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Being Digital

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Michael Smethurst Michael Smethurst | 15:09 UK time, Thursday, 17 April 2008

A couple of weeks back I came across a copy of Nicholas Negroponte's Being Digital. It passed me by first time around but for a bargain 50p from the local charity shop I couldn't say no.

It's a fine read and it's aged rather well. One section in particular deals with the need for TV producers to provide data about their programmes in order to make them findable by machines. It struck many chords with the work we're doing here and even managed to mention content annotation by viewers / users several years before the words "social software" made their way onto every whiteboard in the BBC. Even better it doesn't use the word metadata once.

Anyway, it forced me towards the photocopier (he'd never approve) and the results are here:

see below

13 years later the conversations continue. But hopefully we're getting there.

ps the above was a little long for an alt attribute so it's here again as text:

Being Digital - Nicholas Negroponte

The best way to deal with a massive amount of television is not to deal with it at all. Let an agent do that. Although future computing machines will be as capable of understanding video narrative as you or me, for the next thirty years or so, machine understanding of video content will be limited to very specific domains, like face recognition at ATM machines. This is a far cry from having a computer understand from the video that Seinfeld has just lost another girlfriend. Therefore, we need those bits that describe the narrative with key words, data about the content, and forward and backward references. These will be inserted by humans aided by machines, at the time of release (like closed captions today) or later (by viewers and commentators). The result will be a bit stream with so much header information that your computer really can help you deal with the massive amount of content. My VCR of the future will say to me when I come home, "Nicholas, I looked at five thousand hours of television while you were out and recorded six segments for you which total forty minutes. Your high school classmate was on the 'Today' show, there was a documentary on the Dodecanese Islands, etc..." It will do this by looking at the headers. The bits about the bits change broadcasting totally. They give you a handle by which to grab what interests you and provide the network with a means to ship them into any nook or cranny that wants them. The networks will finally learn what networking is about. First published in Great Britain 1995


  • Comment number 1.

    Seems they had an idea, we still have a way to go though - how will it know that I am planning to go on holiday to Barcelona, and record any relevant news or travel programmes for me?

  • Comment number 2.

    Yeah, the lessons of that book are enduring.

  • Comment number 3.

    @darren - if i'm reading right the book seems to assume that your client is intelligent enough to know where you're going, what you like etc. I guess it's more webby to think of that knowledge as out there in the cloud too and your client as more or less a dumb terminal.

    The closest thing that springs to mind that might know you're off to Barcelona is dopplr. Maybe there's a mashup to be done there, combining dopplr's knowledge of your travel plans with our knowledge of our programmes.

    Past the mashup stage it relies on the BBC and 3rd parties agreeing on who 'you' are (openID anyone?), sharing a definition of Barcelona and sharing some user data. Seems that the equivalency between you on the bbc and you on the rest of the web and Barcelona on the BBC and Barcelona on the rest of the web is the first thing to get right.

  • Comment number 4.

    I wonder how a folksonomy fits in to this? My TiVo already records shows based on specific keywords in the EPG description (director, actor) and the programme description ("Huw Edwards looks at potato farming in Wales").

    Imagine a del.icio.us for EPG...

  • Comment number 5.

    I guess this brings up the usual question about folksonomies - what's good enough? It all depends on how ambiguous a tag can be. Wikipedia says there are 6 Barcelonas in the world - which one are you visiting? Which one is this programme about? Mostly we'd guess right but occasionally...

    On the delicious subject - if you could share your identity and your attention graph across the web with the BBC then at some point in the future we should be able to recommend programmes for your delectation. So if delicious or last.fm or etc used open ID and exposed (at your discretion) your attention data (as APML?) we could use that to make personalised radio / TV (in theory ;-))


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