Research & Development

Posted by Laura Harrison on , last updated

This week MakerBox will have been out in the ether for two years. I’m taking this opportunity to reflect but also to look ahead at what’s coming in 2022.

MakerBox has strategic importance for BBC Research & Development to drive the adoption of technology to the next generation of makers. It gives us a route to test R&D tools and technology with production teams, artists and creative technologists and learn from the user’s experience of making things and from our audiences trying the end result. The BBC benefits in several ways, including a better understanding of what engages audiences in storytelling, making it easier to use linear and interactive workflows by uniting them, and up-skilling a community in preparation for the future. If we believe someday all content will be made this way, we certainly need to bring the makers with us on this journey.

We measure our success by our impact on the community and those that choose to use the tools to experiment. Embedding these tools and the expertise into a variety of programmes and initiatives across the sector is also vitally important for us.

MakerBox has been a fundamental part of several initiatives and commissions, including Dance Passion interactive, bringing together new and experienced talent from the dance industry to utilise new technology to tell stories about dance through a new lens. We also partnered with Coventry City of Culture as part of their Youthful Cities Digital Storytelling Lab working with new artists collaborating in Coventry and Nairobi, using MakerBox tools to tell their stories. You’ll be able to try these experiences when they’re released to BBC Taster in spring 2022.

Examples of new items from the MakerBox homepage inviting users to submit a challenge or connect with an expert.

From the product side, we’ve made some changes to the homepage in the last six months. As our communities of practice continue to grow, the MakerBox forum is one way we’re trying to connect people who want to use technology to make new media experiences, or to learn how. Although the number of people who want to join the community is high, there’s a reluctance to openly share views, expertise and knowledge. The homepage changes highlight several routes into conversations in the forum in order to help tackle this. Community members can post challenges that they face with their pilots, ask for help or support, or members could highlight challenges that they feel passionate about and request some friendly collaborators to experiment with.

We’ve made it easier to access case studies from the homepage too. Previously, the case studies rotated in the top three spots on the homepage; now, you can access all case studies through the navigation bar. This may evolve in future with a more intricate tagging approach, making it easier for the user to find them. For now, simply having all of them available in one place is a significant step forward in sharing our knowledge.

Connected Studio, MakerBox and BBC Taster are all part of the same journey. Bringing together these products is essential if we want to help our audiences become makers and boost the next generation of new digital talent. Connected Studio builds on this network and community, running initiatives that encourage new users to utilise MakerBox tools. MakerBox empowers these communities with technology, insights and expertise to drive standards and nurture partnerships. And of course, Taster offers a platform to test these experiences with audiences, directly requesting feedback that can influence the production and development of technology. Earlier this year, we began visibly connecting these products - showing which Taster pilots have been made using MakerBox tools, introducing users to the technology and allowing them to discover what tools they could use to make something themselves. The more we encourage the next generation of makers to experiment with technology, the greater the reward for the whole creative economy, helping to democratise skills within the industry. This feature is due to be realised next month.

Promotional artwork for Philip 21, showing Philip standing at a bar waiting for a date.

Over the last year, the MakerBox gang have worked with several teams to turn their ideas into BBC Taster pilots using our Audio Orchestrator & StoryFormer tools. My biggest highlight was Philip, 21 which uses StoryFormer to take audiences on a date with Philip, where they decide how the evening goes. The piece explores interracial dynamics and modern love by highlighting the user’s choice and agency. This idea was born out of the New Creatives initiative for new artists, was delivered via StoryFormer and toured various UK festivals by the team at _Hallucid.

Artwork from the cover of Gruff Rhys' new album, Seeking New Gods - an illustration of a mountain scene.

Another highlight was Gruff Rhys’ launch of an interactive version of his latest album Seeking New Gods. We urged the R&D Audio Orchestrator team to think creatively about making a fan listening party with the tool. The result was a countdown to a live and simultaneously linked immersive audio experience using the Orchestrator, which utilises an element of another R&D technology built for BBC Together. Promotion on BBC Radio 6 Music allowed us to bring together different areas of the BBC for a more significant impact. After working through some pretty sticky music rights issues, (mainly as R&D isn’t quite like the other parts of BBC in this sense), the Seeking New Gods experience was available on BBC Taster for three months. However, this process is now in place for the BBC to build on our work so that other potential music use cases can happen more easily in future.

There’s a lot to look forward to in 2022. We will be publishing a bumper Spring season of interactive pilots on Taster from the initiatives using MakerBox tools at their core. We also hope to offer the maker community two more object-based media tools that build upon those already available. We’ll have more ways to help you begin your ideas when using the technology, and we’ll be thinking about how we might combine R&D’s work on projects such as the Human Values Framework more openly into our products. A busy year awaits.

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