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 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:

Laptop Stickers

Laptop stickers

I’ve been collecting photos of laptop stickers for ages.

Here’s what my ever-changing MacBook Air looks like at the moment (click the image for the Flickr version, complete with notes).

I’m always on the lookout for more. If you want me to display your sticker, and don’t mind posting it to me, let me know so I can give you a mailing address. I mean, if I’m prepared to walk into meetings with ‘sit on myspace’ emblazoned across the front of my lid, I should be able to cope with anything, right?

On the ground at the G20 protests

I took some photos of the G20 protests around RBS and the Bank of England today. I had a quiet afternoon after a meeting in Soho, so decided to head to Bank to take a look at the square mile and see what was afoot with the much discussed G20 protests. It ended up being anything but quiet.

Arriving at St Pauls (I’d already heard that Bank tube station was closed), I overheard various police officers informing people of the best ways to avoid Bank, saying that much of the area was closed off due the protests. Deciding I’d just get as close as I safely could, take some photos and then go home, I started walking towards the Bank of England.

I soon realised that the officer’s advice was sound. There were police blockades on every single street leading in to the Bank of England.

Many streets had not just one line of police but two, with a gap in between them, essentially keeping a safe distance between two crowds. Skirting around the cordons in busy side streets, I got as close as I could get.

Plenty of flag-waving, singing, cheering and jeering. It seemed peaceful and good-natured and I found the police to be largely friendly and helpful. People were having fun.

The guy on the right was being interviewed by Radio 4. When asked why he was dressed as Satan, and which group he was represented, he thought for a moment and said, “RBS”. The interviewer couldn’t help but grin.

2:20 – Note the gap between the two crowds in the photo above. Looking in from the outside, I could come and go as I pleased, as long as I didn’t want to get any closer to the central area filled with protesters. Equally, the people on the inside couldn’t get out. They were hemmed in by the police on all sides.

2:40 – Just as I’m getting a bit bored and thinking about heading back to the office, the central crowd starts pushing and shoving the line of police which is penning them in. Scarily (for me), within a couple of minutes they had managed to break through the line, and were surging in my direction. I moved back a few paces, fearing a stampede, but all that really happened was that two bits of the crowd (the inner bit, and my outer bit) had joined up.

2:41 – But… the police had pulled back and regrouped, forming two new lines, one on either side of me. I ask nicely about leaving.

– “Excuse me officer” (I’m nothing if not polite). “I think I’d actually like to be on that side of you…”
– “Sorry mate, not happening.”
– “Really? I just…”
– “No. No-one gets in, no-one gets out. Those are my orders”.

I’ve suddenly gone from being an outside observer to being one of 2000 people (not all of whom were protesters, I can assure you) trapped in the middle of the square mile.

2:50 – After the surge, things were pretty peaceful. I started checking with officers at the various (9?) blocked streets and alleys that they really were not letting anyone out, and was slightly horrified to learn they didn’t even have any idea of when they would start letting us leave. Frustrated, but trying to go with the flow, I a) rang my wife and b) started looking around at the stuff I couldn’t previously get to. There were no groups shoving at the police now. In fact, perhaps because there was more room, everyone seemed pretty relaxed.

3:00 – It felt pretty much like a carnival really. Singing, dancing, sound systems blasting 3 different sorts of music, lots of friendly, people being happy.

3:10 – Bloody hell, they’ve smashed RBS. This must have happened a while ago. Before I arrived, even? There are mounted police here, and the atmosphere is different here, on Threadneedle Street. There’s still a lot of anger focused here. I don’t like it.


4:00 – Heading back in the other direction, I find some shade and sit in a shop doorway, pull out my 3G dongle and check my email. People ask if there’s any news. When are we getting out? No idea. The news doesn’t know. The police blocking us in don’t know, so why should the news?

4:30 – Hot and tired. Annoyed. Thirsty. Bored. Restless.

4:45 – The general mood seems to be shifting and worsening. I’m not alone in wondering when those of us who don’t want to be here will be allowed to leave. Portaloos have arrived, which is certainly a good idea, but what about food? And water? This part of the city is pretty handy if you need a cash machine, but there’s certainly nowhere open in here to spend any of it.

The police line starts moving people back down Queen Victoria Street (past HSBC) back towards the centre. Once it starts, it happens quite quickly, and in quite an ugly way. BBC News 24 captures the confrontations, while I stay well back from the shoving.

Some protesters were throwing bottles, and I saw one flaming newspaper hurled. A handful of the scary hardcore anarchist-protester-types just stood there, squaring off with the police, intent on being forced back rather than just retreating. From the police’s side, the violence mainly involved shoving people along the street with their riot shields, but I did see the batons did get used a few times. This was the ugliest part of the day. (That I saw). The crowd went wild with shouts of “shame on you! shame on you!” whenever any sort of police violence was seen.

I’m still not sure why it was considered a good idea to compress the crowd back in to a smaller area. It certainly did the police no favours in the eyes of the more neutral observers.

5:30 – Free at last. I finally got out by showing my BBC ID card to a police officer (who I think probably assumed I was press). I was told “Ok. You can go this way to Cannon Street, but you won’t be able to get back in”. I don’t want to get back in. I want to go home. Except that I felt very bad for everyone else still penned in there, and seeing Pete Blakemore’s increasingly worrying updates (and the fact he was in there for at least a further three hours) made me even more glad to be back, but also even more uneasy and a little angry.


Yet more pictures…

Update: the Guardian has a great video and story which sums up the day, plus a balanced look at various videos springing up on YouTube after the event.

MeeTimer and myware and SQLite

I’m interested in the idea of self-interested self-surveillance. Long before we had PMOG (the Passively Multiplayer Online Game, now called The Nethernet) to make a game of it, Seth Goldstein was calling the idea ‘myware’ and building the (short-lived) AttentionTrust site. As Fred Wilson said at the time, “If someone is going to spy on you, it’s probably best if its you.”

With that in mind, I installed MeeTimer over the weekend. It’s a Firefox plugin which…

records where you spend your time online. It does it in a rather useful way, by allowing you to group websites into activities … so you can make sense of where your time is going. Finally, it accumulates time spent on a site over the course of a day…

I’ve been using it for 3 days and it’s giving some interesting food for thought.


You can even optionally set up ‘tab warnings’ on specific groups (sites you’ve labeled ‘Procrastination’, say) which will pop up with a nice overlay telling you exactly how much time you’ve wasted in this site, and others in the same category (though allows you to click through and ignore the warning just this once or for the current browsing session if you still want to). I’m already finding this feature useful on the handful sites whose feed I’m subscribed to but for some reason still find myself visiting out of habit. (For me, it’s Waxy links and Boing Boing. I love them, but I’d rather be reminded to enjoy them as part of my feed reading routine rather than browsing out of habit. I bet you have your own which make you ask is this really what you want to be doing right now?). A little reminder is really useful for habit-breaking here.

Mostly MeeTimer is just quietly keeping track of a bunch of per-site accumulators, cleverly based on whether Firefox has focus and which is the currently active tab. The results are already interesting. I realised that I was spending a bit less time on Twitter and Flickr, and a bit more time on work webmail, than I thought.

This is all very well, but I want more. Specifically, I wanted to get at the data. Not just the accumulated weekly/daily/monthly (etc) totals and averages, but the number of visits to each site per day. The raw visits. In as much detail as possible. I want CSV exports, or an API, or something. If I’m spending a daily average of 21 minutes on Twitter, how many visits comprise that time? MeeTimer simply doesn’t tell me.

Or does it?

Digging around my Firefox profile, I find a very interesting file at /Library/Application Support/Firefox/Profiles/{profile-id}/meetimer.sqlite. Ooh, I bet I know what that is. So I open up SQLite and start poking.

Sorry. It’s about to get a bit dull from here on in. Unless you get excited about the idea of being able to manipulate this data you’ll probably want to scroll down to the end. Honestly, I won’t mind.

They’ve gone? Right. Let’s get hacking.

$ sqlite
SQLite version 3.6.12
Enter ".help" for instructions
Enter SQL statements terminated with a ";"
sqlite> .restore meetimer.sqlite
sqlite> .tables
deterrent_stats  groups           log            
deterrentlinks   groups_urls      url_maps       
deterrents       ignored_urls     urls

Excellent. We’ve got tables with sensible names and everything. Let’s see what log looks like.

sqlite> .headers on
sqlite> select * from log limit 3;
sqlite> select * from urls limit 3;

Lovely. Easy enough then. The groups and groups_urls tables do what you’d expect too. For now, let’s make url_id more meaningful by doing a join with the url table.

sqlite> select
  url_id, duration, day, week, url
from log
left join urls on
limit 5;

What if we wanted to show the number of visits, the total duration, and the maximum length of duration for visits to Twitter…

sqlite> select
  count(url_id), sum(duration), max(duration), url
from log
left join urls on
where url = '';

Excellent. I wonder what the top seven URLs when ordered by the number of visits?

sqlite> select
  url_id, count(url_id), sum(duration), max(duration), day, week, url
from log
left join urls on
group by url
order by count(url_id) desc
limit 7;

Twitter, with 34 visits. Sheesh. And for comparison, the top 7 sites by total duration of visit?

sqlite> select
  url_id, count(url_id), sum(duration), max(duration), day, week, url
from log
left join urls on
group by url
order by sum(duration) desc
limit 5;

13152 seconds (3.6 hours) on my work webmail between Sunday morning and Wednesday aftenoon. And all done in 8 visits. Yuck.

Ok. Let’s start thinking about daily summaries. Grouping by day, and then by URL (since I’m not very good at SQL, and don’t know how to limit it to 5 per day, I’ll just manually snip out all but the top 5 for each day for now)…

sqlite> select
  url_id, count(url_id), sum(duration), max(duration), day, url from log
left join urls on
group by day, url
order by day, sum(duration) desc;

And returning to the original question of just how many visits do I make to Twitter

sqlite> select
  count(url_id) as visits,
  round(sum(duration) / 60.0, 2) as total,
  round(max(duration) / 60.0, 2) as longest
from log
left join urls on
where url = ''
group by day
order by day;

So it seems that on Sunday I made 6 visits for a total of about 5 minutes and a single longest session of 3 and a half minutes. On Monday it was 18 visits for a total of 25 minutes including one session of nearly 4 minutes, while today, 10 visits so far (including one of over 7 minutes) have already added up to over 15 minutes.

.mode csv

in SQLite is handy too, because it changes that list format to look like


so it’s trivial to open it in a spreadsheet.

Making graphs from MeeTimer

Even better will be something cunning and programmatic. Maybe in PHP or Ruby or something. Even this exploratory manual approach is fun though. It will obviously be better once I’ve built up a bit more history but now I know that MeeTimer is storing my data in a way that I can access it, I’m even more excited about it. Thanks, MeeTimer. You rock.

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

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.

I am a weapon of massive consumption

Three songs for you, constituting exactly eleven minutes of listening pleasure.

First, Lily Allen – The Fear. I can’t get this out of my head at the moment. Big thanks to Parlaphone for not only sharing the video on YouTube, but also this audio-only version. It inspired me to go even further and hide the video altogether (I’m displaying it here at a minimalistic 25 pixels high) but you can still go full screen if you want.

I look at the Sun and I look in the Mirror … I am a weapon of massive consumption … Everything’s cool as long as I’m getting thinner …

Next, The Holloways – Generator is a lot of fun and seems to be back on Radio One’s playlist at the moment.

I can get a record player, and a generator. Generate the music that makes you feel better…

Lastly, Frank Turner – Reasons Not To Be An Idiot sounds a bit like the Lightening Seeds with Billy Bragg on vocals, but in a good way.

You’re not as messed up as you think you are
Your self-absorption makes you messier
Just settle down and you will feel a whole lot better
Deep down you’re just like everybody else …

This photo shows the local butcher building a pig

The awesome Russell Davies has just shared this amazing creation from the equally awesome Max Gadney.

In 2050, the permanent and nomadic residents of Lyddle End use the community Fabricator to build whatever they need. They do their paperwork and receive legal advice in the Tuck Shop, the owner of which can deliver a very personal service. (people still like to go to the shops.)

Nanotech/ Biotech agreements between Asia and Europe mean that creation at the atomic level is now possible. This photo shows the local butcher building a pig. (Those that eat meat still like to have it cut from something previously sentient, rather than the petri-pork that has replaced tofu.)

This is an early model fabricator. It needs to assemble from other matter. Absorbtion rods at the back suck C02 from the air (cleaning the planet) for raw material and re-sculpt this matter on the fab-deck. Other ‘fabs’ resculpt landfill or rock – but recycling the Earth’s mess is obviously the priority. There are no Home fabricators (legally) – the act of creation cannot yet happen in a small or enclosed space.

Each community fabricator is named after the first thing made. This one is called Dodo.

You can learn more about, and how to get involved in, Russell’s delightful Lyddle End 2050 project as well as see the results as they accumulate.

(Update: it’s now on Russell’s blog. Hurrah.)

Forecasting and Ideas Workshop

The effervescent and delightful Collyn Ahart Chipperfield invited some of her friends to her (amazing) place recently to take part in ‘an evening of ideas, imagination and inspiration from the worlds of architecture, design, fashion, digital and trans-disciplinary creativity’. I was delighted to take part. She’s working on a project, and plied us with booze and food to get the most out of us in an awesome forecasting and ideas workshop.

Collyn shared a few factors she wanted us to to consider in our discussions, and we added some more. Essentially they formed the framework in which we worked. There was a long list, but here are five which particularly made me think ‘oooh’:

  • connected isolation
  • mediocrity through efficiency / efficiency through mediocrity
  • the niche
  • exclusivity vs sharing
  • discovery vs creation

Before we started thinking about the future, we stared by sharing some things which inspired us. In our group, we had The Palace of Versailles, Dadaism, a Japanese album called Phantasm [?], Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, Ghanaian wristbands, a poem by Oriah Mountain Dreamer (called Invitation ‘It doesn’t interest me if… I want to know…’), Audi, The Sea, LEGO, 3G, Moo cards, Vivienne Westwood as Margaret Thatcher on the cover of Tatler, An Oak Tree by Michael Craig-Martin (a glass of water, accompanied by this text), Food, mis-matching men’s shirt, the White Horse at Uffington, a image of a first-Century Egyptian inn and an image of an Iranian Mosque.

Collyn had very effectively helped us break the ice, get to know each other and get our creative juices flowing. Next, we began to think and talk about our topic, ‘Leisure Time Spent…’, with a 5-10 year outlook. Three other groups discussed three other topics, but here are my hasty notes from our group’s conversation. I have not attributed particular thoughts to individuals, but do bear in mind this is the output from the group, and certainly not from me. I simply scribbled while we talked. (Collyn provided the sort of notepads a waiter might use, with carbon-paper so we could take our notes home and leave a copy for her. Genius!).

We started out by thinking about life in 2008, gradually moving out from there. Hold on to your hats.

1 – Recession causes:

  • more sales of sex toys and pregnancy tests (apparently)
  • fewer house sales
  • more work for chimney sweeps
  • stronger links into the community
  • fewer people taking flights. more competition. cheaper flights
  • people asking ‘what does it cost to get there?’ shifting to ‘what does it cost to be there?’
  • more discerning around choices. more local tourism and events
  • (diversion of examples of local attractions we had not all seen: cabinet war rooms, packaging museum, museum of childhood at bethnal green, ‘cybersweets’ nostalgic sweet shop, also in bethnal green?)

2 – Will the technical pace slow?

  • what if it takes 10 years for us to get back to where we are now, economically?
  • is technology being held back, released at the speed which we are comfortable absorbing it rather than the speed at which it is developed?

3 – Social networking has evolved:

  • Facebook as the new MySpace as the new Friends Reunited
  • Destroying serendipity, or increasing it? Sharing so much online makes it awkward to say the same things to someone face-to-face: have they already read it?
  • handy for your extended network. close friends vs contacts
  • going beyond Dunbar’s 150
  • imagine Facebook in 5 years – even more sharing?
  • overcoming(?) privacy fears? a new approach: will we be more honest and accountable?
  • going beyond declarative living in an era of informed consent
  • internet vs cctv vs oyster vs nectar
  • our junk mail as a barometer of what the internet knows about us
  • celebrities are no longer alone in being watched. they are a template; we’re all monitored on a smaller scale
  • social media as narcissism. ‘famous for 15 people’
  • display of life-streams is too me-centric. need more room for serendipity, and highlighting friends of friends rather than stuff I already know

4 – Leisure time connected/disconnected

  • time out = being alone. finding nature. escaping from our highly connected lives. increasingly value time to ourselves
  • escaping overload. a break from constant stimulation
  • we are tired of bombardment of unnatural stimulation
  • (another group raised the point that our digital lifestyle is relatively recent, but people have been going to the countryside to have ideas for a long time)

5 – Age, home and TV

  • older people are acting ‘younger’. higher expectation about activity later in life
  • getting married and having kids much later
  • TV as an anesthetic. smalltalk rather than sharing. replacement for social interaction, or lubrication for it?

It would be unfair of me try attempt to summarise the other groups (especially as I missed the last part of the last summary, leaving rather abruptly, suddenly having realised I was going to have to run to the tube to avoid missing my train home) but what I did see of the wrap-up afterwards was very positive. Lots of ideas. Five things that really stuck with me:

  • the irony of poor people living in the city centre and travel to badly paid jobs in the outskirts, while rich people life outside the city and travel to well paid jobs in the city.
  • a cheaper process doesn’t necessarily make the the whole system cheaper. expensive, difficult creation processes mean we make more effort to get it right first time
  • to master something, you need 10,000 hours practice. What happens when we have been using today’s tools for 10,000 hours? Will they mutate and evolve in that time?
  • a hammer is technology
  • we have poor memories of our own childhoods. Today’s parents have the tools to capture and catalog their children’s lives very thoroughly

That’s enough bullet points for now. I wish I could digest it better, or differently, but fortunately I can just wait for Collyn to do it. I await her output eagerly.

BeeBCamp – what happened?

BeeBCampMy hasty notes from today’s event

10:00am – Philip Trippenbach: introductions

Philip introduces the format of the day. The default is for sessions to be on the record (i.e. externally bloggable) though participants are free to go off the record when and if they want to (in practice, this happened very infrequently during the day). Philip shows people the whiteboard and invites people to add their names and topics they wish to talk about to the board. Having arrived with a slight paranoia that everybody would want to listen but nobody would want to speak, I was relieved to see plenty of slots fill up quickly. We weren’t mad to think that people would have stuff to share. Phew.

BeeBCamp sessions (morning) BeeBCamp sessions (afternoon)

From now on, the notes I make are predictably dependent on the slot I decided to join. There were generally 2 – 4 other sessions I could have gone to, so I’ll be relying on other people to share their notes to fill in the gaps.

10:30am – Max Gadney: Choice & Voice

Max was previously Head of Design for BBC News and is now the multiplatform editor for BBC 2 and BBC 4.

  • Choice: often the technical focus. TIVO
  • Voice: editorial selection and (sometimes) marketing. Brand. a point of view.
  • Serendipity vs customisation.
  • Personalisation (choice) via metadata, recommendation systems, personal suggestions.
  • Book: Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier
  • A brand is a promise, re-iterated. On brand affinity, radio does this more often than TV. Fine grained reinforcement. Radio is a bag of sand, TV is a bag of marbles. 2 hours of snooker vs 3 minute song on the radio.
  • Brands with the clearest voice will be meaningful.
  • Choice and voice are extreme ends of a scale. Interesting things will happen somewhere in the middle.
  • “What am I going to watch?” is answered by a TV channel if the voice of that channel means something to you.
  • “I’ll watch BBC 2” if there’s a voice there, so that I know what to expect.
  • It is the role of tech teams not to say “Telly’s dead. Knob off”.
  • BBC as a gateway. What will there be less of? Reasonable prediction that repeats will be less important in a world which has video on demand everywhere.

11:00am – Steve Bowbrick: Common Platform

Steve presented a speech on the Common Platform, but it was punctuated by so many additions and asides (and interruptions and questions) that it didn’t feel like an overly formal approach.

  • Steve = Blogger in residence
  • Set up by Jem Stone and Tony Ageh. Now reports to Nick Reynolds who edits BBC Internet Blog
  • Blogging externally at
  • “Blogger in residence” could have been “the Inquisitor”
  • Commmon Platform project is an effort to imagine what comes after the broadcast era for the BBC
  • Dream: BBC might become a platform for creation, enterprise, participation, communication and learning
  • What comes after the 80 year golden age of broadcasting might be very different to what we know now
  • It might not include the trust and acceptance of the audience. The YouTube generation might already be forgetting what the BBC is
  • Steve was bought up (not literally) by Radio 4
  • BBC needs to manage the transition to the thing with some grace, and change at a pace that doesn’t tear it apart
  • This is not an apocalyptic view of the future. It’s not “Telly’s dead. Knob off”
  • Observation from listener: platform is a difficult word. Steve: at least it’s more neutral than channel. Television was probably a difficult word. So was radio
  • – get involved. Tag (delicious bookmarks, Flickr photos, …) write stuff.
  • Openness as an attitude needs to become utterly endemic and soak through the organisation
  • Pragmatic: sharing to defend against criticism. Openness to reveal a positive truth
  • How do we share code, content, insight, talent and resources?
  • How do we plan in openness from the outset
  • via Tom Coates via Max: “everyone wants to build cones” (building blocks – the pretty cones on top of the castle roof) when we should be building block-like things upon which others can later build
  • Q: there’s already a common platform, it’s called the internet. A: the BBC has the potential to create a valuable layer in and on the web. We should not duplicate existing services, but we might have to create new ones. The role of the BBC should not only be to slot content into existing models. Providing guidance and value might involve more.
  • Q: is it a specific thing, a destination? A: Not necessarily. More a way of thinking about the world and our place in it. Not being so cowed by the technology that we don’t get involved in improving it.
  • Closing observation from the floor: even the basic infrastructure needs to work

11:40am – Jo Twist: Social Viewing

Jo is BBC 3 multiplatform editor and, like me, has been thinking about social TV viewing for a while.

  • BBC audience: 18 – 34ish
  • What are they doing? Facebook, mobile, IM. i.e. connecting with friends.
  • Time rich, but very busy socialising
  • Twitter is not massively popular in the BBC 3 demographic (but MSN is)
  • Simulcast + watching and chatting with friends. To some extent this is happening already
  • Idea: private screenings online. Viewing rooms with friends. Private chat between friends reduces risks (e.g. if the chat isn’t visible to public/strangers)
  • Idea: live text/audio commentary. Celeb commentators. Talent led. Sarcasm (e.g. examples of Charlie Brooker, Anna Pickard). Insider knowledge.
  • Idea: annotations. Text and graphics. Freeze frame and draw on the screen. Dragging and dropping graphical features.
  • Two models: live chat around simulcast and asynchronous conversations around catchup
  • Two propositions: enhancing content with commentary and enabling chat with friends

12:20pm – Andy Smith: some things I like

Andy has a list of invaluable tools which he can’t live without. Here are some of them:

  • Firebug for Firefox – for debugging. (Portable Firefox also came up)
  • Greasemonkey for Firefox – used for regression testing and update testing
  • Eggplant – automated testing. Re-creates clicks, takes screenshots for comparison
  • FFmpeg – used to generate different versions of video for testing different platforms (e.g. what can the Wii play back reliably?)
  • Charles – debugging proxy
  • Prince XML – write HTML and generate PDFs

Andy also covered what’s going on with the EMP (Embedded Media Player)

12:40pm – Lunch

Lovely food and drink sponsored by Simon Nelson. Thanks Simon.

1:30pm – Roo Reynolds: Blogging Externally (Can I? Should I?)

I took bad notes about this because I was doing too much of the talking. Rain was taking better notes?

  • Internal vs external. Internal blogs are unloved. Most can be just as effective externally
  • Rights and responsibilities. We should all be able to blog. Guidelines say talk to your manager
  • Blogs as a way of staying in touch externally with colleagues
  • Three models: 1: internal, 2: externally on, 3: personally
  • personal hosting and personal liability. Good thing or bad thing?
  • IBM’s blogging guidelines and culture
  • “I don’t have time” – priorities
  • could my response to this email usefully be seen by more people?
  • reading and commenting on other blogs as a way to get started
  • Tom: was recently challenged on why he wasn’t making time to blog more. Can we afford not to?

2:00pm – Daniel Bennett: Blogs and News

Daniel is at the College of Journalism. He hosted a conversation on the role of journalism in blogging, and blogging in journalism.

  • Three models for blogs in news. 1: blogs as news (baghdad blogger), 2: blogs about news (reporter blogs), 3: programme blogs (news as conversation)
  • Watchdog is two things: a conversation around programme content and a call to action to submit story ideas (privately, separate from blog comments)
  • Liveblogging. Sport does this (but doesn’t call it live blogging. It’s ‘live text commentary’). News doesn’t.
  • Roo: blogging as a personal invitation to a conversation
  • Tom: blogging and reputation
  • Idea: why aren’t foreign correspondents on Twitter? (From Our Own Correspondent model). Daniel Morris: Ambient journalism.
  • Blogs like Amazon (and Last Chance To See) as production diaries. Scope for doing something like this in news?

3:30pm – Tom Van Aardt: What Next?

Tom asked, where do we go from here?

  • ‘Institutionalised reform’. Meeting like minded (and different) people is a good thing
  • “if only my commissioner/controller could ‘get it'”
  • relationship building. We’ve developed our networks. Find out which of the attendees knows the person you need to get to know
  • Next steps: revisit attendee wiki. Follow external links to internal people (external blog, Twitter, etc.). Subscribe to others. Keep in touch
  • Ask Ian Forrester if you want to get added to internal Backstage mailing list
  • Taking the seed of openness back to our teams
  • Should we run more of these?


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