Posts Tagged ‘BBC’

woodWhat other broadcaster in the world would commission films in which there was no dialogue, no music, no camera movement and a stipulation from the director that shots should last a minimum of 10 seconds instead of the usual two or three?

Welcome to Handmade, three lovingly-made gems from the BBC that enter the workshops of three master craftsmen to separately follow the process of the creation of a glass jug, a kitchen knife and a Windsor chair.

This is slow television that reveres its subjects in a back-to-the-future style of filmmaking where the action comes to the frame rather than being pursued by the camera.

For modern audiences accustomed to frenetic delivery and torrents of supplementary detail it requires some adjustment. Lingering shots focus attention on what’s happening but there’s no commentary to explain the process.

These aren’t meant to be ‘How To’ films that will equip you with skills, they’re about appreciating the aesthetic, and the gentle pace reinforces the time and effort invested by the makers. The world may be rushed but some things can’t be hurried.

Framing of events in the workshops is exquisite: long shots, close-ups, mid-shots – if the artist Jean-Francois Millet had been asked to storyboard video scenes this is how he would have done it.

If the visuals are a delight then the audio is an especial treat, augmenting the notion that you’re there, watching and listening, but invisible to the workers.

Picking up the subtleties of natural sound doesn’t come easy: Metalworker Owen Bush has tiny microphones taped to his shirt and his turn-ups. You hear his boots scrunch through scraps of metal shavings and grunts of effort as he pounds away at his anvil.

The apparent ease with which you hear these aural embellishments belies the technical complexity of their capture and the skills of post-production editing – master craftsmen at work with master craftsmen.

There’s no ‘performance’ requirement of any of the three experts featured, they’re doing what they normally do, and the fact that they don’t speak helps concentrate the viewer on the task rather than the individual.

Each film is self-contained and lasts less than 30-minutes; together they are a serendipitous delight.

On the X/Y crosshairs of an audience data graph the series would fit the upper left hand quadrant: small audience, high appreciation, yet it’s not the kind of program-making that comes from focus groups or ask-the-audience sessions.

Handmade captures the uniquely creative essence of public-service broadcasting – a license to experiment, a chance to be original and the opportunity to tell a story free from the burdens of commercial pressure.


toozlaI’ve had only the briefest of acquaintances with Toozla, a Russian-based augmented reality outfit that is using location-triggered audio to pep up experiences for tourists, but I like the idea enough to flag it up here.

Unlike most AR apps that overlay text on a camera view, Toozla uses voiced information that is tethered to proximity to places of interest.

There are Wikipedia text entries in the mix too, along with weather from Wunderground and UGC voice notes that can be anchored to a place so others can hear about individual impressions and experiences.

Audio has many advantages over text in this kind of context, both in the amount of information it can convey and because it lets people concentrate on their surroundings rather than looking at a screen, though there’s also an overhead in file download size and the ability to skim content for relevance.

For commercial companies seeking to profit from the tourist trade there are opportunities to incorporate sales and promotion activity linked to location.

There are also sponsorships like that of the Wellcome Foundation’s for a Medical London tour, written and presented by historian Richard Barnett, last year for City Stories Walks

As Broadcastr, another player in this area, states:  “It’s like a museum tour of the entire world.”

The Beta-service, which has just followed up its iPhone release with an Android app, lets users record their own content, create playlists, follow their friends, and share on Facebook.

As ever, extracting value from the mix is the hard part; hearing voices is one thing, but a cacophony isn’t helpful. The winner here will be the service that makes best use of listener time while adding real value to the experience of place.

The BBC has a seam of authoritative, expertly produced, historical audio recordings but rights issues, commercial impact considerations and the enormity of digitizing, filtering, voicing and repackaging the material is likely to stymie progress any time soon and that’s a huge shame.

In a country like the UK, with such an extraordinary history, bringing the past to life is enriching for visitors and likely to be good business too.

ISOJ logoA couple of weeks ago I spoke about mobiles, metadata and the future at the International Symposium on Online Journalism in Austin, Texas.

One of the other speakers I met was Seth Lewis, an assistant journalism professor at the the University of Minnesota, who gave a presentation on the ways in which organizations like The New York Times, NPR, and the Guardian have created and used their own application programming interfaces (APIs) to work with outside developers.

His talk struck a real chord; I’m still at a loss to fully understand why the BBC closed Backstage, the community it brought together back in 2005 for people to get creative with its content.

Seth has now posted a piece on the Nieman Journalism Lab blog which gives a good overview of the merits of tapping the wisdom of the developer crowd and the learnings to be had from taking such an approach.

Huffington PostIt’s great to see the Huffington Post pushing the boundaries of social media integration to better serve readers, especially since it endorses a point of view I’ve long held and promoted.

The site’s social media editor, Rob Fishman, has blogged about letting readers follow topics, reporters and bloggers both on the site and across other platforms with the aim of not missing stories that often slip through the cracks.

Back in the day, I suggested the BBC should automate the aggregation of correspondent reports in “shrines” to their output (and egos) across all platforms and all media types.

I’d always enjoyed Matt Frei’s perspective on life in the US, but trying to keep abreast of his video pieces, his audio packages, his features for the web and his musings for From Our Own Correspondent was a job of work.

The best correspondents are brands within the brand, something newspapers have long understood with their star columnists, and I always thought they deserved better packaging and promotion.  Before I left there was a project in the pipeline which was tackling this and I  hope it bears fruit this summer.

There’s more to this than just doing a better job of showcasing correspondent material though, tracking stories, people, companies and individuals’ interests is the next big step in filtering the news that’s relevant to you.

Japan Nuclear power plants map. source : http:...

Image via Wikipedia

The news coming out of Japan over the past seven days has eclipsed everything else and rendered the techfest that is SXSW a noisy irrelevance.

If anything, the inanity of some of the Tweets, Facebook and Foursquare messages served only to highlight the self-absorbed, publicity-seeking vacuousness of the mass gathering of geeks.

While a tide of thoughtlessness flowed from Austin, Tx, the tsunami of unimaginable power did its horrible worst to coastal communities in north-east Japan.

For Sam Leith in the Evening Standard we were all watching catastrophe as if it was just theatre; “Earthquake porn” as his girlfriend dubbed it, with nothing to learn.

Leith’s assertion was wrong, though his sentiment that the least we can do is “pay for a ticket” and donate to the Red Cross appeal was unquestionably right.

There are learnings aplenty from the devastation – everything from pragmatic lessons on the siting and safety regimes around nuclear power plants, to a more Zen-like appreciation of the fragility of life.

It’s because we watch, examine and learn from catastrophes that we survive and thrive. A quake of that magnitude almost anywhere in the world other than one with Japan’s building codes would have killed many thousands more people. The tsunami – even with advanced warning systems – was another matter.

Throughout it all there has been some extraordinary footage, including this UGC clip: Six minutes of terror as tsunami destroys town

Google again deployed its people-finder service though the shysters, sharks and sickos were never far behind as this Metro story highlights and this bogus BBC radiation alert shows.

Assorted mayors of London, complete with chains of office, paid a visit to the BBC this week expecting a talk from the news website’s editor.

Unfortunately he was unavoidably detained so I was press-ganged to talk about emerging platforms and how I thought the future would unfold.

My spiel about iPTV, mobiles, augmented reality, near-field communication, and the moneyless society seemed to go well, but I have to admit I was a bit flummoxed when one of the worshipful company asked where the power would come from to keep the connected society running.

The question was based, I believe, on this old Sunday Times story which asserts that a couple of Google searches generates as much CO2 as making a cuppa.

The Harvard researcher on whose work the report was based doesn’t accept the Times’ conclusion and the truth is that Google is well along the path of making itself carbon neutral

But in the wider context the questioner had a point – power-hungry devices in the hands of billions of people are bound to have an impact and there’s no ready answer to the question. The carbon footprint of a technology depends on what’s in and what’s out when you assess its impact.

It’s easy to see how making a call or sending a message rather than travelling to a face-to-face meeting might bring a big CO2 saving over existing technologies, and when multiplied across the billions of daily interactions the potential benefit is huge.

The carbon cost of manufacturing and distributing hardware and its ability to be recycled also has to be taken into account, especially with blisteringly fast turnover in device evolution and obsolescence.

Harder to measure is the impact of mobiles in enabling so many more connections and interactions between people then were ever possible in the past. Big thoughts and banalities are just 1s and 0s in the digital world. How do you cost a connected world?

At a pragmatic level, energy consumption and device efficiency is being tackled in multiple ways.

In the macro world memristor’s hold the prospect of chips that run 10 times faster than conventional models using a tenth of the power. There are solar chargers, hydrogen fuel cells and even ways of harvesting kinetic energy to trickle life back into a battery.

This Yoyo charger and this bike dynamo from Nokia show some of the solutions coming to the market, but I bet Harold Wilson never imagined his “white heat of technology” vision needing pedal power to keep the conversation flowing.

bbc mobile newsJournalist Cory Doctorow misses an essential point in an otherwise excellent Guardian post on information overload*

He argues that we should stop worrying about trying to stay abreast of everything because “signal amplification” will ensure the most interesting things eventually get through. We should relax, “it’ll be around again shortly”.

I broadly agree, but it’s the ‘shortly’ part I take issue with since the timeliness and excitement of breaking news is often what compels people to read, listen and watch.

That doesn’t mean we all live our lives panting with anticipation for breaking news on any topic in a kind of News Channel hell.

But it does mean that for things we are passionate about, or likely to affect us in profound ways, we want to know about them sooner rather than later and not wait for the information to eventually come round.

Hearing about events in the moment, as they unfold, ticks all the boxes for our need to know for which, I’m sure, there are deep-rooted anthropological explanations.

There’s social capital in being first with a piece of information and the osmosis of news transmission has grown rapidly in recent years through posts and tweets, linking and sharing, and recommending.

Mobiles are the ultimate end-product in this chain. They’re with us all the time. But delivering updates on diverse stories is a tough nut to crack for news organisations when speed needs very from person to person.

What’s compelling and vital for one might be of scant interest to another depending on the relative importance of the topic to them and their view of the world.

Push notifications need to be refined and filtered and not used in the current fashion as blunt instruments for relentlessly battering people with breaking news.

Anyway, with finite resources it’s impossible to prioritise everything as “urgent”, but it doesn’t mean we can’t, and shouldn’t, be doing better.

Twitter has stolen a march on many news organisations in this area with a flow of raw information which sometimes includes rumour, repetition and half-truth as well as high value, genuine ground-breaking news.

It has many more people sharing bits of information than any news organisation can muster. But its scale is also its weakness; the signal to noise ratio can be high and adjusting who you follow doesn’t wholly solve the problem.

The chap who delivers great insight on mobile topics is equally prolific in other areas that are not of interest – do you cut him out or take the chaff with the wheat?

Hashtags go part of the way to solving this but they usually are only added around major events or set-piece topics, not the general tide, and they take time to become established.

There’s room for a better service from the BBC between what it does now and what Twitter provides, but it needs a change of approach.

Could the BBC ever open itself up to new ways of presenting news in flux – showing what we’re hearing and seeing and what we’re checking out as well as what we’ve verified and confirmed?

I wrote about this train of thought shortly after the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords

There are those who will only ever want authenticated, double-sourced, fully cross-checked material; for them the consequence is that they get information behind the curve but that they know it is accurate.

For those wanting a quicker service it means information may be contradictory or possibly even incorrect for a brief time – but they understand and accept that trade-off.

What we don’t currently offer are the variations of output or the tools to allow the audience to make that choice.

There is, of course, potential for reputational damage from exposing our newsgathering processes and that needs to be carefully explained.

But there’s also reputational damage from maintaining the status quo, of not adapting to a changing news landscape, and of not letting people decide which type of news flow suits them best.

News doesn’t always have to be a choice between only the slow lane and only the fast lane; there are times when we want to switch from one to the other and back again.  Ultimately, we have to let the people decide.

* Incidentally, I came upon Doctorow’s article not by scouring The Guardian or ploughing through my Twitter feed but via an app called Smartr which grabs Tweets with links, pulls in the stories and presents them in aggregated news reader style.

And for managing information overload, look no further than tech blogger Robert Scoble who tracks more than 30,000 people via his @scobleizer account and reaps the benefit both of scale and smart filtering to manage the tide.

mailsorryNot so long ago, wire copy was the bedrock of many a publication but papers never openly revealed their dependency on agency material. The intro was tweaked, the copy jigged and the reporter’s byline put at the top.

The web exposed the lie when people were easily able to read multiple but strikingly similar versions of a story across a range of titles.

Now the Media Standards Trust is shining a light on the cut-and-paste culture around stories and press releases with a churn engine that seeks “to distinguish journalism from churnalism”.

By dropping a press release into a text box on the site it’s possible to run a comparison with articles appearing in the UK media.

A fake chastity garter story by Chris Atkins found its way into the Mail Online’s science and tech section as a potential Valentine’s Day gift.

Churn stats show 40% of the Mail piece had common content with the fake story: – For the Footballer with a suspicious mind…the garter that texts if his WAG is unfaithful The churn engine even highlights the text that is common to both, ie has been ‘lifted’.

The Mail has pulled the story but offers no explanation or admission to its readers.

It’s easy to scoff, but the Beeb doesn’t come out of it unscathed, with 5Live giving airtime to a spoof story about Downing Street’s new cat.

The back-story about the technology that underpins the results is interesting in itself and has been written up here by Donovan Hide.

Public service broadcasting is having a tough time on the other side of the pond.

Last Saturday the House of Representatives voted 235-189 to pass a continuing resolution that eliminates funding for public broadcasting. It still has to get Senate approval but the BBC’s situation looks pretty favourable when seen in this light.

A campaign to raise awareness and to save local television and radio called 170 million Americans argues that public broadcasting funding is too important to eliminate.

Chris Bishop, the creative director at PBS Kids put together this graphic to garner support for what it does and why it’s worth supporting.

Commentator Tomi Ahonen’s mobile industry statistics guide is always compelling reading, in fact many of the numbers have found their way into Marc Settle’s excellent BBC College of Journalism course.

There’s one number in the blizzard of information that’s especially interesting – that, according to Nokia, the average person looks at their phone 150 times per day. That’s a glance every six and a half minutes.

I’m guessing much of that activity is associated with SMS or other forms of instant messaging, but part of it will be to monitor Facebook’s news feed or Twitter’s continuous stream of what Google’s Eric Schmidt calls “newness”.

It’s why I’ve bored for England over the past couple of years about the need to present the flow of news from the BBC as a chronology as well as an editorially weighted, sifted and sorted set of headlines.

There’s drama in minute-by-minute information flux and no reason not to do both if suitable filters can be added.

We already offer agency-style running updates for set-piece live event pages, but all of life is a live event and this kind of treatment should be our normal operating procedure.

The dip in, dip out behaviour seen in mobile use patterns needs a different news mix and a different metric to measure engagement.

When web stats are talked about it’s rare for anyone to mention that up to half of unique users only visit a site once a week, that dwell times are scant and fewer than half a dozen pages are looked at.

With all the resources at our disposal and with the development of the BBC’s internal Quickfire breaking news tool we could lead the way in a different kind of news delivery.