Hashtags on programmes – It’s the bat signal!

Mark Kobayashi-Hillary, writing for ComputerWeekly this week, has picked up on the BBC displaying a hashtag at the start of the new series of Have I Got News For You and said some very nice and insightful things about it:

…when the BBC started broadcasting episode 1 of series 40 of ‘Have I got news for you’ with ‘#bbcHIGNFY’ on screen as the show started, they expected their audience to understand – and follow

I think that’s quite a watershed moment for the BBC and for broadcasting in general. In fact, the very term broadcasting starts to become redundant when the broadcast is only one component of the entire entertainment experience.



It’s actually not the first time BBC programmes have displayed a hashtag in this way, though it’s arguably the most mainstream so far. Previously, there have been:

#genius for the latest series of Genius, which used it to source contributions to the programme


#laterjools for Later with Jools Holland, which also displayed selected tweets which used that hashtag on their site. Chris Kimber wrote about the thinking behind it, and some feedback, on the BBC Music Blog back in May


And the very first was #bbcrevolution for Virtual Revolution


What all of these have in common is that they appeared silently, with no voice-over or obvious call to action.

It’s a secret bat-signal. A neat solution to a tricky editorial problem.

  • It works for all microblogging services, and doesn’t give undue prominence to Twitter.
  • People who recognise it as a bit of online grammar will know what to do with it, and it makes them feel like an insider…
  • …while coming just at the end of the credits it’s easily ignored by people who don’t.
  • It doesn’t jar. The visual appearance is tailored to suit the programme, using a typeface which matches the titles etc.
  • It’s not about gaining followers; it’s authentically about pointing to the conversation…
  • …but it’s also a conversation that the BBC is part of. People will spot that we’re joining in too (e.g. @bbcGenius is an active part of the conversations around #genius, @bbcHIGNFY uses the #bbcHIGNFY tag, etc).

You’ll also see the same hashtags appearing on the BBC’s Programmes pages too, in the new ‘Buzz’ pages which link to the online conversations around those programmes. e.g. the buzz page for HIGNFY, linked from a new module on the programme page,

The ‘hashtag bat signal’ and the programmes page are not the only way of introducing the idea of a hashtag for the programme (and there are some examples of specific calls to action in programmes which involve hashtags: #askRhod, #bbcFilm2010 etc) but it is an elegant one.

Disclaimer: I’m not exactly a neutral observer here. As always, these are just my thoughts and opinions rather than any sort of official BBC line.

Twitter and The Apprentice – some quick observations

I wrote last year about the ‘data flood’ that confronts you if you try to watch what everyone on Twitter is saying about the Apprentice. Well, it’s back, and more talked about than ever.

This isn’t surprising of course. Twitter has grown a lot since March last year, and people will always talk about what’s on television. The Apprentice, Big Brother, Seven Days and of course the X Factor are all ‘appointment viewing’ shows that are always widely talked about both online and offline.

This year, the team behind the Apprentice are not running the same live predictor play-along app they used last year, they’re instead joining in with and reflecting the activity that’s happening on Twitter.

Not only is Lord Sugar tweeting personally as @lord_sugar (yes, it really is him), there’s also an official @bbcapprentice account which focuses specifically on the show, doing a good job of sharing news and retweeting interesting stuff while the programme is on and during the week, but also makes use of a often-overlooked Twitter feature, the favourite. The @bbcapprentice account is using favourites to track the funniest and most interesting public tweets they’ve seen, and the official Apprentice site has a little ‘Favourite tweets’ box on the page which showcases them (with deep links to each), with a link back to the full list of their favourites too.

As an experiment, I used Twapper Keeper to create an archive of all public tweets using the #apprentice and #theapprentice hashtags. I’ve downloaded the archives and spent some time extracting basic stats and graphs from the results. There’s a lot of data to play with, so these are some very simple highlights.

Between 2010-10-6 20:30 – 22:30 there were 23,300 tweets hashtagged #apprentice, 19,782 tweets hashtagged #theapprentice and 390 which used both.

Here’s how the two hashtags were used during the evening. The yellow line represents all tweets which contained either #apprentice or #theapprentice (or both). This shows tweets per minute.

Apprentice episode 1, #apprentice vs #theapprentice

Both peaked during the boardroom scene, which was also the only point of the evening where #theapprentice significantly overtook #apprentice.

We can also dig into the data to spot interesting trends and popular terms throughout the evening. (Episode 1 spoilers follow…)

Apprentice episode 1, tweets hashtagged #apprentice and #theapprentice

Stuart and Dan were the most talked about characters, with Stuart getting some really clear spikes throughout. You can also see ‘sausages’ doing very well during the task, and the “you’re fired” moment quite clearly just before the end.

More stats….

Continue reading Twitter and The Apprentice – some quick observations…

Mark Thompson’s MacTaggart Lecture: it’s about services

Mark Thompson delivered this year’s MacTaggart memorial lecture earlier tonight.

The best bit?

…The clue actually is in the title – public service broadcasting. It’s about services as well as individual programmes. At its best public service broadcasting is woven of whole cloth.

And, just like the wicked old British Library, it’s founded on the idea of public space – in other words on the belief that there is room for a place which is neither part of government or the state nor purely governed by commercial transactions, which everyone is free to enter and within which they can encounter culture, education, debate, where they can share and swap experiences.

That’s some pretty exciting stuff.

Here’s the full speech and here are some choice quotes.

I’ll leave you to decide whether you think the DG tackled Murdoch head on tonight, whether his speech was an entertaining irrelevance or indeed whether he misunderstands the BBC’s public service mission. I’m actually pretty excited about his broad interpretation of public service not being limited to public service broadcasting. In fact, with that distinction in mind, one thing that stood out to me in that Telegraph editorial was this (rhetorical?) question:

We may applaud the resurrection of Doctor Who on television, but why does the BBC think that its charter covers the provision of electronic games?

The answer, to my mind, is simple. The charter does cover more than just making television programmes. In fact, it’s quite explicit about including ‘online services’, and even as-yet uninvented technologies, to deliver its public purposes.

The BBC’s main activities should be the promotion of its Public Purposes through the provision of output which consists of information, education and entertainment, supplied by means of—
(a) television, radio and online services;
(b) similar or related services which make output generally available and which may be in forms or by means of technologies which either have not previously been used by the BBC or which have yet to be developed.

This makes me proud to be part of the BBC. A BBC which – while doing fewer things, better – still knows it needs to be about more than making TV programmes.

Television Centre

NB: This is a personal blog. What I’ve written here is my own point of view, and doesn’t necessarily represent my employer’s positions, strategies or opinions. Though, of course, I hope it does.

BeeBCamp 3

The first BeeBCamp was about 14 months ago (here’s what it’s all about and here’s what happened at that first one).

Today’s was the third such event, and opened up not only to more non-BBC guests than the previous one, but also to people who don’t happen to work in London. We had live video link-ups with Manchester and throughout the day, one of the tables in London had remote guests from The North virtually joining us at the end of the table. It was a great way of bringing the two locations together for fun, creativity and getting to know our colleagues and guests. These events serve to get people together from across the BBC (and beyond), build our networks, let us spend a day away from the normal work and think a bit differently about things.

Why do this sort of thing? As Philip Trippenbach, who produced todays event, says,

It’s not just the number of brain cells you’ve got; it’s the connections between them, and the strength of those connections, that makes intelligence and creativity possible. The metaphor applies to an organization like the BBC, with its thousands of employees in different fields. … Ideas and solutions that may be obvious to one team might be revolutionary to another. The trick is to get people together to talk about those ideas.

BeeBCamp 3 sessions Blogable/Unblogable (pretty sure these are spelled wrong) Dan Biddle and Paul Murphy Wii game demo BeeBCamp

What are people saying about it?…

Inside the brain of Adam Curtis

I don’t often talk about work projects, but I cant hold my tongue about this one. I’ve been rather excited about it for a while, and it went live today.

Adam Curtis blog

Adam Curtis is the documentary filmmaker behind ‘The Power of Nightmares‘, ‘The Century of the Self‘ and more. Recently, he’s done some pieces for Screenwipe about the rise and fall of the television journalist and another about ‘oh dearism’ in the news for Newswipe.

Well, he’s going to start blogging about his work and ideas on the BBC. In fact, the Adam Curtis blog launched today at bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis. Hurrah.

Adam writes: “This is a website expressing my personal views – through a selection of opinionated observations and arguments. I’ll be including stories I like, ideas I find fascinating, work in progress and a selection of material from the BBC archives.”

All rather exciting. Of course, the rights issues with some of the clips, and especially the music, make it hard to publish them all for an internet-wide audience and sadly some of the content has to be restricted to the UK for right reasons, but the plan is for as much as possible to be globally available as the blog goes forward.

Some related links:

While I’m pimping BBC blogs, other recent-ish blog launches you might have missed:

Alternatives to ‘UGC’

I’ve started reading the research paper on User Generated Content undertaken by Cardiff University and the BBC. ugc@thebbc: Understanding its impact upon contributors, non-contributors and BBC News.

The study involved 10 weeks of ethnographic shadowing in BBC newsrooms, interviews with 115 journalists and 12 senior managers, analysis of a range of radio and television broadcasts and online content, plus a MORI poll of the British public, an online survey and 12 focus groups. Phew. 63 pages of report means I have not read all of it yet, but Robin Hamman (who was involved in sponsoring the project, has digested it here. Most of it is centered around the use of contributions from users around News, but there are a great many interesting general observations in there, and will give me much to chew over in coming days.

One conclusion instantly caught my eye though:

“The term User Generated Content is inappropriate and inadequate and should be replaced with Audience Material”

And the paper goes on to use ‘Audience Material’ (in preference to ‘UGC’) throughout. Now, I have as many problems with the term UGC as the next person, and it’s not a new discussion, but I don’t really think ‘Audience Material’ is any clearer.

Material? It’s no more specific than content really. Just another general word for stuff.

Audience? If any word is going to make people at the BBC think of its users as content consumers, to whom we must broadcast, that’s probably the one. Please let’s not reinforce the idea that users are an ‘audience’ or, still worse, ‘consumers’ (as in ‘consumer generated media’. Urgh).

I don’t really have a better alternatives, though I’ve always thought that user contributed content was slightly nicer, if only because I like the emphasis on contribution over generation.

Any others?

Apprentice Live Predictor

For the next hour I’ll mainly be watching the Apprentice.

Except I won’t. Not just watching anyway. A few weeks ago, I talked about the Apprentice and Twitter and if you’re anything like me, you generally watch TV with a laptop open. This is sometimes known as a ‘second screen’ experience (I even recently heard it called, heaven help us, ‘double dipping’).

There are quite a few examples of social telly projects out there, and that list is far from comprehensive. Mac Morrison has been thinking about the web and live TV as an event and reminds us of Tom Coates’ thoughts on social set top boxes from way back in 2005.

Well, now there’s this. You might like it. The Apprentice live predictor is quite simple really. You predict who you think will get fired, can change your mind at any time, and score points based on how long you were backing (um, what’s the opposite of backing?) the person who finally gets the finger.

It’s not a competition (really), it doesn’t influence the show (it couldn’t possibly, since the show is pre-recorded) and it’s not (really) chat-around-content as some of the social telly examples were, because the messages are pre approved and hand picked by the site editor. That means that a secondary game, which I found myself playing last week, becomes trying to leave a comment witty enough, quickly enough, to get picked by the host/edtior.

The predictor is a nice example of participation around live television which isn’t just about adding open chat around a video stream. Fun, game-like elements interest me a lot more really. I think the best bit is watching how the fickle public prediction changes in response to the candidates doing and saying stupid things.

It’s been running for the last three weeks. In case you’ve missed it until now, here’s what it looked like during the closing minutes of boardroom scene last week. I waited for a week before posting this, to reduce the spoiler risk.

Apprentice + Twitter = data flood

Series 5 of The Apprentice started on BBC One last night. Wondering what the web would be saying about it, I enjoyed the two-screen experience by watching the programme on TV while also looking down at a laptop on my lap with tabs open on Anna Pickard’s live blog on the Guardian, the Apprentice message board, and, of course, Twitter.

Initially, I thought I’d be able to regularly search to keep an eye on people using the word apprentice, or the #apprentice tag. (Of course, searching for the word ‘apprentice’ gives both, so what’s with the fuss around hashtags? Surely the ultimate tag is one you use anyway, without having ugly markup around it?)

With new updates appearing about as fast as I could read them, and sometimes faster, I turned to Twitterfall. Now it gets fun. Here’s a capture from early in the episode.

By the end, it was updating at three times that speed. In fact, Twitscoop tells me that during the boardroom scene that forms the climax of the show, there were 300 updates per minute using the word ‘apprentice’.

Apprentice trend (via twitscoop)

5 messages per second is more than I can manage in real time, but I did spot some lovely gems in there.

top trending twitter topics at ten pm

By the end of the show, 4 of the top ‘trending’ (e.g. currently most popular) words and phrases, according to Twitter search, were apprentice, Sir Alan, theapprentice and Anita.

The Apprentice was always going to be popular on Twitter, but I’m impressed at the scale here. Of course, most of the time you don’t care what everyone is saying about the Apprentice, just what your friends are saying. And that’s what Twitter’s good at. The ability to tap in to this real-time flood of info is pretty powerful though, even if it’s getting hard for one person to be able to even monitor it in real time.

Steve Bowbrick, the BBC’s critical friend

For the past seven months, Steve Bowbrick has been exploring the BBC from the inside. Last night, Nick Reynolds (Editor, internet blog) invited Steve to share his findings.

Steve Bowbrick

First, Steve’s short lecture in which he described openness as

An uncomplicated, generous use of license fee funding to generate content and code, as well as sharing the way we make it

He quickly rejected the commonly held notion that because the license fee paid for the BBC’s output it therefore it should all be freely available in all formats as “an unimaginative heat death for the economic value of the BBC”.

In describing why openness should be important to us, Steve pointed out that public value is a big deal at the BBC

“the BBC is not a business, it is a machine for the production of public value … Open organisations make more effecient use of resources … while businesses are typically good at concentrating capital and talent but inefficient at maximising public value.

It’s partly about “liberating the archive for the nation’s benefit” but while “this is not about raiding the content library … I think the conclusion will be that we can liberate access to some content for free, or at trivial cost.”

“Since Ross/Brand, there are catastrophic levels of caution at the BBC”

On the same day that the Guardian had announced their Open Platform Steve was concerned that Backstage, the BBC’s developer network, needs more love.

Steve concluded with some challenges, including the question of what to put at http://open.bbc.co.uk.

Next, a panel session. Joining Steve on the panel were

  • Emily Bell (Guardian)
  • Ian Douglas (Telegraph)
  • Jim Killock (Open Rights Group)
  • Tony Ageh (BBC)

It was lively, with some fascinating insights and opinions expressed.

Emily Bell – The BBC is so big that it’s very easy for it to roll over in its sleep and kill a few people with its tail.

Nick Reynolds – When there’s no consensus, we don’t want to talk about it at all. All big institutions avoid disagreeing in public.

From the floor (Michael.. missed his surname) – “people talk about ‘new media’, ‘future media’, but it’s just digital media. Having a department called future media is an open sore, and it’s embarrassing. Digital is open. You talk about openness, but when it’s digital you need to build relationships, not try to control your content.”

Steve – I’m also a school governor, and you’re told you have to be a critical friend. The BBC needs lots of critical friends.

Tony, talking about middle management – the bit in the middle is the problem. It’s the bit that won’t thaw. But they’re also the ones who actually get fired, who get criticised and who get the blame for perceived failings.

I was watching the openbbc tag on Twitter, as other people took live notes, so I noticed Tom Dolan when he expressed a view that “entertainment and comedy suffer really badly if you increase the openness”. And to underline his point, wondered whether “It’s time to start each episode of EastEnders with the doofdoofers, and then show that none of the sets join up in real life.”. Since Tom wasn’t in the room, I lobbed his point at the panel for him. Steve thought that the richness of just what’s in filing cabinets alone would make it worthwhile to do something. It doesn’t have to be everything. while Emily pointed out that it’s theatre – when you’re putting on a play you don’t want to see the guy putting the set together. Openness doesn’t mean you have to involve the audience at every point in the creative process. For what it’s worth, I agree with Emily.

One of my favourite quotes, which had my typing frantically, came from the ever thoughtful Tony Ageh:

We’ve never involved ourselves in the DRM issue, which we should have done. We don’t own much of the iPlayer code, but the bits we do own we should open. We don’t have significant contribution to the technical space which produces our media in the way that previous generations did. … Not just TV episodes. Content, information, millions of BBC Copyright still images, histories of localities … our brands could be made available for certain audiences in certain ways … all of which can allow self actualisation and stimulate a creative nation.

A useful and thought-provoking session.

Advice on using Wikipedia

Steve recently wrote that the BBC should engage with Wikipedia. I agree.

[photo credit: Steve Bowbrick]

Here’s some advice for anyone at the BBC wanting to get involved, which includes some things to consider if you’re not already familiar with contributing to Wikipedia. Feel free to ignore it if you don’t work for the Beeb, but perhaps it will be interesting and useful to other people too and of course I’m keen to hear what (presumably many) important things I’ve missed.

First of all, it’s worth knowing that the BBC has editorial guidelines about using open access online encyclopedias.

“…When correcting errors about the BBC, we should be transparent about who we are. We should never remove criticism of the BBC. Instead, we should respond to legitimate criticism. We should not remove derogatory or offensive comments but must report them to the relevant administrators for them to take action.

Before editing an online encyclopedia entry about the BBC, or any entry which might be deemed a conflict of interest, BBC staff should consult the house rules of the site concerned and, if necessary, ask permission from the relevant wikieditor. They may also need to seek advice from their line manager.”

Once you’re comfortable with all of that, the next place to look is Wikipedia’s own documentation.

A good places to being in the guide on contributing to Wikipedia, which says that although you do not have to create an account to edit articles on Wikipedia, there are many good reasons for you to do so. See especially the advice on why create an account. BBC employees should be open and transparent about their BBC status (which will be obvious from their IP addresses anyway, like this well publicised example) and the best way of doing this is by creating and using a user account.

More good places to get started include the Five Pillars, avoiding common mistakes and the perfect article (although it’s worth remembering that perfection is not required).

The policies and guidelines are important. Anyone considering editing Wikipedia you take their time in absorbing and understanding all the policies and guidelines. Here are some highlights. What follows it not a complete list, just a taster to get you started.


Neutral point of view

“All Wikipedia articles and other encyclopedic content must be written from a neutral point of view, representing fairly, and as far as possible without bias, all significant views that have been published by reliable sources.”…


“The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth—that is, whether readers are able to check that material added to Wikipedia has already been published by a reliable source, not whether we think it is true.”…

No original research

“Wikipedia does not publish original research or original thought. This includes unpublished facts, arguments, speculation, and ideas; and any unpublished analysis or synthesis of published material that serves to advance a position. This means that Wikipedia is not the place to publish your own opinions, experiences, or arguments.”…

What Wikipedia is not

“Wikipedia is not an indiscriminate collection of information; merely being true or useful does not automatically make something suitable for inclusion in an encyclopedia” …

see particularly the policy on news reports

“Wikipedia considers the historical notability of persons and events. News coverage can be useful source material for encyclopedic topics, but not all events warrant an encyclopedia article of their own. Routine news coverage of such things as announcements, sports, and tabloid journalism are not sufficient basis for an article.”…


Conflicts of interest

“Activities regarded by insiders as simply “getting the word out” may appear promotional or propagandistic to the outside world. If you edit articles while involved with organizations that engage in advocacy in that area, you may have a conflict of interest.”…

see particularly How to avoid COI edits and How to handle conflicts of interest

External Links

“Wikipedia’s purpose is not to include a comprehensive list of external links related to each topic. No page should be linked from a Wikipedia article unless its inclusion is justifiable”…

plus What to link, including What should be linked, Links to be considered and Links normally to be avoided

Reliable sources

“Keep in mind that if the information is worth reporting, an independent source is likely to have done so.”…


“Within Wikipedia, notability is an inclusion criterion based on encyclopedic suitability of a topic for a Wikipedia article. The topic of an article should be notable, or “worthy of notice.” Notability is distinct from “fame,” “importance,” or “popularity,” although these may positively correlate with it.”…

see particularly General notability guideline and Notability of article content

“Keep in mind that an encyclopedia article is a summary of accepted knowledge regarding its subject, not a complete exposition of all possible details”…

You’ll want to be careful to follow Wikipedia’s policies and guidelines to ensure that any proposed edits, new pages or external links are worthy of inclusion, and always be open to correction from Wikipedia’s users and editors.

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