links for 2009-02-28

Focus on editorial ideas, then find the right tool

My esteemed colleague and comrade in digital arms, Jemima Kiss, Twittered this very astute observation, in less than 280 characters, about Twitter and use of the micro-blogging application by news organisations:

jemimakiss: Common mistakes news orgs make with Twitter 1) That it’s all about Twitter, rather than how people are actually using Twitter and..

jemimakiss 2) They get fixed on using a tool, like Twitter, rather than working out what they want to do & finding the best tool for it. That is all.

She’s spot on when it comes to Twitter. There is a tendency for organisations to rush with the herd to a new social media service or site without thinking about what, editorially, they are trying to achieve. I’ve seen the same thing happen with blogs and Facebook. After entering the mainstream, some journalists demanded their own blog. Why did they want a blog? They saw it as a back door to having a column. They had always wanted an opinion column because it was a sign of status and as we all know, blogs are just opinion (sarcasm noted). A typical conversation in the industry might go like this:

Editor: How often are you planning on updating your blog?

Aspiring columnist: Oh, once a week should do.

Editor: Were you planning on linking to anything?

Aspiring columnist: Why would I do that? This is my column, er, I mean blog.

Editor: Are you going to take part in the conversation and respond to comments?

Aspiring columnist:
No, of course not. I’m far too busy for that kind of thing.

Editor: So why do you want a blog instead of a column in the newspaper?

Asprining columnist: *silence*

That’s not to say that the journalist wouldn’t get their own column, er, I mean blog, thus continuing traditional media’s focus on celebrity over interactivity. Some journalists make incredibly good bloggers, but when a blog is used simply to replicate what possible in print, it is an editorial waste.

Functionally, there might not be a great difference between a column-with-comments and a blog, but editorially, there is a huge difference.

  • Bloggers post frequently.
  • Bloggers take part in the conversation and respond to comments and questions.
  • Bloggers link to the conversation on other sites.

Blogs take part in a distributed conversation in ways that columns rarely do, whereas columns – even ones with comments – provide a relatively closed, introspective conversation.

Jemima has flagged up how much the same is happening with Twitter. This all comes down to understanding how social media differs from traditional uni-directional publishing and broadcasting and thinking about the editorial concept and the unique opportunities for engagement.

links for 2009-02-24

NUJ training chair at centre of blog storm

Over the weekend, I was tempted to write about the blog dust-up between Chris Wheal, chair of the National Union of Journalists training committee, and Adam Tinworth, the head of blog development at Reed Business International, on Adam’s personal blog, but I decided to let Suw fight her corner in the comments. However, I have written up a post looking at the debate with interviews from Chris and Adam over at the The Guardian’s media blog Organ Grinder. Adam’s post had kicked off a great debate about a range of issues, and I agree with him when he says that this kind of debate needs to happen out in the open.

I have to agree with Adam to say that this isn’t a print versus online debate. It’s not a bloggers versus journalists debate (thankfully). This is a new intramural debate amongst digital journalists. We’re now at the point where there are journalists who have been working online for a decade or more. This debate is amongst digital journalists who have embraced social media, and I’d include myself in that camp, and those who see it as a threat to traditional journalism values.

links for 2009-02-20

BeebCamp: Books – how do people do linear media?

Adrian Hon – been interested in reading for a long time. Stats seem to show that people aren’t reading so many books [although I don’t think that’s true in the US].

Anecdote, why don’t people read more books? Because books don’t bleep, they don’t demand attention. Books that people feel they should read are the ones that everyone is talking about, where you want to avoid spoilers. Book clubs, make reading more social activity. The million book clubs in the US. Publishers like Penguin and Harper Collins court book groups. Interesting thing about book groups is that people often don’t talk much about books, they tend to gossip. Adrian never felt like joining a club, didn’t think he’d find a group that would be interested in the sort of fiction that he’d enjoy.

How do you address the problem where you go to the book club, and the club wants to read a book that you really don’t want to read, and this happens quite often? People have specific tastes about fiction. So you don’t want to not go, because you lose out on the social side of things, but at the same time you don’t want to have a miserable time. Book clubs are also timed both too often, or not often enough. Weekly commitment can be hard, and if it’s a great book you want to read it faster.

Book parties. Plan three months ahead. Say you’re going to read five books, and people can then pick their books and there’ll be someone there who’s also read it.

Online book clubs, tend to use forum or blog software, difficult for addressing different sections of the book. Community management problems.

Interesting things done; Golden Notebook, got eight women to discuss the book The Golden Notebook, put the text online, split the pages up, and these women could go and discuss the pages. Was kind of interesting to see all that marginalia and discussion in the marginalia. Problem with this is that’s a closed system. If you’re a member of the public you couldn’t comment on any of the pages. It was also not always appropriate to comment on the pages, sometimes you wanted to comment on the paragraph or on the book as a whole. Used a WordPress module that was really unusable.

Adrian has been working with a friend who knows Drupal. Wanted to know how to do marginalia and annotations. First try was taking The Moonstone, Victorian thriller. Project Gutenberg. Split in into pages and put it online. Commenting on pages is not a fun way of doing things, plus no social features.

Drupal module where you can comment on individual paragraphs. Other sites can do this, so you can do this on any text you like. It’s free. You can make online margin notes, anonymously or as a registered user. Fun. Can really drill down in terms of comments. Issue is that people are still reading the book separately, not t the same time as each other. Point of a book club is to see the comments of or friends not random strangers.

Next version of this is going to weave in the friend list functionality of Drupal, so you’ll be able to filter the marginalia for your friends’ comments. Can still see everyone else’s.

So that’s nice, but if you want to read a book together you want to know a couple of things, where people are in the book so you don’t spoil it, don’t want spoilers, but also want to see comments adding to a book that you’re reading. Be nice to see comments announced via Twitter. So system will record where you are, what your latest page is, and be able to send out Tweets to you about comments left on the book by your friends, and ideally, if you’re reading the book away from the computer you can send a tweet with a hashtag and page number and itill add a comment.

The idea is to keep it really simple. All this social functionality is not going to come for a few weeks, probably longer. Probably going to put on a fun book and see how people use it.

This is just about having fun with your friends. Want to give your friends a book, want to read it together, want to talk about it, because the book doesn’t ring. This will let people read together, but not in that clunky “one page at a time” way. Will probably be at “” [laughter].


What about voice to text, get people to book mark and then do something like Spinvox to send a comment.

Drupal modules will be released for free as it’s open source.

Archive content that the BBC has, such as scripts, such as the old Dr Who scripts, being able to annotate those, read them socially with your firneds.

This isn’t a new idea, but making it easy to do and make it more social.

Bad Movie Club, everyone watch The Happening, and everyone got together at 9pm (at home) to watch it together, people went out to get it. And contributed by Twitter.

That happens with Dr Who, Election. If people are doing that with TV shows, if you can tie the tweets in time back to the original broadcast you’re annotating it.

Annotated video, Viddler, comments on timeline.

Being able to deep tag stuff, at the actual moment, something more immersive, more visual.

Putting text, audio, video comments at different parts of timeline, and make them user friendly so that it doesn’t take away from the original video.

Text annotation, GPL licence mark-up, so they made it so that you could see form the density of the colour of the annotation how many comments there were. Released now as Co-Ment.

Not true that people don’t like reading text online, they do. People read text on iPhones, awful display, when things are good enough they will read it. If you put up something that has sufficient value, social or otherwise, they will read it on the screen. Obviously books on Project Gutenberg are free, but they’re not printed, so putting them in a social system like this might encourage people to read more.

Not just about whether screen is portable etc., it’s also about typography and how things are presented.

Kindle allows people to annotate text, and they will certainly release something that allows people to share those annotation. If they don’t, someone else will.

There’s reading for pleasure, reading the paper book, but there’s the “I need to remember this”, and that’s about looking things up, not necessarily to read the whole thing.

Reason people go to book clubs is to talk. The book is a social object. So you’re linking the conversation back to the book, use the power of socialisation to get people to read books again. Is there room there for people to just chat in general.

Am sure people will leave comments and in-jokes, etc., and to be able to link to say, fan fiction version.

Could work well in education too.

Extending social tools in a better way. None of this stuff is high-tech, it’s just only now that people realise that following someone on Twitter is something people like doing. Easier to put a link to reference something.

Making it easy to put the text in, can just copy and paste from Project Gutenberg, works our paragraph tags and splits on new lines. Atm you need to know how to use Drupal. Thinking about developing an import tool. If one can get properly marked-up text, it’s very easy.

Index an entire book, e.g. if you’re listening to the audio book you want to be able to find where you are. Page numbers don’t mean anything in digital. Golden Notebook has page numbers for US and UK versions, so you have to switch between them.

Ways to tag the content. Could look up the time code, where you are in the audio and if there’s a way of reference it back.

Scenes are the building block for fiction but how would you mark that up semantically? Or even agree with it?

Wide applications for a system like this. Ways to mark up any sort of text.

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BeebCamp: Co-creating content with BBC stuff

Session in reaction to the collaboration session earlier which was focused on UGC as something people give to the BBC, and to look at how the BBC can give more content, not just data, back to the audience.

BBC Backstage are trying to do this, creating a new blog that’s creating original content and releasing it all, everything in raw form, out on, wherever. Probably be under an CC-attribution licence. Video, put as much metadata as much as possible, so will release scripts. Will be available in a big bundle that people can download if they want, and be released in different cut versions that people can remix as well.

Radio 1 put together a cinema advert, and plan is to get the assets online and let people mash it up, even take the piss out of it then.

What happened to the Creative Archive? [Much laughter.]

Rather than it just being a big central archive, things are being released in different places.

But the rights issue was never solved. For a 3 minute news package, content came from lots of different rights owners, so assessing the rights for an archive is functionality almost impossible. One problem with the Beethoven release as that they discovered at the last moment that there was a freelance conductor and they weren’t sure about the rights.

Creative Archive is looking backwards. The Radio 1 ad is taking marketing assets and releasing it. Backstage is releasing data. But is anyone commissioning an entertainment programme and then releasing it?

It has been tried. one project tried to create a library of material from a variety of sources, but the uptake was small because there was no focus, there was no clear call to action. Made it so open that people didn’t know what to do with it, didn’t think that there was mush point.

Why try to anticipate what people want? Why not see what communities exist and give them the chance to do something. Why are we chasing down Dr Who knitters? That’s disturbing.

JK Rowling doesn’t mind people doing fanfic, so long as it’s not commercial. And so could do that with a lot of things with the BBC, how do you enable that?

Is anyone setting out to do that?

Why are we doing this? Is that the best public value? Talent management – they are unhappy about people saying nasty things about them on BBC sites. Content producers don’t like fans to do stuff with their content. If only one small part of the audience gets something out of it, and the producers dont’ like it, why are we doing it?

Most people here would give most things away, why not? But that’s not the broader mindset, because they don’t see the value of it.

Have to start somewhere, and people aren’t willing to try to start anywhere. Don’t know why no one has tried it, doing a story and letting people just run with it. People’s natural inclination is to subvert it.

It’s a leap of faith. One project was a story for kids, wanted to leave it open to see how they would engage with it, and it’s been great to see what they come up with. The second thing is that, for kids, you have to provide the tools as well. It’s fine to leave assets around, but not everyone has the tech available to them.

Why do we think that more is better? Wouldn’t it be great if it was democratic and let it go, but it does make sense to editorialise in a certain way.

One place that is doing that is Teachers’ TV, and the teacher’s are pushed to take it and use it.

Is the idea that content will naturally be subverted true? Will people really do that as a de facto response? And even if they do, is that a bad thing? In the right context that’s fine.

Dynamic of the culture is challenging. On the one hand you’ve people who want to give things away, and on the other hand you have people who want to control.

Do the lawyers ever talk to marketing before they get on the case of someone who’s doing something, because a lot of this UGC is great publicity.

Big Weekend, mixing up people’s own photos and the professional photos, in a programme, create something completely unique ad that’s small but popular.

Fear that people are going to be horrible if we let something out. So long as the product is good, and it does need to be good, brands are surprised by how positive it can be. Brand managers don’t realise that often people talk positively and will defend the brand, if the brand is good.

Great fear of being criticised in public. Ignoring it doesn’t stop it happening, if there is negative stuff, you have to engage with it.

Letting the audience take the piss a bit endears the brand to the audience.

None of this does not apply to the Middle East, where the state broadcaster is the voice of the state. If they took the BBC’s content then it might seem like endorsement from the BBC. Perception that by putting things online, it’s encouraging people to use it, and that would be seen as the official voice of the UK. [I’m having problems following the logic of this argument.]

What if the BNP uses the footage? Backstage has a “no political usage” clause in its licence.

But need to treat different types of content differently, so children’s content is treated differently to news footage. But we shouldn’t let concerns about certain types of content stop the development of uses of other types.

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BeebCamp: Online Books

Heard a lot about news, but there’s stuff around making TV programmes richer, more interesting. Quite often they want a list of books that are interesting or relevant. Sometimes they have a list, or they want people to contribute to a list. So where should people link to? Amazon is the de facto place to link to? Should the BBC link to Amazon? Probably not. Wikipedia would be nice, but if a book’s not there you could add it, if it was “notable”. There’s also OpenLibrary, which wants one page per book for every book ever made, but it seems early days. WorldCat is interesting, it tells you which library has the book near you, but mainly focused on US. There’s the Library of Congress, which has a lot of data. Then there’s LibraryThing and BookKeeper, which is about “my” collection of books, so people logged in could see which of their friends have also read that book.

On the music site, it’s quite clear, they link to official website or MySpace page. But for books there’s no clear source.

This is not about the text, unless it’s public domain and available, but about the metadata.

Link to the publisher. Author’s websites. Penguin tried to build book groups around their books, so there’s a page for each book and can do a book group about these things. Harper Collins have a network of interest that they’re building around, Authonomy, BookArmy.

Amazon are canonical, whether we like it or not. They have the metadata, synopsis, reviews etc.

Libraries have huge collection, but they don’t necessarily have the synopsis. They just have classification data.

Amazon have an API so could someone not just use that data?

Would it make sense for the BBC to make a page for every book it talks about?

How to you let users share their preferred link. Not sure if the BBC should be making their own library, given how many others are in that space. Should be partnering with another service.

Open Library website talks about how they might work with World Cat, so landscape may change in front of us. Shelfari, owned by Amazon.

Link to a variety of sites?

Every book as an ISBN, so perhaps use that as a gateway to other places that list books by ISBN.

Wikipedia has a page for every ISBN which links to pages that have ISBN built URLs.

Two ISBNs, the US and the Worldwide ones. Two standards. Library of Congress has its own identifiers which are broader than just books.

Do we need a way of marking up book titles, semantic web. Could you RDF8 tag to ISBN number in with the book, then later on you can scrape all those pages.

To make it more complex, ISBN refers to one edition to one book, but sometimes you want the whole work, rather than the edition. Need a way to pull that together.

This is why Amazon number, the ASPN, which shows you an individual book or collection of editions.

BBC policy about linking – what does the audience expect? Is it inline or in the sidebar? what are you saying? Here’s a place to buy it? Here’s a history of the book? Depends on what the audience expects. Technically, it’s easy but editorial problematic. Can’t be seen to be promoting Amazon. Would feel like that was unfairly promoting Amazon, but Amazon is the de facto place to link to for books.

Could link to something like Froogle, a list of places you can buy the book, but you’re pushing people to buy the book and promoting a site.

Amazon and Wikipedia are the main ones from an information point of view. BBC should work with open sources of data.

Think of the archive as a live thing where we add new things, like the list of books, that would be valuable. If the annotated book used by the researcher who put the programme together was made available that would be fascinating.

In Our Time, Melvyn Bragg, lots of notes from researcher but would need sanitising before it could be published because the notes are very detailed. After Our Time, wiki, set up but is a bit dead. If you had the research notes to go with the transcript, that would be great. Very thorough research.

What about other BBC sites, aren’t they doing already? Once you have an identifier per book in the system, you can aggregate content within the BBC site about “these are all the programmes or sites that are talking about this book” .

Something like Dewey Decimal system. BBC already has topics which functions a bit like that, if you have a page about the Cold War it aggregates all the BBC’s info about the Cold War, but should also link to thinks offline and books etc.

Namespace – Emma, the book, film, TV series, which one? Wikipedia deals with that ok.

Tom Coates did a lot of work around radio programme pages, analogous problem. When looking at a page on /programmes, the object is “episode” and it knows the broadcast of that episode. And with books sometimes you’re interested in a particular edition because of, say, the cover, and sometimes you want to talk about the text.

But that seems like an edge case, generally talk about a book, not an edition.

Some of the sites listed earlier are doing good work in aggregating them into works, not editions.

Books in translation with popular titles, e.g. Latin classics in translation, if you’re grouping the book in that how would you deal with versions? Publishing industry is struggling with that anyway – how do you deal with Ladybird version of the Three Musketeers, and the original version?

Should semantically mark things anyway, whatever is done.

What does the user expect? Do they want to go and buy it? Do they want to find out more? Do they already know the book and want supporting information?

Further reading is different to a bibliography. A bibliography would be relatively easy to do, but further reading would be something to let others do. Wiki, audience participation, which then leads on to gaming.

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BeebCamp: Collaboration and prototyping

Another session on collaboration. It’s interesting that there’s so much curiosity about collaboration here. Talking to Charlie Beckett, we wondered if it’s that collaboration is now almost a given, “We ought to collaborate”, but that it’s not entirely clear what it is or how to do it.

One BBC project is to build applications in collaboration with the University of Aberdeen. Project has been running for a year, started off quite vague, has been interesting and educational. A lot of things they’ve learned is that academia has a very different approach to the way that the BBC works. A bit of a clash of culture.

How do we go about prototyping ideas effectively and efficiently. Finding a real variation in the way people react to the project, some are very enthusiastic, others suspicious of the BBC’s motivations for being in that area.

Nottingham games festival, universities doing prototypes for games.

Why are we not doing more stuff like this?

Prototypes, games-based, interactive narrative. How do you take a story to tell and build a game around it?

Knowledge Connect, act as middle man between universities (professors) and companies, help companies get research done. Grants available for SMEs so that the academics get paid to work on it from the grant.

Frustration with indie developers in games market, they don’t know how to get to work with the BBC. May have a great idea, but don’t know where to go to move it forward. Need to make it easier to understand the commissioning process, give developers an idea of future shows they could get involved in.

Commissioning periods of up to 18 months in some part of the BBC, so there’s plenty of development time. IF your period is 2 months, then that’s too short of a schedule to develop.

Should be in the commissioning process. Advertising has the same problem, web site & app development left til last minute. Need to gather assets. Needs to all be thought about at the commissioning process.

Not had space and time to put as much thought into it as would like.

What is the endgame for Prototype – want to learn what is possible for prototyping, is it valuable for students to work with BBC teams? Also to see if any of the ideas are worth putting more time into it.

Collaboration between HP and Bristol University. Someone at Lancashire (?) also doing interesting mobile games. NESTA do a lot of stuff in Bristol, big new media community there.

Running games and competition to find people to collaborate people. Cancer Research did one “Develop an ARG for Cancer Research”.

Try to break “who do we know” and be more “how to we reach out to more people to get as many as possible involved”.

Still pockets of people at the BBC doing interesting things.

First collaboration is to figure out what you’re doing, what your message is.

Is there a need for “Public Service Gaming”? Difficult climate, and BBC is in a unique position.

How does collaboration work within other areas? Is it just gaming? Have done some things with MTV, Radio London, didn’t work brilliantly, was ok.

How do you work innovation into the rest of the BBC. Project Red Stripe existed in a bubble and ended up going somewhere slightly strange.

It’s easy to forget to tell people what you’re doing, and lose the value of what you’ve learned, even just about what it’s like to work with a university.

Useful to write up what you did, what they said, what it might was like working with students, where did you work physically.

Values. Different values, different setting, so would be interesting to know if the students looked at the BBC as a different thing because of their involvement in the project.

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