Inspiring the next generation of coders

Remember this in 2011? Remember BBC Micro for the 21st century? Heck do you remember BBC Code Club? Then finally it was announced

BBC Connected Studio are setting the challenge of a new way to teach Coding to Teenagers.

Inspiring young people to realise their creative potential through technology

This all links and is inspired by the amazing and tireless work (at times) people such as Ant Miller, Michael Sparks, Mo McRoberts, Alan O’DonohoeKeri Facer, Adrian Woolard, Jo Classens, Howard, etc, etc to name just a few. (maybe would be a good time to share that mindmap?)

If you’ve not been paying attention, here’s some background…

The UK is facing a severe skills shortage in the technology sector and the BBC wants to work with partners to help change that. Martha Lane Fox recently said: “We are going to need a million more people who can work in the technology sector over the next ten years. We don’t have them. We’ve got to help people be encouraged to go into that sector.” So we want to inspire Britain’s next generation of storytellers, problem solvers and entrepreneurs to get involved with technology and unlock the enormous creative potential it offers, both for each individual and for all corners of UK industry.

Digital literacy is a highly valuable skill – and in future could arguably become as essential to a successful career as reading or writing. Some young people in Britain have already discovered the power and range of their creative potential in coding, programming and digital technology, but many have yet to try these things.

Digital literacy is essential…

The call is out! And I’m expecting this to be one of the biggest BBC connected studios ever. Who would be interested in working with me to come together around a fantastic idea which could work for a wider audience that just the typical stereotypes.

Who’s with me? No seriously who’s interested in being part of my team?

Talking at Thinking Digital 2013

Ian Forrester, Show and Tell

3 years ago I was meant to stand up at Thinking Digital and call an end to BBC Backstage, although I bet my reasoning wouldn’t be so well reasoned back then due to the obvious. A year before that I had the honour of speaking at Thinking Digital the next generation (a one day event aimed at young people of school age to twenties) and just after that hosting the makers workshop/panel. But having been at Thinking Digital right from the start, I had made talking on stage at Thinking Digital one of my aspiration in life.

Now I’m sooooo excited to announce I will be talking at Thinking Digital about one of my favourite subjects right now – Perceptive Media.

I will be sharing the slot with Adrian who will talk about BBC Connected Studio, like a phoenix rising from the end of BBC Backstage and BBC Innovation Labs.

I have been planning a different type of presentation from my usual one I did everywhere last year.

Expect short sharp and pretty intense… On top of that I’ll be showing something which we believe is a worlds first.

Yes your not going to want to miss this years, Thinking Digital conference

Why I shut down BBC backstage

BBC Backstage Meets the NW communities networking bash

George sent me a tweet saying how much Elizabeth Murdoch loved BBC Backstage, as she mentioned it in her speech to the Edinburgh TV Festival last year.

The BBC has been the market leader for building new relationships and services with creative’s from every sector. Be it the early ground breaking Backstage initiative for technology engineers.

Shes right and it does beg the question, why is there no more BBC Backstage?

I thought this was covered in the BBC Backstage ebook which was put together by the lovely Suw. But it looks like I may have been slightly mistaken. On top of this, I keep making reference to this blog post which I never seem to quite finish. So enough, its finished and out there for all to read…

First misconception: The BBC never shutdown BBC Backstage

Actually I did… When I first mentioned the possibility of closing down BBC Backstage to Adrian (my manager) he thought I had totally lost it. I remember a meeting with Adrian and Matthew (head of R&D) where I talked about shutting it down and I gave my reasoning which made soften the blow a little. I had thought long and hard about leaving BBC Backstage and passing it on to someone else younger and full of energy (I even had a number of names put forward to consider). But it didn’t make sense.

The problems with Backstage were not about who was running it but more about what was happening around it (as we will see in number 4)

Second misconception: The BBC sits on a ton of data.

The core of BBC Backstage was the backstage license which is founded on non-commercial reuse of data. This gave backstage the license to go around the BBC educating/persuading/convincing stakeholders about the benefits of open data at a time when data wasn’t a big thing. The problem is the data wasn’t ours. For example the Met Office would make the weather data available to the BBC under strict licensing. Deals were done for non-commercial use and it was always neigh impossible to reverse a deal without effecting the production side of the things.

Lots of people imagine most of Backstage was hacks. In actual fact lots of it was people experimenting.

Third misconception: Developers found new business models

This backs off the non-commercial problem. Because everything was under the non-commercial license, when things like the Apple App Store came along and offered developers clear ways to make money from their work. We had to shut down a lot of prototypes and tell people not to use BBC backstage data in there apps.

This was actually a issue from early on when Google Adsense, offered developers a nice way to make a small amount of money based on numbers of people who came to the site. It was argued that if developers made enough money to just cover the hosting of the prototype, we could turn a blind eye to. This wasn’t sustainable as it kept coming back to bite every once in a while. But it wasn’t till the App stores when the number of prototypes and services wanting to go commercial blew up.

Once developers learned it was actually against the terms and conditions, they naturally moved on to other platforms.  We did talk to BBC Worldwide many times about working together but it just wasn’t to be.

Forth misconception: The Open Data Revolution passed it by

Backstage had a hand in getting this revolution going in the UK and beyond. 7 years later, we had influenced everyone from other companies to the government. We were there right at the start of this revolution and fundamentally changed the BBC’s thinking about data. However it was clear this was just the start and as a part of BBC R&D, it was right to move on and have the same impact in another emerging area. The developer network part of Backstage was tricky to balance with the push to drive forward.

We did think about splitting it off and working in partnership with others who were later to the scene but it just didn’t quite happen and in the era of cost cutting and doing the things which really have an impact for our audiences it was harder to justify.

Fifth misconception: It was all about DRM and the BBC wanted rid

Looking at the mailing list, its easy to imagine it being all about DRM and not a lot else. But in actual fact while the DRM debates rages on, there were lots of people creating and making lots of prototypes. Lots of them were documented on the website but there were some which were so illegal there was no way I could put them anywhere public. Those were more of a look what we could do…

Even though they were much more black/grey around the licensing terms, they drove the imagination and clearly got a number of us thinking what if…? One such example is the widely talked about blast from the past called Panadora PVR (now called Promise.TV) which lead to Tom Loosemore’s talk at Etech 2007, the Edinburgh TV unfestival and the building of the infamous BBC Redux.

The BBC gained a lot from having the debate and being rather open about it all.

Sixth misconception: There was no money or love for BBC Backstage

This is somewhat true and false. Yes it became more difficult to justify and we had gone through quite a difficult patch, while losing some key people to project. On top of that we had a new head of Future Media (Erik Huggers), moved into BBC R&D and was shifting the project up to the north of England to fit in with BBC’s increasing push to solve the London and South East bias.

Everything was changing and everytime we took BBC Backstage in a different direction, there was push back from the dedicated community. To me this is the way of the world (forever changing) but it certainly makes funding such projects difficult when you want a 3-5 year plan.

There was much love for BBC Backstage from Future Media and other departments in the BBC, there was lots of talk about setting up other Backstages in different areas as a outreach project alone it hit audiences the BBC was not so good at having conversations with. The formula was repeatable but should it be? We could have done Mashed all over the UK but was that a good idea? I certainly didn’t think so and ultimately my thoughts about driving forward were correct.

Seventh misconception: We ran out of steam

Ok this might be true to a certain extent. But not from the lack of trying… You only have to look at the new things I’ve been working on since, including Channelography, Perceptive Media, etc. There is still fire in myself and I still have a lot to give… During that time, I will admit I was well over worked and I was being contacted by many people on the off chance just because I was out in the open. This certainly slowed down daily looking through BBC emails. Hence why I now have a another BBC email.

Ultimately I want to thank everyone who has been involved in BBC Backstage in the past (too many to name). The decision was made under a ton of stress on my part but I felt I was making the correct decision for everyone including the founders, the BBC and the community. Then and even now. I mean can you imagine BBC Backstage in 2013!?

Things need to end (such as BBC Backstage, Innovation Labs, etc) for others to spark, grow and mature like BBC Connected Studio.


Connected Social: Design based thinking

My parents were deeply worried that I was doing too much again. Specially after what happened to me with mybrushwithdeath almost two and half years ago. I can tell you and them that my blood pressure is normal…

So what have I been up to…? Because my blog has also suffered due to the hectic schedule.

On Tuesday 30th Connected Social and 31st EpicWerewolf

BBC Connected Social

BBC Connected Social

I stopped arranging events because frankly my skill isn’t in arranging or managing them. Something Matt Cashmore was much better at than myself. However I’m good at being the spark and inspiration for the event in the first point.

After watching a few Connected Studios it become clear something was need to make it a more complete experience for people involved. Hence I convinced my manager of this need and we tried out Connected Social in July. That went well and after a bit of a break it made sense to bring it back.

The evening was all ignite style talks around the theme of design based thinking.

BBC Connected Social

It was a good night of talks and further concentrated the need for a social event following the connected studio events in my mind. Maybe a little shorter and around one set of talks instead but everyone still enjoyed it.

Of course by the end of the night I was glad it went well and I was able to create a good informative event for people, however I was already thinking about Epic Werewolf…

BBC Connected Studio/Social


I haven’t mentioned the BBC Connected Studio on my blog to date. However its about time…

So its a new (its been running since May) BBC project which is all about open innovation. Every month we put out a brief around a certain product area in the BBC. To date its been to redo the homepage, rethink the Weather and Travel services and this month its re-imagine services for the Cebeebies audience.

Every month theres one day of idea studio and the pitches at the end. The idea studio gives people a chance to come together and explore ideas against the brief. Of course you can just go into a corner and develop the idea with yourself or your pre-selected teammates. Its about what ever works to get the best ideas. I find people come with a rough idea and tend to combine the ideas together or build on each others ideas. Open innovation is the key here. After the ideas build up and you’ve had a chance to run through a series of workshops including a end user pitch (or not if you don’t want to). Your now working things up for the pitch to the commissioners and everyone else.

If everything goes well, you get selected and receive a email to say the commissioners would like to see it developed into a prototype. At which, about 2 weeks later, its build studio time.

The build studios are like hack days (our learning from hackdays, mashed and over the air) but they run over 2 days and the end presentation doesn’t receive some token prize, they receive a good daily amount for being there time while developing the prototype. However at the end there is the opportunity to pitch the prototype to the commissioners for more serious amounts of money.

The events take place in Manchester, Glasgow and London which means theres no reason not take part. And that applies to staff as well as externals. Actually theres something quite magically about seeing BBC staff collaborating directly with externals. I’ll be excited to see how things work when one such team go through to the later stages.

It sounds slightly complex but actually its pretty straight forward, and takes the best parts of Innovation labs and Hackdays on a ride.

The BBC is serious about Connected Studio and has pledged a million pounds behind the whole project.

Ralph Rivera

Ralph director of Future Media talked about how he loved BBC Backstage and what we built back then. And to be honest theres a air of Backstage floating through the whole process. For example anyone can register there interest via the BBC Connected blog (no secret handshakes or secret buddy systems just apply). This means you have as much chance as those on the BBC’s official supplier list. Connected Studio has attracted SME’s, startups, hackers and early adopters. Unlike backstage were talking about things which are made for deployment on the live site, so generally theres shorter term innovation (aka less 2 years).

The majority of new BBC Online products are built according to long term product roadmaps and the published commissioning process. However, we believe there’s room here for more disruptive thinking – that is, more experimental ideas that can be pitched, built and delivered to audiences in a faster, smarter way. We would like to hear from agencies and individuals who have fresh, innovative ideas to bring to this event and to seek funding.

The process isn’t perfect (but what is?) but is adaptable and is always looking for feedback.

BBC Connected Studio at Central Working

So whats my role in the connected studio?

Well thats still being worked out but I’ll have my R&D glasses on when watching the pitches and I’m very interested in the network of people who are doing innovative things and have been to a connected studio.

However, something I can talk about is BBC Connected Social, which are events linked to the BBC Connected studio process.

Like Connected Studio its still very early days and I’m expecting it to twist and change as it matures. But its a good chance for people external to the process because they can’t spare the time, never heard of it or didn’t make it into the process to learn more, network and pick up some really useful knowledge all at the same time. For those on the build studio, its a chance to take a break, network and consider a slightly different take on the prototype there building towards (if they wish).

The first one is Tuesday evening at Media City UK while future ones will also match the location of the Connected Studio (be it London, Glasgow or of course Manchester)

Its a chance to learn, debate and socialise on topics closely aligned to the BBC’s strategic themes.

The Build Studio for July is centered around CBeebies, and we are running a panel talking about building for the ages of under 13’s. With useful advice and tips from Mystic mobile & Lancaster’s Dr Paul Coulton, BBC’s Games grid Simon Lumb and BBC’s Children’s Jon Howard.

Hopefully we’ll see you at a BBC Connected Studio or Social soon… You know where to sign up and the next brief is around CBBC (Children’s BBC). Hopefully the next social will include a panel of young people talking about there media habits because that is always insightful.

Connected Studio, what a good idea…

News recently has been talking about Ralph Rivera’s Connected Studio.

Mr Rivera is set to announce the creation of a £3m “Connected Studio” project which aims to connect BBC developers and producers with their commercial counterparts, and establish a new technical platform for outsiders to build digital services around BBC content.

Speaking about the plans at the conference today Rivera said “the studio is that space where technology and the creative storyteller come together” and that it “made sense” to “create a connected studio”.

He told the audience this could see the creation of a virtual space and possibly a physical one also.

What a excellent idea…

Just the kind of thing which cuts the gap between, narrative and interactivity. painters and hackers? storytellers and architects? Something which has been crumbling for as long as I can remember.