2.0: Why it isn’t happening and shouldn’t happen

Jason Cartwright

Jason who now works for Google instead of the BBC had some crushing words to say about the BBC's online future on his blog. I hadn't noticed because my RSS Owl is playing up (yes I'm going to write a bug request for this problem) so I've missed a lot of what my friends have been writing about. Anyway Jason makes the point that the BBC's web efforts are doomed to fail because we are a broadcasting company with broadcasting type funding in a nutshell. So when I first read his blog entry, I was going to respond on the backstage blog but felt the backstage blog wasn't the right place to reply, as some of these points are my own view and not of the BBC. So I may just link to the post on backstage and leave it as that. It won't spend much time on the front page either because there will be posts from the Future of Webapps Expo tomorrow.

Here's some choice quotes.

Moving away from the economic analysis of the situation facing the BBC, we can see the tide already turning. The BBC was an innovator in radio (2LO – in beta 1922, v1.0 when licenced in 1923) then TV (BBC Television Service – beta from 1929, v1.0 release 1946) but not now in the online age. Sky Anytime, 4OD, and's video revamp have all launched before the BBC's iPlayer service (iMP beta 2005, iPlayer in beta, v1.0 not released at time of writing) showing commercial efforts in this field have trumped the BBC. One person working on the project called it “worse than”. With the lead now lost, how can they pull it back?

Frankly and I'm sure I'm breaking some part of my contract here. iPlayer is a mess and I can't / won't defend it on my own blog. Everyone I speak, asks what happened? Why would the BBC put out iplayer and think it was acceptable? Even in Boston the developer of Miro/Democracy player was asking me seriously why would a public broadcaster do such a thing? I don't have an answer, I really don't. In the first BBC Backstage podcast, Dave Crossland answered Tom Loosemore's question if the BBC should have done nothing over releasing iplayer. He answered yes, do nothing because it was morally wrong. Well thats his view but lets be honest would we better off if we didn't do iplayer? I actually think so. Tom Loosemore was right, we do need to deliever to those who don't understand bit torrent or simlar technologies but I wonder how many of us we're eating our own dogfood?

Lets go through the some of the principals of Web 2.0 and the BBC…

  • Rich user experience: archaic BBC tech standards say that you can't rely on javascript/flash to deliver content, and pages need to be below 200kb in size. Buh bye innovative user interfaces, widgets/gadgets, Google or Yahoo Maps style interface, or YouTube for that matter.
  • User as contributor: BBC requires moderation of content before publishing it – see above for 606 example.
  • Participation, not publishing – as above.
  • Enable the long tail – BBC tech has limited ability to cater for large amount of content in the first place. CMSs are disparate and clunky, content distribution network is run off one single, overloaded computer (!).
  • Radical trust – this simply doesn't happen at the BBC, see 606. Not even to employee's, see first point.

Right so, point one. The BBC Standards and guidelines are under consistent review and lots of those archaic are being shifted as our audience become more internet savvy. Backstage also doesn't have to live by those standards and guidlines. Jason is right publishing is cheap and free, we need to reflect that. Yes long tail, we need lightweight cms which don't require a room full of people to understand how it works. Trust I won't talk about right now.

Anyway, there's lots more I want to say, but its late and I got a early start tomorrow at FOWA. So I'll finish off later (maybe Thursday).

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Author: Ianforrester

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