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Prototyping Weeknotes #75 (2nd September 2011)

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Olivier Thereaux | 13:44 UK time, Monday, 5 September 2011

With a bank holiday on Monday, one would expect fairly short notes this week. And yet...

A couple of new faces made their appearance in the office. Stuart Bayston, Design Trainee, has joined us for September and will be joining Nina Monet from news and our own Theo in working on prototypes and testing ideas on "following the news".

Barbara joined the Producer team, starting in the office on Thursday but actually starting with a trip to Berlin, joining George at a 2-days meeting for the European FI-Content project. Barbara seemed very happy to meet the project partners and get a grip on the dependencies between each part of the work. George was a little less excited about the discussions around a 200 page document he hadn't been sent, but did enjoy a smashing Ethiopian meal.

Meanwhile, at the office, Vicky joined us from Salford on Tuesday, and we all had a work planning session for everything that didn't fit into the previous two sessions. We got a bit further with this one, trying less hard to group things together and a theme emerged around building platforms for our future work. She stayed in London on Wednesday too, visiting R&D Production Labs in White City. Production Lab is a real studio environment and commissions mini productions to evaluate new experimental production tools. Alia was leading this study, working with a mix of freelance BBC production crew to get feedback on a collaborative tool for editing and storyboarding on location. Really exciting stuff.

With everyone back at the office on Thursday, we were treated with a great show and tell:

Yves showed his recent work on finishing the first ABC-IP deliverable, describing the different data sources taken into account in the project. He has been working on better keyword recognition in audio streams, matching them to DBpedia, and investigating disambiguation strategies. He built a small Django web application for browsing the audio archive using the extracted keywords.

Duncan and Chris L demoed (again) the first news linking prototype (currently codenamed "what the papers say") which they spent a good chunk of the week deploying so we can start testing it with potential users in the Newsroom. I ran the test with link journalist Clare Spencer, and while there is still a lot of work before we can consider the prototype a wrap, it was great to be told that this first iteration was "too good to waste".

Kat gave us a full demo of the Radio TAG system, for which Sean recently published his overview of the specification work along with the draft specification and source code for our reference implementation. The demo was a good preparation for the trial which started on Thursday evening, with Radio 1, Radio 4 and 5live listeners asked to try out the new technology for a few weeks.

It's very early stage research, but they seemed intrigued by the concept and excited about helping us develop it. We will have to wait until the end of the trial to know how it worked for them, but there were already a few nuggets in the conversation with our test adopters. One of them said "I often hear something on the radio that'd be of interest to my wife, and look at the clock to remember what time I heard it and what station I was listening to, so I can look it up on iPlayer later. If this did that for me, it'd be great" while another remarked "I'm not sure how unique it is. You can do that anyway with podcasts, can't you?".

After the show and tell, it was packing time. Akua, aside from researching for the News Companion project - looking into how news publications allow users to follow and store news stories online, has also been Move Co-ordinator for the big Prototyping Team office move from room 101 to 211. We asked if we could keep the office number, but apparently, having an "office 101" on the second floor of Henry Wood House would be too confusing. Oh well...

George felt like he was 14 again, with Akua standing over him (and the other hoarders in the team), forcing him to tidy his room in preparation for our office move. A lot of beloved ancient kit was reluctantly disposed of. What if we need a SCSI floppy drive? How will we cope without a half working prototype Freeview receiver from 2002?

Later on Thursday, George had a 6 monthly review with the BBC's chief scientist, along with the R&D general manager, which went well - some useful steers around what we might want to explore next, along with discussion around the 2014 Commonwealth Games. He then rushed to a meeting with strategists and engineers from KBS, the main public broadcaster in South Korea. They were interested in developments in hybrid devices and RadioDNS prototypes. There was an interesting discussion around how hybrid services perform in a country with ubiquitous 100MB/s broadband, and a debate around whether broadcast still has meaning or utility in this concept.

Between boxes and demos, the News Companion team found time to make progress on their research. They kicked off the next phase of News development with the question "what does the desire and action of following the news mean to users and how can it support the management and consumption of content".

And with the pending move and the start of the TAG trial, the mood in the office in the last two days of the week was a mix of excitement and feverish expectancy. Everyone coped in their own way: Sean had fun streaming live video from a DVB-T card to display in a web browser video element using VLC, managing to overlay css-styled HTML on top of it; Kat and Akua listened to 80's music; Chris N patiently kept working on his synchronisation work for P2P-Next project, this week getting into the details of the WebM container format and looking at the decoder implementation in the Firefox source code. To each their own.

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