To the BBC Ariel and beyond

Ian Forrester and Matthew Cashmore on stage at Hackday

I'm not the kind of guy to ring my own bell (I bet you liked that one Adam) but finally backstage made the Ariel newspaper. Ariel is the newspaper/magazine which is published every week about whats going on inside the BBC. Its really for internal use only, but you can get it pretty much everywhere now. Anyway the point is that its read by tens of thousands of BBC staff from across the board.

Well finally Backstage made it in, from the work at Hack day to the innovative work we do with the backstage community daily. Its finally made its way into the mainstream. We've become the media darlings of BBC Research and Innovation. But never fear, I'm throwing Cluetrains out when needed and will not be spending time with press unless its necessary (*big smile*).

I hoping when my parents see this, they might understand a little more about what I do at work.

You can zoom in closer on this picture to read what the article actually says. Where's my OCR application gone… No need Leeky worte it out in the comments. So here's the full text.

Not so much a department, more a state of mind. That's how Ian Forrester and Matthew Cashmore describe their innovation award-winning backstage.bbc.co.uk. This self-styled 'comedy duo' may be tucked away on the fifth floor of the Broadcast Centre in W12, but their influence on the corporation's online future surely stretches to infinity and beyond!

“Historically people wanting to develop internet applications independently for the BBC didn't know how to talk to or how to access a server on which they could demonstrate their work”, says Forrester. “So our job has been to break down the old barriers and build up new relationships.”

Backstage.bbc.co.uk is a prime example of the BBC's commitment to the growing open source community.

“Our motto is 'Use our stuff to build your stuff'”, chuckles Cashmore. A genial Welshman with a list of website and podcasting innovations to his credit, he claims his first foray into coding came when he created a Dungeons and Dragons dice throwing programme on a Commodore 64 while still a schoolboy in the late 1980s.

Forrester and Cashmore were also British brains behind the Hack Day event which took place at Alexandra Palace in June. Here the BBC joined forces with US-based service provided Yahoo and invited 500 of EUrope's top 'hackers' to take advantage of existing public data and previously unavailable API (application programming interface) codes to deisgn brand new products to enhance or expand the BBC's existing online offer.

“Some of the things these guys mashed together in just 24 hours, especially regarding the interface between mobile phones and computers, were really thrilling”, says Cashmore. “We hope to bring the best of them forward in the very near future.”

Backstage.bbc.co.uk also used Hack Day to launch the new Wild West rapid development server for which the pair received their innovation award two months ago.

“Wild West is somewhere outside existing BBC servers where anybody with an interesting idea can try it out and we can qucikly and cheapily assess whether it's worth supporting”, says Forrester.

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Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.