple of years ago, I would have said very little. I spent twenty years as a television reporter, mainly covering business, and while I was surrounded by technology on the road - from camera crews, to satellite trucks and mobile editing - very little of it was under my control.

But in the last couple of years I've become a multimedia technology journalist and it has become imperative for me to have a lot more gadgets about me - to keep in touch, do my job outside the office, and simply for the hell of it. After all, my cynical colleagues in the BBC's Economics Unit keep asking me when I am going to stop playing around with mobile phones and social networks and get a proper job, so I might as well play up to the stereotype.

For me, the most important gadgets have been those that allow me to get online anywhere and everywhere. First I have two mobile phones which give me permanent access to my email - one for my corporate messages, another which picks up my personal email.

Over the last eighteen months, I've taken a laptop with me just about anywhere. For a while that could only get online when I was in reach of a wifi network, which is still surprisingly difficult to find in many places. But now I've acquired a mobile broadband dongle which fills in some of the gaps, though again there are plenty of areas without the 3g coverage needed to get online.

Along with two phones and a laptop, my kitbag also contains a small, very simple video camera, good enough to capture pictures if there's no professional camera crew with me, but not really fit (in my hands at least) for proper broadcasting. I also have a digital audio recorder for radio work, and my most exciting new gadget, a digital pen which records conversations and matches the recordings to my scribblings in a notebook.

As well as simply communicating with the office and scanning various internet feeds, I'm using a whole range of applications on the road. There is Qik, which allows you to broadcast almiost live from a mobile phone, or AudioBoo, which allows you to record and upload audio very efficiently. Both of these are interesting new tools which still have to prove their value for professional broadcasting.

I am more inclined to turn to Flickr, a photo-sharing website, as an easy way to get images to editors at BBC TV Centre. On my laptop I have some free software called Audacity which allows me to top and tail a piece of audio, which I can then send to London using a marvellous browser-based service which the BBC set up a few years back. And I'm making possibly excessive use of Twitter - I'm ruskin147 by the way - to promote my work, to get early warnings of any breaking stories in my field, and to appeal for information.

All this connectivity does, however, have its downside. I spend a lot of time when I'm out reading and deleting emails or checking out my various social networks. Sometimes I wonder whether I would be better off turning off the phones and getting out a book.

The result of all this technology is that I can, in theory, do a lot of my work away from the office, without the co-operation of colleagues. But somehow it doesn't quite work like that. I still find you need to look your boss in the eye from time to time - and gossip with the rest of the office. Even if the only question they want to ask me is how to work their shiny new mobile phones and which browser I would recommend.

Rory Cellan-Jones is Technology Correspondent, BBC News

Time is of the Essence

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Chris Yanda | 11:58 UK time, Thursday, 11 June 2009

The reason that the mobile phone has been such a success is that, basically, people are a lazy and impatient lot. They don't want to wait until they get home to call someone. They don't want to have to remember anyone's number. They just want to be able to reach into their pocket, choose the name of the person they want to talk to and call them. When building a mobile phone service, it's important to remember this. The other important thing to remember is that mobile phones are usually pretty small.

Using your eyes to scan a big display of information is very fast. Using your fingers and a hierarchy of lists to find information is less so.

For the most part, in designing a desktop web page, people focus primarily on geographic rather than temporal layout. With a screen that's 13 inches or larger, you can afford to put a bunch of content in front of the user at one time and you can count on their eyes to navigate to it.

With mobile, however, you've got a lot less real estate to deal with. You can't put everything on one screen. The simple solution is to just break apart the desktop page and stack the resulting pages in a hierarchy. This addresses the smallness issue, but now we run up against the lazy and impatient issue. Chances are many people aren't going to get past the first page of your mobile site if they don't find what they're looking for.

Fortunately, you've got more than space to play with; you've also got time. As a broadcaster, time is important to the BBC. Services like iPlayer make it a little less important, but we know that most people still watch TV programmes at the time they are scheduled.

We also know that they tend to access the mobile site for a particular show when it is on. So, when we build a site, we try to pay attention to what they might be looking for and put it in front of them. A case in point is the Eurovision site. On the night we changed the "Latest News" page. We knew that if people were accessing the site when the show was on, they would be most interested in what was happening on screen right then. We built a simple system that ensured that the first links on the page were to the country that had just performed, the one that was on now, and the next two after that.

And we added a feed of the three most recent tweets from the BBC production Twitter feed. Rather than wasting time with the timestamp of each tweet, we just put the timestamp of the most recent one.

Below this, we kept the standard content that was on the page to make sure our users could still find content they had been looking for before.

The technique worked well, and this page got by far the most traffic of any of our television support sites that night. It would have been even better if we had been able to pull in the information for the actual country that was performing at the time, but we have to balance the amount of work we do for a site and the cost of that work against the likely traffic the site will get and the value to the public.

As traffic to our mobile offering grows and thus becomes of greater value, we hope to do more work of this kind to ensure we can anticipate better what users are looking for when they are looking for it.

Chris Yanda is Portfolio Executive, Mobile

Video: BBCiPlayer on N95

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Dave Lee | 11:06 UK time, Thursday, 11 June 2009

Last night, Fabio Capello thanked the 50,000 or so England fans who made it to Wembley despite the Tube strikes in time to see the six nil thrashing of Andorra.

Sadly, Fabio won't be heaping any such praise on the other half of the Internet Blog team. But I'm here now, so on with the (mobile) show.

Here's a video of Mark Kortekaas and David Madden. Mark is the recently appointed Future Media controller of Audio and Music and Mobile. David is Executive Producer of Mobile Media. He's showing off the now-launched Nokia N95 version of the iPlayer.


In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

Dave Lee is co-editor BBC Internet blog

A new way to get travel news on the move

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Ulyssa MacMillan Ulyssa MacMillan | 10:11 UK time, Thursday, 11 June 2009

11.42am Important note: We've just had word from the Travel team that the mobile site is experiencing some serious technical difficulties. As a result, you will not be able to access the travel site. Please bear with us.

--

Travel delays and disruptions are in the headlines today. Finding alternative routes and getting the latest news on delays and disruptions can save you time and effort when you're on the move.

We've offered traffic information on the BBC's mobile site for several years but we've just launched a new and improved version.

You can search by road, postcode or town name to find the information that matters to you. You can sort the results by time or severity of delay, and find out if an earlier accident or traffic jam has cleared.

Most of us have journeys that we take frequently, so we've introduced the ability to personalise the service by creating a favourites list which gives swift access to the information you want in just one click.

For the first time, we're also offering public transport information. Whether you need updates on rail, ferries, air travel or the London Underground, the new service helps you find out what might affect your journey, so you can be prepared.

Hopefully your travel plans will go as smoothly as possible, but if you want to keep an eye on potential disruptions to your journey, please try our new service.

To use the service:

- click on the Travel news link on our mobile homepage (www.bbc.co.uk/mobile)
- or type the address www.bbc.co.uk/mobile/travelnews straight into your mobile phone
- or text the word TRAVEL to 81010 to receive a direct link (texts to the BBC cost 10-15p).

(See diclaimer at top of post - Ed)

Ulyssa MacMillan is Executive Producer, Mobile Browser

Mobile Day: 8.32 a.m.

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Nick Reynolds Nick Reynolds | 08:36 UK time, Thursday, 11 June 2009

I arrived at the Broadcast Centre at 8.30 today. The first member of the BBC mobile team to get into work was Jason Quinn, CSD team leader. Jason told me he arrived at 7.30.

jason_quinn.JPG

Perhaps it's a daft idea to do a signficant day of blogging activity during a tube strike. But if Jason can get here...

These posters (below) have been appearing around the BBC's White City complex for the past few weeks. We hope to have some good news for you as part of the day.

n95_poster.JPG

Nick Reynolds is editor, BBC Internet blog

Network problem

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 13:55 UK time, Wednesday, 10 June 2009

People had problems getting onto the BBC News website a little while ago. We think we've tracked it down to a problem with our network and the problem should now be fixed. Let us know if it's not...

Read more and comment at the Editors at BBC News

Welcome to your Blast studio

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Myles Runham | 13:15 UK time, Wednesday, 10 June 2009

"Creativity is critical to the BBC."

"Everyone likes to feel creative."

So far, so obvious.

But how do you help people to be creative and explore their talents?

Creativity is not only about artistic endeavour. It's not only for artists. Technology can be creative too, or at least, applied creatively. The web and greater broadband access to it have pushed back the boundaries of what can be done with creative skills and facilitated greater participation.

blast_studio.jpgThe Blast Studio brings these threads together into what, we think, is the first online, collaborative art installation (do tell us about others we have missed though). At the Blast Studio site you can control multicoloured paintball machines to fire patterns on the studio wall, guide the drip of coloured glue onto the surface of a lit plastic dome, play with the light and sound of phosphorescent lighting and write messages. You can view the progress thanks to a regular snapshot of the space using a wonderful 360 degree lens camera on a timeline of activity over the 30 days. The studio closes on Saturday so hurry on down and make your mark. All of this happens for real thanks to the studio at Topolski Century.

Photo of Blast Studio by Agostinhoe on Flickr.

So, why (in partnership with Fallon) did we do this? Because creativity is at the heart of Blast and experimenting with new ways of expressing this is part of the Blast mission. This may not be quite so obvious to those who are unfamiliar with Blast as a project.

The Blast team focus on providing opportunities for young people to explore their creative potential. This may take the form of posting their work on the Blast site (whether music, fashion, writing, design, film or any genre you chose); it may take the form of participating in workshops on the nationwide tour or at a partner event. It can also mean getting concrete work experience from one of the 300 work related learning experiences. The essence of all of these options is that young people do this for themselves; viewing, critiquing and, we hope, learning from each other. We aim to provide them with tools, platforms and places for that to happen. Creativity can be daunting and often feel distant and unattainable. Blast intends to bridge that gap.

I think that Blast is one of the first dedicated social learning spaces online for 13 to 19 year olds, so innovative in this respect as well. Over time, we will add more tools and features to the new site to further support learning from mentors, professionals and peers. Blast is a new step in a decades long journey by the BBC to apply creative resources and talent to the learning needs of the UK, whether at school, or at home and for any age.

Blast is not about BBC content but about user content. We place our work on an equal footing with our users. It's not our project it's yours.

Have you tried the Blast studio? If you have let me know what you think.

Myles Runham is Head of Interactive Learning, BBC Learning, BBC Vision

BBC iPlayer gets a little more radio

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James Cridland James Cridland | 12:09 UK time, Wednesday, 10 June 2009

As regulars of the BBC iPlayer Radio message board will be aware, I'm currently looking after the BBC iPlayer for all of BBC Radio. We've a wealth of great content, and I'm keen to make it even easier to find, play and share the great radio programmes you can hear on the BBC.

BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra was an odd experience on the BBC iPlayer: while you could listen to the station live, you were unable to listen again...

Read more and comment at BBC Radio Labs blog

James Cridland is Executive Product Manager, Audio/Visual Products, BBC A&Mi

Mobile Day: Thursday June 11th

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Jonathan Richardson | 15:05 UK time, Friday, 5 June 2009

mobile_phone_eighties.jpgDo you use BBC Mobile?

Next Thursday 11th June will be mobile day on the BBC Internet blog.

Dave and myself are working with the BBC's mobile teams on a day showcasing their work, and (like BBC iPlayer day) we want you, the people who use it, to get involved.

If there are questions you'd like answered ask them here and we'll try and answer them on the day. There'll also be a special session of questions and answers on our Twitter feed (if you want to tweet use a #BBCMobileDay tag).

We also want your photos of you using the BBC's mobile services - and the more unusual the place you access our mobile site the better. Perhaps you've checked the weather at Everest Base Camp, watched iPlayer on top of Big Ben, looked up the football scores at a cricket match, or you just enjoy using it around the home, we want to see you.

If you've got photos of yourself using the BBC Mobile site, or pictures of where you use BBC Mobile, post them to Flickr, tag them BBCMobileDay and next Thursday we aim to run a post with a selection of the best.

Jonathan Richardson is Content Producer, BBC Future Media & Technology

Blogs on polling day

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Giles Wilson Giles Wilson | 16:41 UK time, Thursday, 4 June 2009

From the BBC News Editors blog:

Readers of BBC News blogs might have noticed that they are today unable to leave comments on posts about political matters. This is because of the elections being held for the European Parliament and English local authorities, and it will remain the case until the close of polling in the UK at 2200BST on Thursday. You can find out more about the BBC's policies on broadcasting during elections from this Editorial Guidelines document [172Kb PDF].

Giles Wilson is the features editor of the BBC News website.

Radio 4 as an antidote to Twitter panel games

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Jem Stone Jem Stone | 16:30 UK time, Thursday, 4 June 2009

For the last few months there have been a rash of quite ancient comedy parlour games being adapted to Twitter where groups of friends devise, in 140 characters of course, punnery and wordplay around film and tv titles. Just in the last month credit crunch movies (eg: The Italian Jobless), medieval movies (eg: You've Got Chain Mail) have had their moment in the sun. In response a small group of Radio 4 fans including a lot of the Twitter regulars working here have had minutes of fun of an evening adapting these memes to our favourite national speech network; CreditCrunchRadio4 spawned for example the rather bleak The Pip. My best attempt at medievalradio4 was You and Your Serf (sorry). However none so far had generated more than a brief flurry of interest.

But then Radio 4 announcer; Kathy Clugston found herself on a train journey home yesterday evening was bored and tweeted this...

Read more and comment at the Radio 4 blog.

Jem Stone is Communities Executive, BBC Audio & Music Interactive.

Help and the BBC iPlayer messageboard

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Jonathan Richardson | 15:14 UK time, Thursday, 4 June 2009

We've updated the BBC iPlayer messageboard to make it clearer to you what it's for and where you can get help on using BBC iPlayer.

We've had our searchable help site with a dedicated help team to answer your questions for some time. We've also made some behind the scenes improvements, from improving the Contact Us form, to adding RSS feeds, so you can subscribe to a feed updating you whenever we add a new FAQ, or subscribe to individual FAQs for when we update them.

The BBC Internet Blog and the iPlayer section of it have grown. We've tried to lead discussion, such as when we made major changes and Anthony Rose wrote about them.

So what's the messageboard that I host for?

It's for you - I believe it works alongside the blogs and help site by being your place. If the help site is where we offer help and advice to you, and the blog is where we lead discussion, then the messageboard is where you lead and interact with others.

For some time the board has been a forum led by you so it's only right that the reorganisation not only recognises this, but makes it clear what you can expect to find there.

When BBC iPlayer only offered downloads for Windows XP users to registered users and it was a beta product, the messageboard was ideal. However now BBC iPlayer is a mainstream service across an ever-growing list of devices the board is not suitable - the amount of information needed to diagnose a problem is too great. That's why we improved the help site and made these latest changes to the board, making it clear it's more for discussion and self-help than BBC-provided help.

But what of the future? Well BBC iPlayer is changing all the time - keep a look out on this blog for more information - and the board will change as the improvements come in. But I think there is more we can do to get more of you involved. The commentary on the blogs and messageboards is lively, but many of the people chatting on there are the same people talking elsewhere on the net about iPlayer.

One of the reasons I've started to use Twitter (I know, it's "love it or hate it" to many) is, as I was told recently, because the BBC wants "to be where the conversation is taking place". So what about where it's not taking place?

Now I've created this clear divide between the help site, blogs and the messageboard, I think it's time to start thinking about where the conversation isn't happening and finding out how to stimulate it and get it going, without forgetting our existing audience. That's my next goal, and one that may mean a shift into new areas. Feedback on the messageboard will of course be welcome.

Jonathan Richardson is Content Producer, BBC iPlayer, BBC Future Media & Technology

Interesting Stuff 2008-06-04: Project Canvas Consultation Statement

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Nick Reynolds Nick Reynolds | 11:26 UK time, Thursday, 4 June 2009

The BBC Trust has issued a press release and a statement about the Project Canvas consultation. The press release includes this quote from Trustee Diane Coyle:

As part of our assessment process we have just completed a comprehensive consultation of the industry. A common theme that emerged was that more information was needed from the BBC Executive about the Canvas proposal. So in the interests of making a robust and independent decision we have asked the Executive to look at the issues that stakeholders have raised and report back to us.

See also this story from Media Guardian.

Nick Reynolds is editor, BBC Internet blog

More in store on BBC HD

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Danielle Nagler Danielle Nagler | 09:56 UK time, Thursday, 4 June 2009

Hello Everyone,

I know it has been a few weeks since I've been active here. But I'm reluctant to waste your time when there is nothing much to say.

I hope that you've been enjoying the channel - aside from Eurovision (fortunately with sound this year), I thought that South Pacific looked truly spectacular and I've also been watching some of the late night comedy that we've been re-running. For a variety of reasons there has been less new content on BBC HD over the last month than I would like. But that does mean that there is a good range of programmes coming to air over June.

Our summer of live events gets off to a strong start next week with tennis from the Queen's Club, and Federer, Nadal and Murray all in action. That's followed by Wimbledon which starts on 22nd June, with more courts than ever before available in HD this year. We are offering coverage of the D-Day celebrations on Saturday 6th June - as the 65th anniversary it is likely to be one of the last commemorations attended by the veterans and a moving tribute to their contribution. And at the end of the month we'll be at Glastonbury with coverage of the main stages late into the night.

As we all start to lighten up with the summer weather, it seems appropriate that there's a fair sprinkling of comedy and entertainment coming to BBC HD this month. Michael McIntyre - familiar to some of you through Live at the Apollo - introduces his Comedy Roadshow on Saturday nights, while Thursday nights will see the arrival of a new series of That Mitchell and Webb Look along with Psychoville (a very dark comedy from The League of Gentleman team), and Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire (a gladiatorial spoof from BBC Two). For those with more mainstream tastes, Graham Norton is hosting a new family entertainment show - Totally Saturday - there's a new comedy drama, Hope Springs, on Sunday nights, and Hotel Babylon returns on Fridays. Also new to the channel is BBC Three drama Personal Affairs, Casualty 1909, and documentaries about Henry VIII (Henry VIII - Patron or Plunderer) and Ben Fogle and James Cracknell's trip to the North Pole (On Thin Ice).

As ever, I'm sure there will be plenty you would like to have that isn't in HD - we are working on the things that matter to you, and I'll let you know just as soon as we get there.

Finally, thank you to all of you who - despite the gaps and imperfections - chose BBC HD as Channel of the Year in the Freesat Awards last week. All of us working on the channel really appreciated your vote of confidence in what we're doing.

Danielle Nagler is Head of BBC HD, BBC Vision.

Episode 2 of R&DTV available

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George Wright George Wright | 19:10 UK time, Wednesday, 3 June 2009

We're really pleased that the latest version of our R&DTV show is now available to view, rip, remix, share, etc.

It's an experiment in creating an interesting TV show themed around technology, released under a Creative Commons licence, explicitly made available for you as viewers and end users. You can just watch and enjoy the show or do much more with the content using the Asset Bundle.

Read more and comment at the BBC RAD blog.

George Wright is Portfolio Manager, Rapid Application Development, Research & Innovation, BBC Future Media & Technology


Interesting Stuff 2009-06-03

Nick Reynolds Nick Reynolds | 15:12 UK time, Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Rory Cellan-Jones' news story "BT accused of iPlayer throttling" and post on dot life "iPlayer: BT v BBC" has raised again the question of "traffic shaping". Natural Yoghort says:

BBC iPlayer uses an awful lot of bandwidth and is an inefficient use of the network that everyone pays for.

Meanwhile The Daily Telegraph reports "BBC and Google in talks to launch international iPlayer site".

Geek.com speculates:

I can only guess that the BBC want a partner who can provide a solid infrastructure and backbone for the video service in most countries. They also need a simple way to introduce advertising. Google can provide both of those solutions.

paidContent has a thought provoking personal view from Andrew Burke: "Canvas Will Explode UK TV, But BBC Must Stand Back".

Nick Reynolds is editor, BBC Internet blog

Radio 1's Big Gaming Weekend

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Hugh Garry | 15:25 UK time, Tuesday, 2 June 2009

One of the most amazing things about working at the BBC is being privileged enough to be involved in 'firsts' and the first ever Big Gaming Weekend on Radio 1 (22-25 May) ranks highly amongst my favourites.

Games have become such a huge part of our audiences' lives and I've been looking at how they can fit into what we do in Audio & Music Interactive. A key thing I found is we need to know more about how to talk about gaming on-air.

I'll be honest, it's not been easy - there are concerns about isolating the non-gaming audience. But the UK gaming community is huge and hugely popular amongst Radio 1's target audience. For me, not talking about games is like not talking about what was on TV last night or what films are on in the cinema. It's a no brainer for Radio 1.

Thankfully recent changes in gaming have allowed DJs to engage the audience in ways that wouldn't have been possible a few years ago. There's been a dramatic changes in the demographics of gamers due to the rise in casual gaming. The growth in online gaming, UGC and the rise of 'self improvement' games offer lots of opportunities.

The Big Gaming Weekend was packed with great moments. Edith Bowman challenged Steve Coogan to a few verses of 'Knowing Me Knowing You' on SingStar. Vernon got on the Xbox in the Games Lounge and played what seemed like half his listeners online. Annie Mac and Nick Grimshaw encouraged their audience to download the assets pack from the website and make a 'Switch' level in LittleBIGPlanet. And to finish off the weekend, Fearne Cotton brought the nation together for an online version of 'Knights of Cydonia' by Muse on Guitar Hero (listeners without Guitar Hero we invited to join in on air guitar).

We ran an online poll to find the Greatest Game Ever; Radio 1 listeners voted Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare their number one. You could check the leaderboard to see how all our DJs and guests were doing in the Games Challenge, then check out the BBC's first ever games blog 'Get Your Game On' written by 1Xtra's Rampage.

The long tail of our Big Gaming Weekend has excited me most. The weekend was a great opportunity for us to make our mark in the gaming world and reach out to non-listening game players. The ideas were fairly small scale but did allow us to drop bits of Radio 1 into the online world for players to stumble across via their consoles. We did this by introducing our DJs into the homes of many online gameplayers, creating a Radio 1 round in the game Buzz and encouraging our audience to download assets to create their own levels in LittleBIGPlanet or create machinima. All great stuff.

So what next for games? Well, when I first joined the BBC in 1996 I had to convince our DJs to talk about the first ever Radio 1 website. There were similar concerns then about isolating the non web audience. Rather than look ahead to the next Big Gaming Weekend, I hope the success of this weekend means that productions teams will be inspired to introduce games into the everyday language of their shows.

Hugh Garry is Senior Content Producer, Radio 1 Interactive

Bringing old favourites to life: illustrating Radio 4 drama

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Ashley Stewart-Noble Ashley Stewart-Noble | 14:26 UK time, Tuesday, 2 June 2009

A while back I posted about why we use illustrations on iPlayer for key radio programming ... In short we want to avoid galleries of largely unknown faces which don't really hook the listener as much as a well-executed illustration.

When we come to illustrate dramas which feature popular and loved characters we are posed with a dilemma - we want to give depth and feeling to the drama without personifying the character too much. The mind's eye is a wonderful thing which conjures up its own distinct image of how Arthur Dent in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy or Ruth Archer from The Archers look - it's not the job of the illustration to give a face to the characters, its job is to nod to their characteristics.

Read the rest of the entry and leave comments on the Radio 4 blog.

Ashley Stewart-Noble is a Senior Content Producer at BBC Future Media & Technology

Pic of the Day: BBC iPlayer team photograph

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Dave Lee | 13:57 UK time, Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Earlier today, the iPlayer team gathered on the first floor of our Broadcast Centre for a team photo. So if you love the iPlayer, here's the people to thank!

Dave Lee is co-editor, BBC Internet Blog, Future Media and Technology.

Delving into the archives - how red button could have looked in 1998

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Andrew Bowden Andrew Bowden | 14:43 UK time, Monday, 1 June 2009

A couple of years ago we moved offices, and as usually happens on such occassions, much time was spent clearing out cupboards and drawers that had, naturally, become full of stuff that everyone had forgotten about.

One cupboard contained folders and folders of meeting minutes from 1999. Another contained a draft continuity script for the launch of BBC Choice. Elsewhere we found a box of BBC Sport branded pencils.

My favourite find was a batch of A4 printouts which contained different brand name options for the service we now know as BBC Red Button.

Read more and comment at the Press Red blog.

Andrew Bowden is Senior Producer, TV Platforms team, BBC Future Media & Technology

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